Tuesday 4 April 2017

Serbo-Croatian or Serbian and Croatian? Considerations on the Croatian Declaration and Serbian Proposal of March 1967



While Croatians and Serbs normally and naturally refer to their standard languages as Croatian respectively Serbian, various political authorities, especially during the last fifty years or so, have been trying to impose on their language a different name as an expression of the existing political situation. Between the two World Wars, during Royal Yugoslavia, the standard language for Croatians and Serbs was officially called Serbo-Croatian, at times even Serbocroatianslovenian. During World War II the Ustasha regime in Croatia recognized only the existence of a Croatian language different from the Serbian. 

After World War II the Communist regime, in an effort to stress the unity of Croatians and Serbs, and at the same time, to meet their national aspirations, proclaimed the oneness of their linguistic expression but gave it two compound names: Croatians were to call their language Croatoserbian and Serbs, Serbocroatian. The fact is that Serbs understand Croatians and vice versa, but each one of these peoples speaks and writes its own national brand or variant of the language. Following the terminology of F. de Saussure, we may say that Serbs and Croatians have one tongue, one language-system (in French langue) referred to abroad ( ! ) as Serbo-Croatian, but two national speeches (in French parole), referred to in Serbia ( !) as Serbian and in Croatia ( !) as Croatian literary languages (or lately, standard languages).

While de Saussure distinguishes a linguistic system (tongue) as existing in a certain community from its use by each individual in that community (parole), we are applying that terminology to Croatians and Serbs, two different national groups who are using the same linguistic system. We may then say that the Croatians and Serbs have one tongue and two speeches, one common language (narodni jezik) and two standard languages (književni jezik).

Mario Pei and Frank Gaynor give the following definition of a standard language in their Dictionary of Linguistics: "The dialect of a language which has gained literary and cultural supremacy over the other dialects and is accepted by the speakers of the other dialects as the most proper form of that language."

The Serbians recognize the literary and cultural supremacy of Belgrade, their national center, and use the Cyrillic alphabet, the Ekavian dialect, and an important stock of words peculiar to their variant of the language. The Croatians recognize the supremacy of Zagreb, their national center, and use the Latin script, the Ijekavian dialect and an important stock of words peculiar to their variant of the language.

There is no common literary and cultural center recognized by both Croatians and Serbs, although some Croatians may politically accept Belgrade as the administrative center of a federal Yugoslavia. This attitude is so clearly felt in the mind and usage of Croatian and Serbian speakers that every impartial observer can notice it. This is why we stated that each of the two nations or nationalities has its own standard or literary language, one called Croatian and the other Serbian.

In a case like this the political situation may greatly influence the linguistic development. The insistence on linguistic differences or similarities may weaken or strengthen the political rapprochement of these two South Slavic nations that are territorially so intermixed. In the last fifty years, politicians, aware of that significant interdependence, tried to use the language for political purposes.

In December 1954, Matica Srpska called a meeting of Serbian and Croatian writers and linguists to cement Yugoslav "brotherhood and unity." The Novi Sad Resolutions were the result of that meeting. At that time there was very little freedom in Yugoslavia, so that the Resolutions were passed without any serious opposition. To raise one's voice even for a legitimate expression of Croatian or Serbian national feeling would have meant to lose one's job and to indulge in Un-Yugoslav activities.

The first of the ten points drawn up in Novi Sad states that the Serbs, Croatians and Montenegrins have one national (narodni) language and therefore (sic) also one literary (književni) language. The second point prescribes the use of two adjectives in the name of the language to show its composite nature: the language will be referred to as Serbocroatian or Croatoserbian.

The remaining eight points deal with the differences between the two variants and suggest ways to diminish their divisive character. Even in admitting the existence of the two variants, politicians were interested in stressing the oneness of the language and the duality of the name. The Orthography of the Croatoserbian Literary Language by Matica Hrvatska in Zagreb and the Orthography of the Serbocroatian Literary Language by Matica Srpska in Novi Sad, both published in 1960, contain both variants and make it possible for Serbian and Croatian speakers to use the variant of their choice.

