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The Illyrian movement ( ), also Croatian national revival (Hrvatski narodni preporod), was a cultural and political campaign initiated by a group of young Croatianmarker intellectuals during the first half of 19th century, around the years of 1835–1849 (there is some disagreement regarding the official dates). This movement aimed to create a Croatian national establishment in Austria-Hungary through linguistic and ethnic unity among South Slavs.


In 19th century Europe, liberalism and nationalism were ideologies which came to the forefront of political culture. In Eastern Europe, where the Habsburg Empire had long asserted control over a variety of ethnic and cultural groups, nationalism appeared in a standard format. The beginning of the 19th century "was the period when the smaller, mostly Slavic nationalities of the empire - Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Ukrainians - remembered their historical traditions, revived their native tongues as literary languages, reappropriated their traditions and folklore, in short reasserted their existence as nations." This revival of national heritage encompasses the Illyrian Movement in Croatia.

In 1813, the bishop of Zagreb Maksimilijan Vrhovac issued a plea for the collection of "national treasures" (Poziv na sve duhovne pastire svoje biskupije), thereby heralding the national revival movement.


Just as Croatia felt nationalistic stirrings at this time, so did its larger neighbors, Hungary and Austria. Croats were uneasy with rising Hungarian nationalism, which pursued reduction of the Croatian autonomy and increased Magyarization. In order to preserve their autonomy, Croats pursued a deepening of their culture and a revival of their heritage.

In the beginning of the 1830s, a group of young Croatian writers gathered in Zagrebmarker and established a movement for national renewal and unity of all South Slavs within the Habsburg Monarchy. The city of Zagreb had become an important center of political, economic, and cultural activity, so it was the center of the movement. Count Janko Drašković published his Dissertation in 1832, a pamphlet that later came to be considered the political, economic, social and cultural program of the movement, as it promoted the native language as official, more autonomy from central government, and better education and enlightenment for the common people.

The most important focus of the new Illyrians was the establishment of a standard language as a counter-weight to Hungarian, and the promotion of Croatian written literature and official culture. Ljudevit Gaj was instrumental in providing the foundation for the flourishing of the Croatian literature. Gaj was in fact the leader of the movement as a whole in the beginning for eight or nine years, at which point the leadership changed hands. Gaj was largely responsible for writing the Croatian orthography and grammar (Kratka osnova horvatsko-slavenskog pravopisanjaBrief basics of the Croatian-Slavonic orthography), which was necessary before a literary movement would be successful.


Choosing "Illyrian" as their title was a symbolic gesture on the part of movement members and leadership, an attempt to bring the history of the Croatian people to the forefront. It is somewhat comparable to the French recalling the Gauls.

The Illyrian name was first revived during the Napoleonic Wars, when the French gave the name Illyrian Provinces to the Adriatic possessions acquired from the Austrian Empiremarker in 1809. After 1813, when the territories were again included in the Austrian Empire, the Austrians kept the denomination and formed the Kingdom of Illyria, which comprised mostly the Slovene Lands.


The most influential writers within the movement were Ivan Mažuranić and Petar Preradović. Mažuranić contributed his epic Smrt Smail-age Čengića during this time, and Preradović published love lyrics.

Other notable literary contributions were made by Antun Mihanović (notably Horvatska Domovina which later became Our Beautiful Homeland), Stanko Vraz (satiric lyrics), Ljudevit Vukotinović (romantic lyrics), Dimitrija Demeter (prose, notably Grobničko polje, and drama), Ivan Kukuljević Sakcinski (prose), Antun Nemčić (prose and itineraries). There was also the first notable itinerary Pogled u Bosnu by Matija Mažuranić.

After the government allowed the publishing of newspapers in Croatian in 1834, the new Illyrians issued the first Croatian newspaper, "Novine hrvatsko-slavonsko-dalmatinske", in 1835, establishing Croatian journalism. The paper was edited by Ljudevit Gaj and it also had a literary magazine "Danica" attached, both of which printed in Gaj's "National print" (Narodna tiskara). These literary successes "ultimately won intellectual, linguistic, and educational...independence for Croatia."

