The Protector of Citizens Zoran Pasalic was a guest on the show "Oko magazin" on the Radio-Television of Serbia.
Host: Good evening, dear viewers, this is "Oko magazin". On the International Mother Language Day, it is usually stated that languages are disappearing and that by the end of this century, out of a total of about 6,000 spoken languages on the planet, half will disappear. In the Balkans, we have an opposite situation - since the end of the last century, languages have not disappeared but are emerging. Can it really be said like that? What is the position of science on languages and what does the law say, and why did the Serbian language textbook for the eighth grade bother the representatives of some national minorities? In the first part of the show, we will talk about all this with Zoran Pasalic, the Protector of Citizens. Good evening, welcome. And Professor Aleksandar Milanovic from the Faculty of Philology, Vice President of the Serbian Language Society. Welcome. In the announcement, I asked, among other things, why this textbook bothered some people, so let me immediately ask you about that, Mr. Pasalic, since you issued a statement, an opinion, about twenty days ago...
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: We sent an opinion to the Ministry of Education.
Host: Yes. So, it is about BIGZ's textbook for the eighth grade, and the wording on the division of languages is what’s disputable. So, what is disputable about it?
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: The Protector of Citizens protects the rights of all citizens on the territory of the Republic of Serbia and all persons who are on the territory of the Republic of Serbia. Both the old and the new Law on the Protector of Citizens highlight special groups that have special protection – children, people with disabilities and members of national minorities. So, the textbook as a whole is not disputable, it’s the definition of the difference between South Slavic languages that’s disputable, which says in the Serbian language textbook for the eighth grade that Croats, Bosniaks and Montenegrins use Serbian language but call it Croatian, Bosniak, that is Bosnian, sorry, that's a big mistake – so Bosnian and Montenegrin language. This is completely contrary to the existing law, the Constitution and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which we ratified back in 2005.
Aleksandar Milanovic, Professor at the Faculty of Philology: It is not good when politics interferes with science, it is not good when science interferes with politics. I understand the Protector of Citizens, he speaks from his political position and defends his political position, that is, the option he represents. The fact is that there are laws that he refers to, but I am afraid that in his entire presentation, he referred only to politics and not once to science. That can be problematic, and throughout the history of Serbs, it has been problematic, and I apologize to the viewers, but I need to take a minute here to tell an anecdote, which is very important for understanding today's case. It also concerns textbooks. It is about the Principality of Serbia, where the Ministry of Education at the time banned the printing of textbooks in Vuk's Cyrillic alphabet, but the Society of Serbian Literature, the forerunner of the Academy of Sciences, insisted that it should not be decided by the ministry, but by the de facto Academy of Sciences. It seems to me that the analogy here is almost complete, and I'm not sure that people outside the field of Serbistics should judge this. So, in this particular sentence, and my esteemed colleague said that they de facto exist, that they de facto exist as political...
Host: But he referred to the Charter recognized by our country.
Aleksandar Milanovic, Professor at the Faculty of Philology: ... as political languages and I know that in 2005 the Republic of Serbia recognized that, even with the wording Bosnian language, which is more than scandalous because it cannot be the language of Bosnia but only the language of Bosniaks, which means it should Bosniak language according to Serbian language rules, and exclusively Bosniak language, but that is the position of politics. It must be taken into account that there is also the position of science.
Host: What should be done to find the right solution, to respect the Constitution and the law without neglecting science and these theses that the professor is talking about?
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: There is not a grain of politics in what I said. Maybe that grain of politics existed when the state of Serbia passed the laws it passed. While the law is as it is, it must be fully respected. The Constitution of the Republic of Serbia guarantees the acquired rights to national minorities, it even says, in its two articles, 18 and 20, that the acquired rights of national minorities cannot be reduced. There is no politics there, we have a legal framework we must adhere to, otherwise we work against those regulations that the state of Serbia passed at the time – in 2002 the Law on the Rights of National Minorities, in 2005 the ratification of the Charter, and in 2006 the Constitution.
Host: But when you say it like that, the professor's thesis doesn’t seem right, and he speaks on the basis of science, he studied and received his doctorate on that, and that is actually a science that is studied at the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade.
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: I have a lot of respect for science...
Host: And now, professor, when I...
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: No, I have to finish, excuse me.
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: I respect science very much, but it seems that no one has read the opinion we sent to the Ministry of Education. Because there it says: without going into the position of the science of linguistics, we only talk about what is stated in the laws, i.e., the Constitution, i.e., in the Charter that we ratified, thereby determining which languages will be special, and I must say, you have languages in official use in the Republic of Serbia, in which not only teaching in the sense of textbooks in those languages takes place, but also all classes in primary and secondary schools are on those languages. Any deviation from that is a violation of the law, the Constitution and the Charter that we passed in 2002, 2005 and 2006.
