The Sandzak Divided: Language and Identity Politics on Either Side of the New Serbian/Montenegrin Border | Wilson Center
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The Sandzak Divided: Language and Identity Politics on Either Side of the New Serbian/Montenegrin Border

In his presentation, Robert Greenberg will focus on the sociolinguistic status of the Bosniaks in the Sandžak areas of Serbia and Montenegro. Like Kosovo to its South, the Sandžak is characterized by a significant Muslim community that in some municipalities constitutes a majority of the inhabitants. In the post-Yugoslav context, members of these Muslim communities have largely self-identified as Bosniaks, an ethnic/national term that gained prominence among Bosnian Muslims in the period immediately following the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991 and the outbreak of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. While language policies in this region were centrally formulated in the joint state, with the dissolution of the Republic of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, the two halves of the Sandžak experienced divergent language policies. Greenberg argues that the division of the Sandžak may have been a catalyst for destabilizing and radicalized forces to emerge in the years following the formal Serbia/Montenegro split. 

The Sandžak derives its name from Ottoman times, when it was referred to as the Sanžak of Novi Pazar, and it remained under Ottoman rule until the end of the first Balkan war (1912).In 1913, the region was divided between Serbia and Montenegro, and was reunited in 1918 when Serbia and Montenegro joined together in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. In Tito’s Yugoslavia, when the boundaries were drawn among the Yugoslav Republics, the Sandžak region was administratively divided between the Republics of Serbia and Montenegro; however, only in 2006 when Montenegro declared its independence, did this internal republican boundary become an international boundary (see the map below). Each of these new states has enacted its own policies towards the Bosniak communities of the Sandžak.

Greenberg's analysis will concentrate primarily on the divergent language policies on either side of the Serbian-Montenegrin border, and how these differences are reflected in the level of political mobilization and efforts to remedy grievances. 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.

Robert Greenberg is the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and a Professor of Linguistics at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Until recently, he served as a Dean and Professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York, and for ten years as a Professor (adjunct) in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University.He received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1991, and has taught at Yale, Georgetown, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a specialist in South Slavic languages and linguistics, and has worked primarily on sociolinguistic issues in the former Yugoslavia.  He has explored issues of language, nationalism, and ethnic identity both in Tito's Yugoslavia and in the years following Yugoslavia's breakup. His publications include numerous books and articles on South Slavic and Balkan Slavic topics. His book,  Language and Identity in the Balkans (Oxford University Press, 2004, second revised and expanded edition, 2008), received an award in 2005 for the best book in Slavic Linguistics from the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. Dr. Greenberg was a research fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 1997 and 1999, and has held a Fulbright scholarship in Yugoslavia (1989-1990) and in Macedonia (2001).  In 2010 he was the recipient of the prestigious William Clyde DeVane medal for excellence in teaching and scholarship at Yale University.

Martin Sletzinger, former director of the Wilson Center's East European Studies program, will chair the discussion.



  • Robert Greenberg

    Dean of the Faculty of Arts and a Professor of Linguistics at the University of Auckland, New Zealand
  • Martin Sletzinger

    Former Director of East European Studies and Senior Scholar