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Yugoslavia, Culture and Arts

Studenica, Ivo Andric, gusle, Dubrovnik summer festival, Gracanica

The cultural and artistic heritage of Yugoslavia was as varied as its peoples. The ruins of the ancient city of Stobi in Yugoslav Macedonia provided evidence of a civilization dating back more than 2,000 years. The Roman amphitheater at Pula, in Croatia, is one of the world’s finest and most complete in the 20th century. The Roman emperor Diocletian (reigned 284-305) built a vast palace at Split that is incorporated into the city center, which consists mostly of medieval and Renaissance structures. The Saint Donatus Church in Zadar, dating to the 9th century, and the Venetian cathedrals at Trogir and Sibenik, all in Croatia, are examples of diverse Western architectural traditions. The entire walled city of Dubrovnik, also in Croatia, was designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In Bosnia and Montenegro, medieval artisans produced unique tomb markers. Orthodox monasteries such as Decani, Studenica, and Gracanica, all in Serbia, contain remarkable frescoes and icons. These works of art demonstrate the originality and brilliance of Serbian religious art and architecture prior to the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of the region in the 14th century. Yugoslavia’s Ottoman heritage was represented by numerous mosques as well as a renowned stone arch bridge in Mostar. That bridge and many mosques and churches were destroyed during the war in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995.

Folk music varied from accordion-accompanied songs of Slovenia to ancient and modern epic poems of Serbia and Montenegro. The poems are chanted to the accompaniment of a one-stringed Slavic lute called a gusle. Yugoslav music of the late 20th century, including rock, often had a folk base. Opera and symphonic and chamber music were popular in Ljubljana, Zagreb, and Belgrade. The Dubrovnik summer festival achieved international renown. This performing arts festival featured primarily music, ballet, and drama.

Ivan Mestrovic, a Croat, was considered one of the 20th century’s outstanding sculptors. Yugoslavia’s self-taught peasant painters are still world-famous. One such painter is Ivan Generalic, a Croat who painted in the behind glass tradition of the Drava valley. In that tradition, paintings were made on the back of panes of glass to preserve them from soot and grease in peasant homes that lacked chimneys.

Internationally known writers included Ivo Andric, a Bosnian who won the 1961 Nobel Prize for literature. His most famous work is the novel The Bridge on the Drina (1945; trans. 1959). Milovan Djilas of Montenegro was the most famous dissident of the second Yugoslavia. His works include The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System (1957) and Land Without Justice (1958). Also of note were the Serbs Milorad Pavic, who wrote Dictionary of the Khazars (1984), and Dobrica Cosic, who wrote the four-volume work A Time of Death (1972-1979).

Despite calls for a unified ”Yugoslav culture” by King Aleksandar before World War II and by Tito for a few years after the war, most Yugoslav art and culture remained identifiably regional in character. Postwar films were probably the most all-Yugoslav form of cultural expression, apart from jazz and, later, rock music. These films were among the best to come out of Eastern Europe. Internationally known filmmakers included the Bosnian Emir Kusturica, director of When Father was Away on Business (1984) and Time of the Gypsies (1989), and the Serb Dusan Makavejev, who directed Innocence Unprotected (1968) and W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971).

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