Thus the Novi Sad Resolutions achieved the desired political effect of unity, but imposed a cumbersome language name and left individuals free to use the variant of their choice. But who in reality enjoyed genuine freedom of choice? Since in a multinational country like Yugoslavia (Serbs, Croatians, Montenegrins, Macedonians and Slovenes) there are a good number of common affairs, the Slovenes will communicate with the central government in Slovenian, the Macedonians in Macedonian. How about the Serbs, Croatians and Montenegrins? In Serbian or in Croatian?

The Novi Sad Resolutions were not too clear on this point, and a practical point of view prevailed: there is no sense in using two utterances for one ( ! ) language. Since the capital of the Yugoslav federation was at the same time the capital of the Republic of Serbia, the Serbian variant of the language was used in the federal administration apparatus and in mass communications. Thus Croatians had to read the Serbian language or listen to it in the federal press, the dispatches of the official news agency Tanjug, the nationwide radio and TV broad-casts, the post office, telegraph and telephone service, rail-roads, federal political and economic publications, newsreels, various administrative formularies, the armed forces, diplomacy and central Party organizations.

This practice went on from the “liberation” day in 1945, to the meeting in Novi Sad (1954), and up to the publication of the unified orthography (1960), and after. As a result the Croatians felt that their language was degraded to the status of a local dialect while the Serbian standard language became a sort of “state language.” A collective Croatian reaction against such de facto Serbian imposition came on March 15 1961. On that day the following Declaration was accepted:


The centuries-long struggle of the Yugoslav peoples for national freedom and social justice culminated in the revolutionary transformation that took place in the period between 1941 and 1945. The victory of the national liberation struggle and the socialist revolution made it possible for all nations and minorities in Yugoslavia to enter a new phase of their historical existence.

Basing themselves on the fundamental principles of socialism concerning the right of every individual to be free from oppression, and of every nation to be completely sovereign and equal with all other nations, the Slovenes, Croatians, Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonians formed a federal union, consisting of six socialist republic, to guarantee their mutual equality, brotherhood and socialist cooperation.

The principle of national sovereignty and complete equality encompasses the right of each of our nations to protect all the attributes of its national identity and to fully develop not only its economy but also its culture. Among these attributes, the national name of the language spoken by the Croatian nation is of paramount importance, because it is the inalienable right of every people to call its language by its own national name, irrespective of whether in a philological sense this language is shared in its entirety or through a separate variant by another people.

The agreement reached in Novi Sad correctly states that the Serbian and the Croatian literary languages have a common linguistic basis while it did not deny the historical, cultural, national and political truth that every nation has the right to use its own-language to express its national and cultural identity. Those principles are formulated both in the Constitution which is the leader of our peoples in their revolutionary struggle.

And yet, despite the clarity of these fundamental principles, a certain fuzziness in their formulations has made it possible in practice to circumvent, distort, and violate these principles within the broader distortions of our social and economic reality. The circumstances under which statism, unitarism, and hegemony have been revived are well known. With them the concept that a single "state language" is necessary has appeared, which in practice means the Serbian literary language because of the dominant influence exercised by the administrative center of our federation.

Despite the VIII Congress, the recent IV and the V Plenums of the Central Committee of the League of Yugoslav Communists, which have stressed the importance of the Socialist principles concerning the equality of our peoples and consequently, their languages, the "state language" is even today being systematically imposed, with the result that the Croatian literary language is disregarded and is reduced to the status of a local dialect.

This discrimination is practiced through the administrative apparatus and the means of mass communications the federal press, Tanjug [Yugoslav official press agency], the Yugoslav television and radio network in its nationwide broadcasts, the post office, the telegraph and telephone services, the railroads, the literature dealing with political and economic matters, the motion picture newsreels, and various administrative forms, also through the use of the language in the Yugoslav army, the federal administration, the legislature, diplomacy and various political organizations.

