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The Illyrian movement

  • Historical background and contextLanguage interestCroatianSerbianSlovenianIllyrian
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    Jež, Andraž
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    In a broad sense, the Illyrian movement was a unifying tendency for South Slavs in the 1830s and ’40s, applying to the Slavic communities of south-east Europe Ján Kollár’s notions of Slav reciprocity. More specifically, the Illyrian movement largely overlaps with the Croatian National Revival of the same period. The movement was started by two Croatian writers, Janko Drašković (1770–1856) and especially Ljudevit Gaj (1809–1872), and developed around Gaj’s two Croatian-language newspapers.

    The vague name “Illyrian” derives from the (erroneous) affiliation, by early-modern antiquarians, of the Slavic speakers of the Dalmatian, Croatian and Carniolan regions to the ancient Illyrians (the tribes inhabiting the Roman Illyricum province). The appellation was used between 1809 and 1816 for the autonomous province in the Napoleonic Empire on the north-eastern coast of the Adriatic, comprising Carniola, Croatia, Istria, Dalmatia and the town of Ragusa/Dubrovnik. When this territory was reacquired by the Habsburgs, its northern parts were reintegrated into Austria as a “Kingdom of Illyria”; this existed up to 1849, keeping the Illyrian nomenclature and tribal-antiquarian identification alive, and indeed assisting a joint identity-articulation for those Croats, Slavonians and Dalmatians who formed part of a newly established Croatian nation. Gaj’s movement only started to use the Illyrian name in 1836, when the movement started to gain some support in other areas, such as Styria and Carinthia. When in 1843 the name was briefly forbidden by the Austrian regime, the core Illyrian movement reverted to the ethnonym of “Croats”, including the Slavonian and Dalmatian populations.

    The lands that constitute today’s Republic of Croatia were, as of 1816, part of the Habsburg Empire but initially remained diffracted. The Kingdom of Croatia and the Kingdom of Slavonia fell under the (Hungarian) Crown of St Stephen, while the Kingdom of Dalmatia – under Venetian rule from 1420 until 1797 – was a Crown land of the Austrian Empire. Istria became a part of the Austrian Kingdom of Illyria. Croatia and Slavonia had a strong feudal-localist tradition, Dalmatia a municipal-republican one. The regions also used different Slavic dialects (later named Kajkavian, Štokavian and Čakavian, after different versions – kaj, što and ča/ca – of the pronoun “what”). Especially in the Hungarian lands, where industrialization was late in arriving, feudal relations long prevented the development of a public sphere; in addition, the Vienna War Ministry placed large tracts under special governance as the so-called “Military Frontier” (Vojna krajina/Militärgrenze) against Ottoman incursions.

    This diffraction would slowly dissolve in the course of the 19th century. Small urban merchant areas were outgrowing their guild-structure in the early 1800s; villages, on the other hand, stayed under feudal rule until 1848. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the Illyrian movement was largely an urban phenomenon, despite the area’s predominantly rural demographics. Modernization was slightly more advanced in the central Hungarian lands, and as a result the Slavic populations there were affected by Magyarization pressures. Significantly, while Hungarians proved ready to abandon the official use of Latin, the Croatian local aristocracy of the late 18th and early 19th century defended Latin as part of its resistance to Hungarian centralization; but as early as 1796 a merchant, Jožef Šipuš, defended the administrative and linguistic unity of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia for the pragmatic reason that this would facilitate trade. Šipuš, a student of August Ludwig Schlözer (1735–1809), invoked Adam Smith in this context. Hungarization became problematic after 1830 with the rise of ethnocultural nationalism both among Hungarians and Croatian-speaking citydwellers, and rising antagonism between them.

    The Illyrian movement had a cultural rather than an explicitly political programme until the late 1840s, but its effect was to unify a nationally Croatian public sphere, with translocal organizations and institutions, as well as coordinated language and orthography reforms. Socially, the Illyrian movement consisted mostly of South Slavic (petty) bourgeoisie and Slavic lower gentry in the Hungarian part of the Habsburg Empire. Politically, its main figures shared, with certain negligible exceptions, social conservatism and a deep affection to the Habsburg court and Metternich’s absolutism.

