The culture of Serbia is considered to be one of the most diverse of the Slavic peoples who came to the Balkan Peninsula in the 6th / 7th centuries. It initially developed under the influence of Byzantine culture. The first evidence of Serbian literature goes back to the second half of the 9th century and is closely connected with the activities of the brothers Cyril and Method and their students, who developed the Cyrillic script and brought it to the areas of present-day Serbia.
Medieval literature, comparable to that in other parts of Europe, was predominantly religious and didactic in character. The outstanding works of this period include the Miroslav Gospel from the 12th century and the works of Saint Sava of Serbia, who wrote the first Serbian code of law in addition to the lives of saints. An important place in medieval literature was taken by heroic works that either glorified the rulers of this epoch and / or reported on the battles against the Ottomans. The Ottoman conquest of Serbia in 1459 marked the central turning point in the country’s cultural life. While older literary forms dominated Serbian literature after the Ottoman conquest, there was a so-called rebirth of literary creativity in the 18th century.
A great enlightener of this time was Dositej Obradović (around 1739-1811), whose activity was groundbreaking for future developments. Obradović acquired a European education on numerous trips and was thus able to convey a new secular, bourgeois educational ideal and program to his people. He was a writer, philosopher, educator, educator and founder of the University of Belgrade. He was one of the most notable and influential figures in Serbian culture in the 18th and early 19th centuries. At the beginning of the 19th century, under the influence of Europe, numerous literary currents developed in Serbia (classicism, sensibility, realism), but the most important was Romanticism, in which the ideas and work of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić(1787 – 1864) on the one hand and the liberation struggle against the Ottomans on the other. Vuk Karadžić was a Serbian philologist, language reformer of the Serbian written language, ethnologist, poet and translator. The Serbian uprisings at the beginning of the 19th century gradually brought Serbia back its independence. In the second half of the 19th century there was a return to realism, which was replaced by modernist tendencies at the beginning of the 20th century (symbolism, expressionism, surrealism).
During the post-war period, some of the writers followed the demands of critical realism, while others developed their own individual note in literature, such as Miodrag Pavlović (* 1928). The novelist, narrator, poet and essayist Ivo Andrić (1892-1975), who was a Yugoslav writer, diplomat and politician, made an outstanding contribution. Andrić received numerous honors from the Yugoslav state for his literary achievements. Andrić was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961. Today he is honored by Serbia as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina (country of birth) and Croatia, although his political work or the political instrumentalization of his work is not always undisputed.
The most important contemporary Serbian authors (also known in German-speaking countries) include: Miloš Crnjanski (1893–1977), Danilo Kiš (1934–1989), Bogdan Bogdanović (1922–2010), Sreten Ugričić (* 1961), László Végel (* 1941) and Biljana Srbljanović (* 1970).
Every year in January, the most prominent literary award, the so-called NIN Prize (Ninova nagrada) is given. In 1954 this was established by the Belgrade weekly magazine NIN. A jury made up of prominent authors awards the prize to the best Serbian novel published last year.
The Belgrade Book Fair, one of the oldest and most important book fairs in the region, also takes place annually. In the halls of the Belgrade Fair, publishers from Serbia and neighboring countries present their latest publications on 30,000 square meters. The decision of the fair management to leave the traditional space for the stand of a renowned book publisher to the publishing house “Greater Serbia” of the ultra-nationalist politician and convicted criminal Vojislav Šešelj, who only publishes writings by Šešelj, caused a stir in August 2018. Critics saw the decision as part of a tendency towards provincialization of the book fair under the fair management close to the ruling party SNS.
Serbia has a long and rich theater tradition with numerous on and off theaters in Belgrade and other cities. The Serbian National Theater, which was founded in 1861, is one of the most prominent and oldest theaters in Serbia and the wider region. Serbian and international theater presents itself at numerous festivals.
The most prominent among them, the Belgrade International Theater Festival (BITEF) was founded back in 1967. It is one of the oldest festivals in the world and has developed over the years into one of the most important and largest theater festivals in Europe. This September the BITEF celebrated its 50th anniversary. Even after five decades of its tradition, it remains committed to placing controversial political issues at the center of the festival. This year it is mainly the European refugee crisis and the EU crisis. The Sterijino pozorje theater festival, which has been held annually in Novi Sad since 1956, has an even longer tradition.
Among the various museums in Serbia, the National Museum in Belgrade offers by far the largest and most important collection. This covers the entire history of art from antiquity to the 20th century. The approximately 400,000 exhibits include the most important painters and sculptors in Serbia, but also works by important European painters such as Renoir, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso. After 15 years of renovation, the museum did not reopen until June 2018. Also after being closed for renovation, the Museum of Contemporary Art reopened in autumn 2017 after ten years. With over 8,000 exhibits, it houses the world’s largest collection of Yugoslav art.
