Budženje (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia)

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Location: Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia
Author: Marko Živković
Affiliation: Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta

Original text by Marko Živković

Budženje (n.) can be translated as jerry-building, cobbling together, jury-rigging or bodging. The verbal form budžiti implies a sense of augmentation. It suggests not only rigging something up in a makeshift, slipshod, or improvised manner, but also in a way that makes the thing bigger, more awkward and ungainly. Budženje may be carried out on houses, cars, and household and electrical objects.

As a verb, budžiti is often used with prefixes. Thus zbudžiti, and an even more powerful skarabudžiti have a stronger connotation of cobbling something together quickly – in order that it might hold for a minimum period of time. Nabudžiti, on the other hand, emphasises the quality of augmentation, or making something bigger and stronger, but in a rough manner. Prebudžiti has an additional sense of transforming something into something else by rough rigging. The noun, budževina (the product of budženje) is sometimes modified with the prefix kara- as in karabudževina. In this instance it serves to augment words it precedes in a particularly rough manner. Karabudževina could therefore, but only imperfectly, be rendered as ‘mega-cobbling together’.

The word budženje has a Turkish feel for Serbian speakers, possibly due to the sound dzh that occurs mainly in words of Turkish origin. However, rather than having a Turkish origin, the word may have come from an etymologically obscure Romani word ‘budzho’, meaning ‘bundle’, ‘pack’ or ‘rag’ but also ‘scam’ (Victor Friedman, personal communication). This etymology resonates interestingly with the local acknowledgement of Roma as renowned masters of budženje, as illustrated by the 2003 documentary Pretty Dyana: A Gypsy Recycling Saga. The film gives an insight into rigging as a way of life, showing how Roma refugees from Kosovo living in Belgrade lovingly rebuild Dyanas – the successor to the legendary Citroen CV2s – equipping them with radios, cigarette lighters and even miniature TVs, and attaching them to their carts (Mitić 2003)[1].

Budženje is a type of bricolage and therefore, as a practice, firmly identifies as informal. Typically it is what is done to homes, cars and computers in ways deemed to be in direct opposition to official, proper, or legally, technologically and scientifically legitimate actions. It is the general shoddiness of infrastructure and everyday objects associated not only with socialism, but also with general Balkan backwardness that necessitates budženje.

Cars present the original and most important locus for budženje, perhaps rivaled only by houses. The concept has two basic meanings when applied specifically to cars. One involves modifying the car by enhancing the engine and other parts (a more specific synonym is frizirati). There is still a lingering sense of rough and improvised work, yet the word in this context usually conveys a kind of approval and even admiration. The other sense is more negatively connoted and means jury-rigging or jerry-building that may or may not include enhancements.

In the former Yugoslavia, the domestically produced version of the Italian Fiat 600, the Zastava 750, popularly known as the Fića and produced from 1955-1985, served as a canonical object of car budženje. As the first domestically produced car, and the first to become affordable for a relatively wide segment of the population, the Fića became the ‘people’s car.’ It was small and hardy and could pull astounding loads, but when suitably souped up (nabudžen), the Fića could leave bigger and more expensive cars in the dust. Augmented by Abarth racing car parts, the Fića became the mainstay of the so-called National Class category in car racing, as demonstrated in one of the most cult of Yugoslav movies, The National Class (Marković 1979)[2].

Just like the Trabi in the German Democratic Republic (Berdahl 2001)[3], the Fića was an object of endless modifications and enhancements, involving huge expenditure of time, effort and blat-capital (see entry on blat in this volume) in order to keep it running. Just as the Trabi became the icon of Ostalgie, nostalgia for aspects of life in East Germany, so the Fića became the icon of the Yugoslav equivalent, Yugonostalgia.

A personal ad nailed to a tree at a Belgrade street corner in 1998 (author source) offers an interesting example of budženje in relation to housing. The advert offered ‘Budžim po kućama’ (‘I rig at your home’, or ‘I will jerry-build at home’). The interesting feature of this usage is its apparent lack of irony and the universality of application. Normally a part of an intimate repertoire of resourceful improvisation, budženje is here presented as a straightforward open business proposition. It would appear that the advert was addressed to people who lacked money for a proper plumber, painter, or contractor, but desperately needed problems fixed in the home and would settle for a cheaper jury-rigger who could fix something so that it held, albeit temporarily.

