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Balkan Pank, Jože Suhadolnik, Akina
Photography Jože Suhadolnik, courtesy of Akina

Unearthing Yugoslavia’s lost punk rock scene

Under a curtain of communism in the 80s, a heady punk rock movement in the former European country thrived – rivalling both New York and London

The punk movement is most famously known – and debated, ‘which city came first?’ – by New York and London. While its reverberations have been felt the world over, and decades later, who knew our neighbours in (what was then known as) Yugoslavia were hitting it just as hard – or even more so – as their punk rock counterparts? Photographer Jože Suhadolnik was just 15 when he shot his first gig. “Oh I remember that!” he says. “It was Siouxsie and the Banshees in 1981. She was a goddess on the stage with her beautiful, velvet voice and perfect musicians – and we boys were in love [laughs].”

The photographer began hitting the scene regularly, but his time there wasn’t without its trouble. “Politically, Yugoslavia was a Communist state with a strong police machine – even secret police,” he tells us, adding that the state’s attitude towards punk was aggressive. “You could be arrested and beaten hard by police because you sprayed graffiti or were wearing a badge with a ‘Nazi Punks Fuck off’ sign just because ‘Nazi’ is on it. Few people were jailed and later secretly followed by the police.” His own experiences with the police as a creative also landed him in hot water. “I got a pretty huge police file that I found later in 1992 when police files were opened after Slovenian independence. My file contains some 400 plus pages just because I was photographing punks, concerts and hanging around with, at that time, dissident poets and writers.”

“There was no rules. Bands knew that we were trying to survive as much as they were” – Jože Suhadolnik

Since the dissolution of Yugoslavia, that same anarchy has failed to transfer from the 80s to the modern day. “The general situation is very bad. I am not ‘Yugonostalgic’ at all but when you see hungry kids and jobless people on the street... I mean there is absolutely ground for rebellion, but except for a few Hardcore boring bands there is almost nothing.”

His book Balkan Pank, published by Akina Books, is a documentation of this now-lost anarchic time, from Iggy Pop to the Virgin Prunes and more locals acts. “You never knew if you'd get your photo pass, and you had just two or three films for two days at a punk gig. At that time I learned a lot about self discipline,” Suhadolnik remembers. “I liked that anarchy. As a photographer you just jumped around and pressed the shutter. There was no 'three songs' rule without flash – there was no rules. Bands knew that we were trying to survive as much as they were.”

Balkan Pank – published by Akina Books – is available now. To see more of Suhadolnik’s work, click here