    The Pan-Slavic Romantic formation of Ljudevit Gaj started soon after 1827 when he enrolled as a student in Graz and was exposed to the national culturalism and Slavic sympathies of Herder. Gaj also met Mojsije Baltić (1804–1879), a Serb (or “Eastern Orthodox Croat”) from the Military Frontier who at that time had already an “Illyrian Club” and aroused Gaj’s interest in “our” language (Štokavian). (The circumscription of what was “ours” was still fluid at the time: Gaj, from Krapina, initially wrote in Kajkavian, while in his family circle only German had been spoken. German was also the language of his first published text, an 1826 essay on Die Schlösser bei Krapina.)

    An encounter with the ideas of Šafárik and of Kollár on the Slavs’ cultural unity and the development of the four Slav “dialects” proved decisive: their Pan-Slavism as cultural transcendence of socioeconomic differences was perfectly applicable to the Croatian situation, and the fact that social conditions in the Slovak lands (nation-building ideas stressing language in the absence of industrialization and social stratification) could also be mapped onto the Croatian situation created a common outlook. When in 1830 Gaj studied in Pest, he personally met Kollár, who introduced him to Šafárik.

    There was, however, a contradiction: while Gaj was just starting to envision Croats, Slavonians and Dalmatians as a culturally-based unity, that category was completely disregarded in the writings of Kollár and Šafárik. Šafarik’s Geschichte der slawischen Sprache und Literatur nach allen Mundarten (1826) identified only two groups of the South Slavs, Slovenians and Serbs, between which Gaj’s envisaged community was divided. Šafárik considered rural-Kajkavian Croats Slovenians, while Štokavian Croats were defined as “Catholic Slavo-Serbs”. Šafárik was ready to change this view over the 1830s, very likely as a result of Gaj’s movement; but even then he attempted to harmonize Gaj’s and Vuk Stevanović Karadžić’s systems. Kollár’s Jmenoslov čili slovník osobných jmen rozličných kmenů a nářečí národu slovenského (1828) bluntly had all South Slavs down as simply “Serbs”. Kollár, too, changed his terminology slightly in later years, and substituted “Serbian” with – significantly – “Illyrian”. Gaj’s decision to base his new ideas on Kollár rather than Šafárik was perhaps strategic: while in Kollár’s view Croats were (potentially discernible) part of a larger unity, in Šafárik’s view they were already divided.

    In 1830 Gaj published his proposal for a “Croatian-Slavic” orthography (Kratka osnova horvatsko-slavenskoga pravopisaňa, poleg mudrolubneh, narodneh i prigospodarneh temelov i zrokov) in Pest, in which he acknowledged Kollár’s influence. Still written in Kajkavian, it propagated Kollár’s four Slavic languages – which Gaj strategically avoided calling by name. Moreover, it defended the Czech script (linked to Jan Hus and his invention of the haček), as used by Šafárik and Kollár.

    In the next years, Gaj would demonstrate formidable talents as an organizer. Situated in Zagreb, he assembled a small coterie of cultural producers (including some priests) sharing his interest in a Croatian “revival”. One of these was Pavao Štoos (1806–1862), who in 1831 wrote a famous “Image of the homeland” (Kip domovine) in which he mourned the fate of Croatia. The poem was a direct response to the Bratislava Diet of the previous year, where the Hungarian nobility, while unable to replace the kingdom’s official Latin with Hungarian, had successfully introduced Hungarian as a kingdom-wide school language – denounced by Štoos as a menace to Croats. Another early collaborator was Ivan Derkos (1808–1834), a Zagreb notary who in his Genius patriae super dormientibus suis filiis: seu Folium patrioticum, pro incolis regnorum Croatiae, Dalmatiae & Slavoniae, in excitandum excolendae lingvae patriae stadium (1832) pleaded for a triune monarchy of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia, with Štokavian as the joint written language. Besides Štoos and Derkos, Gaj was soon joined by Ivan Mažuranić (1814–1890; much later, in 1873, the first Croatian ban, or viceroy, of non-noble descent), Dragutin Rakovac (1813–1854, who in early 1830s translated Kotzebue into Kajkavian), Dimitrija Demeter (1811–1872, a physician from a wealthy merchant family who around 1840 dedicated himself to literature) and Ljudevit Farkaš Vukotinović (1813–1893, a lyrical poet and botanist).

