This region of former Austrian and Ottoman provinces struggles with independence, with no set international borders or system for representing the different ethnic groups found here. The countries of the Balkan Peninsula are ravaged by wars and political upheavals throughout the twentieth century, from the Balkan Wars of the century’s second decade through the ethnic conflicts of the last. In between, repressive Communist regimes in many countries create a chilling climate for the arts. In many areas there exist local traditional cultures that are melded with international influences. In Turkey, for example, in the 1930s, the D Group of painters and sculptors seek to synthesize Turkish tradition with elements of avant-garde European art. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and of repressive regimes in the Balkans in the early 1990s, opportunities open up for a less constrained art practice. Ongoing war, based on ethnic and other divisions, is an impediment to artistic practice in many areas through the 1990s. Greece remains stable, but the various kingdoms and federations established in the Balkans continually erupt into violence.
The Telephone Exchange building is constructed in Belgrade. Its design by Branko Tanazevic (born 1876) draws on the architecture of the Vienna Secession.
Austria-Hungary annexes Bosnia, and Bulgaria becomes independent as the power of Ottoman sultan Abdülhamid II declines. The sultan will be deposed the following year by the Committee of Union and Progress, or Young Turks, who establish a parliamentary government in Turkey and generate a fervent sense of nationalism, stressing cultural and linguistic unity.
The Association of Ottoman Painters is established by students of the Fine Arts Academy in Istanbul. Many of the association’s members will also study in Europe and, upon their return to Turkey, introduce the public to Western art styles. The most influential member is Ibrahim Çalli (1882–1960), who brings new subjects to Turkish painting, including multifigural and narrative compositions.
The two Balkan Wars are fought. The Balkan League—consisting of troops from already free Montenegro, later joined by Serbian, Bulgarian, and Greek forces—expel the Ottomans from Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania. The division of the conquered territory is contested and Bulgaria is forced to return a great deal of what had been promised in the original scheme. The wars create political tensions that contribute to the outbreak of World War I.
German Prince Wilhelm serves briefly as head of a newly independent Albania, but falls from power with the outbreak of World War I.
Serbia turns against its Balkan neighbors and occupies Kosovo and Macedonia. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863–1914) of the Austro-Hungarian empire arrives to promote peace in Sarajevo, he is assassinated by a Serbian nationalist. World War I begins and Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia. Austria-Hungary is aligned with Germany, Turkey, and Bulgaria as the Axis powers against the Allies: Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the U.S. During the war, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria occupy different parts of Serbia and Montenegro. The war ends when the Armistice is signed in 1918.
The Turkish government, led by the Young Turks, executes 300 Armenian nationalist leaders, then orchestrates the deportation of 1.8 million Armenians from Anatolia to Syria and Mesopotamia. It is estimated that in the process, some 1.5 million Armenians are massacred or die of starvation, disease, or exhaustion.
After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles sets terms for the former provinces of the defeated Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes is founded; its name is changed in 1929 to Yugoslavia, meaning “the land of the Southern Slavs.” The Greco-Turkish War is fought over promises made to Greece of former lands of the Ottoman empire, made by the Allies who wanted Greek support in World War I. Over the next several years, ethnic Greeks and Turks in both countries are forced to return to their land of origin.
Representatives to the Treaty of Paris decide to divide Albania among Greece, Italy, and Yugoslavia. The Albanians reject the plan and Albania is recognized as an independent state with its admission to the League of Nations.
The avant-garde “Zenitism” movement is founded by Ljubomir Micic (1895–1971). Western European culture is spiritually bankrupt, according to Micic, but Zenitism, the embodiment of the Balkan “barbaro-genius,” will revitalize it. The group’s manifesto is published in its magazine Zenit(Zenith), which, despite Micic’s insistence on the superiority of “Balkanization,” routinely reproduces work by Cubists, Futurists, Dadaists, and Expressionists.