In 1836, the papers were renamed to use the Illyrian name (Ilirske novine, Danica ilirska). In 1838, Janko Drašković helped found a reading room in Zagreb which served as a meeting place for the first "Illyrians".

In another cultural success, in 1846 the composer Vatroslav Lisinski wrote the first opera in Croatian, "Ljubav i zloba" (Love and malice).

The Illyrian movement, while concentrating on Croatian lands, was quite nationally inclusive, as it included many non-Croats. For example, Petar Preradović was an ethnic Serb, as was Josif Runjanin, Stanko Vraz was an ethnic Slovene, and Dimitrija Demetar was an ethnic Greek or Aromanian[224197][224198]


In 1840, the Illyrian movement suffered an internal setback when Stanko Vraz, Joakim Rakovac and Ljudevit Vukotinović split off from the movement due to creative differences in poetry. In 1842 they started publishing their own literary newspaper named Kolo.

More importantly, the movement was not well received by Hungarians and pro-Hungarian nobility. In 1843, the use of the Illyrian name was banned. Struggles in Croatian Sabormarker were so harsh that they caused unrest on Zagreb streets. On July 29, 1845, violent conflict causing bloodshed took place on Marko's square, later known as "July victims". Even still, Hungarian officials were unable to crush the movement.

The movement practically ceased to exist due to the Revolutions of 1848. In 1849, the Emperor Francis Joseph imposed a new constitution, all political dissent was censored, and the Danica went out of print.


The movement's plea for unity among the Slavs, particularly South Slavs, also found supporters among prominent Serbs of the time, most notably Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, the reformer of Serbian language. Ljudevit Gaj had, in fact, appealed to Serbia (along with Dalmatia and Russia) for moral and financial support given their ethnic and cultural connections.

In 1850, a small group of Illyrian and Serbian representatives signed the "Vienna agreement" which in effect proclaimed the southern Shtokavian dialect to be the standard, common language of Serbs and Croats, with Serbian Cyrillic and Croatian Latin alphabet as equal letters. The agreement was the basis of subsequent formation of the now defunct Serbo-Croatian language and helped to solidify the linguistic progress of those two cultures.

Assessment and criticism

The Illyrian movement was the first and most prominent Pan-Slavic movement in Croatian history.

The Illyrian movement was successful in its goals for culture. "Where there was no precedent for nineteenth-century concepts like Czechoslovak or Illyrian nationhood these projects failed. Nationalism took hold insofar as it built on existing realities, historical, linguistic or social." The period of the Illyrian movement is today referred to as the "Croatian national revival".

The movement formed the basis for a common Serbo-Croatian language, and it fostered support in Croatia for the later creation of Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenesmarker in 1918. However, in its ultimate goals of creating an Illyrian state, the movement failed. This failure of the idea to achieve Serbian-Croatian unity was apparent with the occurrence of the bloody Yugoslav wars. Furthermore, increasing Croatian nationalism back-fired on pan-Slavic ideals because a Croatian identity evolved and superseded the "Illyrian" hopes.


  1. Despalatovic, Elinor Murray. Ljudevit Gaj and the Illyrian Movement. New York: East European Quarterly, 1975.
  2. Sperber, Jonathan. The European Revolutions, 1848-1851. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. page 99.
  3. Despalatovic, Elinor Murray. Ljudevit Gaj and the Illyrian Movement. New York: East European Quarlerly, 1975
  4. Eterovich, Francis H. and Christopher Spalatin, ed. Croatia: Land, People, Culture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964.
  5. Eterovich, Francis H. and Christopher Spalatin, ed. Croatia: Land, People, Culture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964. page 245.
  6. Ingrao, Charles W. The Habsburg Monarchy 1618–1815. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. page 110.

Further reading

  • Tanner, Marcus (1997). "Illyrianism and the Croatian Quest for Statehood". Daedalus (MIT Press) 126 (3): 47–62.

External links

  • Scrinia Slavonica Vol.6 No.1/2006 Role of Slavonian Franciscans in the national movement of the Danubian Croats during the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century

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