The biggest concert at Zagreb’s Ban Jelačić Square took place on this day 28 years ago.
Prljavo kazalište, one of the longest-standing Croatian bands, had been around for a while (since 1977) when the band was on tour in 1989, but Mladen Bodalec, the band’s singer, was a member of the band only for four years, and the band was going through one of their most popular periods ever.
The situation in former Yugoslavia was tense – you could sense the patriotic sentiment of Croats wanting independence in the air, and the concert marked the beginning of the end of Yugoslavia and the beginning of the Homeland War.
The band was on tour around Croatia, promoting their album Zaustavite zemlju from 1988, and they were so popular that additional dates were arranged as well, but no one of them had a clue that the concert in Zagreb would be so huge. Some estimates say that there were between 250 and 300 thousand people at Ban Jelačić Square and the surrounding streets, but some claim that these numbers are impossible.
One thing is for sure – the photos and the videos of the event seem surreal, with endless lines of people in and around the Square, so, whatever the real number is, the fact that the concert happened is still pretty impressive.
When the authorities realised that this was going to be the biggest gathering of Croatian people in the former Yugoslavia, police officers were sent to the Square to unplug the electricity and stop the concert, officially saying that the concert posed a threat to public safety.
The members of the band, on the other hand, really did feel concerned because of a potential stampede, especially due to the fact that a few years before that, a 14-year-old girl died at Riblja Čorba’s concert at Dom sportova, when 15 thousand tickets were sold for a venue that fit 12 thousand.
The police arrived at the Square, ordering Jasenko Houra to tell the audience that the concert was cancelled.
“You tell them,” he replied, going back on stage. He later said that his famous statement occurred because the audience was a bigger authority than he was and because he felt that cancelling the concert was politically motivated. Mladen Bodalec later said that their manager was arrested, but he couldn’t remember how all of it was sorted out. The only thing he remembered was that their tour continued (they did 28 concerts in 31 days), and they went back to Zagreb two months later, to Dom sportova, which was teeming with people once again.
Jasenko Houra sensed that the situation in the country was tense and said “May God protect both you and us in these difficult times” in the middle of the concert. The band members said that they never witnessed anything like it before or after. Mladen Bodalec, usually very active during his performances, stood still because he feared that if he jumped, the audience would start jumping too and someone would get hurt.
However, the concert ran smoothly for an hour and a half, culminating with Mojoj majci (To My Mother), also known as Ruža Hrvatska (Croatian Rose), which Jasenko Houra wrote when his mother was ill. The band had already had many hits, but everyone seemed to be waiting for that specific song because it seemed, as Jasenko Houra put it, that the people had a need to be independent, and that was what the song represented for them.
The emotion-filled performance ended only with a broken lamp and a broken chain at Manduševac, which, again, considering the number of people there, was a true miracle.
See the video of the spectacular event below: