Yugoslavia 2 - After 1991

Zvonimir Santrač: The Balkan Train (of Destiny), performance and installation, 1996-97, image on: www.santraczvono.vrsac.com

The Yugoslav wars started in 1991 and were characterized by fierce ethnical conflicts and led to a dramatic period of entropy. According to Dejan Sretenović the wars and the period of sanctions led to a "total collapse of the concept of reality". Hyperinflaction, decrease of production, increase of criminality and contrabandism etc. led to an "Economy of destruction" (term by Mladjan Dinkić). The consequence of this was a referencial and structural destructions of signs. The experience of the voided, valueless signs led to a highly shizophrenic reality. Artists reacted on this situations and sought a return of values into individual experiences and created a parallel reality, fictional sites. In the 1990s artists had to keep up and rebuild the art scene in their country which forced them to deal with structural, financial and social exclusion and isolation. Limited traveling possibilites, financial problems and restrictions were common.
Lidija Merenik calls the art scene in this "closed society" (1992-1995) "No wave". She claims that there was a form of active escapsim, the creation of fictional sites, fiction and the creation of a parallel reality.
In their "Autonomism Manifesto" Uroš Đurić and Stevan Markuš (publisehd as a leaflet in 1994) made references and quoted "Zenitism", saying that they want to repeat these "radical" avant-garde movements. Nonetheless they (mostly) worked with conventional formats and materials (oil on canvas). Somehow their art is an example for a tendency in Jugoslav art: not to revise reality but to create a parallel reality due to an impossible relation to the world (Slavoj Žižek) and it is an attempt to remember the early avant-garde movements in Yugoslavia. 

But besides forms of escapism, there were many active, artistical protests in- and outside of Yugoslavia.

Protest movement in Serbia

The protest movements in Serbia expressed itself in provocative public performances and used humorous actions. Elements of theatre were an important instrument for the protestants.
In 1991 actors from the Dah-Theatre organised the street performance "Babylon Tanturm", which took place 15 days, was inspired by Bertold Brecht and was supposed to be a critical and humorous answer to the outbreak of the war.

In March 1991 a nonviolent protest of Belgrade students at Terazije Square took place. More than 10,000 students performed a "nonviolent occupation" led by "Terazije Students' Parliament". They have blocked the central streets of Belgrade with a 24 hours sit in and had not moved until the army has been withdrawn from the streets of national capital.

In 1992 a group of students organised a "walk of the blinds". More than thousends of blindfolded students walked to the building of the public broadcaster. This actions reminds of the famous painting "The Blind Leading the Blind" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. In front of the building the students unveiled a (papier mâché) monument showing a zombie-like TV-viewer.
People distributed soaps to politicians: they should wash their dirty tongues. In front of the Parliament alarm clocks rang (time's up!) etc.

In the winter of 1996/97 a protest movement broke out (spontaneously) in more than 30 Serbian cities at the same time and turned into a big street theatre. (In Belgrade between 100.000 and 300.000 people were in the streets). Free tickets were distributed, which -again- shows the similarity to theatre. People came in disguise and carried (instead of political banners) absurd stuff like posters showing Pamela Anderson or flags with the Ferrari-sign.
Demonstrations were prohibited and this circumstance provoked new strategies. People started playing in the streets and blocked all traffic. They were making fun of policemen, they presented them chocolate and flowers and posed for a photo with them.

All these actions were spontaneous and (in most of the cases) not organised by artists. However, in many cases the demonstrations included actions, which went beyond typical forms of protest and rather resemble artistic performances and vice versa: Some artist groups were interested in political manifestations.


