Feature 04 Feb 16

Bosnia’s National Anthem Still Lost for Words

Two decades after the war, Bosnian politicians still cannot agree on lyrics for the national anthem.

Rodolfo Toe BIRN Sarajevo
Bosnian supporters during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil | Photo: Flickr

Bosnia’s national football team, like all other sports teams, is still occasionally teased - in the country and abroad - when they stand up for their national anthem but cannot sing the words.

That is because it still does not have any. Moreover, the dilemma over the wordless tune seems set to continue, as yet another attempt to furnish the national anthem with a text has failed miserably.

Parliament’s House of Representatives on Wednesday rejected the proposal of Semsudin Mehmedovic, a politician from the main Bosniak Party of Democratic Action, SDA, who suggested forming a new commission to look into the issue.

Asim Mujkic, professor at the Faculty of Political Science of Sarajevo, said the difficulty in reaching a consensus on the anthem reflects the fact that the country remains fragmented by opposing nationalist standpoints.

“Bosnia and Herzegovina is still under the influence of various disintegrative nationalisms, which strongly oppose the idea of reinforcing the concept of a unitary and centralised state ... this applies also to symbols of national unity, like the anthem,” Mujikic told BIRN.

Bosnia is one of a few countries in Europe, together with Spain, that have no official words to their national anthem.

The country adopted its first national anthem, Jedna si jedina [You are the one and only] after independence in 1992. After the 1992-5 war eded, however, this song was axed following claims by Bosnian Croats and Serbs that it represented only one of Bosnia’s three “constitutive peoples”, the Bosniaks.

In its place, Bosnian authorities in 1999 adopted the song Intermeco [Interlude] written by Dusan Sestic, a Bosnian composer living in Banja Luka.

But the Bosnian authorities failed to agree on lyrics to accompany the anthem. In 2009, a parliamentary commission accepted the text written by Sestic himself and Benjamin Isovic, which ended with the rousing invocation: “We're going into the future together.”

But parliament never approved these lines.

Speaking before the parliamentary session on Wednesday, Isovic told N1 television network that the proposal to set up yet another commission to provide lyrics for the anthem was pointless.

“This proposal is just another absurdity in the daily life of our unhappy country. They want to organise a new contest for the lyrics, without even mentioning the previous one,” he said.

“This is really not serious - but in some way it’s also normal ... considering what happens in this country, why should the national anthem be an exception?” Isovic asked.

Few Bosnians feel much attachment to their national anthem. Many Bosniaks regard the new anthem as something that was artificially imposed on the country, and at many events, especially when the football national team plays, they still sing the old wartime anthem.

“Bosnia already has a national anthem with its proper lyrics and everybody knows that,” Adnan Imamovic, a 53-year-old resident from Sarajevo, told BIRN, referring to the wartime anthem.

"Bosnia already had its official flag, the white flag with a blue coat of arms and the golden lilies [the flag adopted during the war], and already had its anthem. Everything else was just imposed from the outside and I don’t feel anything about it - the government can do whatever it wants with it,” he said.

Bosnian Croats and Serbs routinely disregard the anthem as well. Many feel more attached to Croatia or Serbia, ignore Bosnian sports teams and instead sing the Croatian and Serbian national anthems.

Some Bosnians also believe the authorities should be focusing on the grim economic and social situation, rather than bothering about the words for the national anthem.

“We already had a commission in the past to work on this topic and nothing was done,” Eldina Spahic, another Sarajevo resident, told BIRN.

“I don’t think this is a priority for the government ... they should address other, more urgent issues, like poverty or unemployment,” she said.

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