Musical Legacies of State Socialism: Revisiting Narratives about Post-World War II Europe

Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Belgrade, 24–26 September 2015



Institute of Musicology of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SASA)

Department of Fine Arts and Music of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts

BASEES Study Group for Russian and East European Music (REEM)



The Institute of Musicology of the Serbian Academy of Sciences is pleased to invite proposals for an international conference Musical Legacies of State Socialism: Revisiting the Narratives about Post–World War II Europe to be held in Belgrade in September 2015.

The countries that imposed the state socialism project were in many ways divided from the Western world by what is widely known as the ‘iron curtain’. In many respects, these countries are considered to have been totalitarian, as their ruling communist parties sought to control every aspect of their citizens’ everyday lives. However, discourses on these issues have recently become equivocal and research has drawn attention to unexplored features of cultural, artistic and musical life ‘behind the wall’. In this conference we wish to examine the musical legacies of the socialist countries of Europe in the period between the end of the World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall. We also wish to address the possible permeability of the ‘iron curtain’ to cultural exchange and to examine related phenomena, such as the concurrent influence of socialist ideology on music in the West and the present-day political/artistic processes of reappropriation of socialist legacy. Thus, we suggest the following key issues for the conference:

  1. Beyond the Iron Curtain: In order to revisit the concept of an impermeable iron curtain which stood between the socialist countries of Europe and the capitalist West, György Péteri has developed the concept of ‘nylon curtain’. While the state-socialist countries were not completely isolated from the West, the degree to which the influence of Western culture was tolerated and the extent of state control over this communication is open to debate. We wish to examine the various channels of communication between the East and the West and to explore in what way certain countries in state socialism system were open to manifestations of Western culture such as visits of various artists, stylistic influences, cultural exchanges, etc.
  2. ‘Socialist Music’ outside Zhdanovism: Vast swathes of artistic output under state socialism are often described as socialist realism, defined by what was known as Zhdanov Doctrine. However, in certain cases there were also modernist and avantgarde tendencies. The situation was often specific to the country in question, and modernism in art could sometimes become either a part of the ruling state ideology or merely tolerated in order to improve the country’s image in the West. In this respect, the case of Yugoslavia is distinctive, as already in 1948, after the Tito–Stalin split, Yugoslav cultural policymakers began to abandon the basic precepts of socialist realism. Thus, we are interested in investigating both stylistic and political questions which are relevant to this issue.
  3. The Impact of Official State Policies on Music Production: Beside the aforementioned subtopics, we also welcome other proposals which more generally reconsider the influences of official state policies on music production, in realms of artistic, traditional, as well as popular music. We invite scholars to investigate to what extent policies have shaped (redirected, inhibited or derailed) the development of music practices, for example, in terms of style, technique and the choice of subject matter. We particularly welcome comparative research which takes into account the current scholarship in the fields of literary criticism and art history.
  4. ‘Socialist Europe’ in the West: While state socialism had been imposed in the East, the communist parties remained strong political factors in some of the post-war Western countries. Certain artists, thinkers, and musicians in Western Europe were influenced by the idea of a socialist society, either seeing it embodied in the state socialist countries, or imagining it as a utopia of the future. We wish to examine how these processes were reflected both in specific musical practices and individual artistic oeuvres.
  5. Questioned Legacy and Backward Glances: With transitional and economic crises in many of the former state socialist countries, there have been instances of revisiting musical legacies of the past and using them in order to create politically engaged practices which question the current neoliberal capitalist system. Going beyond banal and often commodified instances of ‘nostalgia’ narratives (Yugonostalgy, Ostalgie, etc.), we wish to explore how these processes work and how they recycle what is seen as the musical legacy of state socialism.

We welcome original musicological and interdisciplinary research which deals with artistic, popular or traditional musical practices. The official language of the conference is English. Proposals (of no more than 400 words) for 20-minute papers and short biographical notes (of up to 200 words) should be sent both to Srđan Atanasovski ( and Ivana Medić ( by 15 February 2015 (receipt of proposals will be acknowledged by e-mail). We also encourage panel proposals; please provide a short description of the session in addition to individual abstracts and biographical notes. Proposals will be reviewed by the conference committee and results will be announced by 15 March 2015. A selection of papers will be considered for publication in the form of conference proceedings. Conference fee: 50 Euros (students are exempted). The institute may be able to assist a number of foreign speakers by providing accommodation in Belgrade. This support will be available on a competitive basis and if you are interested in this option, please let us know when applying.


Keynote Speakers:

Marina Frolova-Walker, Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge

Melita Milin, Institute of Musicology SASA, Belgrade


Conference Committee:

Dejan Despić, Fellow of the SASA

Dr. Marina Frolova-Walker

Dr. Ivana Medić

Dr. Melita Milin

Dr. Ana Petrov

Dr. Katy Romanou

Dr. Leon Stefanija

Dr. Danijela Špirić-Beard

Dr. Katarina Tomašević

Dr. Aleksandar Vasić

Dr. Patrick Zuk

Srđan Atanasovski