As with similar informal practices of ‘making do’, practitioners of budženje tend to see it ambivalently – somewhere between pride in their own resourcefulness, and shame in failing to attain some sort of posited standard of civilised or ‘normal’ living. If Americans joke that the whole universe is held together by duct tape, ex-Yugoslavs could be beset by a profound sense that their whole social existence is jury-rigged – one huge, ugly karabudževina. In 2006, social commentator, Milosav Marinović lamented that Serbia was a karabudževina, ‘that is to say, as a country where closets are made out of balconies, basements out of closets, rooms out of basements, living rooms out of kitchens… dogma out of stupidity... history out of leftovers, wisdom out of ignorance, victory out of defeat … We discard nothing, we are constantly cobbling something together [budžimo nešto] just so it could continue to serve some impossible, useless, and wrong purpose’ (Radio B92 Peščanik). Here, society itself is seen as a fine mechanism that has been jury-rigged over and over again to the point of hopelessness. Things are made to serve purposes they were never intended for, and most importantly, all kind of past debris is jerry-built into the present, making it hopelessly confused, makeshift, crooked, improvised, shoddy, unreliable, irrational, ill-formed and ungainly.

Budženje provokes contrasting reactions among Serbs. Some feel a kind of pride in their countrymen’s resourcefulness and ingenuity that goes into all this bodging of things – from cars and living spaces to politics and society in general (de Certeau (1988)[4] famously celebrated this everyday improvisations and bricolage). On the other hand, laments such as Marinović’s come from a particular type of intellectual elite in Serbia, and regret the country’s apparent inability to produce an idealised rational and orderly environment. This ideal state of things is often referred to as ‘normality’, while to have to constantly resort to budženje, and to sense one’s entire social world as an ungainly budževina, is precisely what is not ‘normal.’ ‘Normality’ has emerged as one of the central keywords in post-socialist studies (Fehérváry 2013, Jensen 2015)[5][6], and popular notions of what constitutes ‘normal life’ among citizens of post-socialist societies project an ideal often associated with ‘Europe’ or ‘the West’. Yet paradoxically, it is often everyday life under socialism, notorious for its informal techniques of survival, that is seen as ‘normal’ in Serbian society, as opposed to the instabilities of that which came after it. It is this sense that life under socialism was ‘normal’ that accounts for the great appeal of various socialist nostalgias that persist to this day such as Yugo-nostalgia and Ostalgie.

As with other informal practices of ‘making do’ found in socialist societies such as economies of favours (see entry in this volume), budženje can be seen as both ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’. As a practice and metaphor, budženje tends to hover between seeming opposites – not only between ‘normality’ and ‘abnormality’, but also between bricolage and engineering, sometimes emphasising one, sometimes the other, and sometimes suspended between the two. That budženje could be considered as a feat of engineering is attested to by a comment that a Belgrade taxi driver made in response to the author’s mention of ingenious solutions used to convert Fića to propane – ‘man, that’s mathematics!’ While ‘mathematics’ should normally be the exact opposite to budženje, there is a sense in which even budženje can be undertaken with ‘mathematical’ precision.


  1. Mitić, B. 2003. Pretty Dyana: A Gypsy recycling saga. Serbia: Dribbling Pictures, 45 min. http://kosovoroma.wordpress.com/2008/01/10/pretty-diana-a-gypsy-recycling-saga/ or at: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2181669920911563723
  2. Marković, G. dir. 1979. Nacionalna klasa. 105 min. Centar film. Yugoslavia.
  3. Berdahl, D. 2001. ‘“Go, Trabi, Go!”: Reflections on a Car and Its Symbolization over Time.’ Anthropology and Humanism, 25(2): 131-141.
  4. Certeau, M. de. 1988. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  5. Fehérváry, K. 2013. Politics in Color and Concrete: Socialist Materialities and the Middle Class in Hungary, New Anthropologies of Europe. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  6. Jansen, S. 2015. Yearnings in the Meantime: 'Normal Lives' and the State in a Sarajevo Apartment Complex. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books.