The past two centuries of Serbian and Yugoslav national movements might have produced a lot of pain and suffering, but they also did create some cool music. Here are my favourite official and unofficial anthems of Serbia and Yugoslavia, which can still bring a tear to my eye.
9. Zemljo moja (To my country) – Ambasadori, 1975
Apparently one of Tito‘s favourite songs, “Zemljo moja” was written by one of the best Yugoslav singers and lyricists, Kemal Monteno, for Sarajevo group “Ambasadori”, which launched several superstars such as Zdravko Čolić and Ismeta Dervoz – Krvavac who sung it. The majestic song, which longingly croons about the fields of a faraway home country (compared to the one abroad), was written in the heyday of Yugoslavia in 1970s and was apparently aimed at both boosting the local unity and morale, as well as indulging nostalgic feelings of Yugoslavia’s sizeable Gastarabeiter population. It was a major hit, and Ambasadori represented Yugoslavia at Eurovision in 1976.
The vague, but very touching lyrics, as well as the greater and more tragic emigration of (former) Yugoslavs made it popular even after the country which it so beautifully sung about was no longer.
8. Jugoslovenka (Yugoslav girl) – Lepa Brena, 1989
By 1989, Lepa Brena (Fahreta Živojinović nee Jahić) was already the greatest pan-Yugoslav superstar, with buildings colloquially named after her, and her stardom was slowly becoming international: her concert in the Romanian border city of Timisoara attracted over 60,000 attendees and her popularity was already great in Bulgaria (in 1990 she made a memorable entrance to the Sofia stadium from a helicopter). As the key symbol of Yugoslav soft power, she already made a few patriotic songs (as was the norm for many popular singers at the time), but none match the popularity of Jugoslovenka, which extolls the beauties of the Adriatic and Pannonian plains.
7. Volimo te otadžbino naša (We love you, our Fatherland) – Leontina Vukomanović and Milan Šćepović – Šćepa, 1997
Composed by Rade Radivojević in 1997 as the unofficial anthem of the Armed forces of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, it was meant to provide a new identity to the armed forces of a new, rump country. By far the most explicitly martial of all the songs, it was initially meant to be a grander, operatic affair, but it was decided to make it poppy, with notable “aha-ing” by Leontina, who was at the apex of her popularity back then.
6. Noć je vedra nad Srbijom (Night is clear over Serbia) – Models, 1999
By far the weirdest entry on the list, Noć je vedra nad Srbijom, was released by Belgrade’s answer to Spice Girls – Models, in the unlucky year of 1999. The vibe of 1999, which saw the Kosovo war and NATO bombing, was reflected in the stunningly shaky video which shows the group in skimpy versions of Serbian national dress singing surprisingly dark lyrics such as
“The night is clear over Serbia / our only home / and it’s as if we are all alone / on this whole wide world.
The dawn rises in the East / and the new day begins / but we are even lonelier / oh dear, oh brother “.
5. Srbijo, majko (Oh Mother Serbia) – D’ n’ D, 1999
Another hit which received a lot of airplay during the bombing, “Srbijo, majko” was sung by two musically minded cousins from Karić business dynasty, which rose to prominence in 1990s. The song is probably the best in name checking all major Serbia landmarks from Gračanica monastery to its major rivers (the Danube, Drina, Sava, Morava).
4. Hej, Sloveni (Hey, Slavs) – National Anthem of SFR Yugoslavia, FR Yugoslavia and Serbia and Montenegro – 1834 (1820s)
Still beloved by many across former Yugoslavia, the old SFRY national anthem has a very long history which starts in Habsburg Prague, more than a decade before the national revolutions will rock the Empire. It was there that a Slovak Lutheran pastor, Samuel Tomášik, wrote it as an ode to Slovak language, enraged due to Germanisation of the city and basing it on a melody and theme of a Polish song “Poland is not yet lost”, which was, in turn, written by Józef Wybicki in late 1797 and arranged by Kazimierz Sikorski in 1820s. The Pan-slavic origins of the song decided its Pan-slavic future: it was promptly adopted by the Sokols, and reached what was to become Yugoslavia, both in its Panslavic form (when it was sung at the erection of the monument to France Prešern in Ljubljana in 1905) as well as a localised variant as “Hej Iliri” (Hey Illiryans), translated by Dragutin Rakovec, a member of the Croatian Illyrian movement. Somewhat ironically, in WWII it became a song of contention and controversy as the Slovak clero-fasicst regime used it as an unofficial anthem, after the split from Czechoslovakia ( it apparently still has rightist connotations in Slovakia). On the other hand, the Yugoslav communists adopted it as the anthem of the SFRY after WWII and it stayed in use all the way until the dissolution of the state union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006.
3. Vostani, Serbije (Arise Serbia!) – National Anthem of the Serbian Principality – 1804
Vostani Serbije was written as a poem by the pioneer of Serbian Enlightenment, Dositej Obradović in Vienna in 1804 on the eve of the first Serbian uprising and creation of the short lived Serbian state, where he served as the Minister of Education. Considered a sort of an unofficial anthem, its currently most popular arrangement actually dates from late 20th century and was composed by Vartkes Baronijan, a famous Yugoslav era composer, professor and long time musical editor at Radio Televizija Beograd (predecessor to the Serbian national broadcaster RTS).
2. Bože Pravde (God of Justice) – National Anthem of the Serbian Principality, Kingdom of Serbia and Republic of Serbia – 1872
“Bože Pravde” was written by Jovan Đorđević (the melody composed was by the Slovene composer Davorin Jenko) as the finale of the play “Marko’s saber” made to mark the occasion of Prince Milan’s coming of age and was first performed inside Belgrade’s National Theatre. Its popularity propelled it to become the official national anthem in 1882 and it was used until the creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918. However, parts of Bože Pravde were included in the new National Anthem, which also combined parts of the Croatian national anthem (“Lijepa naša domovino” (Our beautiful homeland), written by Antun Mihanović and Josif Runjanin in 1835) and the Slovene anthem (“Naprej Zastava Slave!” (Forward, the banner of glory), written by Simon Jenko and Davorin Jenko in 1860). Looking through the list of authors of the anthems of Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia, also reveals the closeness of romantic/national movements in the countries. Firstly, not only did Davorin Jenko compose both the Serbian and the Slovene anthems, but he also composed “Onamo ‘namo” (“There, over there” a folk anthem of Montenegro (also known as the Serbian Marseillaise) whose lyrics were written by King Nikola I Petrović of Montenegro. Secondly, Runjanin, the composer of the “Lijepa naša domovino”, was an ethnic Serb and is buried in Novi Sad.
- (Marš) Na Drinu (March on the Drina) – 1914
“(Marš) Na Drinu” was composed by Stanislav Binički in the first months of WWI. Composed after early success of the Serbian Army in the Battle of Cer, it was made global famous by none other than Ivo Andrić, who made sure it was performed when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961. This lively march was also performed as a pop hit, most successfully by the Danish guitarist Jørgen Ingmann, who made it to the top of the Danish charts in 1963. American singer Patti Page also performed it as a song in 1964 as “Drina (Little Soldier Boy)”, incidentally in the same year as it received lyrics in Serbian (written by Miloje Popović). “Na Drinu” was also chosen as the national anthem of Serbia at a referendum in 1992, however that decision was never impleneted, and “Bože pravde” became the official anthem of Serbia.