homepage_name! > Editions > Number 141 > In memoriam - Balaševic

A Balašević State of Mind

Adapting a text written about the passing of Đorđe Balašević, a poet, actor, singer, songwriter, comedian, producer, and peace activist for a business magazine is nothing short of a challenge. Yet, two ‘post-war friends’ know all too well that Đorđe Balašević’s life work can be easily and unconditionally applied to all life experiences and they are paying the first of many respects to him in this manner. There is not enough time, as this is the first edition of the magazine published following the loss to us all. A dissertation, character and work analysis, and special personal praises will follow, all in good time.

To foreigners reading this magazine: We did our best to translate the original text brimming with words and emotions that only Đorđe Balašević could match.

Who is The Man that united the most fervent and the most fragmented of regions in one single night? The verb ‘to be’ is deliberately used in the present tense. Who made Yugoslavia sing and cry together?

“Line up a star battalion…”

Modern-day technology makes information easily accessible in many languages. You don’t happen to understand the lyrics? All you have to do is listen to the music of the orchestra or the band that performed alongside him and you will get it. These are the greatest names you may hear at jazz concerts performing alongside world-renowned artists, these are the university professors who are cultivating our outstandingly talented musicians, the concertmasters of great philharmonic orchestras (Mr. Ignac Šen, did you know he is joining you up there?) Whether it is a cymbal, a violin, a guitar, a piano, or a tamburitza, the emotion you get will provide a clue of the lyrics. It will be an honor for many of us to translate whatever you like, to make an attempt at a translation. And, to Đorđe Balašević’s great fortune, his greatest wish, he said, came true – that his band is made up of his friends.

To diplomats reading this: Who was the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador?

By Public Information Section | 08 April 1998

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mrs. Sadako Ogata, named today a Serbian singer, Mr. Đorđe Balašević, as her Goodwill Ambassador in the former Yugoslavia. Ogata made the announcement after meeting with Balašević in Novi Sad today, during her two-week visit of the region. “I’m very happy to welcome Mr. Balašević as my Goodwill Ambassador. His songs offer a source of inspiration and energy for people who want peace and reconciliation throughout the former Yugoslavia.”

To business partners: You all might know in your own language, the (attemptof) translation of one of Balašević’s rhymes ‘All that money for nothing’. I hum this tune to someone whose attempt to stab in the back I have just avoided. You have most certainlymet your own version of a character who ‘wears a stamp ring and a loose tie, sending drinks around’ Balašević sang, and you know of at least two or three ‘general managers with ‘Godfatherly’ connections sending drinks our way in some clubs’, in our case unusually called ‘Progress’. Were you ever there? You were, for sure. If you don’t know any of these characters, take a good look around you, wherever you happen to be. You’re surrounded by them. In any country in the world. I confirm this, from afar.

Nothing in relation to Balašević was about business, and yet there’s nobody else from our part of the world that I could call a true Leader, in the purest sense of the word. To lead by example and good intention at the expense of his own life. To stir such emotion inside of us that we become dangerous to the evil that was in the making. Did we follow him? Now he gave us another chance.

This is going to be just a short story about who we are, who listened to him, and who actually heard him!

Who are we, who passionately defended him everywhere and in front of everyone, until that dash, he talked about got its own number in the end? He said that what life is made up of is the dash on a gravestone nestled between the years of birth and death. Who are those who have been crying since February the 19th, lighting candles, interrupting work, and spontaneously gathering, at present times of now globally ‘barbed-wired roads’?

This is not going to be a short story about him, but about how he influenced us. No, I do not speak for everyone. I have special permission to speak in the name of a few of us and that is quite enough on this occasion.

Through your personal experiences you will discover, I hope, the greatest influence that he had on us. Each one of us carries inside us some personal experience which was built, described, colored, or sung about, only by Đorđe Balašević.