Kemal Atatürk (born Mustafa Kemal, 1881–1938) becomes the first president of the newly proclaimed Republic of Turkey, launching an ambitious campaign to modernize, secularize, and Westernize the country. He replaces Islamic sharica law with Western legal codes, thus separating church and state; abolishes the caliphate and theological schools, secularizing education; grants equal rights to women; converts written Turkish from an Arabic to Latin script; and bans the fez, encouraging European dress. Atatürk is an enthusiastic proponent of culture as an integral element of national development, and encourages a synthesis of the nation’s creative legacy, indigenous cultures, and Western artistic practices.
Greeks vote for the abolition of the monarchy and the Second Republic is born. The monarchy is restored in 1935; the next year, the king establishes a right-wing dictatorship under the leadership of General Ioannis Metaxas (1871–1941). The monarchy is finally abolished only in 1974.
Benito Mussolini (1883–1945), dictator of Italy, begins a campaign to take over Albania, culminating in his German-supported occupation of the country in 1939.
The Marxist-oriented Croatian group Zemlja (Earth) is active in Zagreb, espousing a vernacular culture based in the immediate social milieu, and rejecting the imported styles of western Europe. Although the group is opposed to formalism, it does not support Socialist Realism.
The New Artists’ Society is founded in Sofia, Bulgaria, to foster avant-garde trends in art allied with western European movements of the 1920s and ’30s. The society operates until 1944, when it is absorbed into the Communist-controlled Union of Bulgarian Artists.
The construction of the Church of Saint Mark, Belgrade, the design of which is based loosely on the twelfth-century church of the Gracanica Monastery, leads to a debate on historicism in contemporary Serbian architecture.
Architect Vladimir Subic (1894–1946) designs the first Slovenian skyscraper, in Ljubljana. Standing 70.35 meters in height, the building is the tallest in Yugoslavia.
The D Group is formed in Istanbul to promote contemporary European aesthetic ideas in Turkey. Most of the group’s members, including painter Çemal Tollu (1899–1968) and sculptor Zühtü Müridoglu (1906–1992), are former students of the Istanbul Academy of Fine Arts who also received training in Europe.
The National University Library in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana is constructed to the design of architect Joze Plecnik (1872–1957). The design embodies Plecnik’s modernist synthesis of classical and local vernacular design sources.
During the course of World War II, Italy invades Albania, Greece, and Yugoslavia. The Italian forces are forced to retreat by local armies but are soon replaced by the Germans, who remain until 1944.
The Albanian Communist Party is founded with Enver Hoxha (1908–1985) as its first secretary. He will serve as prime minister from 1944 to 1954, as well as minister of foreign affairs between 1946 and 1953. Thereafter he is president, but in actuality a virtual dictator until his semi-retirement in 1983. Hoxha is responsible for Albania’s industrialization, but also for its estrangement from the Soviet Union and political alignment with China between 1967 and 1976.
The Axis powers, led by Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), attack Yugoslavia and Greece during World War II. Yugoslavia is divided when Germany proclaims a “Greater Croatia,” to which it annexes most of Bosnia and western Serbia. The fascist puppet government, attempting to create a Catholic, all-Croat republic, sends hundreds of thousands of Jews, Gypsies, and Serbs to death camps. Two separate movements battle the foreigners and each other for control of the country—the Communists, led by Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980), and the ethnic Serbians, led by Dragoljub Mihailovic (1893–1946).
Turkish painter Nuri Iyem (born 1915) founds the Yeniler Grubu (New Group), emphasizing the exploration of aesthetic styles and social content relevant to the Turkish context, in opposition to the European-inspired formalism of the D Group.
After the German departure from Greece, the exiled monarchy returns, only to face a Communist insurgency. The United States and Britain back the king, and the civil war ends in 1949.
At the end of World War II, Tito and the Communists prevail, and the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia is proclaimed. It consists of six republics: Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia; and two autonomous provinces: Kosovo and Vojvodina. As each republic develops with varying degrees of success, ethnic tensions rise. These are kept in check by Tito but explode within a few years of his death in 1980.
The monarchy is abolished in Bulgaria and the Communist party is elected to power. Georgi Dimitrov (1882–1949) becomes prime minister. A Communist state organized along the lines of the Soviet Union is established in the following year. Its long-term leader is Todor Zhivkov (1911–1998), who is head of the Communist party from 1954 until 1989, as well as president from 1971 to 1989.