    Still in 1832, Gaj wrote the poem “Croats’ concord and unification” (Horvatov sloga i zjedinjenje), better known for its first verse “Croatia has not fallen yet” (Još Horvatska nij’ propala). Significantly, three years later its publication was dedicated to the “all-beloved Emperor and King Francis I against the French in 1813” (sveljubljenoga cesara i kralja Franju I, protiv Francuzom vu letu 1813). In the meantime he pleaded at the Vienna court for permission to publish a newspaper in Croatian (1832), which was finally permitted by the emperor (1834). In 1835 Gaj, Štoos and others started the first two newspapers in Croatian, Novine Horvatzke (“Croatian news”) and its literary supplement Danicza horvatzka, slavonzka i dalmatinzka (“Croatian, Slavonian and Dalmatian morning star”). With their 29th issue in July of the same year, Gaj’s journals changed their language from Kajkavian to Štokavian, but still appealed mostly to “Croats”. Next year (1836) the journals changed their names to Ilirske narodne novine (“Illyrian national news”) and Danica ilirska (“Illyrian morning star”), probably with an eye to increased circulation in Slavonia and Dalmatia. This coincided with the pioneering use of the Czech-based orthography, abandoning the old Slavonian orthography that Gaj had tactically maintained in the first issues of Danica and Novine so as not to ruffle conservative feathers. The new-Czech-based usage was pioneered by Gaj’s associate and fellow-Illyrian Vjekoslav Babukić (1812–1875) in his editions of 18th-century poems by the Dalmatian Andrija Kačić-Miošić.

    Meanwhile, Gaj had approached his Krapina compatriot Count Janko Drašković, a broadly educated nobleman of great public stature and author of a Disertacija iliti razgovor (“Dissertation or treatise”, 1832). It was a strategic appeal to Croatian aristocrats deputized to the Hungarian Diet of Bratislava (into whose Upper Curia Drašković himself was elected as the only Croatian), and argued that against the threat of Hungarization, all South Slavs in the Habsburg Empire should be united into, indeed, a “Great Illyria” under a ban/viceroy. This type of discourse boosted Gaj’s use of the word “Illyrian”, his pro-Austrian attitude and his expansionist tendencies. Linguistically, too, this was the first political pamphlet written in Štokavian, which Gaj at that time was not yet prepared to use publicly. Remarkably, most of the early Illyrian authors who after 1835 endorsed and used Štokavian (not only Gaj, Drašković and Štoos) were originally Kajkavians.

    This Illyrian Štokavian drew on the spoken language of Hercegovina (in line with Karadžić’s reform) but included some notable orthographic innovations. Intended to overcome the dialectal inconsistencies of the three vernaculars, these innovations were not easy to learn and proved counterproductive. The use of -ah in the genitive plural of nouns (the added -h intended to make them sound more homogenous with their dependent adjectives, whose genitive plural ends in -ih) was supported neither by any contemporary Slavic dialect nor by historical traditions, and prompted some Dalmatians wags to mock the Illyrian movement as ahavci (“the ah-sayers”). (Dalmatians were divided between Illyrian followers and Karadžić adepts using the Cyrillic script.) Other Illyrians in their purism rejected the Karadžić-style reliance on vernacular speech altogether. Boguslav Šulek (1816–1895) coined around a hundred traditional-sounding neologisms, often by Slavicizing linguistic internationalisms.

    Around 1840 the movement’s agenda broadened to the establishment of national institutions, especially in Zagreb. Reading rooms (the so-called čitaonice), where Gaj’s journals and books in Croatian were read and discussed, were organized in 1838. In 1839 Gaj was rewarded a diamond ring for his efforts by Emperor Ferdinand I, and Gaj officially declared his loyalty to the Habsburgs. Almost at the same time, however, Gaj addressed two secret memorandums to Tsar Nicholas I, suggesting a Russian annexation of South Slavic lands. (The proposals fell on deaf ears with the legitimist Nicholas.) In the meantime, the “National Theatre” (Narodno kazalište) in Zagreb was established in 1840, followed by the “Business Society” (Gospodarsko društvo, 1841) and a Matica (“Matica ilirska”, 1842), devoted to cultivating the national language and culture. Simultaneously, in 1841, the Illyrian National Party was founded by Gaj, Mažuranić and the nobleman Ivan Kukuljević Sakcinski (1816–1889); Gaj even created ethnically inspired costumes for it, consisting of a blue or red surka (rustic topcoat, worn over a waistcoat) and a crvenkapa (a red cap) with the Illyrian half-moon and morning star. The uniform significantly also included a sabre, an unmistakably political act since this impinged on a traditional aristocratic privilege.