Host: You said that, thank you. Professor Milanovic, what do you say? Does your science, your department, the Serbian Language Society and the Committee for Standardization, do they act against the Constitution and the law if it is as Mr. Pasalic says?
Aleksandar Milanovic, Professor at the Faculty of Philology: First of all, I must say that I fully empathize with the Protector of Citizens and I say that without any irony. So, he defends his position and speaks from a position opposite to mine, but I fully understand what the gentleman is trying to say. There is, however, something else.
Aleksandar Milanovic, Professor at the Faculty of Philology: A question for the viewers – how does the Montenegrin language differ from the Serbian language? It’s one thing what is written in the law, but there is reality outside the law. Truth can also be outside the law. Give me one distinctive difference between the Montenegrin standard language and the Serbian standard language, and not those caricatures “šj” and “žj”, which even the Montenegrins gave up. Therefore, I understand what is written in the law, but how that law was passed and why is another question...
Host: Excuse me, but where have you been when that Charter was being adopted? Not you specifically, but I mean where was science then? For example, today we hear Professor Brboric, who says that the languages of national minorities are in a better position in Serbia than the Serbian language, as we hear it today, and the Charter has been in force for almost two decades.
Aleksandar Milanovic, Professor at the Faculty of Philology: Unfortunately, no one in this country asks science anything. We still respect the law from 1991, mind you, from 1991... The Protector of Citizens would probably count better than me how many countries have we changed in the meantime and how many language situations there have been, and we work according to the law from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. That is the nonsense from which all these things we are talking about today arise.
Host: And now we have, let’s say, a division, this is actually the page from the textbook because of which the Protector of Citizens suggested that the textbook should be withdrawn in the next school year.
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: That is right.
Host: That deadline is still open, and we are waiting for the decision of the ministry. So, let us see... it is stated that Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, i.e., Bosniak and Montenegrin languages all have the same dialectal basis, that speakers understand each other easily. Now I ask you, professor, help us understand, this is the formulation also used in other textbooks, so should it be written differently?
Aleksandar Milanovic, Professor at the Faculty of Philology: Let us suppose that the textbook was written by competent Serbistics experts, I assume that the reviewers were also competent Serbistics experts, and I also assume that the textbook passed the regular procedures in the competent and relevant institutions. I am not sure, with due respect, that the Protector of Citizens is a relevant institution to judge linguistic problems.
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: Sorry to interrupt...
Host: Now that is exactly what I want to ask you. One of the authors of this textbook, I talked to him, said that the same wording was used in four other textbooks from different publishers, also for the eighth grade, and that they refer to the same basis, and that is what the Committee for Standardization of Serbian language said, and that for them, that is the "Holy Scripture" or the Constitution, whatever you call it, but they stick to it. And now, when you recommended this one textbook to be withdrawn, did you react to a complaint or will all textbooks that contain the same definition now have to be revised?
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: Let us not spread the topic further unnecessarily. So, it is not our job, nor is it in the description of our job to review all textbooks, so to speak conditionally. We had a complaint that had a legal basis, not to repeat for the third time...
Host: Yes, yes, you said that. So, you don't read everything, you only act on complaints?
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: If something is against the law, there is no place for it. I will give you another example that will be clear to everyone. The same community, the national community of Bosniaks in the Republic of Serbia, sent us a protest against the wording in the travel documents stating that they have Serbian citizenship. As long as the law states that the citizens of the Republic of Serbia have the citizenship of the Republic of Serbia, and not Serbian citizenship, we must adhere to it, no matter how much someone dislikes it, how much someone has a personal opinion, how much science thinks it is wrong. If it says in the law, I repeated that who knows how many times...
Host: We understood.
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: ...we must abide by that law.
Host: There is talk of an initiative to give the Serbian language the status of a supra-subject in schools. Why do we need that?
Aleksandar Milanovic, Professor at the Faculty of Philology: Supra-subject. I will answer, just let me add something. One of the most scandalous decisions of our authorities was the abolition of the term "Serbian citizenship". One of the most scandalous, because that decision not only abolishes the term "Serbian citizenship" but it also abolishes the word Serbian in the Serbian language. Because, what is citizenship of the Republic of Serbia if not Serbian citizenship? Please, in the Republic of Croatia they say “Croatian citizenship”.
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: Not only in Croatia.
Aleksandar Milanovic, Professor at the Faculty of Philology: I gave a very indicative example. So, why and who abolished the legal term Serbian citizenship, who finds that disputable, who finds the adjective "Serbian", which means that something belongs to the Republic of Serbia, disputable? It often doesn't even say, and this is where I will end this part of the answer, citizenship of the Republic of Serbia, but very often it only says citizenship of Serbia, which is not only a deformation in thinking, but also a deformation in language.
