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Slavic Identities: Peoples, Languages, and Religions. Laura A. Janda Overall Distribution of Slavic Peoples in Europe. You are what you speak. Language is closely tied with identity Political borders do not always correspond to linguistic borders

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slavic identities peoples languages and religions

Slavic Identities: Peoples, Languages, and Religions

Laura A. Janda

you are what you speak
You are what you speak
  • Language is closely tied with identity
  • Political borders do not always correspond to linguistic borders
  • Religious borders also play an important role
  • Language can both unify and divide peoples
can you name the slavic languages1
Can you name the Slavic languages?
  • North Slavic
    • Russian, Belorusian, Ukrainian
  • West Slavic
    • Polish, Czech, Slovak, Upper&Lower Sorbian
  • South Slavic
    • Slovene, Croatian, Serbian, Macedonian, Bulgarian
  • Note how former Soviet Union, Soviet Bloc, and former Yugoslavia divided up this territory
who are the slavs neighbors
Who are the Slavs’ neighbors?
  • Indo-European:
    • Speakers of German, Greek, Albanian, Romanian, Lithuanian, Latvian, and Italian, plus Romany
  • Non-Indo European:
    • Speakers of Hungarian, Estonian, Finnish, and Turkish, plus Caucasian and Central Asian languages
the cyrillic alphabet
The Cyrillic Alphabet
  • Actually the second alphabet of the Slavs
  • Invented in the tenth century
  • Modeled primarily after Greek capital letters
  • Associated with Orthodox (Byzantine) Christianity
the alphabetic divide
Western Christianity & Latin Alphabet:


Czech Republic




Eastern Christianity & Cyrillic Alphabet:







