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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter IV. The Nation and Its Neighbors in Europe: Problems of Coexistence

Dissertation, or Treatise

Janko Drašković
Traduction de Robert Russell

Texte intégral

1Title: Disertacija iliti razgovor, darovan gospodi poklisarom zakonskim i budućim zakonotvorcem kraljevinah naših za buduću dietu ungarsku odaslanem, držan po jednom starom domorodcu kraljevinah ovih (Dissertation, or Treatise, given to the honourable lawful deputies and future legislators of our Kingdoms, delegated to the future Hungarian Diet; by an old patriot of these Kingdoms)

2Originally published: Karlovac, Joan Nepomuk Prettner, 1832

3Language: Croatian

4The excerpts are translated from the German edition: Janko Drašković, Erinnerungen an die zum ungarischen Reichstag bestimmten Deputirten der Königreiche Kroatien und Slavonien. Ein Beitrag zur Würdigung des politischen Lebens im ungarischen Staatenvereine, von einem Alt-Kroaten. Aus dem Illyrischen übersetzt (Leipzig: A. B. Liebeskind, 1834), pp. xiii–xiv, 13–18, 39–40, 43, 54–55.

About the author

5Janko Drašković [1770 (Zagreb) – 1856 (Radgona, Ger. Radkersburg, today Gornja Radgona, Slovenia)]: writer and politician. A descendant of a Croatian aristocratic family with a military tradition, Drašković received a private education in his home town and in Vienna, where he was taught law and philosophy. From 1787 to 1792, he served in the Austrian army and participated in the Austro-Turkish War (1788–1790). After retirement from the military, Drašković started to participate in the sessions of the Croatian Sabor. He visited France in 1808, which would later be misleadingly interpreted as a source of his political opinions. After the Peace of Schönbrunn, Drašković’s estates were allotted to the Illyrian Provinces (1809–1813); yet he declined an offer of French citizenship and preserved political loyalty to the Habsburgs. After the restoration of constitutional life in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1825 he continued his public engagement, which culminated, in 1832, in the first political treatise written in the Croatian neo-štokavian language. At the time, the Croatian nobility was preoccupied with the struggle for the retention of their municipal rights against the Magyars, who at the Diet of 1830 requested the introduction of the Hungarian language into public life throughout the Kingdom of Hungary. From 1832 to 1836 Drašković was a Croatian delegate at the Diet in Pressburg (Hun. Pozsony, today Bratislava), where he was assisted by a group of young law students who would constitute the core of the Illyrian Movement. Relying upon his aristocratic authority, Drašković set out to found different institutions of sociability which would contribute to the spreading of Illyrianism. In 1838 he established the Illyrian Reading Club in Zagreb, to coordinate all aspects of cultural production in the ‘Illyrian language.’ At the same time, he allocated a special role to upper-class women in the developing of national sentiment among the youth. On the subject of their educational duties Drašković addressed a brochure ‘A word to the noble-minded daughters of Illyria’, and a Society of Female Patriots was established at his initiative. In 1840 he was especially engaged with founding the National Theater, and assisted in the establishment of the ‘Illyrian Foundation’ (Matica ilirska) for publishing the older Croatian literature in the štokavian dialect. In 1841 he presided over the newly established Illyrian Party (from 1843 the National Party), and in 1848 participated in the sessions of the Croatian Sabor, where he advocated the establishment of an independent Croatian government, which would, however retain a common legislature with the Magyars. He withdrew from political life in 1849, disillusioned with the victory of reaction. In 1893 his bones were transferred from Austria to Croatia. Due to the programmatic form of his Dissertation written in the Croatian language, Count Janko Drašković has been traditionally regarded as the chief political ideologist and the ‘Father’ of the Croatian National Revival.

6Main works: Disertacija iliti razgovor, darovan gospodi poklisarom zakonskim i budućim zakonotvorcem kraljevinah naših za buduću dietu ungarsku odaslanem, držan po jednom starom domorodcu kraljevinah ovih [Dissertation, or Treatise, given to the honorable lawful deputies and future legislators of our Kingdoms, delegated to the future Hungarian Diet; by an old patriot of these Kingdoms] (1832); Mladeži ilirskoj [To the Illyrian youth] (1836); Ein Wort an Illyriens hochherzige Töchter über die ältere Geschichte und neueste literarische Regeneration ihres Vaterlandes [A word to the noble-minded daughters of Illyria on the older history and on the most recent literary regeneration of their homeland] (1838); Starší dějepis a nejnowější literární obnowa národu ilirského [The older history and the latest literary regeneration of the Illyrian nation] (Czech translation, 1845).


