An online discussion was hosted by the CHF on the topic of the Bunjevac Croatians of the Bačka region and the appropriation of the Ikavian variant of the Neo-Štokavian dialect of Croatian.
An online round table discussion was hosted by the Croatian Heritage Foundation on 20 April on the topic of the Bunjevac Croatians of the Bačka region and the appropriation of the Ikavian variant of the Neo-Štokavian dialect of Croatian.
The discussion comes in the wake of recent attempts to introduce a spurious “Bunjevac” official language in the city of Subotica. The gist of this policy is to carve the local Bunjevac idiom out of the broader corpus of the Croatian language and, consequently, to bring into question the identity of all people who speak the Ikavian Neo-Štokavian variant. While superficially affirmative, this initiative is in fact a blow aimed directly at the unity and identity of the Croatian ethnic community in neighbouring Serbia.
Dr Robert Skenderović, a historian with the Croatian Institute of History, works at the institute’s branch for the history of the Slavonia, Srijem and Baranja regions, and has spent years studying the history of the Croatians of the Danube River basin. He observes that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries some of our neighbours made deliberate political efforts to play up regional identities.
“In Dalmatia, for example, the Venetians encouraged a ‘Dalmatian’ identity to such an extent that it effectively suppressed the Croatian identity in spite of the fact that Dalmatia had been at the heart of Croatia during its medieval period. Those looking to keep Croatians down, assimilate us and occupy our ethnic territory, encouraged regional and sub-ethnic affiliations as a political identity,” Skenderović noted.
He pointed out that the Bunjevac affiliation among Croats was a sub-ethnic phenomenon. “A ‘Bunjevac’ identity arose much later during the period of Ottoman conquest, and did so in the Dalmatia region and the Livno area, with the immigrating Orthodox Christians thus referring to the native local population.” He noted that elements in Serbian politics and academia had over the past century made systematic efforts aimed at promoting claims that Bunjevac Croats were not in fact Croats, a policy that would in its second stage insist that the Bunjevac population was in fact ethnically Serb. This policy, he adds, remains active to this day.
He also pointed to the results of his research, which indicates that the Bunjevac name appeared relatively late, near the close of the eighteenth century, which refutes the claim that a Bunjevac population had been Catholicised into a Croat identity. A Bunjevac identity served as a response to attempts at Hungarian assimilation in the nineteenth century, when the Bunjevac population in Subotica declared themselves “Dalmatians”. Skenderović observed the rapid disappearance of this phenomenon as Hungarian policy worked to play down the Croatian-Bunjevac association in its efforts to assimilate the population in the Hungarian polity, well aware that a micro-group stood no chance in the face of a concerted policy of assimilation.
He noted that the Bunjevac population of Subotica flew a Croatian flag from the city hall in Subotica on 12 November 1918. On 17 November of that year, a few days after the Serbian army had rolled into Subotica, the priest Blaško Rajić, a prominent leader of the Bunjevac Croats, celebrated a Christian mass at the St Roch church that closed with the singing of the Croatian anthem. Events of this kind would not have occurred if the Bunjevac population felt itself to be identified as something other than Croatian.
Đuro Vidmarović is a writer and a prominent authority on the topic of the ethnic Croatian communities in neighbouring countries. He points to the incongruity of attempting to concoct a new nationality in the 21st century. He also identifies planned de-Croatisation and political manipulation as being at the heart of efforts to contrive a standalone Bunjevac language.
Enumerating a number of great Bunjevac Croats who expressed themselves in the Croatian language he stressed that the better part of Croats who associate with the subethnic Bunjevac name, including all the intellectuals, writers and creators of culture, remain firmly Croatian.
He also pointed to a statement from the Croatian Writers’ Association on the attempts to introduce a concocted “Bunjevac language” into official use in Subotica: “The Croatian Writers’ Association notes that a possible introduction of a so-called ‘Bunjevac’ language for official use in Subotica would carve out a part of the linguistic heritage of the Croatian language, violating both the dignity and integrity of Croatian literature, which the association strongly opposes. As a form of protest the Croatian Writers’ Association will continue to support Croatian writers in Vojvodina, strengthen collaborative literary exchange programmes and develop the visibility of the region’s Croatian literature in the homeland.”
Sanja Vulić is a professor with the University of Zagreb’s Centre for Croatian Studies and an expert in dialectology, especially well versed in the local idioms of the ethnic Croatian enclaves outside the country. “If we take the speakers of the Croatian language as a whole,” she points out, “the most numerous among them are speakers of the Neo-Štokavian Ikavian dialect. If a Bunjevac Neo-Štokavian Ikavian dialect were to be carved out of the Croatian language, and thus also the speakers of that idiom from the Croatian nation, the next step could be an attempt to carve all Neo-Štokavian Ikavian dialects out of the Croatian body, leading to the definitive disappearance of Croatians as a people.”
She notes that there have been efforts of late to force the idea of Čakavian, Kajkavian, Dubrovnik, or Šokac “languages”, all as somehow distinct from Croatian. In place of a single Croatian language and people, this would lead to a dozen marginal and obscure trivial concocted languages and tribes that would quickly be subsumed within another nation and language. Unfortunately, many Croatians remain oblivious to these efforts; the actors bent on suppressing Croatia and its identity leverage local patriotism to win them over. Vulić says it is high time to raise awareness of the issue before time runs out. (IKA)