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Indiana University Press

The Concept of Folklore in Yugoslavia


Author(s): Milko Matietov
Source: Journal of the Folklore Institute, Vol. 3, No. 3, [Special Issue: The Yugoslav-American
Folklore Seminar] (Dec., 1966), pp. 219-225
Published by: Indiana University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3813798
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MILKO MATICETOV

The

Concept

of

Folklore

in

Yugoslavia

It may seem that the word folklore is not very popular in the terminology
of Yugoslav social science. Officially, however, it does exist. The
"Folklore Section" at the Institute for Ethnography within the Serbian
Academy of Science in Belgrade and other institutes formed in the first
years after the war had the designation "folklore" in their titles. In
Sarajevo in 1947, the Institute for the Study of Folklore (Institut za
proucavanjefolklora) was established, which existed independently until
1958. In Skopje in 1950, the Institute for Folklore (Folkloren institut)
and in 1952 the Society of Music Folklorists of Yugoslavia (Udruzenje
glasbenih folklorista Jugoslavije) were created. The latter society has
broadened in recent years and also changed its name when a great number
of non-musicology-oriented folklore workers joined. Later, folklore
associations were formed within each republic of Yugoslavia and the
coordination of their activities was assumed by the Union of Folklorists
of Yugoslavia (Savez udruzenjafolklorista Jugoslavije)in 1955.1
Nevertheless, we may remark on the rather surprising fact that one
looks in vain for an entry under the word "folklore" in the third volume
of the Encyclopedia of Yugoslavia. There is not even a hint under which
heading the desired information can be found. Such an omission could
not happen merely by chance. The answerlies in the fact that in the decade
after the war the term "folklore" was used to describe indiscriminately
1 To complete the review, the folkloristic section of Glasbena Matica (Folklorni
oddelek GlasbeneMatice) in Ljubljana,active since 1934, became independentafter
the war and has changed its name to the Institute of Ethnomusicology(Glasbeno
narodopisniinstitut). In 1948, the Institute for Folk Art (Institutza narodnuumjetnost)was begun in Zagreb,and the Institutefor Ethnography(Institutza slovensko
establishedwithinthe SlovenianAcademyof Ljubljana.All theseresearch
narodopisje)
programs mentioned devote their activity intensively or almost exclusively to the
study of folklore.

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220

MILKOMATITETOV

all manner of things, and so has become academically discredited.


So-called "folklore" groups grew up like mushrooms after a rain in
schools and factories, in the country and in the towns. The members of
these groups were simply "folklorists." Their "folklore" (wooden, metal,
chemical, and straw goods) could be bought in shops named "Bosna
Folklor" or something similar.
At the same time the institutes for the study of folklore, already mentioned above, developed independently and have not functioned under
the supervision of the universities, the only exception being the Institute
for Ethnography which was formed within the Academy of Arts and
Sciences in Slovenia. When we note that folklore is not being taught as a
special subjectat any of the Yugoslav universities,it is no longer surprising
that an entry for folklore has not found its place in the 1958 Encyclopedia
of Yugoslavia.
Yet we must not be unfair towards the redaction of the Lexicographic
Institute, publishers of the Encyclopedia. If not through the door, folklore has entered through the window. Under the item "Ethnography"
(Ethnology) we can, for instance, learn that this science also includes
special "folklore activities," such as the collecting of material related to
folk customs, dances, craftsmanship, and music (III, p. 277); according
to another author, folkloristic elements appear in dances, customs, and
figurative art (III, p. 274). Vuk Karadzic is constantly referred to as
an "ethnographer,"but an exception is made with Stanko Vraz who is
permitted to pass as a "folklorist" (III, p. 275). In the sixth volume of
the Encyclopedia, just issued, under the paragraph "Folk Figurative
Art" (Narodna likovna umjetnost) we can also read the alternate descriptions "folklore figurative art" and "figurative folklore"; under the
heading "Folk Music" we even find the adjective "musical-folkloristic"
beside "music folklore." It is rather awkward that nowhere in the Encyclopedia is there any explanation of what folklore or the study of folklore is; neither is there any delineation between folklore and ethnography
(ethnology), and between the study of folklore and literature. Folk literature is dealt with rather extensively, but mostly from the literary standpoint. (This, of course, is not a reproach, but merely a truism; the folkloristic elements which can be gathered from poems, epics, legendary and
mythical marerials remain nearly untouched.)
With regard to the teaching of folklore at the universities, we can say
that it depends completely on the good will of the lecturers holding the

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THE CONCEPTOF FOLKLOREIN YUGOSLAVIA

