A Much Needed New Croatian Language Act To Set Standards Of Official Language Use

It is high time that Croatia adopts legislation regarding a tightly and strictly defined official language, as other 178 countries in the world have. The announced delivery of Standards for official and public Croatian language use is crucial to the definition of independent Croatia itself and I trust that the Croatian government will be successful in strict monitoring and checking compliance with Standards at every applicable corner once the newly proposed legislation is passed in parliament.  

For Croatia and her political and public landscape where ethnic minorities, particularly the one that was instrumental in the waging of brutal and genocidal Serb aggression against Croatia and its independence from Yugoslavia in the 1990’s, by using the language and expressions from the language of the foreign country they or their ancestors have come from, have polluted the Croatian public space to such a profound degree that their public speaking often causes pain and hatred.  

Hence, what seems important to me is that the provisions on the official and public use of the Croatian language should finally also solve the issue of speaking minority languages in the Croatian Parliament. Because, almost every day we witness the fact that members of only one minority does not speak Croatian in the Croatian Parliament and that is Serb minority. Of course, that part of Serb minority in Croatia in parliament is not the part of Serb minority that fought arm in arm with Croats in 1990’s to defend Croatia from Serb aggression, but the part that was active in the aggression and its dirty politics. Since Croatia has other minorities What would happen if the Hungarians, Czechs, Albanians or Italians elected into the Croatian parliament to represent their ethnic minority followed the Serb example? Unless official language is legislated for Croatian public space may end up a chaotic marketplace instead of the official body representing the country.  

Public consultation and public submissions have in Croatia regarding the government’s proposal for the new Croatian Language Act is afoot during August 2023. This is the first time that Croatia should get its own law on the Croatian language, and the government wants to enact it because almost all EU members have some kind of legislation on their language. As the ruling HDZ/ Croatian Democratic Union party points out, the Act aims to protect and encourage the development of the Croatian language, as well as ensure its freedom. There will be a Council that will take care of the Croatian language, and its ranks will include university representatives. Also, the Law states that teaching in schools is in the Croatian language and that at least half of the content of Croatian language subjects in schools should be directly focused on language topics.  

“This law is a new step forward in the survival and development of the Croatian language through all these centuries, and it should be understood as a pledge for the preservation and development of the Croatian language in the future,” noted early August 2023 Croatian Minister for Science and Education Radovan Fuchs. He noted that, given the amount of media interest in this Act in recent months, he wants to clearly point out that the Act is not a language police, does not prescribe a language norm, does not contain misdemeanour provisions, has no penalties and is not repressive. “The law is not purist, as many want to present it, but on the contrary, it is a law that should ensure the development of the Croatian language in line with the times and all social circumstances, and at the same time do what is the basic intention, which is the protection and development of the Croatian language,” he emphasised.  

The proposed law is set to regulate the standard Croatian language in public use. And this is very needed as any use of written language or spoken in the Croatian public domain such as government departments, documents, shop names, television, other media … will be required to use original Croatian language words rather than Serbian ones as it occurred in the long extinct Serbo-Croatian language, which is regretfully and annoyingly still used by few in Croatia and around the world.  

The law regulates the standard Croatian language in public use. The place in written culture where the highest standard reigns is – science! Science uses the linguistic minimum, and literature the maximum. The law regulates the minimum, not the maximum. In the scientific language, terminology should be nurtured and the standard should be carefully preserved and developed. And that standard differs from the Serbian language because it contains the history of the entire Croatian culture in encounters with Western and other cultures. The law does not prescribe anything here either, but provides a framework for nurturing standards.“  

Given that Standards to be applied in practice as prescribed pursuant to specific laws by the  government are the backbone of the rule of law in any fully functional democracy it is very pleasing to see that Standards in practice are being considered for enforcement in Croatia. They are and have been the measuring stick for audits, checks and balances a democracy and rule of law require. I do hope Croatia will succeed in enforcing those Standards, otherwise why have them at all!?  

