The Macedonian Tendency: Whose Is This Song?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Whose Is This Song?

I would like to see this movie, it sounds good. Here is the Google Video.

The strains of a Balkan ballad
By Nicholas Wood International Herald Tribune
Tuesday, November 16, 2004

SKOPJE, Macedonia And you thought the Balkan wars were just about
politics. One evening five years ago a group of friends - a Serb, a
Turk, a Greek and two Bulgarians - were at a restaurant in Istanbul.
As they ate, a band struck up a familiar tune. A dispute broke out,
each of the diners claiming that the tune was a famous national song
that belonged to his or her country.

The idea that the same song could be shared by nations that had been
at each others' throats for hundreds of years enraged and infuriated
some of them. It was also grounds for one of those diners to spend the
next four years making a film about it.

The result, a 70-minute documentary entitled "Whose Is This Song?" by
the Bulgarian filmmaker, Adela Peeva, has recently gone on general
release in Bulgaria after winning prizes at several specialized film
and television festivals, notably in Paris and in Nashville.

The film has touched a raw nerve among audiences in the Balkans,
questioning what many see as an integral part of their national
identities and ultimately, Peeva believes, showing just how much they
have in common.

The documentary follows Peeva through Macedonia, Turkey, Greece,
Albania, Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria.

In most countries, the tune is a love song with varying lyrics, but in
others, such as Turkey and Bosnia, it has also been used as a war
song. In each country the reactions are the same as people display
shock, anger, or disbelief when Peeva suggests the same tune is also
claimed by their neighbors.

"The Turks took it from us," says an Albanian in Tirana, explaining
that the song was originally theirs. "We are one of the most ancient

In Vranje, a town in southern Serbia, Peeva's hosts storm out of the
restaurant they are entertaining her in when she plays a Bosnian
version of the tune that has been used as a call to arms.

"This is theft!" shouts one man before leaving.

"Music and song are one of the strongest parts of our identities,"
Peeva explained. "But when someone comes along and say it is not, they
are very sensitive."

The film does not attempt to define where the song originally came
from, although Peeva said she was given numerous differing
explanations, including the possibility that it had been introduced by
soldiers from Scotland who were based in Turkey during the Crimean

In Greece it is known as "Apo Xeno Eopo," or "From a foreign land,"
and in Turkey it is called "Uskudar," after the region of Istanbul.

The Turkish version was the subject of a film, "Katip" (The Clerk),
directed by Ulku Erakalin in the 1960s, and the singer and actress
Eartha Kitt recorded a version of the song, also called "Uskudar," in
the 1970s.

However many different versions there are, Peeva says they all point
to the fact that most Balkan nations share a tradition passed down to
them by what was once the Ottoman Empire, and the Byzantine Empire
before that. This goes against what most people in the region have
been brought up to believe, viewing the Turks as oppressors who sought
to crush their true national identities.

The idea that the same song could be shared by several nations has
enraged some people.

"We tend not to accept we have a common identity," said Peeva.

The rise of nationalism in the 19th century saw everyday traditions
shared throughout the region redefined in national terms, according to
Alex Drace-Francis, a research fellow at the University of London who
also writes about the culture of identities in southeastern Europe.

"Basically there was a common culture, in terms of cuisine, domestic
life, music and clothing," he said. "There were regional differences
but they were not defined in terms of nationhood."

Those differences were re-emphasized and exacerbated towards the end
of the 20th century, with the exchange and expulsion of populations in
Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria, as well as the interethnic conflicts of
the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia.

Peeva claims that, just as the film has shown how sensitive people in
the region are about identity, it has enabled audiences to see the
absurdity of the different claims. "It makes us laugh at ourselves,"
she said.

Reactions to the film have been positive throughout the region, she
said. "People laugh and sing in the same places. The Bulgarians even
sang the Bosnian version of the song and clapped during the

Greece is the only country in the region that has not shown the film.
"I think they have a problem with it," said Peeva.

Mark Mazower, a professor of history at Columbia University and author
of "The Balkans," a book that explores identities and nationalism in
the region, says that the film is the latest in a series that
challenges long-held images of national identity.

He cited two recent Greek films, "A Touch of Spice" by Tasos
Boulmetis, released last year, and "Ulysses's Gaze" by Theo
Angelopoulos, starring Harvey Keitel and made in 1995, as recent
examples that explore the blurred and mixed national identities in the

"There is clearly a mood to question the national myths about the
Balkans," Mazower said in a telephone interview.

Peeva would now like the film to be used in schools throughout the
Balkans. She acknowledges, however, that not everybody who sees the
documentary accepts its lesson.

"The reaction of some of the people are the same as in the film, even
when it has ended," she said. "It needs time."

Copyright © 2004 The International Herald Tribune |

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