Otpor! (Resistance!) formend in 1998 and was a civic youth movement in Serbia. Initially they wanted to attack repressive university and media laws introduced in that year. (Most of the activists were already veterans of anti-Milošević demonstrations in 1996-97 protests and in 1991).Of course their focused changed in the following year, when NATO air-strikes began. The organization began a political campaign and grew into a movement.
Some of its slogans were: "This is not a system, it's a disease", "Are you ready for peace?" or "You have to fight for peace". They wanted to target the very foundation of Milosevic's power. One of their actions was an ad for laundry detergent,  in which Milosevic was displayed as a stubborn stain on a T-shirt. Only after the Otpor-wash the shirt was clean. Otpor activists carried large cardboard boxes, apparently filled with replacement supplies. When the police arrested them, the boxes turned out to be empty – which made the officers look heavy-handed, and, more importantly, foolish. They plastered walls and telegraph poles with their symbol of a clenched fist to give the impression that there were more of them than there actually were. These city-guerillas were very effective. Otpor activists frequently were arrested. In 1999 nearly 2.000 activists were arrested, some beaten. The police kept asking the same question (the typical questions in authoritarian systems): Who is your leader? Who pays you? For whom are you working?... but there was no leader, Otpor was a loose and dynamic structure, not a group with fixed members. 
The main strategy of Otpor's campaigns was humour. It used irony to provoke and mock the regime. Humorous actions of course have a greater audience than aggressive demonstrations. 
Some examples for its performances.

Dinar for Change: activists collected money in front of a public theatre (Belgrade National Theatre), in exchange people were allowed to hit a portrait of Milosevic (painted on a barrel). One Dinar: One hit. 

Happy Birthday Milosevic: Activists in Nis organised a party for Milosevic's bithday and collectes gifts, such as handcuffs, a one-way ticket to the Hague, and a prison uniform.

He's finished!: Otpor's most well-known campaign. Close to the elections, volunteers put up over 1,500,000 "He's finished!" (Gotov je!) stickers on existing posters of Milosevic and all over cities.

Otpor! turned into a political party in 2003 and in 2004 merged into the Democratic Party.
In the years since the organization's end, Otpor's symbols and imagery occasionally reappeared in Serbian political life. Some of the former Otpor! activists also organized a few official commemorative gatherings.


Škart (trash) is a collective founded in 1990 at the Faculty of Architecture in Belgrade.
The groups calls it main concept: "Architecture of the human relationships" and oscillates between design, poetry, performance and sociopolitical activism. Through the constant flux within the collective members collaboratively work to develop new values and engender community-based collaborations.
Coming of age during the 1990s wars in Yugoslavia their work addressed traumatic social issues. 

In the project Sadness (1992-93) Škart printed small books (with poetry). The paper was the cheapest (brown) paper available, bound by course string through a single whole punched in the in corner of each folio. The artists distributed these booklets  in public places such as markets and train stations, through the mail and read furthermore, the poems were read on the radio. Škart produced 22 books, one per week.

Another project was Survival Coupons. These were tear-off tickets that emulated war-time food rations. The Survival Coupons were a response to the increasing lack of personal freedom and growing atmosphere of fear and anger. The coupons were for: Orgasm, Power, Miracle, Revolution or Masturbation. Škart members distributed these coupons in improvised street stalls, at exhibitions, political rallies, after films screenings etc. 

In 2000 Škart initiated a conversation with Balkan women, ti discuss their lives and the role of women in society. Their conversations led to the design and execution of needle works, which also made fun of male chauvinism and the subordinate position of women. The group also organised a singing group, everyone was accepted who showed up for the audition. The choir Horkeskart sings patriotic songs from the communist era, traditional songs, folk songs and punk rock covers, thereby mimicking and spoofing symbols of national identity.
your shit your responsibiliti
Your shit, your responsibility, image on: www.skart.rs
For Front’t—Activism in Exile (1999), Škart collaborated with several young designers, activists, and theorists (Lisa Boxus, Raquel Alves, David Otero y Alonso, and Emigrative Art) in Brussels to address the complexities of the three-sided conflict during the Kosovo-crisis: NATO’s “humanitarian violence,” as well as Serbian and Kosovo-Albanian nationalistic forces in the former Yugoslavia. NATO had been accused of unnecessarily striking targets that were inessential to the mission of forcing  Milošević  to accept a Serbian peace agreement that would halt violence between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo.