‘Inventing a fairytale, a strange, awry lullaby, to keep him awake…'

To my colleagues, the medical workers who treated Đorđe until his last breath: there is a good reason why doctors and medical staff are not allowed to assist and care for relatives and people close to them. I know you were crying and giving your all for hours. I doubt that one could have found a medical team in the entire region who would have qualified as ‘not related to this patient.’ We applauded you last year. On this occasion, I applaud, until my palms start to burn.

‘Darkness descended on The Balkans, the roads are barbed wired…’

The news about our loss was carried through the region and then, to my surprise, it was picked up by the world. Europe, the Americas, media giants who get involved when something important happens. It was appropriate and candid. Prominent world leaders came forward, some clumsily so, but obviously inadvertently, and pointed to the fact that he was a friend to one particular a city. The information is correct, albeit incomplete. Đorđe Balašević was a friend. Period.

We all remember where we were when the Twin towers fell, or when something significant happened in our lives. I will, for as long as I breathe, remember the document I was working on and the word when I stopped and heard the news. An urgent report became just an ongoing report. The urgent thing to do was to get in contact with friends, family members, and like-minded folk. In my case, it was a matter of urgency to get back onto social media which I had previously abandoned for an indefinite period of time with no plans of returning, just the same as when I was leaving from Belgrade some twenty-odd years ago. It was a matter of urgency to get in touch with ‘ourselves’. Our Balašević spent his life getting in touch with himself. He wrote about love and shared that unique gift with none other than us. He endeavored that we never lose ourselves. That we are privileged.

When the first barbed wires appeared on these roads, and when he would return to Belgrade from a concert in another city, which in those days had just recently become a ‘foreign land’, he would say: “Kids, over there, they are just the same as you. Clear-sighted. They too, know all the new songs. “

Ever since the days when the energy was swaying the Sava Centar concert hall in Belgrade, in my mind, a clear-sighted person was anyone who knew how to shift boundaries. Not just the ones determined by a place of birth, immediate surroundings, or home education, but also those which are perhaps the most important in forming one’s personality: the choice of environment, friends, beliefs, values, and at the end of it all, the choice of media. Fundamentally, we choose what and whom we believe. This is not a story addressed to cynics or those having a different opinion to convince them otherwise. The awareness of one’s mental structure is a process that lasts longer than two or three nights of mourning or some TV broadcast. Persons who cannot, or do not wish to understand, what the Serbian poet whose mother was born in today’s Croatia, meant when he jokingly said during a concert that his mother tongue was Croatian, probably slept through some classes. Did we actually forget the original meaning of ’mother tongue?’ No, this text is not written to defend.

I heard Đorđe Balašević’s name next to: ‘That thing he said he didn’t have to’. When the ‘wise’ ones spoke up to prove to me, a supporter, that I knew nothing, and that I was rather shallow for defending him. “You don’t know, you live far away so you’re not well informed.” No, brother! I am far away, therefore, I see even better! An aerial view. I don’t engage in such arguments any longer. I have a little notebook for that. He didn’t apologize, but not much noise was made about his ‘untranslatable’ song because remember, he was great but modest, and he didn’t brag about it.This, untranslatable song, ‘The verse above all verses’ was written in words we, in this region all understand, but which cannot be translated into either of the regional dialects. This is just a tiny indicator that sizeable judgments from small-minded people were hurtful to him after all. How could they not be? He had a heart of a lion and a Slavic soul. If there’s one thing I could reprove, it’s the amount of time he spent writing such a song. Who was it written for? Who doesn’t want to know the word that one part of Serbia uses for the old-style shutters, or for making snowangels, or for celebration? Who doesn’t want to know the name of ‘that iron thing where you moor a boat,’ when they cross over some invisible, but existing borders? No, that wasn’t your audience.

Let me briefly refer to the name of this great magazine... The real profit would be made if that very energy from his concerts in the nineties, in Belgrade, as well as from many other places in the neighborhood or across the oceans, could be packaged into tiny bottles, and used, as and when required. That energy was good and mighty. The bad guys knew very well that it was just as dangerous. Store it in very small bottles. Handle it with care!