A legislated official Croatian Language is very much needed in Croatia, in the environment where frequent deviations from it have been tolerated for decades now, especially since the death of the first President Franjo Tudjman in ate 1999. Serbian language expressions, words, as used during the former Yugoslavia times as part of the former so-called Serbo-Croatian language have since then somehow crept even into official communications unsanctioned or tolerated and this needs to cease. Croatia must have its own language in all official and public communications prescribed by the law.  

In effect, given that every fully functional democracy in the world has thoroughly legislated for its official language it is high time Croatia does that also.  

„The time when Serbian linguists declare Dubrovnik literature based on the Štokavian dialect as Serbian cultural heritage, is a matter of cultural aggression. Therefore, the Croatian Language Act is needed today, just as the Declaration on the Name and Position of the Croatian Literary Language was needed in 1967. Genius loci – the spirit of the place – is embedded in the Štokava standard of Dubrovnik literature. And that spirit and that place are not part of Serbian literature or culture. Even this appropriation of the Štokavian dialect and Dubrovnik literature speaks of the need for the Law on the Croatian Language. The law refers only to the standard Croatian language created through the historical development of the linguistic minimum, and not to the various individual, local, functional, unofficial, languages and idiolects that make up the maximum of the Croatian language as an identity phenomenon throughout the centuries. It is the Croatian Language Act and – period!“ Wrote Dubravka Oraic Tolic in her Vecernji List article on 16 August 2023.

It is expected that this proposed Croatian Language Act will reach the voting stage in the parliament during the coming Croatian Autumn/Winter and to my view it is also a law that will protect fundamental human rights, because no one in Croatia should be at a disadvantage because they only know Croatian. Having been in Croatia many times during the past two decades I have personally often wondered how the people who do not speak Serbian, English etc can at all understand much of the wording and expressions used in public space such as advertisement on public television, billboards on the side of the roads, etc. They cannot understand them without the help of an interpreter or foreign language dictionary. Also, as said above, this Act will protect the standard Croatian language as one of the official languages of the European Union, and the identity of the Croatian people will be protected.  

Briefly about the proposed Croatian Language Act:  

• determining the basic rules for the official and public use of the Croatian language  

• systematic and professional care of the Croatian language,  

• similar laws exist in other members of the European Union  

In Croatia, the Croatian standard language called “Croatian language” and the Latin script are in official use.  

The Croatian language in its totality and integrity is a fundamental component of Croatian identity and Croatian culture, which are parts of European identity and European culture.  

• contains a list of priority goals and measures

• covers issues of public and official use of the Croatian language:

‒ its social roles

‒ legal position

‒ promotion of its use

‒ improvement of language technologies

‒ development of terminology

‒ promotion and improvement of learning    

After the text of the Draft Proposal for the new Croatian Language Act was published, both supporters and opponents of the legal regulation of the language issue joined the public debate. Supporters are many from all walks of life while opponents are not as numerous but are rather politically vicious with the intention to smear the official language as a nationalistic, ultra nationalistic move even, and both sarcastically and cynically claim that only true Croats will be able to speak, write and read Croatian. As was to be expected, unfortunately, Yugoslav and pro-communist media such as Index.hr have in relation to this new Croatian Language law already started spinning lies that talk of some revival of the Ustasha laws (World War Two). Index.hr portal journalist Boris Abramović made quite an effort to make fun of the very idea of the Law by using some outdated and newly created words, using bad root spelling.  

The supporters of the proposed new Croatian Language Act all realise, I am sure, that Croatia like 178 other countries in the world, needs to and must have a standardised official language that will be used by the government, taught in schools, used in law courts, in parliament, mainstream media, on public buildings and transport… The only relevant conclusion to the opponents’ political spin such as that in Indeks.hr is that it is high time Croatia told the world that the Serbo-Croatian language had died many decades ago officially, became extinct and no former communist Yugoslavia apologetic should be given the space to deny Croatia what it earned with its own blood in the 1990’s Homeland War – and that is the absolute right to its own identity that includes its own official language. Ina Vukic   

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