“We Want Censorship”: A Brief Introduction to Yugoslav Queer Culture

A small queer cultural scene briefly surfaced in 1980s Yugoslavia, leaving behind a few great songs.


 

In April 1984, the controversial documentary Framed Youth: The Revenge of the Teenage Perverts (1983) was screened at a festival in Ljubljana, in what was then socialist Yugoslavia. The film follows a group of LGBT youth around London as they interview strangers about their attitudes towards gays and lesbians. Framed Youth makes use of new wave music, humor and montage, frequently cutting to a few seconds of animation and scraps of audio when an interviewee makes a homophobic remark. The Ontario censor board in Canada confiscated a tape of Framed Youth from Toronto’s A Space Gallery in early 1984. It turns out the tape was the only copy in North America. A cult gay film deemed too transgressive for North American audiences was deemed acceptable in socialist Yugoslavia.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro and the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina in 1977. But a Canadian magazine called Body Politic from the time notes that in the federal capital of Belgrade, where homosexuality wasn’t decriminalized, there was “a far more developed network of gay clubs and cruising areas” than in “tolerant Ljubljana”. In 2015, Frank Dota from the University of Zagreb argued that a “slow and partial decriminalization, and tacit depathologization in the 1970s” paved the way for a somewhat more emancipated understanding of sexuality to emerge in Yugoslavia, parallel to processes already underway in the West. 

Though it was limited and largely confined to a few bigger cities, the beginnings of a Yugoslav queer art and music scene followed in the early 1980s. This could be seen in a number of popular Yugoslav punk and new wave songs, the organization of a series of book festivals, film screenings, and club nights. Zagreb was home to the “first gay radio program in the Eastern Bloc”, and the Croatian island of Rab hosted the “first international lesbian camp” in August 1988. The participants that converged on Rab came from all over Europe, including Germany, Italy, England, Ireland, Portugal, Austria and Netherlands. Ljubica Spasovska writes that “Western Europe was the space that the small [Yugoslav] lesbian activist core appropriated as their reference point and a source of inspiration for their activism.”

The new subversive culture clearly borrowed much from the West, but it was still born out of the unique cultural space that was 1980s Yugoslavia. Domestic new wave and experimental bands were at its vanguard. A few year back, writer Gregor Bulc did a two-part feature for Bturn Magazine called Hard Bosom: Pro-Gay Tracks from Ex-Yugoslavia. Here are a few of the highlights, along with some of Gregor’s comments and selected translations of the lyrics. 

 

“Ljubi me na Ibici”, Hladna braća 

The name of the band Hladna braća (Cold brothers) plays with a rather direct gay reference, paraphrasing the idiom ‘topla braća’ (warm brothers). Indeed, borrowing from German, the ‘polite’ mainstream discourse in Yugoslavia often referred to gay men as ‘warm brothers’. Here’s a fan video of their kitschy pop song hinting to a gay-friendly reputation of certain Mediterranean islands.

She wants everything now/For this, one needs millions of millions/Of Dollars … /For her to be happy in the future/Sooner or later I’ll get some dough/Sooner or later I’ll make my dreams come true/Sooner or later she’ll be just mine/Sooner or later she’ll be happy/Kiss me on Ibiza, Caress me on Corsica/Palma will burn/Capri will sink

 

“Moja prijateljica”, Xenia

My girlfriend/She’s so beautiful/I’m so proud/Men turn around to see her/To see my girlfriend/Men would like to touch her/Men would like to hide her/From me/Men would like to dream with her/Men would like to sleep with her/Without me

 

“Preživjeti”, KUD Idijoti

 

More over at Bturn

BALKANIST

Balkanist is an experimental, occasionally bilingual platform featuring politics, analysis, culture, and criticism for a smart international audience underwhelmed by what is currently on offer.Our aim is to provide bold, uncompromising coverage of the Balkan region and everything to its East.

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