Skip to main content

Rock me baby! Looking back at Yugoslavia at Eurovision

17 September 2017 at 20:22 CEST
Riva from Yugoslavia after winning Eurovision in 1989 EBU
Yugoslavia, in the Western Balkans, participated in the Eurovision Song Contest on 27 different occasions between 1961 and 1992 and won the contest in 1989. Today we look back at Yugoslavia's top entries.

Yugoslavia chose their entry via a local competition that was named Jugovizija, where songs from all the constituent republics plus the two autonomous provinces took part. Only songs from five of the republics went on to win Jugovizija and the ticket to the Eurovision Song Contest: Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia, meaning that no songs from Macedonia, Kosovo and Vojvodina managed to win the national selection in their 27 participations.

Making an entrance

Yugoslavia's debut entry in 1961 opens our Top 10. Neke Davne Zvezde, performed by Ljiljana Petrović, and finished eighth in Cannes, where the Eurovision Song Contest was held that year. 

That decade Yugoslavia continued to achieve acceptable results and the year after, in their second participation, they finished fourth in the ranking, a peak they would not match for more than 20 years. That 1962 song was Ne Pali Svetlo U Sumrak by Lola Novaković and it also finishes fourth in our list. Both entries were entered to Jugovizija by the Serbian broadcaster.

1966, 1967 and 1968 also provided nice results for Yugoslavia with songs from different republics. 1966’s Brez Besed by Berta Ambroz and 1967’s Vse Roze Sveta by Lado Leskovar came from Slovenia while 1968's was from Croatia. The latter one was Jedan Dan (One Day) performed by Luci Kapurso and Hamo Hajdarhodzic as the Dubrovnik Troubadours, dressed in eye-catching torubadour costumes for the contest. All three entries finished in the Top 10 in the Eurovision Song Contest are included in our chart.

Withdrawal symptoms

The seventies mostly gave Yugoslavia disappointing results without any remarkable rankings, and they only finished in the Top 10 once. It was in 1972 with Tereza from Croatia, who finished ninth with Muzika I Ti. The rest of the songs in that decade came from five of the republics, Slovenia (1970 and 1975), Croatia (1971 and 1972), Bosnia & Herzegovina (1973 and 1976) and Serbia (1974).

In 1977 Yugoslavia withdrew from the competition for four years due to internal political issues, but the best was yet to come.

The 80s coming back

The eighties proved to be the most successful decade for Yugoslavia in the Eurovision Song Contest. They returned to the competition in 1981 with a Bosnian choice, Lejla, by Seid-Memic Vajta, and a couple of years after they reached the Top 5 again, matching their best ever result, fourth place:

It was in Munich in 1983, when the country was one of the top favourites to win with the Croatian-Montenegrin singer Daniel (Milan Popović). He won Jugovizija representing his birth republic of Montenegro -their first of two victories as they also won the year after. The song was Džuli …or Julie, and besides being a huge hit at home, it managed to enter the charts in Germany and in other European territories like Austria, The Netherlands, Belgium or Norway where it was a Top 3 hit. It is also the top three in our chart.

Another Daniel, Kajmakoski, who represented F.Y.R. Macedonia in 2015, had his own take on Julie:

Yugslavia withdraw again in 1985 but returned in 1986, less successfully than expected, when Doris Dragović placed 11th with Željo Moja. This marked the beginning of Doris’ solo career, that made her one of the most famous pop singers in the region. However, one year after, Yugoslavia peaked at the fourth position for the third time. It was thanks to the retro rock’n’roll vibes of Novi Fosili and their song Ja Sam Za Ples (I wanna dance) including hiccup by the lead singer, Sanja, as a gimmick. It started leading the scoreboard until Johnny Logan caught up and it eventually finished fourth, but it does better in our Top 10, at #2.

One year after they managed another good placing, finishing 6th with Mangup, performed by Srebrna Krila, or as they were called for the Eurovision Song Contest 1988 in Dublin, Silver Wings.

Rock Me baby!

The 34th Eurovision Song Contest was broadcast from Lausanne in Switzerland where Rock Me, performed by Riva, won the Eurovision Song Contest for Yugoslavia, their only ever victory as a unified state.

Riva were not the favourites, so Yugoslavia's victory was mostly seen as a surprise, even if it happened during the country’s best run of results (1987-1990). Terry Wogan, the commentator for the United Kingdom, called this triumph "the death knell" for the Contest, though time has proven him wrong.

Rock Me stood out from the competition; in a year mostly filled with ballads, this uptempo ditty closed the line-up changing the mood of the juries. The lyrics of the song actually had something to do with this as, in Rock Me, the lead singer Emilia Kokić asks a classical piano player to play something “danceable” for her, which happens to be Rock Me.

They didn’t win with a big margin (7 points from the UK in second place) but, after the third country gave their verdict, Yugoslavia lead the voting, and couldn’t lose when it was their turn to vote, the last of the night.

The song remains as one of the least commercially successful winners of the competition, but granted the possibility to host the Eurovision Song Contest in Yugoslavia, only one year before it started dismantling.

Being a “Croatian choice” in Jugovizija, the contest moved to Zagreb in 1990 where another Croatian song represented Yugoslavia. Hajde Da Ludujemo was, as opposed to Rock Me, one of the favorites to win, and nowadays a cult Eurovision song, but placed only seveth on home ground despite a lively Marilyn Monro-esque performance by Tajči. It lands at #6 in our list.

The break-up of Yugoslavia

Only one year after hosting the contest, in 1991, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia took part in Eurovision for the last time. And they came to Rome with Bebi Dol (Baby Doll as it was spelt for the contest). She sang the song Brazil wearing an unforgettable baby-blue baby-doll dress completed with contrasting neon undergarments and silver stilettos. However she was rewarded with only one point and finished second-last for her effort.

Yugoslavia’s 1991 act Baby Doll on stage at Studio 15 di Cinecittà, Rome – the last Italian venue to host Eurovision EBU

During the rest of 1991, the republics of Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia declared independence meaning that only Bosnia & Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro remained in Jugovizija. Bosnia & Herzegovina also proclaimed independence in March 1992 and in the end it was a Serbian entry, Ljubim Te Pesmama by Extra Nena that represented the country in Malmö, this very last time as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

All the republics have returned to the Eurovision Song Contest as independent nations: Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina in 1993, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in 1998. Serbia and Montenegro debuted in the contest in 2004. In 2006 Serbia and Montenegro themselves broke up and the two independent states returned to Eurovision the year after. In that very first independent appearance in 2007, Serbia won the contest with Marija Serifović’s Molitva, but that’s another story.