The momentous economic and social reforms currently being implemented, which express the principle of socialist self-management, compel us to take all the necessary steps so that in the areas of our own competence—linguistics, literature, science and culture in general—the above mentioned principles of our socialist society are implemented in daily practice.
Consequently, the Croatian cultural and scientific institutes and organizations which are the signatories of this declaration, consider it is essential to undertake the following steps:

1) To establish clearly and unequivocally through Constitutional provision the equality of the four literary languages: the Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian and Macedonian.
For that purpose paragraph 131 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia should be changed to read as follows:

"Federal laws and other general official acts of the federal administration are officially published in the four literary languages of the peoples of Yugoslavia: Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, and Macedonian. In their official communications the federal administration upholds the equality of the languages of all the Yugoslav peoples."

It is similarly necessary to guarantee by law the rights of the languages used by the national minorities in Yugoslavia.

The present fuzzy Constitutional provision concerning the "Serbocroatian or Croatoserbian language" makes it possible to consider the two parallel names as synonyms. As a result the present Constitutional formulation does not offer the legal underpinning for the equality of the Croatian and the Serbian literary languages in relation to each other, and also in relationship to the Yugoslav peoples. This lack of clarity makes it possible to impose the Serbian literary language as the common language of both the Serbs and the Croatians. Numerous examples show that this is indeed the practice, as for instance the recent decisions of the Fifth Assembly of the Union of Yugoslav Composers; they were published simultaneously in the Serbian, Slovenian and Macedonian languages as if the Croatian literary language does not even exist or as if it is identical with the Serbian literary language.

The undersigned institutes and organizations consider that in such instances the Croatian nation is not represented and is denied equality. This sort of practice can never be justified by asserting the undeniable scientific fact that the Croatian and the Serbian literary languages have the same linguistic basis.

2) In accordance with the above demand and elaboration, it is necessary to guarantee the consistent use of the Croatian literary language in the schools, the press, the public and political forums, on radio and the television networks whenever the broadcasts are directed to a Croatian audience. Officials, teachers and public workers, irrespective of their origin, should use in their official dealings the language of the milieu in which they live.

We are submitting this Declaration to the Parliament of the Socialist Republic of Croatia, to the Federal Parliament of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and to the public at large so that during the discussions concerning the modification of the Constitution these principles be clearly formulated and put into practice in our public life.

Matica Hrvatska
Writers' Association of Croatia
Pen Club, Croatian Center
Croatian Philological Society
Department of Philology, The Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts (Y.A.S.A.)
Department of Contemporary Literature, Y.A.S.A.
Linguistic Institute, Y.A.S.A.
The Institute for Literature and Theatrical Arts, Y.A.S.A.
Chair for Contemporary Croatoserbian Language, The Faculty of Philosophy, Zadar
Chair for Contemporary Croatoserbian Language, The Faculty of Philosophy, Zagreb
Chair for History of Croatian Language and Dialects, The Faculty of Philosophy, Zagreb
Chair for Early Croatian Literature, The Faculty of Philosophy, Zadar
Chair for Early Croatian Literature, The Faculty of Philosophy, Zagreb
Chair for Modern Croatian Literature, The Faculty of Philosophy, Zadar
Chair for Modern Croatian Literature, The Faculty of Philosophy, Zagreb
The Institute for Linguistics, The Faculty of Philosophy, Zagreb
The Institute for the Theory of Literature, The Faculty of Philosophy, Zagreb
Old Slavonic Institute, Zagreb
Association of the Literary Translators of Croatia [1]

The nineteen[2] Croatian scholarly institutions and cultural organizations were represented by 140 signatories including the famous author Miroslav Krleža and other foremost Croatian writers and linguists. In the Declaration they ask for an amendment to the Constitution expressing two things:

(1) the equality not of three but of four literary languages, the Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian and Macedonian, and consequently, the publication of all federal laws and other federal acts in four instead of three languages;

(2) the use of the Croatian standard language in schools and all mass communication media pertaining to the Republic of Croatia. It seems to us that this Declaration has put the linguistic reality in the right perspective by acknowledging the existence of two literary languages even in a unified country and thus separating language from politics.
The leading Croatian linguists and authors stated that the Croatian nation has its own standard language different from the Serbian standard language, that they want their language to be used in Croatian public life as the official means of expression, that they reject any other name for it except the Croatian language.