Host: Okay, and what about the supra-subject status?
Aleksandar Milanovic, Professor at the Faculty of Philology: And as for the supra-subject status, we are trying to transfer some good experiences from Europe to Serbia. Serbia is the country with probably the smallest number of mother language classes in Europe, if not the smallest, then among the smallest. Our close colleagues, and I will take our close neighbors as an example again – Croats, have an incomparably higher number of Croatian language classes in their educational system than us. So, we want the supra-subject status just like the Russian language has in Russia. We consider it very important, first of all, symbolically, and secondly, practically, in order to raise the status of Serbian language and literature as a subject to a dignified position, i.e., to make it the same as similar subjects in other European countries.
Host: Okay. Mr. Pasalic, is there a legal basis for such an initiative? Isn't that supposed to be controversial, how does that go?
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: I am absolutely not familiar with that, when I find out, I will tell you if there is a legal basis. I repeat, this is the essence – the Protector of Citizens does not deal with this type of issue, nor with linguistic issues, but deals with the protection of citizens of the Republic of Serbia, based on those determinants determined by law, Constitution and international conventions, which are now an integral part of our law. Please let me finish.
Host: Okay, I will allow it.
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: In case there is a deviation from that, now everyone has the opportunity to interpret the legal regulation, and we know who only should have the right to interpret it, but the essence here is that this regulation is unnecessary to interpret because there is this provision in the Charter saying that the Republic of Serbia, that is, the state of Serbia, recognized Bosnian and Croatian, not Montenegrin for now, as special languages, and as such, they must be respected and the textbook cannot define the language which they call Croatian or Bosnian as Serbian.
Host: Mr. Milanovic, how would you then adjust this wording so that no one is offended, would you adjust it to the law, having in mind everything that the Protector of Citizens said?
Aleksandar Milanovic, Professor at the Faculty of Philology: Science cannot adapt to laws of any kind. If Dositej Obradovic, Vuk Karadzic, Djuro Danicic had adapted to the laws, there would be no Serbian language or Serbian culture today. So, we simply cannot think about that phenomenon at all. The standard language that the Serbs use is the one defined by Vuk, ethnogenetically completely in, how should I say, the Serbian ethnos and the Serbian culture and Serbian tradition, which was standardized in the 19th century. The fact is that Croatian, Bosniak and Montenegrin languages differ so little from that language standard that in no way can we speak of them as special languages scientifically. The fact is, therefore, that they all have Serbian origin, and then all that...
Host: And the law?
Aleksandar Milanovic, Professor at the Faculty of Philology: And the law should be regulated by lawyers.
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: I agree with the professor that when passing a new law, experts must be consulted...
Host: You mean you they should have been consulted before...
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: Experts from more than one field must be consulted...
Host: And what do we do now?
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: ...it is necessary to state more of those scientific disciplines to which the law refers. But the law is as it is. What I have to say is, and I am sorry, professor, that the language is officially called Bosnian, and that's how it is in our laws.
Aleksandar Milanovic, Professor at the Faculty of Philology: That again. In science it is called Bosniak.
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: Okay, but legally it is defined as Bosnian...
Aleksandar Milanovic, Professor at the Faculty of Philology: I speak the language of science, sorry, I speak the language of science.
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: I have made that mistake, so to say, several times. You said that it changes... But there is the Constitution which says that the rights, acquired rights of national minorities, cannot be reduced.
Host: You said that. But is there anything that can be done now?
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: I have to repeat that in order for people to understand what it is about.
Host: Of course, you repeated that many times, but we also hear the professor, so now I'm trying to find a compromise between law and science.
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: There is no compromise, no compromise... There is a compromise in the sense that when someone thinks that a regulation is not adequate for any reason, to say so mildly, then they can start rearranging it.
Host: When you say it like that, it seems that we will have the same problem every year.
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: No, it is impossible to have the same problem because you have to define the problem, consult the experts...
Host: Then the professor has to change his position, that is, the science...
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: Please. So, you have a situation where you notice a problem in the legal solution, you consult the experts, you approach the arrangement if there is space...
Host: And here?
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: I will not talk about that at all, I quoted the Constitution, we ratified the European Charter, we took over something from it, we did not have to take over everything...
Host: I understand, you said that, thank you.
Zoran Pasalic, Protector of Citizens: ... and we defined them as special languages. I have to keep repeating.
Aleksandar Milanovic, Professor at the Faculty of Philology: Apparently we haven't had the conditions for that since '91, I have no other comment. So, for 30 years, we have not had the conditions to change the law of a non-existent state. I think that all viewers can see that.
Host: Let us end the conversation with at least some hope that we will welcome the next Mother Tongue Day next year with a different conversation. Thank you for all these clarifications.