Language politics in Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia
Rice, Eric A.
Yost, David S.
Moran, Daniel J.
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The political union of southern Slavs in the multiethnic state of Yugoslavia came to a violent end in the 1990s. The joint Serbo--Croatian language also ceased to exist as an official language when the Yugoslav successor states Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia identified only Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian as their respective official languages. Language use in these states became a political tool used to emphasize the differences among the ethnicities and to gauge ethnic loyalty. Croatia endeavored to "cleanse" its language of any characteristics in common with the joint Serbo--Croatian language. Serbian nationalists rejected the Latin alphabet and insisted on using the Cyrillic alphabet. Bosniaks recognized a Bosnian language that was not acknowledged by Bosnia's ethnic Croats or ethnic Serbs. While language previously had been a means to unite Balkan Slavs, it became an instrument of nationalism wielded by politically motivated actors to widen the division among the ethnicities. Language disputes did not destroy Yugoslavia, but they may hinder recovery and modernization. As each Yugoslav successor state strives toward integration into the European Union, political questions concerning language may polarize domestic politics and inhibit regional cooperation, thereby hampering efforts to carry out needed economic and political reforms.
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