The Declaration in its lengthy introduction fully admits the existing political situation so that politicians would not see a political implication in this request for equality. In the concluding paragraph the signers submit democratically their opinion to the legally constituted authorities.

The Declaration did not provoke any linguistic discussion but it unlatched a deluge of political protests, and this only after a prompt condemnation by the ruling Communist Party. After a short while perfect calm followed the stormy outbreak. One cannot attribute great importance to such a reaction because its very nature show that it was staged as an organized protest.

Some papers condemned the motives of the main organizers who drew up the document. On the other hand, the general opinion in Zagreb was that the Party leaders, including Tito himself, knew that the document was being prepared. More than half of the signers were Party members. It is hard to imagine that in a country like Yugoslavia such an action could be undertaken in secrecy. While in Yugoslavia most people criticize the regime, they are all aware of the omnipotence of the police, so that no serious antigovernment action could even be thought of.

According to Telegram, (Zagreb) of April 7, 1967, 9 signers of the Declaration were expelled from the Party, 13 were given final warnings. Miroslav Krleža resigned from the Central Committee of the Communist League of Croatia. A few days after the Croatian Declaration came the following Serbian "Proposal for Consideration."

A group of writers has considered the "Declaration Concerning the Name and the Position of the Croatian Literary Language" as it was adopted by the Writers' Association of Croatia after being previously adopted by the most significant scholarly and cultural institutions of Croatia.

After a thorough study of this significant and epoch-making document, this group of writers thinks it is a legitimate and inalienable right of each nation to make decisions regarding the name and the position of its own language. A writers' group of Serbia thinks that the institutions which adopted the "Declaration Concerning the Name and the Position of the Croatian Literary Language" are the most competent ones in matters pertaining to the Croatian literary language and they consider this Declaration as representative and meritorious.

Therefore the group of writers proposing this Resolution, disregarding the historical and scientific aspects of the problem, and having in mind the situation created by the demands of the above mentioned Declaration, considers the Vienna and Novi Sad Agreements void. The Croatian and Serbian languages will henceforth develop in full independence and equality. The group of writers proposing the Resolution considers it natural that such a development applies to all languages of Yugoslavia and to all scripts: Latin, Macedonian Cyrillic and Serbian Cyrillic, as well as to all orthographies.

The group of writers proposing the Resolution is submitting the following demand to the Federal Parliament, the Parliament of the Socialist Republic of Serbia and the Parliament of the Socialist Republic of Croatia: that the names Croatoserbian and Serbo-croatian language be consistently and mandatorily removed from the official usage and that the equality of all Yugoslav languages and scripts be implemented everywhere in federal administration, legislation, political organizations, railroads, the post office, telegraph and telephone services, the Tanjug Agency, Lexicographic Institute, customs and armed forces.
In this connection the group of writers proposing this Resolution demands that Belgrade Radio and TV Station cease to be an unauthorized central Yugoslav studio, that it adopt the Cyrillic script for its local programs whereas in its common Radio-TV Yugoslav broadcasts it should use the two scripts simultaneously. Our association, or rather the proposing group, thinks that no effort should be spared to achieve consistently the equality of the languages and scripts of our nationalities.

The group of writers proposing the Resolution considers it their duty and privilege to point out to the following problem whose importance in the light of the above demands becomes even more topical:

Our Constitution guarantees to all our nationalities and minorities the right to an independent development of language and culture. The very assertion of an independent name and development of the Croatian and Serbian languages demands that the same right be guaranteed by constitutional regulations to all Croatians living on the territory of the Socialist Republic of Serbia and to all Serbs living on the territory of the Socialist Republic of Croatia.