The Alphabetic Divide
megali idea
Megali Idea
  • Most nations (not just Slavic ones) have some “memory” of a time when their borders were at their largest.
  • These nations see these remembered borders as vital to their identity and seek to regain them.
  • These remembered borders overlap and do not contain a homogeneous population, motivating “ethnic cleansing”.
  • Primarily Catholic, previously had a significant Jewish minority (birthplace of Yiddish)
  • 1385 -- Polish union with Lithuania -- administrative language is Latin
  • 16th-17th centuries -- Polish used alongside Latin
poland cont d
Poland, cont’d.
  • 1795 -- Poland partitioned among Russia, Prussia, and Austria
  • Poland ceased to exist for 123 years, during which time harsh policies established German & Russian as administrative languages
  • Intelligentsia & Catholic Church helped maintain Polish language & identity
  • Polish state reborn at end of WWI with minorities of Ukrainians, Ruthenians, Jews, Belarusians, Germans
poland cont d1
Poland, cont’d.
  • WWII Nazi occupation reduced minorities via extermination & population transfers
  • Ethnic groups in present-day Poland: Lemkos (Ruthenians), Roma, Kashubians (330,000 speakers, status is controversial)
  • Historically part of Hungary
  • Used Czech as their literary language until mid-19th century
  • 1843 Stur’s grammar launches Slovak national movement.
  • After 1867, Austro-Hungarian Magyarization suppresses Slovak
slovakia cont d
Slovakia, cont’d.
  • 1939 Slovakia yields to Nazi Germany
  • 1944 Restoration of Czechoslovakia
  • 1948 Communists come to power
  • 1960s Campaign against “bourgeois” (aka Slovak) nationalism & antireligious campaign targets Slovaks
  • Reforms after 1968 favored Slovaks
  • Since 1993: Independent Slovakia with Hungarian and Roma minorities, Slovak linguistic purism
czech lands
Czech lands
  • 9th century -- Mission of SS. Cyril & Methodius -- Czechs are the first Slavs to gain literacy
  • Political independence dates to 10th century, when the Czech lands were part of the Holy Roman Empire
czech lands cont d
Czech lands, cont’d.
  • Charles IV 1346-1378 King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emporer founded Charles U. (Carolina!), the oldest university north of the Alps
  • 1415 Jan Hus is burned at the stake, ushering in the Reformation and Hussite wars
  • 1526, Ferdinand I, a Hapsburg, becomes King of Bohemia, and ultimately Austria and Hungary as well, ushering in 400 years of Hapsburg rule
  • 1618 Hapsburg repressions incite Prague defenestration, 30 year war
czech lands cont d1
Czech lands, cont’d.
  • Two centuries of decline and oppression, with German as the only official language
  • 1809 Josef Dobrovsky’s Czech grammar helps to launch Czech National Revival
czech lands cont d2
Czech lands, cont’d.
  • 1918 “The First Republic” and tensions between the 3M Germans and 7M Czechs in Bohemia
  • 1938 Munich
  • After WWII, Benes decrees forced most Germans out
  • 1948 Communists come to power
  • 1968 Prague Spring and August invasion
  • 1989 Velvet Revolution
  • 1993 Velvet Divorce
some conclusions concerning central europe
Some Conclusions concerning Central Europe
  • Central Europe was dominated by others: Hapsburgs, Russian Empire, Prussia, Austro-Hungary
  • Enlightenment inspired educated classes to pursue nationalism
  • The rise of ethno-nationalism in Central Europe hampered a process of assimilation of different ethnic groups into bigger national entities
some conclusions concerning central europe cont d
Some Conclusions concerning Central Europe, cont’d.
  • After WWI new states emerged based on language and ethnicity
  • After WWII communists came to power
  • The fall of communist regimes created a vacuum filled by ethno-nationalism
  • Language has been extremely important for identity and nationhood
  • Central Europe has been homogenized to maximize linguistic and national identity through genocide, population exchanges, etc.
slavs in the balkans
Slavs in the Balkans
  • Bulgaria, Macedonia, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, Slovenia
  • Balkan states succumbed to dictatorships in inter-war period
  • Balkan states were reconstructed by communists after WWII
the former serbo croatian
The Former Serbo-Croatian
  • Goes by many names, including “bezimeni jezik”
  • Written with two alphabets
  • Used for worship in three major religions
  • Interlaced with several other languages (Hungarian, Romany, and dialects related to Romanian)
federal republic of yugoslavia serbia montenegro
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia(Serbia-Montenegro)
  • Includes Kosovo, which is 90% Albanian
  • Serb nationalism suppressed under Tito.
  • Milosevic cast Albanians as oppressors in late 1980s (600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo Polje), and attempted to have them removed.
  • Montenegrans try to assert separate language & identity.
bosnia hercegovina
  • Contains Muslims, Orthodox, and Catholics
  • 1991 census: 44% Muslim, 32% Serb, 17% Croat, 7% Yugoslav
  • 1992 war destroyed ethnic fabric of Bosnia
  • Unrest makes figures on ethnic composition unreliable
  • Conflicts with Serbs, many of whom have fled
  • State is now relatively homogeneous
  • Ethnically & politically the most stable state in the Balkans
  • 1.7 M:
    • 88% Slovene
    • 2% Serb
    • 3% Croat
    • 1% Muslim
    • 0.6% Yugoslav
  • 8.5 M people
    • 85% ethnic Bulgarian
    • 9% Turkish
    • 300,000 Roma
    • 14,000 Armenian
  • 1984 attempt to forcibly “Bulgarize” the Turks led to international criticism
  • Tension with Macedonia
macedonia fyrom
  • 1912 Annexed by Serbia
  • Macedonian Republic established 1946
  • 2M, over 1/4 of these are Albanian
ideologies of nationalism in the balkans
Ideologies of Nationalism in the Balkans
  • Post-Communist nationalisms have aimed for greater national homogeneity, often via ethnic cleansing
  • Magnification of linguistic differences for political purposes
  • Anti-democratic, narrow constructions of identity privilege “ethnicity” over region, religion, human rights, shared histories, and even shared languages.
slavs in the former soviet union
Slavs in the Former Soviet Union
  • Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine
  • Russia is the largest sovereign state on earth, and contains great linguistic and ethnic diversity
  • All 3 had significant Jewish minorities drastically reduced by pogroms, massacres, and emigration
  • 989 Kievan Rus converted to Christianity
  • Capital moved to Moscow undr Ivan the Terrible
  • 1453 Russia became the protector of Orthodoxy (“Third Rome”) after Fall of Constantinople.
russia cont d
Russia, cont’d.
  • 17th-19th centuries -- vast expansion to incorporate Siberia, Belarus, Ukraine, part of Poland, and Baltics
  • Catherine the Great through Romanov dynasty -- consistent policy of enforced Russification -- Russian becomes lingua franca of the area
  • Russian chauvinism continued in Soviet period, and most non-Russian languages suffered serious decline
  • Belarusian language codified 1906-14
  • 78% Belarusian, 13% Russian
  • But Belarus was intensively Russified, and most Belarusians are more comfortable with Russian than with Belarusian
  • Ukrainian language codified 19th C
  • 73% Ukrainian, 22% Russian
  • Complex situation, since many dialects are very close to Russian, many people are bilingual, and there are also close ties to Poland
former soviet union conclusions
Former Soviet Union: Conclusions
  • Russia heavily dominates the area
  • Other identities are weakly felt or suppressed
  • Economic decline presents a potential problem that could be exploited by nationalists