Greek novelist Nikos Kazantzakis (1883–1957) publishes Alexi Zormpa (Zorba the Greek). The novel, which establishes Kazantzakis’ international reputation, concerns the encounter between a passionate Dionysian and a more contemplative figure.
Ideological disputes between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Communist Party result in the country’s expulsion from the Cominform. Yugoslavia pursues an independent course in foreign relations and economic policy, and, although intellectual freedom is restricted, there is a greater degree of openness than in other countries of the Eastern Bloc.
Art swindler Ante Topic Mimara (1898–1987) presents a false list of 166 works allegedly stolen by the Nazis from Yugoslavia to authorities at the Central Collecting Point in Munich. Mimara’s scam is later exposed, although he and the works of art disappear. A 2001 report reveals that some dozen of the works are in the collections of museums in Belgrade and Zagreb.
In Bulgaria, art production and exhibition are tightly controlled by the Union of Bulgarian Artists, which enforces Socialist Realism as the only appropriate mode of artistic expression. Limited artistic freedom is granted in several brief “thaws,” notably the mid-1960s and late ’70s.
Right-wing guerrillas, backed by the U.S. and Britain, unsuccessfully attempt to overthrow the Communists in Albania.
The group EXAT 51 (short for “experimental atelier”) is formed in Zagreb by Croatian painters and architects with a reading of their manifesto at a meeting of the Association of Applied Artists. The group rejects Socialist Realism, arguing that the official condemnation of abstraction contradicts the tenets of socialism. Building on the ideas of the Bauhaus and Russian constructivism, EXAT 51 helps to free Yugoslav artists from the strictures of Stalinist dogma.
After a stay in the United States and Canada (1951–53), Croatian painter and graphic designer Edo Murtic (born 1921) makes a definitive break from Socialist Realism in his solo exhibition Experience of America, held in Zagreb and Belgrade, in which he shows paintings depicting scenes of American cities in an Abstract Expressionist mode.
The Warsaw Pact is signed by Eastern European Soviet Bloc countries, including Albania and Bulgaria. The organization is intended to balance the NATO alliance, within which the United States is a major force.
Turkish writer Yashar Kemal (born 1922) becomes a national celebrity with the publication of his novel Memed, My Hawk. A proponent of “Village Fiction,” a genre dealing with the stark realities of poverty, Kemal is imprisoned after the 1971 military coup for his tireless defense of human rights.
Zagreb artists are involved in the Gorgona movement. Among the leaders of Gorgona, which shares the sensibility of Fluxus and other Neo-Dada movements and anticipates elements of Conceptual Art, is Josip Vanista (born 1924). Through its projects and publications—the “antimagazine” Gorgona—the group establishes correspondence and contacts with international artists such as Piero Manzoni, Robert Rauschenberg, and Lucio Fontana.
The film Never on Sunday, by American director Jules Dassin (born 1911), is released, starring his wife, Greek actress Melina Mercouri (1923–1994), as a Greek prostitute. Mercouri will serve as Greek Minister of Culture in 1981–89 and 1993–94.
Ivo Andric (1892–1975), a renowned Bosnian author, wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. Among his best-known works is Na Drini cuprija (The Bridge on the Drina, 1945). In addition to writing, Andric is a Yugoslavian diplomat and member of parliament.
The Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb launches its New Tendencies series of international exhibitions, which continue until 1973. The first exhibition, organized by art historian Matko Mestrovic (born 1933), artist Ivan Picelj (born 1924), and others, includes work by the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel of Paris, Gruppo N of Padua, and the Zero group of Düsseldorf.
The New Left philosophers, a group of reform-minded socialists in Belgrade and Zagreb, found the journal Praxis, dedicated to critical analysis of Yugoslav society. The journal acquires a large audience with its attacks on censorship, bureaucracy, and various failures of economic planning. Praxis operates until 1975, when it is suppressed as part of a crackdown on intellectual dissent focused on the universities.
The multimedia collective OHO is formed in Ljubljana. Operating until 1971, the group produces the first Conceptual video works in the region.
