The Cyrillic Alphabet As Political Act

So Laura, seriously. Why didn’t you start learning Cyrillic sooner?

Zing!

should have bitten the bullet and taken a Serbian language class at a university as soon as we arrived in mid-2010. I should have committed to driving 30 minutes to one-hour each way (thanks to cluster-fuck bridge-construction traffic into Belgrade), rushing home to feed my infant, while playing with my toddler.

Hell, I should have even been able to get tons of studying done. What better moment than middle-of-the-night bottle feedings?

Alphabet_Laura-Dennis-300x225

Mommy’s homework

True, so true. Because the best time to tackle a new, very difficult language, is when one is sleep-deprived, culture shocked, and juggling two little kids.

may have believed Cyrillic was “just a phase” …

The truth is, I resisted learning Cyrillic initially because I took the “dual-lettering” (words are often written in Cyrillic and Latin) in malls and stores to mean that Serbia was on its way to “European-ize” itself, as it attempts to join the E.U. [No, I’m not an idiot. It’s just that the complexities of Balkan history and culture were fairly limitednonexistent in terms of American social studies education. And Western media, exemplified by the “All Serbs are war criminals” stereotype.

So anyway, Cyrillic as a phase? Um, not so much.

Reality check: Cyrillic is the alphabet of the Serbian language. While the West may lump ethnicities together, creating “Serbo-Croatian” dictionaries, locals will tell you that there is no such thing as a language called Serbo-Croatian. [I have nothing against Croatians, heck I was raised Catholic!]

Serbian is a language distinct from Croatian. (Let’s be real here, they’re verysimilar). Several words are different, and dialects and accents vary. But. Thealphabet of Serbian is Cyrillic, and the alphabet of Croatian is Latin.

Rebel Serbs, really?

The difference in alphabet is not to be taken lightly.

In February, thousands of Croats rallied against a new law to display Cyrillic Signs in Vukovar, which is now a part of Croatia, but has a large ethnic Serb population. According to Reuters, Vukovar is “a town destroyed in the 1991-95 war with rebel Serbs.”

vukovar_Laura-Dennis-300x206

WARNING: I may be more nationalistic now than some Serbs. I may be a foreigner and truly have no beef against anyone because of their ethnicity, but I do have opinions … If you are 100% sure that the American media reporting of the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s was balanced and unbiased, skip this section, please. I wouldn’t want to risk inadvertantly un-washing-someone’s brain.

Another quote from the Reuters article that exemplifies the Western perspective on the Balkan conflict

… the easternmost town of Vukovar, which many Croats still see as a symbol of destruction and suffering brought on by the Serb rebellion against Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia. [boldface is mine.]

To clarify … the above referenced “rebel Serbs,” and the “Serb rebellion” … these were Yugoslav citizens. If they carried a passport, it was for Yugoslavia. People of Serb ethnicity were fighting to keep Croatia from gaining independence from Yugoslavia.

Stop! Caveat Time: Yes, the Serbs “lost,” yes, there was bad behavior on both sides. (This happens in war.) History is written by the victors, saying who’s a “rebel” versus who was “justified” and a “freedom fighter.”

Imagine for a moment …

Florida_Laura-Dennis-300x262

If Florida declared independence, who would YOU call “rebel”?

Cuban-Americans [insert your mixed American ethnicity of choice] in Florida decided they were fed up (they, too have their reasons) and declare a free and independent Florida. … Would it be appropriate to call U.S. soldiers and citizens who take up arms against those seceding–rebels?

Would we call the ones who are fighting to keep Florida in the U.S., rebels?

Before anyone starts flaming me in the comments Consider this: during the Civil War, the Confederate Army was the Rebel Army, because they were the ones seceding.

Remember the American Revolutionary War? Yep. In that case, our constitutional Founders were Revolutionaries. Those who were remained loyal to the British throne (for whatever reason, surely they had at least one) … were “loyalists,” because they tried to keep the American colonies from gaining freedom.

The rebels were those who wanted to break away.

Cyrillic Alphabet as Political Act

Back to the Balkans …

What happened in Vukovar is that the Social Democratic-led Croatian government sought to implement a law (yes a law that passed by a democratic process). The law allows for Cyrillic public signs in places where there is at least a 1/3 Serb population. A significant number of Croatians (approx 20,000 rallied) have a problem with it.

The Croatian government is attempting to soothe ethnic tensions. … Protesting a law intended to recognize ethnic diversity, a law that your own democratic government carried out? That’s bad juju.

There you have it: Cyrillic is a political act. Ethnic tensions die hard.

Now please excuse me while this quote-un-quote rebel expat (and proud American citizen) takes some time to study her Cyrillic.

*  *  *  *  *

Vukovar protest image. Florida image from freedigitalphotos.net

Cyrillic Watch In Vukovar

Members of “Headquarters for defense of Croatian Vukovar” will organize watch guards at entrances in town of Vukovar to show their dissatisfaction with setting up of bilingual road signs – in Cyrillic and Latin script of town’s name, at the entrance to and exit from the town.

“We will stand on all entrances to town of Vukovar. We will not try to stop or attack anyone during the setting up of signs, and we will remain passive also if someone tries to take down or paint over the signs”, said president of the “Headquarter” Tomislav Josic.

“We will have people on those 7,8 town entrances and wait for the police to leave. When they leave, we will see whether to remove or paint over the signs”, warned the “Headquarter”.

“Vukovar lost the battle in 1991, but won the war. Perhaps we will lose another battle now, but we will definitely win the war” stated spokesman of “Headquarters for defense of Croatian Vukovar” Zdravko Komsic.