221

chairs of ethnology (at Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Skopje), whether or


not they include material on folklore in their lectures. It is not likely
that they include folklore very often. In the Slavic sections, however, the
teaching of folk literatureis carriedout quite regularlyin Belgrade, Skopje,
and Zagreb, and more occasionally in Sarajevo and Ljubljana. Under
such circumstances almost everything is omitted which is not closely
connected with literature. In our case there are also folkloristic fields,
such as beliefs, which neither the students of ethnography (ethnology)
nor of literatureare dealing with, and therefore simply remain in darkness,
untouched.
The work of the folklorist is by no means always desk work but
demands observations of different phenomena on the spot. This work is
quite delicate because of the fact that data can be used for unscientific
purposes. To cite such a case in Croatia from before the last war, Zoran
Pal6ok has made this observation:
In old Yugoslaviafolklore has been a veryimportantfactor in political propaganda and in the activity of local politicianswho have intensionsof politically tying the villages to themselves. Loud flattery of "peasant'sculture"
as more valuablethan the "city culture,"glorificationof the village and the
peasants "who have nothing to learn from the city," admonishmentsthat
the city "has somethingto benefitfrom the village,"demagogicalcalls to the
village to remainin their costume and sandals(opanke)- all this was meant
to achievea politicaleffect. It has causedconfusionin the village, a negative
influenceto a historical,naturalprocessof the developmentof the cultureof
the village, and what is worse- it has causeddamageto folklore.2
After the liberation, folklorists witnessed the very rapid spread of
enlightenment and contemporary culture to the village. As Pal6ok has
written,
the acceleratedemancipationof the village in some places, especiallyin the
sphere of influencenear bigger towns, had a really revolutionarycharacter.
Traditionalfolk culture and all forms of spirituallife which are usually included in the realm of folklore diminishedand began to vanish. Youth has
turnedto other values, not always to the right ones. The only carriersof the
old traditionalfolk cultureremainthe old men and women,but not all of them:
only some particularpersonswho haveknownand rememberedfolk traditions,
such as songs, melodiesand customs. It has becomeclear that we are on the
way to findingourselvesin a situationin whichmany nationsin the west have
2

Z. Palcok, introduction to Istarske narodne price (M. Bogkovic-Stulli, ed.) (Zagreb,


1959), p. 5.

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MILKOMATICETOV

found themselves,with the resultthat uncollectedand unstudiedartisticvalues


producedin a long and rich historicalperiod of creativefolk life completely
vanish.3
Here the author is perhaps a little too pessimistic. His observations
refer to Istria; in other areas the situation is not yet so bad. In the
introduction in the 1951 Bilten Instituta za proucavanjefolklora (Bulletin
of the Institute for Folklore Studies) in Sarajevo, we read:
Althoughnowadaysthereis less creativeforceamongthe peoplefromwhomwe
collect all kinds of folklore in all parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina,there are
still people who have retainedfolklore traditionswhich are pure and fresh.
In places we still find singers,tellers,and people who know the old customs,
who have preservedthese traditionsin all theirvariety,beauty,and richnessand it is necessaryto look for these people and from the best of them record
and keep all that is valuable- as long as there is still time to do it in order
that these traditionsnot be lost. Everythingin the way of folklore that we
can find and collect today will be lost in a short time in the hurryof our social
development.4
In a situation like this, however, we could not sit with folded hands
while the valuable documentary traditions were passing away before our
very eyes; therefore we have instinctively thrown ourselves into work.
The task of collecting seems to us to be of particular importance. In
the course of fieldwork we have heard several times and even more often
have felt the reproaches that with our observation and with our presence
we delay the process of the ideal renewal and encourage, though unwillingly, the conservative elements who are clinging to tradition. We
have stood fast, fought back the attacks as well as we have known how.
Each time we have returned home enriched with new theoretical and
practical experience.
The compulsion of our collecting work has left neither leisure nor inclination for theoretical reflection. On the other hand, while sorting,
arranging, and studying the more or less carefully gathered material,
and thinking about how to evaluate it, an ever keener desire we have
felt to clear up the basic notion of folklore. Its definition, extent, and
place among related subjects, and some similar questions had their
place on the agenda of the Fourth Congress, Association of the Folklore
Societies, Yugoslavia (Varazdin, 1957). In his report "How to Define
3
PalMok,p. 6.
4 P. 6.

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THE CONCEPTOF FOLKLOREIN YUGOSLAVIA

223

Folklore," Professor B. Rusic of Skoplje could not help but state that in
Yugoslavia "greatinequality had prevailedboth in definingthe conception
of folklore and in the extent of the folklorists' work. It could be said
that the scientists of each people in Yugoslavia had their own particular
opinion of folklore, frequently varying from the broadest to the narrowest
meaning and extent."5 This inequality is, of course, not a Yugoslav
peculiarity. It suffices,for example, to open Funk and Wagnall's Standard
Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend (1949) and to look up
the entry "Folklore" to see how strongly scholarly views of that term
differ in the world. According to Dr. Rusic, "folklore" ought to keep
the meaning of "people's tradition" out of respect to W. J. Thoms,
who in 1846 gave this branch of knowledge its name. Besides, "it ought
to embrace part of that popular spiritual creativeness which is a product
of human fantasy, in other words the entire popular knowledge and art
including all sorts of oral folk literature. Hence folklorists ought to be
the investigators of this folk art." After recommending caution with
regard to the use of the word and meaning of folklore and its derivatives
lest it should throw unsophisticated persons, incapable of using them
properly, into confusion, Rusic says: "The words 'folklore' and 'folklorist' will be correctly understood and used only with regard to this
clearly explained meaning of folk art, its field, and that which deals
with it."6
Finally, Rusic raises the question as to where the scientific study of
folklore is to be placed among the branches of knowledge. He says:
"In some countries the folklorists think that the study of folklore has
become independent enough today to make it a completely separate
science, sometimes called 'folkloristics'; yet most of the scientists, both
within and without the ranks of folklorists, decidedly hold this study to
be just a small part of the broader science of ethnology. There is another
view, which regards folklore as part of literary studies." The way in
which Rusic has presented the three different opinions already shows
his endorsement: he sides with the majority, comprising both folklorists
and scientists "outside their ranks" (i.e., ethnologists), and - quite logically - he continues: "It is completely correct to regard folklore as part
of ethnology, and to say that their interrelations will always remain
5 B. Rusic, "Odredba pojma folklor," Radkongresafolklorista Jugoslavije u Varazdinu
1957 (Zagreb, 1959), pp. 271-273.
6 Rusi6, p. 273.