When the first images from the region started to emerge after his passing, and when I saw the reactions of us who, for some time now, have been presenting different passports at our own borders, I thought: ‘There’s that energy’! Someone should be afraid again. I never quite trusted the numbers, but the photos were enough for any audit. While reading anything I could get my hands on, and after filtering through a surprisingly small amount of negative content, messages from Rijeka, Sarajevo, Chicago, Belgrade, and of course, Geneva, where I live, started to arrive. The messages were written in foreign languages (the really foreign ones) because I try my best to be the ambassador of all things good in Serbia and beyond, and – perhaps I shouldn’t say it – but I will: from Vardar to Triglav. I endeavored to make him known and heard even beyond that barrier called ’language’. My friends, the real foreigners, knew of his work. Most messages, of course, arrived in the language which we understand, in our mother tongue, wherever our mothers happen to be from.

I was drinking Tokaji wine, mentioned in one of his songs, with those clear-sighted people in my thoughts. Šabac, my birthplace, from where I received the news within the first 3 minutes, simply said: ‘I know why you love that verse’ and it reminded me how much I am loved. Rijeka reminded me that this pain swims up to 40 per mile, the wine is too weak. Sarajevo said that it froze and stood still and that it is all up to us now, but more about that at the end of this text. Slovenia said it went to Belgrade to drink in his honor for two days, and in mine too. Montenegro sent the photo with one of his songs ‘Life’s an ocean’. Northern Macedonia reminded me of the real number of people who are in mourning at this moment. Twenty million!!! Think about it...Belgrade, where a piece of my heart was left forever, didn’t even ask a thing. Belgrade only asked for the email confirmation and without a word sent me the one and only thing I needed that day. Balašević sang: ‘I am a rare guest in the old neighborhood...but they kinda know me.’

My ‘post-war friend’, who is anything but shy, shyly emerged after I had already publicly vented my rage: “I didn’t want to be THE ONE to deliver the news.”

Within a few hours, he gathered us again, and sent us love from all corners, after weeks and even months of silence, because we had all been living his book ‘One of those lives.’ Just as we doubted the friendship of those we missed, he appeared again and gave us a sign. That is that power!

A woman from the region (that’s how they call us nowadays – the region) whose writing I follow when, absent from it, explained briefly and clearly that we returned from his concerts as better people, much aware of that fact.

It made me think, we sin but no worries, we’ll be better after the concert. Yes, that’s right! ‘ Two ‘Ave Marias’ or two tickets to the concert at the Serbian National Theatre please, to get in touch with that human part of me.’ We were all aware what he was molding us into, and how we allowed ourselves to become disfigured when we got lost in the face of inevitably dominant influences. Up until a few days ago, he was always available to awaken the conscience of those who wanted it. Now, as of a few days ago, it is up to us.

“Lady (from Lady and the Tramp), I will tell you now and to no one else, ever again…"

When faced with great temptations, where I can only see a wall, an empty one, even without that ivy he sang about, I put a table in front of that wall. Ideally, it would be a ‘black, Swabian table’ like in a song. But,even a small one will do. I listen to his songs and, as he says I ‘blend wine with the night’ until everything emerges. A solution, an answer, an excuse, or a plan. Sort of like when you talk with your godfather, the one who baptized you, the one you trust and who, traditionally so, protects you if you happen to lose your father.

They listened to his voice, but did they hear him? How deep and how deeply applicable to life is this message ‘To plant a tree before first understanding it, is to work in vain.’

Not to over-idealize, for which I am often criticized … I admit, he does know how to spoil my plans too. Determined not to get vitamin D from a pill my whole life, and being a huge fan of the sun and the distances, thosewhich he jokingly described as ‘cacti, coyotes … ends of the world’, I am slowly planning yet another move to come, this time of the retirement kind. I am thinking of all the details, including, of course, who is going to visit me. Balašević’s music is ever-present in the home of Madame (born) Hinić, now Ivošević (yes, that Hinić kinfolk, refuged or coming from Lika … now from Novi Sad). So, it is quite a regular occurrence to have his music blasting out from any of my devices. Just as I plan with Balašević’s sound, the radio, the computer, or the phone simply switch to ‘The Old VojvodinianWaltz’ to remind me where I come from, and so he spoils all my plans.

