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Frantisek Sistek 
Re: Three Cheers for the Montenegrin Language (2)

      Dear Mr. Moore,
     I have several objections and comments regarding your article entitled Three Cheers for the Montenegrin Language!,
published in the RFE/RL Balkan Report, volume 4, number 16, February 25, 2000.
  I agree that the language differences in former Yugoslavia have been exaggerated by various nationalists.  The results are
often absolutely ridiculous.  However, I believe that your treatment of the recent memorandum of the Matica Crnogorska on
Montenegrin language in the article is unjust.  The language, known for decades as Serbo-Croatian, indeed has several
geographic varieties as well as several literary traditions.  I am not a philologist and do not therefore intend to discuss the
question whether the local variations should be treated as different languages or should simply be described as dialects.  The
fact is that Croats, Serbs, and Bosniaks have in recent years abandoned the old name and decided to call their language either
Croatian, Serbian or Bosnian.  Since the name Serbocroatian is no longer used and each of the ethnic groups which used to
speak that language adopted its own name for its version of that language, the Montenegrins also have a right to choose a
name for the language they speak.  They definitely cannot accept that their language should be called Serbian.  In the old
Titoist Yugoslavia, Montenegrins never raised any demands regarding the language question.  They supported the idea that
there is one common language, spoken by Montenegrins, Croats, Bosniaks, and Serbs.  However, since the idea that there
are more languages than one prevailed, Montenegrins decided to call their language Montenegrin.  In short, since the idea of a
common Serbo-Croatian language failed, there will now be four official languages, although closely related and mutually
understandable.  While some readers might be amused by your comment "one wonders which "language" will be next to
emerge", it is not based on any evidence.  There were four ethnic groups which officially spoke Serbo-Croatian, and now
Croatians say they speak Croatian, Serbs speak Serbian, Bosniaks speak Bosnian, and Montenegrins speak Montenegrin. 
The logic is quite simple.  It may be perhaps seem ridiculous from the point of view of a West-European or American.  It is also
possible that some day tendencies towards linguistic reunification will appear again, but the fragmentation of the former
Serbo-Croatian language is an integral part of a larger historical process and we must accept it whether we like it or not.
    Uninformed readers of your article can get the impression that the memorandum of Matica Crnogorska consists of just one
demand - to rename the official language of Montenegro as a step towards greater independence from Belgrade.  This,
however, is just one statement included in the document.  The change of the name of the official language in Montenegro from
Serbian to Montenegrin might have a symbolic importance, but the primary concern of the memorandum of Matica Crnogorska
is a protection of Montenegrin cultural and literary heritage.  It, among other things, calls for an establishment of an institute for
the research of Montenegrin language.  It also calls for greater use of the authentic Montenegrin language in public life.  To
understand these demands, one has to understand the problematics of Montenegrin national and cultural identity, which has
been seriously endangered and threatened in the last 80 years.  The question of Montenegrin language cannot be viewed
merely as a question of renaming a language, neither a creation of a new (artificial) language just for the sake of a politically
motivated differentiation between Montenegrins and Serbs.  Matica Crnogorska and many other Montenegrin institutions
(Montenegrin P.E.N. center, Dukljan Academy of Sciences and Arts etc.) have a goal to use and cultivate the language
actually spoken in Montenegro instead of using the Serbian language spoken in Serbia.  The fact that they want to call it
Montenegrin is of secondary importance.  It is also worth noting that the memorandum of Matica Crnogorska clearly states that
Montenegrin language is a part of a common language system spoken by Montenegrins, Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croatians.

These are some facts about the Montenegrin language, or Montenegrin version of Serbo-Croatian, if you want.  The language
spoken in Montenegro belongs to the ijekavica language group together with the languages spoken in Croatia and Bosnia,
while the ekavica language group prevails in Serbia.  It has a specific vocabulary which is characteristic for Montenegro and
distinguishes the local language from Serbian spoken in Serbia or Croatian spoken in Croatia.  It also has its own literary
tradition + even larger oral (epic) tradition.  Before the occupation of Montenegro by Serbian troops and its annexation to Serbia
in 1918, the language spoken in Montenegro was an official language of the Kingdom of Montenegro, despite the fact that the
term "Montenegrin" was not adopted at that time.  After the occupation of Montenegro in 1918, the use of the local language
was forbidden.  It was replaced by Serbian language (ekavica) as it is used in Serbia.  The policy of the interwar Yugoslav
government towards Montenegro was characterized by repression of its political, cultural, and national identity.  The use of
Montenegrin language in public life was legalized only in June 1941, after the fall of royal Yugoslavia, by Italian occupational
administration.  After WWII, the language spoken in Montenegro could be freely used.  However, the cultural pressure from
Belgrade existed and accelerated during the crisis which led to the break up of communist Yugoslav federation.  The current
Montenegrin constitution was adopted at a time when the  political life of that republic was firmly controlled by pro-Milo¹eviæ
leadership.  Its language and cultural policies in the beginning of 1990´s were dominated by Greater Serbian ideology.  It is
therefore not surprising that the official language of the republic was classified as Serbian at the time.  
    Western media began to focus on Montenegro only recently.  It may therefore seem that the questions of Montenegrin
national identity, religious independence, and calls for protection and development of Montenegrin culture and language have
emerged suddenly.  However, the complex Montenegrin question has never ceased to exist and cannot be viewed merely as a
result of a power struggle between two individuals, Milo Djukanoviæ and Slobodan Milo¹eviæ, as it is often presented in the
media.  Similrarly, the question of the Montenegrin language has been raised many times before the recent memorandum of
Matica Crnogorska.  
Frantisek Sistek
Society of Friends of Montenegro, Prague

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