Institute for Balkan Studies,
THE PLACE OF THE SYMBOLIC CITY IN CONSTRUCTION
OF NATIONAL IMAGERY
(A CASE OF BALKAN FOLKLORE: TWO MODELS OF EPIC CITY )
Abstract: This article is based on folklore studies of oral epic tradition in the Serbo-Croat (or, depending on territory, Croat-Serbian) language which was common to the majority of former Yugoslavia population (in fact, all but Slovenes and Macedonians). The corpus of 1200 oral epic songs were chosen among other folklore genres because of their strong ideological position which made them the only form of oral literature where town appears as a human habitation clearly defined in time and space. In all other forms of traditional culture, the urban space is imagined and represented either as a miraculous or elfin place (as in fairy-tales, ritual poetry, short literary forms, et al), or as a notion with a name but without a content (as in etiological and other legends). In contrast, the epic poetry builds the image of urban space as a centre of power and earthly rule, equating the very concept of potency of ‘state’ with the number of a state’s towns and cities. In the epic poetry only - because it deals with ethic, social, and political norms as they effect (and affect) the complex relationship between the state, its ruler, religion, and nation - urban spaces are modeled as places with structure, important enough to go to war for. This is always so in the South Slav material where politics and religion are intertwined more than they should be, causing and caused by permanent Christian-Muslim clashes and truces. As recent war experience in the Balkans shows, the latter sense of the term ‘town’ in particular persists, giving rise to circumstances of the greatest risk for the survival of culture – traditional or other.