    A very important platform of the Illyrian movement was the literary journal Kolo (“The round dance”), founded in 1843 and edited by three dissenting Illyrians, two of whom were among the movement’s very few lyrical poets: Stanko Vraz (1810–1851) and Vukotinović.

    Over the years preceding Kolo’s foundation, the Illyrians’ insistence on the ideal of “harmony” (sloga) among Croats had deeply affected the movement’s poetry. It consisted mainly of brash patriotic poems called budnice and davorije, regularly published in “The morning star”. Apart from Kukuljević-Sakcinski’s play “Juran and Sofija, or Turks at Sisak” (Juran i Sofija ili Turci kod Siska, 1839) and perhaps Stanko Vraz’s verse collection Djulabije (1837-40), most literary effusions of the Illyrians had been diletantist, to the chagrin of the more talented and ambitious poets. Vraz, an Illyrian poet from Styria now living in Zagreb, had worked in a more lyrical vein since his debut ballad, Stana i Marko (in “The morning star”, 1835); his Djulabije were influenced by Kollár’s Slavy Dcera. Vukotinović had moved on from his early davorije and started to write more intimate poetry. Both used unaccustomed Štokavian to express their feelings. Joining forces with Dragutin Rakovac, their new journalistic venture Kolo (inspired by the Czech Časopis Českého museum) aimed for more diverse poetry and up-to-date literary reviews. Instead of “harmony”, they opted for more provocative “criticism” (kritika was a neologism in Croatian).

    Although the journal (as well as its criticism) was first meant to be strictly literary, it necessarily interfered with Gaj’s own efforts; publishing, as it did, texts in different Slavic languages, it gained popularity among Pan-Slavic enthusiasts as the best realization of Kollár’s “Slavic reciprocity”. This (and the tendency to label all opposing Croats, from left-leaning to Conservative, “Hungarophiles” or mađaroni) eroded Gaj’s power base and pulled the Illyrian movement in the direction of a straightforward Croatian national movement.

    Kolo did, nonetheless, open up a reservoir of creative cultural productivity. Most of the movement’s literary achievements belong to the post-1843 years. Two new literary journals appeared in 1844, “Sparkle” (Iskra) in Zagreb and “Dalmatian dawn” (Zora dalmatinska) in Zadar. The establishment of a National Theatre stimulated dramatism from Kukuljević-Sakcinski, Rakovac, Antun Nemčić and others. The most outstanding play was Demeter’s Teuta (1844), on the ancient Illyrian tribal queen of that name. Antun Nemčić’s “Yeast without bread” (Kvas bez kruha ili tko će biti veliki sudac) marked a first turn to contemporary life. Nemčić also authored an anecdotal travelogue with the unusual title Putositnice (“Journey trifles”); another significant travelogue was Pogled u Bosnu (“A look at Bosnia”) by Matija Mazuranić (Ivan’s brother). At the same time the novella gained prominence, and while other genres, including poetry and drama, would dwindle after 1848, it remained important into the fin de siècle. Demeter’s “Father and son” (Otac i sin) appeared in 1846, when historicism still defined the topic and register of Ivan Mažuranić’s famous “Death of Smail-aga Čengić” (Smrt Smail-age Čengića) of the same year. This epic poem is regarded as the peak of the Illyrian literary efforts, combining the older Croatian and Dalmatian written tradition with folk poetry and Western literary techniques.

    Other cultural fields were fired into creativity as well. Composers and musicians had from the outset formed part of the movement; Ferdo Livadić (1799–1879) had put Gaj’s Croatian anthem to music; Ivan Eugen Padovec (1800–1873), who returned from Vienna to his hometown of Varaždin in 1838, was a celebrated guitar virtuoso and composer, and invented a ten-stringed (and double-necked) guitar. Ferdo Rusan (1810–1879), a retired military officer from the Military Frontier Zone, was an amateur folk-inspired bard and Illyrian activist who later documented the effects of his mobilization efforts. Besides, Gaj personally stimulated composing for tamburitz (“tamburica”), a folk lute. These men opened possibilities for composers in new styles and genres. In 1846 the first Croatian opera, Vatroslav Lisinski’s (1819–1854) “Love and rancour” (Ljubav i zloba), was performed, and the musician/painter Vjekoslav Karas (1821–1858) returned to Croatia from his Rome art studies in late 1840s.

