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Renegotiating dominant cultural narratives, Tomic’s performance drew on turbo-folk’s potential for inter-cultural dialogueby providing a rare occasion for the Serbian diaspora in Vienna to “become visible in Austrian public life”.Yet turbo-folk’s capacity for asserting disparate and “subversive” values is probably best captured by turbo-folk itself.Musically, it is viewed as an unattractive hybrid– a kitsch style created by the collision of Balkan folk and cheap Western dance beats, and further corrupted by what is seen as “oriental” flair.
Had it just been the politician alone “having a laugh”, the stunt would remain an example of warmongering political rhetoric.
However in the presence of a popular folk singer, Seselj’s ultra-extremist discourse is both neutralized and legitimized, entering the terrain of entertainment: war and politics become part of the estrada.
After several years of investigation, the Serbian authorities have issued an indictment against one of the country’s biggest music stars – Svetlana Raznatovic, who performs under the name “Ceca.” Charged with embezzling funds from a football club that she co-owned, and for illegal possession of firearms, the singer initially faced a sentence of up to 15 years in prison, but managed to strike a deal with the prosecution to repay parts of the sum under conditions of house arrest.
Many see Ceca’s indictment as a symbolic end to the era of “turbo-folk” – the infamous musical culture thatprovided the soundtrack to Serbia’s criminal-nationalist establishment of the 1990s.
From the political perspective, it has been argued that the music is thesheer embodiment of the nationalist ideology of Milosevic, as if created by his regime itself.
Fast forward a decade, however, and turbo-folk still holds a preeminent place on the Serbian cultural map, which seems largely unchanged.
The iconography of turbo-folk is swiftly spreading across local borders, to neighboring Croatia, a case not so much of switching sides as of shifting meanings in mass culture.
What critics of turbo-folk fail to acknowledge is that within this “corrupted” cultural concept there is space for asserting multiple – and often conflicting – ideas and practices.
Describing the diversity of Sakic’s audience at a concert in Belgrade’s Tasmajdan park, Cirjakovic found in turbo-folk the expression of multi-ethnic and multicultural tolerance – the very same values to which Serbia’s liberal elite aspires.
On the other hand, in her performance This is Contemporary Art, staged in Vienna in 2001 (with singer Dragana Mirkovic in the leading role), Serbian artist Milica Tomic dislocated turbo-folk from its status as a local genre and placed it into the larger international art scene, stressing how the music “has paved a way for globalization to enter isolated and excluded Serbia”.
Analyzing the case of Bosnian Muslim turbo-folk star Sinan Sakic in the Belgrade newspaper NIN in 2006, journalist Zoran Cirjakovic reflected on the “orientalist” cultural discourse of today’s liberal Serbia, emphasizing the complex and sometimes controversial roles that turbo-folk artists can maintain in different socio-political environments.