The group of writers demands that the following regulations be stipulated in the Constitutions of the Socialist Republic of Serbia and the Socialist Republic of Croatia guaranteeing to all Croatians and Serbs: the right to a scholastic education in their own languages and scripts according to their national programs, the right to use their national languages and scripts in their dealings with all authorities, the right to found their cultural societies, local museums, publishing houses and newspapers, in short, the right to cultivate unobstructedly and freely all aspects of their national culture." [3] 

The Serbian Proposal was drafted by a group of about fifty writer-members of the Serbian Writers' Association in Belgrade and was to be submitted to the plenary meeting of the above association. The Proposal accepts the Declaration as an epoch-making document and fully representative of the Croatian nation since it is the expression of its most important scholarly and cultural institutions (Zagreb University, Yugoslav Academy, Matica Hrvatska, Croatian Writers' Association being among the most important).

While the first part of the Proposal seems amiable and "brotherly", its second part, corresponding to the second part of the title, is a warning to their Croatian "brothers" who seek absolute linguistic independence. If we respect national individuality in our multinational country, they seem to say, then each Croatian in Serbia and each Serb in Croatia should demand the same privileges. That means, for instance, that Serbs in Croatia would be entitled to their own Serbian language and Serbian script, in school and in their dealings with Croatian authorities, that they have the right to found their cultural associations, museums, publishing houses and newspapers. They seem to say, if this is what our Croatian "brothers" wish, let them have it.

What will happen then in the Republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina where Serbs and Croatians are mixed with Moslems who are often nationally unaligned? There are so few Croatians in Serbia and so many Serbians in Croatia! For centuries Serbs have been moving west, and the Croatians have hardly been going east! There are practically no Croatians who would like to live in Serbian cities like Niš, Sabac, Požarevac, not even Belgrade and many Serbians have moved to Croatian cities in Dalmatia and Istria. Does not that mean that the administration of the Republic of Croatia will become physically impossible?

The Serbian Proposal, in its first part, states more decisively than the Croatian Declaration what the Croatians want and what their demands imply. In its second part the Proposal is a serious warning to the Croatians, so serious that, in my opinion, if the Serbian Proposal were accepted, it would mean a nationalistic pandemonium, the end of Yugoslavia.

The Croatian Declaration in itself is a legitimate request that, granted by the federal authority, would be very constructive for the future of Yugoslavia because it would tend to satisfy at least partially the Croatians, one of the most dissatisfied peoples of the country. The Serbian writers viewed the Croatian Declaration as a provocation, and reacted accordingly. Their very acceptance of the Croatian requests calls for the destruction of Yugoslavia.

Such a situation prompted the Communist Party of Yugoslavia to react immediately, to stigmatize both documents as equally chauvinistic. To sanction the Party line, the press and the public at large had to condemn the Croatian and Serbian intellectuals for their deviations. Tito himself spoke in Priština, Serbia, on the square of Brotherhood and Unity minimizing the linguistic squabbles, attacking the eggheads[4] in the name of a man in the street and stating that the Novi Sad Resolutions are the best solution to the Serbo-Croatian linguistic problem. According to the London Times Vladimir Bakarić, the President of the Republic of Croatia, suggested that foreign circles were "thickly involved in this affair."[5]

In spite of the fact that an absolute calm was quickly re-instated, the Serbo-Croatian problem, remains open. It appears today mainly under two aspects, economic and linguistic. For about twenty years it was submerged by the Communist regime, but a liberalizing development of the country and frequent contacts with the West allowed the main problems to come to the surface. Symptomatic of the state of affairs is the following story circulating in Zagreb: President Bakarić or another leading political figure asked Miroslav Krležia how he, one of the main creators of Communist Yugoslavia, could have signed such a chauvinistic document as the Declaration. The senior writer is supposed to have answered: "I have been a Communist for about 50 years, but a Croatian for 75."

The development of any koine is usually connected with the history of the community by which it is used. The Croatian standard language, however, has been tied up too much with the Croatian political vicissitudes. If the demands expressed in the Declaration were granted, the Croatian language might follow a more normal course of development in the future to the satisfaction of the Croatian people and their neighbors.