Declaring Albania an atheist state, Enver Hoxha (1908–1985) begins the secularization of the country with the destruction or conversion of thousands of religious buildings.
The military seizes power in Greece in a coup d’état, establishing the “Regime of the Colonels.” The junta rules through terror, its chief aim to purge the country of left-wing dissidents. Elections are suspended, demonstrations and strikes made illegal, and speech critical of the government criminalized. The dictatorship collapses in 1974 and, following a referendum that abolishes the monarchy, a democratic republic is established in 1975.
Bulgarian troops participate in the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, while Albania withdraws from the Warsaw Pact in protest.
Students at Belgrade University occupy all campus buildings for seven days in June. The students demand further democratization, reform of the university system, and the elimination of social differences, bureaucratic privileges, and unemployment, the latter problems caused by the introduction of laissez-faire policies in 1965. Tito initially praises the students, then calls for a removal of the “corrupting” professors who ignited the protest.
The film Z by Greek director Costa-Gavras (born 1933) is released. The film is a thinly fictionalized reflection on the 1963 assassination of Grigoris Lambrakis (1912–1963)—a leftist politician—and the subsequent military coup in Greece.
Massive demonstrations organized by leftist groups and trade unions prompt the imposition of martial law in Istanbul. After violent street fighting between students and police, the military stages a coup, the second since 1960.
Bulgarian dissident journalist Georgi Markov (1929–1978) is assassinated by KGB agents in London when stabbed by an umbrella tipped with the poison ricin. Markov had authored articles critical of the Bulgarian Communist regime. In 2000, Markov is posthumously awarded the Order of the Stara Planina, the nation’s highest honor.
In Yugoslavia, as the country descends into economic crisis, a campaign for greater freedom of expression is launched by university professors, including members of the Praxis group. The campaign garners international support, especially after the indictment of the “Belgrade Six” in 1984 on charges of subversion.
Greece joins the European Union, the only member state on the Balkan Peninsula.
The political arts collective Neue Slovenische Kunst (New Slovenian Art, NSK) is formed in Trbovlje, Slovenia, uniting cultural producers in various fields, including the industrial/techno music group Laibach and the painters’ collective Irwin. NSK’s deadpan parody of totalitarianism—in its structure and its recycling of fascist, communist, capitalist, and folk imagery—ignites intense controversy.
Bulgaria begins a campaign to erase the national identity of the Turkish minority by forcing them to take Slavic names. By 1989, there is a mass exodus of Bulgarian Turks from the country.
Muslim film director Emir Kusturica (born 1954), who works in Sarajevo, Bosnia, makesWhen Father Was Away on Business, which is nominated for an Academy Award. The film is notable for its multi-ethnic crew, which includes Serbs, Muslims, and Croats.
The Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences issues a Memorandum written by dissident intellectuals whose purported goal is to halt the economic and social decline of Yugoslavia since Tito’s death, but which actually lays the groundwork for the emergence of militant Serbian nationalism and revives the vision of a “Greater Serbia.” The authors blame Croatia and Slovenia for the collapse of Yugoslavian unity and allege a genocide of Serbs perpetrated by Albanians in Kosovo. Slobodan Milosevic (born 1941), leader of the Serbian section of the Yugoslav Communist League, begins his rise to power by fanning the flames of ethnic hostility. His 1987 purge of the two major Serbian newspapers as well as Radio-TV Belgrade consolidates his power, and he is elected president in 1989. Milosevic and his cohorts will play a critical role in the dissolution of Yugoslavia after the fall of communism.
Slobodan Milosevic (born 1941) abolishes the autonomy of Kosovo and institutes a purge of ethnic Albanians in the province.
Ismail Kadare (born 1936), a prominent Albanian writer, defects to France just prior to the fall of the Communist regime in his home country. Among the works by Kadare that serve as somewhat veiled critiques of Enver Hoxha (1908–1985) and his regime is The General of the Dead Army (1963).
