In the 1984 Olympics, Torvill and Dean, mesmerized a packed audience in Skenderija II Hall, in Sarajevo, with a flawless ice-dancing performance of Ravel’s Bolero. At that time, just 32 years ago, Sarajevo was the capital of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the spoken language was Serbo-Croatian.
For the athletes who were fortunate to compete in these Olympics, Sarajevo was a beautiful site that also provided a cultural experience that would make the 1984 games special.
Nestled in a narrow valley along the Miljacka River, Sarajevo is surrounded by low-lying hills and the Dinaric Alps. Bosnia prided itself on being a multi-ethnic republic. mosques, synagogues, Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches coexisted side by side for over four centuries, contributing to Sarajevo’s reputation as the “European Jerusalem”.
Croats or Slovenes are Roman Catholic and are found mostly west of the Dinaric Mountains (Croats along the Adriatic coast and Slovenes farther north, in the Alps); Serbs are Orthodox Christian and live mostly east of the Dinaric range; Bosniaks are Muslim (their ancestor converted to Islam under the Ottomans) and live mostly in the Dinaric Mountains. Two other, smaller Orthodox ethnicities have been influenced by other large groups: the Montenegrins (shaped by centuries of Croatian and Venetian Catholicism) and the Macedonians (with ties to Bulgarians and Greeks). In addition, the region is also home to several non-Slavic minority groups, including Hungarians (Northern Province of Vojvodina) and Albanians (concentrated in Kosovo and descended from the Illyrians, who lived here long before the Greeks and Romans).
Sarajevo’s beautiful bridges add to the beauty of the landscape. The Latin Bridge is particularly famous (or infamous). It was on this bridge, on June 28, 1914, where Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, setting off a chain of events that would lead to World War I.
In the center of the Old Town, the Baščaršija bazaar reminded Olympic tourists of Ottoman times. An area dominated by Austro-Hungarian architecture bordered the Turkish quarters. It was not uncommon to see a woman in a hijab strolling along another woman in a miniskirt, blending into the mass of people walking down Marsala Tita, the main drag, while evening calls to prayer mixed with the bustle of cafes.
Just ten years later, many of Sarajevo’s the Olympic installations would become temporary military installations and reduced rubble in a civil war that ensued the breakup of Yugoslavia, when the Nationalist leader of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, pushed for what he called a “Greater Serbia”. Bosnian Croats and Muslims, fearing that Milosevic would try to take their land if they were still under Yugoslavian control, called for Bosnian independence. This precipitated a war in Bosnia and Herzegovina that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions from their homes, as Europe witnessed the most horrific fighting on its territory since the end of World War II.
Breakup of Yugoslavia, 1990–1992
To understand how and why Yugoslavia broke up, it is helpful to know how it came to be in the first place. The concept was that south Slavs, who had much in common – language and geographical proximity should unite and form one great strong south Slav state, in a great arc of territory from the borders of Austria almost to the gates of Constantinople (now Istanbul).
Serbia led the concept, also known as Pan-Slavism, and in 1914, precipitated World War I, when Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist, assassinated Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife in Bosnia and Austria declared war on Serbia.
Following the end of World War 1, the movement culminated in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes upon the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when the Croat, Slovenian, and Bosnian territories that had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire joined the Serbian Kingdom.
From the beginning, the various ethnicities struggled for power within the new Yugoslavia. The Serbs were the largest group (about 45 percent), followed by the Croats (about 25 percent). The Croats often felt like lesser partners under the Serbs. For instance, they objected to naming the language Serbo-Croatian. Why not Croato-Serbian?
At the end of World War II, after the Allied victory, six republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, with borders drawn along ethnic and historical lines, became the federation of Yugoslavia. In addition, two autonomous provinces, Vojvodina and Kosovo, were established within Serbia.
During World War II, a Nazi- allied, independent Croat State broke up Yugoslavia, but it was reunited once again when the communist-dominated partisan force of Josip Broz Tito revived the Yugoslav Party and reunited the country. Tito molded Yugoslavia into a state patterned after the Soviet Union and, in 1953, he became the first president of Yugoslavia. Ten years later Tito became president for life. Under Tito, Yugoslavia adopted a more decentralized and less repressive form of government than other East European communist states during the Cold War
Following the death of Tito in 1980, a series of events exacerbated inherent tensions within the Yugoslav Republic and precipitated the break up. Among them, the stipulations of the 1974 constitution provided for the return of power from the federal government to the republics and autonomous provinces in Serbia by establishing a collective presidency of the eight provincial representatives and a federal government with little control over economic, cultural, and political policy; the 1989 collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, a unified Germany in 1990 and the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union that happened just a year later.