The ambigious importance of art and music for the development (or justification) of national identities (a very complex issue concerning the Balkans), is also a topic of the artist: Čedomir Vasić.
His work deals with history and national symbols. He makes, what he calls "Computer-cleansings". In his work "Last solution, Post-Scriptum" he takes the famous "Kosovo Maiden" (Kosovka devojka) as a starting point. She is the central figure of a poem, which is a part of the Kosovo cycle in the Serbian epic poetry. In it, a young beauty searches the battlefield for her husband and helps wounded Serbian warriors with water, wine and bread after the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 between Serbia and Ottoman Empire. The cycle is an important aspect for the country's self-determination.
Uroš Predić painted an iconic painting of the story in 1919. Vasić adopted the painting, but (digitally) erased the representation of the battle, leaving the field of Kosovo, the pure landscape completely empty. This reminds of the "ethnic cleansing" of the Serbian population in Kosovo after the NATO intervention of 1999.

Jelena Vesić wrote: "The fact that the landscape stares empty at the viewer after the Serbs have left is, at the same time, both the negation of the existence of the Albanian population, and the melancholic picture of the loss of territories, that is, of all that fits into the nationalist State ideology of the Republic of Serbia."
(s. http://www.red-thread.org/en/article.asp?a=22)

Led Art

The artist group Led Art was founded in Belgrade in 1993 by Nikola Dzafo. Led Art reacted polemically to the negative issues both on social and artistic scene in that time. The artists' view on social conditions was expressed by the aggregation of water. The freezing is on one hand concerned as euthanasia, while on the other, as hibernation with the hope that melting will bring the possibility of some healthy beginning. The artists said "This time does not need art", and wanted to freeze the vital function of art. 

In 1997 Led Art organised the performance "The president's SOS". The artists produced a lifebelt made from ice, which they wanted to give president  Milošević.
The group was very active during public demonstrations. The artists put up mirrors in front of policemen, symbolically to hold up a mirror to them, and they painted calk outlines of victims on the asphalt.

Once they organised some kind of exhibition, which was interrupted by police officers. The policemen confiscated and destroyed the artworks. Indeed, the officers were no real policemen, but actors, employed  by the artists. 

Andrej Tisma

"Tisma in Delifrance", performance 1992, image: www.atisma.com
One artist devoted to performance art is Andrej Tisma. He also was involved with the international mail art movement since 1974 in Yugoslavia. In 1991 he organised a performance called "Declaration of Peace" in Sremski Karlovci (in the Peace Chapel, where a peace treaty was signed in 1699). He broke knifes and lit candles. According to his website there were Croats, Serbs and people from other regions in the audience, all (together) praying for peace.

One year later he made a piece called "Tisma in Delifrance". The performance took place in a restaurant called Demifrance, where he spend a whole day making contracts with people there, distributing postcards with the sentence "It is important to eat well - it is important to think well" written on them. In another performance he took earth from Yugoslavia, bringing it to Milano, purified it with holy water and prayed with the audience for peace.

Marina Abramović

Speaking of the Balkans and performance art, it is maybe impossible not to mention Marina Abramović. Some of her radical performances did reflect on the Yugoslav wars. E.g. her "Balkan Baroque" in 1997 (47th Biennale di Venezia). The performances consisted of a three-channel video, cattle bones, copper sinks, a tub filled with black water, a bucket, soap, metal brush and herself, wearing a dress stained with blood.

Abramović sat on a giant pile of cattle bones and scrubbed them. All the time she was singing yugoslav funeral dirges. 
The artist spoke on the difficulties of making a work on the Yugoslav wars, which was "to close" to her, so she felt unable to do anything about it.
"You can't wash the blood from your hands, as you can't wash the shame from the war"


The association Apsolutno was founded in 1993 in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia and consists of three to four members (Zoran Pantelic, Dragan Rakic, Bojana Petric (and Dragan Miletic from 1995 till 2001)). Since 1995 the works have been signed APSOLUTNO, without any reference to personal names.
Their work deals with aesthetic, cultural, social and political aspects. On its website, it says: "The work of APSOLUTNO is based on an interdisciplinary research into reality, with the aim to make it open to new readings."
In 1996 mass protests in Serbia took place, a direct outcome of the frustration with the electoral fraud of the votes during local elections. For more than 100 days people demonstrated (up to 300.000 citizens gathered daily).
Apsolutno realized a street action during the demonstrations. The artists gave the protesters pears with attached tags with Latin name, chemical composition, and weight of a pear in free fall. With this gesture "apsolutno joined the efforts of the protesters to bring down the governing regime in Yugoslavia".