7In 1784 Joseph II introduced German as the official language for the territory of the whole multi-national Habsburg Monarchy. The decision caused an enormous backlash, especially in the Kingdom of Hungary, where Latin was regarded as the constitutional language and the chief medium of public discourse throughout the realm. The argumentation of enlightened absolutism designated the use of Latin as the sign of ‘backwardness,’ due to its social exclusivity and incapacity to implement popular enlightenment, or Volksaufklärung, which required a living and polished vernacular. Hungarian patriots assumed that the language revival could be used as a means against the Josephist violation of Hungarian rights and privileges. Such an agenda, which culminated during the joint Diet in 1790 at Pressburg with the request that Hungarian be introduced as the official language into the Kingdom of Hungary, caused a strong reaction on the part of the Croatian estates, the only constitutional partners of the Hungarian nobility. At that time, patriotism was manifested in the public use of the vernaculars, or linguae patriae. Such circumstances, which revealed differences in the cultural value of national languages, caused the Diet for the first time to thematize Croatian municipal rights, which, along with the retention of Latin as the official language, identified ‘Croatianness’ with Catholicism and anti-Protestantism. These rights also accentuated the contractual position of the Croatae, the noble natio politica of the Kingdoms of Dalmatia, Croatia and Slavonia, which was believed to have voluntarily accepted St. Stephen’s Crown in 1102, reinforced by the Pacta conventa. These rights, among which the issue of language was the most substantial, were constantly the objects of debate at the joint diets until 1832, when Drašković used for the first time the standardized Croatian language instead of Latin or German as a medium of political discourse. Tension over the introduction of the Hungarian language started in 1791, when a course on Magyar language and literature was introduced as an optional subject at the Academy of Sciences in Zagreb, whereupon the Croatian Sabor asked for a reciprocal introduction of an Illyrian course in Hungary. Supporters of teaching the Hungarian language interpreted this act as an indicator of the tightening up of the nexus intimus with Hungary as the regnum socium, which aimed at understanding the debates related to issues of common importance and the possibility of finding employment more easily in the common institutions. The culmination of the debate was achieved in 1827, when, at the request of the joint Diet, Magyar came to be introduced as an obligatory subject in all Croatian higher academic institutions.

  • 1 In the early modern period the concept of “Hungarus” referred to members of the Hungarian politica (...)

8The year 1790 saw for the first time a drift in the use of the supranational and civic concept of Hungarus1 designating the noble natio politica consisting of Magyars and Croats. The focus of political loyalty began to be directed more to the linguae patriae than to the patria itself, understood primarily as the territorial designation of the Kingdom of Hungary. The language issue contributed to the tension between Croats and Magyars. Some parties qualified the retention of Latin as ‘backward’ and contrary to the progress of civilization, but the main point of disagreement was the cultural status of the Hungarian language, which for non-speakers had no civilizational value. Such debates catalyzed the arguments for the amplitude and antiquity of the ‘Illyrian language’, spoken by most Croats, and for whom the introduction of any foreign living language was a mark of ‘slavery.’ Still, up to 1820, the Hungari-option prevailed both among the Croats and Magyars along with the retention of Latin as the constitutional language, which resulted in the participation of the Croatian nobility in financing various cultural institutions of common interest, such as the Hungarian National Museum and the ‘Ludoviceum’ Military Academy. The party of Hungari advocated social and economic reforms, and tolerance towards the non-Hungarian languages and cultures in the Kingdom. From 1820 onwards, the distinction between the concepts of ‘patriotism’ and ‘nationalism’ grew deeper, the former emphasizing symbolic loyalty towards the ‘state’ and the latter towards the ‘nation’, which, if understood in linguistic terms, could not equate Magyars and Croats. The Magyars could construct their collective identity on the basis of the equation of ‘nationhood’ and ‘statehood’. In contrast, by accepting ‘Illyrian’ as a genetic term within the broader concept of ‘Slavic reciprocity’, the Croatian Romantics separated the vision of ‘nation’ from the vision of ‘state’—crossing the boundaries of the Triune Kingdom and postulating a new, broader South Slavic national community. The year 1830 with the final standardization of the Croatian neo-štokavian orthography saw thus the beginning of the symbolic ‘Illyrian Awakening’ and ‘Regeneration,’ which in 1832 was followed by the introduction of the teaching of Croatian language and literature at the Academy in Zagreb.