    This artistic production was gradually overshadowed by growing political tensions in the run-up to 1848. In 1843 the Illyrian name was briefly forbidden following the first speech in Croatian in a Sabor (parliamentarian assembly). It was delivered by Kukuljević-Sakcinski in an attack on the Hungarian aristocracy’s interests. The name of “Illyrian news” changed to “National news”, then reverted to “Croatian, Slavonian and Dalmatian news”. Gaj was temporarily excluded from the political forefront. In 1844, Šulek, the first professional journalist of the Illyrian movement, started publishing the paper Branislav in Belgrade. Though clandestine, it was distinctively counterrevolutionary and directed against Hungarian progressives, and reconciled the Austrian authorities to the moderate aims of the Illyrians, whose name was once again allowed to be used in 1845 (albeit only for literary, not for political activities). Thus, the term “Croat(ian)”, which around 1840 had been used almost exclusively as a self-denomination of pro-Kajkavian (that is, anti-Illyrian) Croats, was now becoming almost inseparable from the more political end of the Illyrian activist spectrum.

    In 1847, Latin was replaced by Croatian as the official language of the Croatian Sabor. Around the same time, the party’s right under the Vienna-based aristocrat Franjo Kulmer (1806–1853), in accordance with Gaj and Drašković, aligned with Hungarian monarchist conservatives to oppose the nationalism of Lajos Kossuth (1802–1894). Consequently, the (ex-)Illyrian movement endorsed the monarchical interest in the 1848 revolutions, aligning themselves against the democratic ideals of the revolutionaries. This stance was manifested pointedly in the figure of the Croatian ban/viceroy Josip Jelačić (1801–1859): when in October 1848 the Hungarian revolutionaries set out towards Vienna to support revolutionary Germans’ national demands, Jelačić was one of the Empire’s leading military commanders in charge of the revolutionaries’ military suppression.

    While Jelačić and the loyal Croatian nobility enjoyed the Empire’s favour following these events, the aftermath of 1848 was a reactionary backlash into neo-absolutism, in which the Illyrian movement foundered. In 1848 only two books of patriotic poetry were published (by Kukuljević Sakcinski and Mirko Bogović), while in 1849 only one book was released, Juraj Šporer’s (1795–1884) older, pre-1848 play “The Castriot Skanderbeg” (Kastriota Škenderbeg: tugokazie u pet izvedah). In mid-1849 “The morning star” ceased publishing; soon after, Gaj sold his “News” to the Vienna authorities, who turned it into an official government publication.

    Although the “Illyrian” message was directed at all South Slavs, Gaj failed to mobilize them beyond the borders of today’s Croatia. In Bosnia, Gaj’s ideology was only followed by a small number of Franciscans (Martin Nedić, 1810–1895, and Ivan Jukić, 1818–1857). The situation was not much different in the principality of Serbia. Even though Gaj followed Karadžić by adopting the Štokavian dialect of Hercegovina as the language of cultural unification, Serbs were indifferent to Illyrianism; religious differences played a role in this, as well as the fact that the Serbian ethnonym already had become the customary appellation for all Štokavian speakers, including Slavonian and Bosnian. This fact also prevented Montenegrins from identifying as Illyrians, even though their heroism had been praised in Mažuranić’s “The death of Smail-aga Čengić”, and the ruler Petar Petrović Njegoš was sympathetic towards South Slavic unity.

    The situation was slightly different in the lands that nowadays form part of Slovenia; while the Illyrian movement found strong support in Carinthia and Styria, it met with reservations in Carniola – except among a small group of priests in Ljubljana around 1840. All the same, Matija Majar Ziljski (1809–1892), who in 1848 launched the Slovenian national movement with the political programme “United Slovenia” (Zedinjena Slovenija), was devoted to the Illyrian movement, and believed that the linguistic unification of South Slavs (which he saw as an inventive act of compromise between different variants rather than as simply the adoption of Štokavian) would be a step towards the eventual unification of all Slavic languages into a single Slavic koinè. And while it is generally agreed that the greatest legacy of the Illyrian movement was the establishment of a united Croatian national identity and language, it should also be emphasized that today’s Serbian Latin orthography as well as the Slovenian one are the direct outcome of Gaj’s aspirations.

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    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Jež, Andraž, 2022. "The Illyrian movement", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 04-04-2022, consulted 27-09-2023.