In the Republic of Serbia, the Serbian language and Cyrillic alphabet are in official use (Law on official use of languages and alphabets: Sl. glasnik RS, no. 45/91, 53/93, 67/93, 48/94, 101/2005, 30/2010, 47/2018 and 48/2018). The Latin script is used in municipalities having a considerable population belonging to people whose primary script is Latin, in line with their tradition.
In those areas where significant numbers of ethnic minorities live, the minority languages are in official use concurrently with the Serbian language. After World War II, ethnic minorities gained the right to the official use of their languages.
In AP Vojvodina, 20 municipalities use an ethnic minority language in addition to Serbian. 11 municipalities recognise two ethnic minority languages, and five municipalities and the city of Novi Sad use three ethnic minority languages in addition to Serbian.
Still, cultural practices are equalising the use of both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabet; Cyrillic is predominant in official communication, while Latin is predominant in the marketplace and in business communication (billboards, shop windows, etc.).
The media (press) is published in both alphabets, according to their marketing strategies or tradition (Politika (Cyrillic) – Danas (Latin), NIN (Cyrillic) – Vreme (Latin), etc.).
This plurality started to be seriously questioned as cultural policy perceives the split of what used to be Serbo-Croat language and the present constitution of Croat, Bosnian and Bosniak, and Montenegrin as specific languages that represent a threat for Serbian language (numerous chairs for Serbian language within Slavic departments had been replaced by one of the other three). The extensive use of the Latin alphabet in the cultural space of Serbia made it unclear that these books are part of Serbian culture (in numerous libraries abroad all books printed in Latin alphabet had been classified as written in Croatian). At the same time, numerous intellectuals from the region have gathered to create a Declaration about a common language without name. Until now (September 2018), around 9100 people have signed the Declaration. In the whole region of Serbia, language was considered as Serbo-Croat while the idea of two distinctive languages was already promoted in Croatia since 1967. The split from Yugoslavia in 1991 reinforced those tendencies and each of the new constituted states named their language by the ethnic majority of its inhabitants. The cultural community in Serbia opposed “serbianisation” of the language (especially criticized was an attempt to introduce dialect spoken in Serbia as the only official dialect to distinguish of both Croats and Bosnians in the Republic of Srpska). In other republics this nationalisation of language had been meticulously implemented (in Montenegro three new letters had been introduced; in Croatia numerous dictionaries had been published to point out words labelled as Serbism’s; in Bosnia and Herzegovina the language policy reintroduced numerous Turkism’s, etc.)
As the Latin alphabet continued to prevail in
public communication, due to tradition from socialist period but also
due to market reasons, numerous organisations evaluated that Cyrillic
alphabet is under threat in its public use and that the Law on official
use is not sufficient enough.
Since 1991, the Law on language and alphabet makes a distinction between official, public and private use of language and alphabet. Serbian language and Cyrillic alphabet are obligatory in the official use (by government offices, public institutions, etc.). Until now, the public use of language was not regulated and thus many companies, shops, even private universities use English names or Serbian names written in the Latin alphabet. Most of the printed media (journals and books) are in Latin alphabet due to a necessity to raise readership also outside of the borders of Serbia. The nationalist circles are raising issues of Latin script predominance in public space using the fact that it was violently introduced hundred years ago during the WWI occupation by the Austro-Hungarian government. In between the two wars, the territory of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia used both alphabets according to the traditional division. After the WWII, the Latin alphabet was entering together with the processes of modernisation in public space, even in the so called Cyrillic territories of Yugoslavia (film and TV titles, book publishing, journals, fashion industry, design, etc.).
Demands for the protection of the Cyrillic alphabet are more and more vocal, concerning the official and the public use of Cyrillic script. However, although there is a demand for punitive measures, during public debates the Ministry is speaking only about stimulations regarding public use. The Strategy (chapter 1.1) is foreseeing the following measures: 1) detaxation of companies that publish periodicals in Cyrillic alphabet and detaxation of private book publishers for Cyrillic books (two state publishers are already publishing only in Cyrillic); 2) criteria for buying books for public libraries will give advantage to literature printed in Cyrillic; 3) public financing of translated literature would prioritise Cyrillic editions and editions with a Serbian language redactor; 4) detaxation should stimulate film distributors to screen movies with Cyrillic subtitles; 5) creation of a normative framework for the regulated use of Serbian language in public communication; 6) the Law on media should regulate that minimum 50% of subtitled programmes should be in Cyrillic alphabet on private television channels; 7) the mobile operators should be obliged to enable equal use of Cyrillic on mobile platforms; 8) cultural manifestations and festivals that are financed by the Ministry of Culture and Information have to use Cyrillic logo as well; 9) recommending corporations to use Cyrillic logos in exchange for certain benefits.
The new law is scheduled for the end of 2018 and it remains to be seen how forceful the implementation will be in a country in which most of the public communication is in Latin (see also 1.1 and 2.1).
Throughout the country, local authorities are also reinforcing this policy. In 2017, the National Museum in Pančevo organised the exhibition “I write, read and think Serbian”, which is now ready to tour (Foundation Tekelijanum Budapest) andlibraries in Niš, Čačak, Zaječar, and many other cities were included in the action “Nurture Serbian language”. It is not surprising that the 85th Vukov sabor (Gatherings to honor Vuk Karadžić, reformer of Serbian language) is held under the slogan: „Očuvajmo jezik sačuvajmo zemlju“ (Preserve the language preserve the country) thus linking language with patriotism and (mis)using populist xenophobic feelings that the country is under threat.