- - -
Journal of Croatian Studies, VII-VIII, 1966-1967, Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc., New York

[1] This is the translation as published in Croatia Press (New York), Vol. XXI (1967), Nos. 253-54, pp. 12-16, with a few minor changes. The Declaration was accepted and sent to the Federal Parliament on March 15, 1967: Politika (Belgrade), April 8, 1967, p. 5. It was published Ala in weekly newspaper Telegram (Zagreb), March 17, 1967.
[2] On March 19 the Zagreb daily Vjesnik published the Declaration listing only eighteen institutions. This is due to the fact that the Department of Early Croatian Literature of the Zadar University was omitted. The same paper committed the mistake of printing "sociology" instead of “philology" in reference to a department of the Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Sciences. It is important to note that all nineteen institutions with language and literature. Sociology would be out of place here.
[3] This translation was made from the Cyrillic text as published in Glas Kanadskih Srba (Windsor, Ontario, Canada) of May 11, 1967. According to that paper, the Proposal was published in Belgrade (in Borba) as April 2, 1967, "at the request of many readers," although it had been adopted on March 19.
[4] He used ironically the Croatian word for "philosophers." See Telegram (Zagreb), March 31, 1967. Tito spoke on Sunday, March 27.
[5] April 6, 1967.

Ver también / See also / Gledaj isto:

The 1967 Declaration and related texts, in 5 languages (16 texts)


Matica iseljenika i Deklaracija o nazivu i položaju hrvatskoga književnog jezika - Ivan Čizmić

Deklaracija o Nazivu i položaja Hrvatskog Književnog jezika i emigracija – Joza Vrljicak

Deklaracija o nazivu i položaju hrvatskog književnog jezika (1967) - Hrvatska Revija, godina XVII, svezak 1-2 (65-66), München, Kolovoz 1967

Apel hrvatskih književnika i pisaca u emigraciji – Hrvatska Revija, godina XVII, svezak 1-2 (65-66), München, Kolovoz 1967

Od Baščanske ploče do zagrebačke Deklaracije (1076-1967) – Vinko Nikolić - Hrvatska Revija, godina XVII, svezak 1-2 (65-66), München, Kolovoz 1967

Borba za hrvatski književni jezik (1967) – Krsto Spalatin - Hrvatska Revija, godina XVII, svezak 1-2 (65-66), München, Kolovoz 1967


Los croatas en defensa de su idioma nacional - Ivo Bogdan, Buenos Aires - Studia Croatica, Año VIII, Buenos Aires, 1967, N° 24-27

La declaración sobre la denominación y la situación actual del idioma literario croata - Studia Croatica, Año VIII, Buenos Aires, 1967, N° 24-27

Proyecto de resolución de un grupo de escritores servios - Studia Croatica, Año VIII, Buenos Aires, 1967, N° 24-27

La lengua croata - Zdravko Sancevic, Caracas, Venezuela - Studia Croatica, Año VIII, Buenos Aires, 1967, N° 24-27


Deklaration über die Bezeichnung und Stellung der kroatischen Schriftsprache - Hrvatska Revija, godina XVII, svezak 1-2 (65-66), München, Kolovoz 1967

Appell kroatischer Schriftsteller im Exil - Hrvatska Revija, godina XVII, svezak 1-2 (65-66), München, Kolovoz 1967


Declaration sur l'appellation de la langue littéraire croate et sur sa situation dans les circonstances actuelles (1967) - Hrvatska Revija, godina XVII, svezak 1-2 (65-66), München, Kolovoz 1967

Appel des écrivains croates en exil (1967) - Hrvatska Revija, godina XVII, svezak 1-2 (65-66), München, Kolovoz 1967


Serbo-Croatian or Serbian and Croatian? Considerations on the Croatian Declaration and Serbian Proposal of March 1967 – Includes the Declaration Concerning the Name and the Position of the Croatian Literary Language - Christopher Spalatin - Journal of Croatian Studies, VII-VIII, 1966-1967, Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc., New York

Statement of the Croatian Academy of America Regarding the Zagreb Language Declaration (1967) - Journal of Croatian Studies, VII-VIII, 1966-1967, Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc., New York

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