In addition, during the collapse of the Soviet Union the Yugoslav economy was close to collapse, diverted the West’s attention away from Yugoslavia and the substantial economic and financial support needed to keep the country unified. Also, without the Soviet threat, there was no longer a powerful incentive for union and cooperation among Yugoslavia’s component parts.
In 1990, Slovenia was the first to declare “sovereignty”. Croatia followed in May, and in August, the Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina also declared itself sovereign. Eventually, inter-republic relations in Yugoslavia spiraled out of control, culminating in civil war that devastated Croatia, resulting in tens of thousands dead, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced. The republic finally declared its independence in May 1992, while the Serbs in Bosnia declared their own areas an independent republic. Macedonia declared independence following a September 1991 referendum. In 2003 Yugoslavia’s name became Serbia and Montenegro and, in 2006, the two constituent republics separated.
Breakup of Serbo-Croatian
The breakup of the Yugoslavian state sealed the fate of the Serbo-Croatian language and the challenge was how to create four separate, standard languages based on ethnic criteria, the same dialect and highly intercomprehensible. The following four standard languages resulted:
Croatian (hrvatski) – The official and literary standard of Croatia and one of the official languages of the European Union. Spoken by Croats, primarily in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbian province of Vojvodina and other neighboring countries. Croatian uses the Latin script.
Montenegrin (crnogorski / црногорски) – The official language of Montenegro and recognized minority language of the Serbian Municipality of Mali Iđoš (Мали Иђош). Montenegro’s language has historically and traditionally been Serbian. When Serbia and Montenegro broke up, Montenegrin became the official language of Montenegro. The Montenegrin standard is still emerging. Its orthography was established in 2009, with the addition of two letters to the alphabet.
Serbian (српски in Cyrillic and srpski in Latin characters) – The Official language of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. A recognized minority language in Croatian, Hungary, Montenegro, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Macedonia and Romania. Uses both the Cyrillic and Latin scripts. Cyrillic is the official script of the Serbian administration and the Republika Srpska, but the Latin script is most widely used in media and particularly on the Internet.
Other languages in the region are:
Commonalities among languages
There are commonalities among the languages, so speakers of other languages understand most words and use them occasionally. Preference for certain variants depends largely on the speaker’s geographic location rather than ethnic origin. The following are a few examples:
|bread||хлеб||kruh/hljeb||hljeb / kruh||kruh/hljeb|
|music||музика||glazba||muzika /glazba||glasba / muzika|
|factory||фабрика||tvornica||fabrika / tvornica||tovarna / fabrika|
|century||век||stoljeće||vijek / stoljeće||stoletje|
The Politics of Language
Just as society influences language development, politics always influences language standardization of language.
When the constituent republics declared the “death” of the old lingua franca Serbo-Croatia, spoken around the country together with Macedonian and Slovene, the new independent states wanted their national languages to strenghen their own identity.
An article written by, Mark Lowen, of BBC News, reports how the efforts to create a Montenegrin standard to replace Serbian as the official language became a politically charged issue, with the nationalist government and Serbian opposition parties engaged in a linguistic tug-of-war, particularly because Montenegro was always considered the closest republic to Serbia:
“The point of language is to communicate,” says Goran Radonjic, a Serbian literature professor and member of the opposition party New Serbian Democracy. “But by creating a new one, they are throwing barriers between us.”
“I speak Montenegrin,” says local journalist Dejan Radulovic. “I used to speak Serbian, but now we are an independent country. The languages are very similar but we have our specifics.”
Jelena, 26, disagrees. “I learned Serbian and I’ll always speak Serbian,” she says. “Montenegrin and Serbian are the same language. In America they speak English, don’t they?”
Montenegro is a charming and scenic country of less than 700,000 inhabitants, but strong national pride. The Montenegrin language has forged on to create its own identity, separate from Serbia, and once again speak with one voice.