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within this frame, for ethnology and folklore are like mother and child."7
It is this comparison that sets one thinking. Is it not a well-known fact
that children, when grown up; become emancipated? Rusic emphatically
lays down the rule: "Thereforeevery folklorist ought to start from ethnology, or to penetrate deeply into it, into its subject and method, with the
view of more successfully achieving his task thereby." (Why? Because
ethnology and folklore are "like mother and child"?) I agree that deepened knowledge of the subject and method of any field may be highly
useful. Nevertheless, in this connection let me take the liberty to point
out just one striking example from the history of our science. Kaarle
Krohn, one of the founders of the outstanding "Finnish School," has
come from the history of literature, and reaches the conclusion that for
the study of the popular art of words a particular method is required,
which he has explained in his book Die folkloristische Arbeitsmethode
(Oslo, 1926). On this occasion I feel justified in returning to the childand-mother question. Who is "the mother" in this case?
The main (if not only) common denominator with ethnography
(ethnology), folklore, or other investigations of folk culture, is the subject
of these investigations: various phenomena of folk life. In methods used
we are already diverging according to the specific properties of any given
branch, and that is in no way abnormal, let alone harmful. When investigating the folklore of the figurative arts, our approaches are likely to
be quite different from those used when doing research in musical,
religious, and mythological folklore. When illuminating oral literature
("folklore" in the narrower, Russian meaning), we will benefit more
from literary-historical,literary-aesthetic,psychological, sociological, and
other approaches, although, of course, not neglecting ethnography
(ethnology). The wisdom of folklore science rests upon combining
folklore and ethnology in proportion, not proclaiming either to be the
only saving discipline. In this way folklore uses the achievements of all
related branches, yet remains properly equidistant, and maintains its
autonomy.
Sergij Vilfan contributed an interesting report on the so-called folklore
juridique to the Congress at Varazdin, and said, among other things:
"So far we have refrained from making a final choice among the several
terms (ethnology, ethnography, narodopisje,folklore, Volkskunde),and
we use them freely, as if they were customary in a given context. From
7

Ibid.

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THE CONCEPTOF FOLKLOREIN YUGOSLAVIA

225

the standpoint of jurisprudence (as far as it belongs here), each of these


terms might be used, yet none of them is necessarily the only correct
term. It is a question of common agreement on which one to choose."8
As has been said in the discussion of the Congress, "numerous interesting opinions have been voiced but it has not been possible to formulate
any generally acceptable definition of folklore or to demarcate folklore
from related sciences."9
Thus, we may also conclude with the statement that the conception
of folklore in Yugoslavia still leaves a number of open questions. Let
me quote Dusan Nedeljkovic in his leading article in the first issue of the
journal Narodno stvaralastvo - Folklor, the organ of the Association
of the Folklore Societies, Yugoslavia:
The folklorists of Yugoslaviaare going to abstain from empty disputesand
controversiesabout certainunscientificpredictionsof folk creativeness"dying
rise";
away,"and about the idle phrasesconcerningits present"unprecedented
we are, instead,throughour variousscientificbranchesand methods,going to
illuminatefrom various sides more concretefacts, conditions and regularities
of the present and formermoving and developingof folk creativeness,from
folksongs, tales, proverbs,riddles,to melodies and dramas,and from woodcarving and folk sculpturesto embroideries,carpet-weaving,costumes, and
all the other materialand spiritualfolk creativenessboth under the conditions
of the earlier developmentof our peoples, and of today's fateful transition
periodin our countryand in the whole world.10
Academy of Sciences
Ljubljana,Yugoslavia

8
SergijVilfan,"Pravnafolkloristika - etnografija- etnologija?"Rad kongresa
folklorista Jugoslavijeu Varafdinu1957 (Zagreb, 1959), p. 278.

9 Vilfan,p. 280.
0 Dusan Nedeljkovic,"Problemnarodnogstvaralastva
danas,"Narodnostvarala-

gtvo - Folklor,I (1962), 2-3.

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