And then, all of a sudden, the picture of a distant red sky and the canyonsmorph into an image of a ‘szállá s’ [grange] covered in white, with the exact number of geese which only I know. It transports me back to my own, very different place. That’s when I call my friends and family just to check on them.

Is Balašević already a lifestyle? Do you remember the questions from our youth? “What kind of music do you listen to?” I was always the practical one: “Do you listen to Balašević?” It helped a lot, as sometimes there would never be a second conversation.

“That was honor, wasn’t it?”

They wrote that he sang about love, and only love. Correct. That the guns were in our hands and that the hatred was inside of us. Correct! They hope or fear that, just as with everything else, ‘his positively charged angels’ would calm us down and that the emotion would pass in a day or two. That we would go back to what we were, some of us being mean and filled with hatred. Yes? No!!! It is in our hands! It was then, and it will always be.

Yes, it was an honor to live during the times of a man who made a living from weaving love into words, not from ticket sales. They say that out of everything that Đorđe Balašević is, which I enumerated at the beginning of this text and I am sure I left something out – he isn’t a painter. I arguethat he is. A master of a never-before-used technique. We allhold in our minds our very own images of ‘Száll ás [grange] of the Tisa, of the Danube, what that girl from the country looked like, and whether Boža Pub had a moustache or not. We wonder what kind of emotion existed inside of a man to whom they played ‘The fall is coming’ Admit it. All of you hold these images inside yourselves and you also know their colors all too well. Keep them safe.

He declared war on the war, ignorance, and inhumanity and said: “I lost many cities.” Are you watching, Đorđe, you lost none! And the youth are watching and singing.

Wage a war against everything bad, against anything that doesn’t bring peace, love, and kindness to your hearts and lives. My generation has now become parents. Some will soon become grandparents. We have children, we are now the above-mentioned godfathers.

It is all up to us now. We are the ones instilling values, we are the ones playing music while driving our cars with the little ones strapped into their baby seats. We decide which music is played in our homes or what bedtime stories we read to them. When they grow up, they throw parties and get married and, quite likely, we are going to contribute, financially. The compromise to be made? A no-brainer. You will learn that particular song by heart and we will sing it together. The books and texts he left behind should enter the school curricula and that time will come. I have no doubt that the family, which suffered a lot from our rudeness, will now do what it takes so that we read what is still unpublished. That is what we are waiting for. With a little bit of assistance, ‘The new kids on the block’ will absorb these messages and adopt at least a fraction of the lifestyle, that ‘Balašević state of mind’ and of the kindness he gifted us. “You are young, you will get to enjoy the shade from that tree”.

Our dear Đorđe, Novi Sad has demonstrated that it is the city you had always reminded it to remain as it was. I read the news the day after, no empty bottles, trash, or glass. The people who gathered together that day were exactly everything that we are proud of. This is your audience, yet Iam laughing out loud through the tears – ‘happiness weaves sadness’ and I cheer on again – the majority are clear-sighted. You saw it for yourself and I feel that there are some out there very afraid of the images that have gone viral these days.

This was broadcast on national television. There were no areas cordoned off and no helmets in sight although we live in very challenging times. Thank you all! It was an honor to see where we have come from. I got my hopes back up. This time around, no one dared to step out in front of that good energy which ‘sways the region’, not only in Novi Sad but also at any other gathering in any other city in the region. Each country follows its own internal pandemic measures as well as its own cultural measures. We disrupted those measures not because we are good, but because he influenced us that way. This is the only thing we must not forget this time. Do notforget: “Love doesn’t win, but love is invincible."

Yours, truly yours, the girls with ' Csárdás ' in their feet, two ‘post-ward friends’...

As he used to say, still belonging to herself only, regardless of the occasion,

Đerdana Ivošević

Geneva, Switzerland