Sandžak Divided

An interesting talk took place at lunchtime today at the Wilson Center here in Washington DC. Professor Robert Greenberg (author of Language and Identity in the Balkans, Oxford University Press 2004, second expanded edition 2008) talked about “The Sandžak Divided: Language and Identity Politics on Either Side of the New Serbian/Montenegrin Border”. I headed over to 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue to see if I can draw any parallels between Prof Greenberg’s work on the Serbian-Montenegrin border and my own work on the Ukrainian-Russian one.

As summarized in the event’s announcement,

Greenberg argues that the Bosniaks of Serbia are more politically radicalized and have cited their rights to their Bosnian language as an issue in their opposition to what some Bosniaks perceive as Serbia’s assimilationist policies. By contrast, the Bosniaks of the Montenegrin Sandžak have felt less threatened by a dominant ethnic group and appear to be more accommodating vis-à-vis the non-Bosniak citizens of Montenegro.

Sandžak. Source: The Economist

The speaker linked this situation to the fact that the Serbian Constitution (2006) does not grant official status to the Bosnian language, while the Montenegrin Constitution (2007) recognizes it as one of four official languages of the nation. As a result, when an international border ran across the historical region of Sandžak in 2006, some Bosniak houses ended up in a country where they were constitutionally recognized as equal (Montenegro), and their neighbours’ houses ended up in a country where they were declared a minority (Serbia, also a signatory to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages). Those on the Serbian side, argued Prof Greenberg, therefore grew more radicalized, while those on the Montenegrin side didn’t have to feel defensive about their status.

From some of the greetings I overheard before the talk began, I could tell that most of the listeners were from the Balkan region. So I imagine they’d be able to comment on the proposed analysis in far more detail than I. For my part, I was particularly curious about the link between the legalized status of the Bosnian language in Montenegro, and its carriers feeling “less threatened” and thus “more accommodating vis-à-vis” others. I’m not quite sure about the parallels to Ukraine or Russia yet, as the situations are fairly different, but I’ll keep thinking about it. Just wanted to jot down these quick thoughts amidst all the other writing tasks I’m facing at the moment. Follow-up possible!



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