The music in Serbia can look back on a rich history. The oldest musical evidence goes back to ritual songs and dance melodies of the Slavs who came to the Balkans in the 7th century. Sacred music, which was largely influenced by Byzantine art, has prospered since the 10th century. In the High Middle Ages, epic poetry, performed by traveling minstrels at princely courts, spread. Classical music originated in Serbia in the 19th century, not least thanks to the work of the composer Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac (1856-1914)who combined European traditions with ecclesiastical music and folk melodies. After the First World War there was a change in the direction of modernism with the young composers Petar Konjović (1883-1970) and Stevan Hristić (1885-1958). In Serbia there is a long folklore tradition that has become internationally known, especially in the form of brass music under the name Balkan Brass (also: Gypsy Brass) and shows clear influences of centuries of belonging to the Ottoman Empire. Balkan Brass originated in the 19th century mainly from Austrian and Turkish military music as well as Serbian and Roma folk music. Influences from other styles of music, such as B. Klezmer integrated. These influences can also be heard in Turbo Folk, which has a say in popular music in Serbia and other areas of the former Yugoslavia. The accordion is mainly used in traditional Serbian music. National instruments such as the gusle are mainly used for traditional, especially rural music.
A rich independent music scene has developed in Serbia, which can tie in with the youth scenes in the former Yugoslavia, which had been pushed back during the Miliošević regime. These include electronica acts like Darkwood Dub or indie rock combos like the Partibrejkers. The largest annual music festivals in Serbia are the “Dragačevski sabor trubača” trumpet festival in Guča and the ” Exit pop festival ” in Novi Sad. In 2007 Serbia took 1st place in the Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Molitva” (The Prayer) by Marija Šerifović. The unitary state of Serbia and Montenegro achieved a success with 2nd place in this competition in 2004 with the song “Lane moje” (My little lamb) by Željko Joksimović. Well-known Serbian singers include Đorđe Balašević, Lepa Brena, Željko Joksimović and Ceca.
The architecture in Serbia reflects the diverse history of the country. Byzantine architecture is significant, especially in the numerous Serbian monasteries, some of which have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The most important patrons of architecture were the members of the medieval Nemanjid ruling dynasty. Since the establishment of the Holy Sepulcher by the dynastic founder Stefan Nemanja in the Studenica Monastery, all other Serbian kings have acted as patrons of the arts and especially religious architecture. A large part of the Serbian monasteries was built in the Middle Ages. In addition to religious buildings, numerous defensive structures stand out, those with the fortresses Golubac and Smederevo, the city walls of Kotor and the fortress of Belgrade are among the outstanding fortifications of the time. Other prevailing architectural styles in Serbia are the baroque in the north of the country and the oriental architectural style in Sanjak. In the capital, Belgrade, in particular, there are numerous buildings from the interwar period in the modern style, especially Art Deco.
Commemoration of the 1st World War
In 2014, the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and the assassination attempt in Sarajevo was an important topic in the Serbian cultural scene and critical memory. On the anniversary of the attack, June 28, the leadership of Serbia and the Republika Srpska in Visegrad, eastern Bosnia, commemorated the outbreak of the First World War, separate from the international celebrations in Sarajevo. Place of the Serbian-national colored memorial event was Andrićgrad – a replica of the medieval city of Višegrad, conceived by the politically controversial director Emir Kusturica, based on the novel The Bridge over the Drina by Ivo Andrić. The Muslim director Kusturica converted to the Serbian Orthodox faith as a result of the Balkan Wars and has become an icon of the nationalist Serbian cultural scene.
In contrast to the nation-kitschy Andrićgrad, the Serbian writer and dramaturge, together with the Sarajevo theater director Dino Mustafić, staged the play ” Mali je ovaj coarse ” (This grave is small), which is critical of the generation of young Serbian assassins from Sarajevo grapples.
Novi Sad European Capital of Culture
Serbia’s provincial capital Novi Sad will be European Capital of Culture in 2021. In 2016, the European Commission chose the capital of Vojvodina for the first time as a city in a country outside the EU, after the Commission opened the program to the candidate countries of the Western Balkans in 2014. Novi Sad will share the title with Timişoara in Romania and Eleusis in Greece in 2021.
Nationalist controversy over the Nobel Prize for Literature for Peter Handke
The award of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature to the Austrian writer with South Slavic roots, Peter Handke, led to political protests in the Western Balkans region because of its role in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, and to verbal skirmishes between Serbian government representatives and politicians from neighboring countries. Handke had sided with Serbian politics during the wars, including negating the Srebrenica genocide and performing at the funeral of Serbian President Slobodan Milošević.
Above all, non-Serbian victims’ associations from Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as intellectuals from various Balkan countries and the West protested against the decision of the Nobel Committee. The ambassadors of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Albania boycotted the award ceremony in Oslo, which the Serbian Minister of Culture Vladan Vukosavljević declared with “anti-Serb motives”. Kosovo and the canton of Sarajevo declared Handke to be persona non grata, the latter decision was sharply criticized by the Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin, who at the same time denounced the Bosnian capital as a refuge for Islamism. The Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić had previously stated that Serbia now has two Nobel Prize winners in literature – Ivo Andrić and Peter Handke.