The Yugoslav wars erupt when military forces controlled by the Serb Slobodan Milosevic (born 1941) attempt to prevent the secession from Yugoslavia of, first, Slovenia, then Croatia, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina (the Bosniak and Croat groups in the latter state). The Siege of Sarajevo begins on April 5, 1992, when thousands of peace demonstrators are attacked by gunmen; for the next three years, the city is relentlessly bombarded by the Bosnian Serb Army. NATO enters the conflict in 1994 with the first air strikes in its history, targeted at Bosnian Serbs. The chaotic and bloody wars continue until 1995, with casualties in the hundreds of thousands, widespread use of ethnic cleansing, and incalculable destruction to archaeological and cultural sites.
Albania is the first former Warsaw Pact country to request NATO membership. The request follows the breakup of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communist regimes in the Balkan states.
The first McDonald’s in Eastern Europe opens in Varna, Bulgaria.
The Dayton Agreement divides Bosnia and Herzegovina between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Bosnian Serb Republika Srpska. The agreement ends a period of conflict between the Bosniaks (Muslims) and Croats, who gain Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Serbs who are quartered in the Republika Srpska. It creates within Bosnia two separate entities—the Bosnian Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation—each with its own government, parliament, and army. In further military action, Croatia wins back most of the land it has lost to Serbia, and many Serbs flee Croatia. The agreement leaves the status of Kosovo unresolved and Slobodan Milosevic remains the de facto power broker in the region.
The opening of the Rebecca Camhi Gallery near the central market in Athens, Greece, begins the establishment of a new district for the exhibition of contemporary art, adjacent to the city’s old quarter, Psirri.
Film director Emir Kusturica (born 1954) makes Underground, the plot of which centers on a munitions factory in Belgrade that begins during World War II and continues for a half-century. The film is a reflection on the tragic history of conflict in the Balkan Peninsula during the twentieth century.
In the Hague, the International Criminal Tribunal related to the former Yugoslavia begins. Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic (born 1945) is indicted for crimes committed in connection with the 1992–95 war. Ratko Mladic (born 1943), the leader of the Serb military who is considered responsible for the murder of approximately 7,500 Muslims in Srebrenica, is also charged.
The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fights to restore the autonomy of Kosovo from the country of Serbia and Montenegro; President Slobodan Milosevic is accused of atrocities by Kosovar Albanian refugees escaping the fighting. NATO intervenes in the region once again in 1999, with air strikes in Belgrade. Shortly after, the Serbs withdraw from Kosovo and the KLA agrees to disarm.
Albania’s government, led by the Democratic Party, is forced to resign after the collapse of a pyramid investment scheme in which thousands of Albanians lose their life savings. After a period of civil disorder in which some 2,000 Albanians die, a Socialist-led coalition sweeps the elections.
Belgrade-born performance artist Marina Abramovic (born 1946) is selected to show in the Yugoslavian pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Her selection is contested by the Montenegrin Minister of Culture, who objects to Abramovic’s confrontational art. Eventually, her video installation Balkan Baroque is shown in the exhibition space curated by Germano Celant (born 1940) and the artist wins the International Venice Biennale Award.
Sarajevo author Hazim Akmadzic (born 1954) publishes the novel Mislio sam da je mesec zut (I Thought It Was a Yellow Moon), which draws comparisons between the Holocaust and the recent atrocities in Bosnia.
Students and faculty at the Applied Arts and Design Academy in Belgrade undertake a series of exhibitions called Art Rat (Art War) during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. The exhibitions include posters and other works designed to promote antiwar activism.
Inside/Outside, an exhibition of recent Yugoslavian art, is held in Warsaw, Poland, at the Zacheta Gallery. Included are artists associated with the resurgence of an avant-garde art scene in Kosovo following the war.
The new nation of Serbia and Montenegro replaces the old one of Yugoslavia. When Slobodan Milosevic (born 1941) does not accept his defeat in the elections, he is forced out by mass protests. In 2003, he is handed over to the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, and Kosovo becomes a United Nations protectorate.
A competition begins to select the architect of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece, intended to facilitate the exhibition of Parthenon sculptures to be returned from the British Museum in London. New-York based architect Bernard Tschumi (born 1944) wins the competition.
“Balkan Peninsula, 1900 A.D.–present.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=11®ion=eusb (October 2004)