9In his ‘Dissertation’ Count Drašković addresses the future delegates at the joint Diet at Pressburg, presenting the Croatian štokavian dialect as worthy of being a national language with a continuity of literature ever since Humanism. His discourse on nation shows a liberal and Romantic rupture from the traditional concept of the socially exclusive natio politica, so the delegates were asked to be representatives of the whole nation “regardless of faith and birth”. Loyalty to the Croatian-Slavic nation is justified from the Herderian point of view, because its chief national characteristics are ‘virtue,’ ‘fidelity,’ ‘courage’ and ‘obstinacy,’ and especially the Romantic notion of the ‘great heart’ (Cro. veliko srce). On the other hand, political loyalty should be directed to the ‘king’ and to the ‘homeland’ (Cro. domovina), which was more and more limited to the Croatian Kingdoms exclusively. The usage of the language of natural law further justifies patriotism, which is necessary from the point of view of natural morality, as is the use of the vernacular in public affairs. However, the Croats are perceived as a “nation without a mother tongue”, and the delegates’ duty should be to refute that prejudice.

10Such argumentation needs historical evidence especially with relation to the Magyars, so Drašković reiterates how the Croats voluntarily made a deal with the Hungarian kings, with whom they agreed to form a “federative society.” Although Magyars also neglected their language and laws under the reign of the Austrian rulers, they were re-awakened after Joseph II’s death, and in Drašković’s view, they aimed at merging the two Kingdoms, Croatia and Hungary, into one. The wish of the Magyars to impose their vernacular on non-Magyars is refuted by invoking the natural right of nations to cultivate their own language—“the spiritual connection between peoples and countries.” Furthermore, Drašković lists a set of grievances, which, next to the usual municipal rights-discourse, introduces the new political concept of the ‘Kingdom of Illyria,’ grounded in historical and natural rights and based on a common language.

11This construct, which would incorporate Dalmatia, Bosnia, and even the Slovenian provinces, is named ‘Great Illyria’ (Cro. Velika Ilirija)—in contrast to the former ‘Kingdom of Illyria,’ which was created by Francis I (II) in 1816 (and abolished in 1822) and which consisted only of the remnants of the French ‘Illyrian Provinces.’ Nevertheless, Drašković advocates a common market with the Kingdom of Hungary, as well as the establishment of a Hungarian State Bank and money exchange courts, which would support different commercial and industrial projects. In this proposal Drašković seems to follow the lead of the Hungarian reformer Count István Széchenyi and the model of utilitarian English liberalism. Furthermore, he sees education and a liberal attitude of the nobility toward their subjects as the only means of progress in order to catch up with Western Europe. In fact, it can be seen that both Drašković and Széchenyi use in their arguments a paternalistic aristocratic rhetoric. It assigned a special social role in the moral regeneration of nation to the aristocracy, whose duty it was to spread the spirit of noble enlightenment. However, both Drašković and Széchenyi support the idea of “developing and ennobling nationality” which among other things implied cultivation of the mother tongue, refinement of manners and self-education. Finally, it is obvious that Drašković clearly develops the ‘East-West’ discourse and the middle position of the Croatian Kingdoms between the two cultural regions, which would become a constant point of reference in the future.

12The ‘Dissertation’ established itself among the public from the very beginning as the most complete and the most basic program of the whole Romantic movement of ‘national awakening,’ and as such it became incorporated into the national canon as early as the nineteenth century. Its ‘anti-Magyar discourse’ fitted the political athmosphere ensuing the Croatian-Hungarian Compromise (1868), when the myth of the Croatian capitulation before the Magyars in the 1820s was launched. In the 1930s its canonical status was corroborated by the Yugoslav memory of the Illyrian Movement. In the 1990s it was again re-read as a program advocating Croatian historical and state rights as well as the right to national self-determination, which could justify the separation of the Republic of Croatia from Yugoslavia.


Dissertation, or Treatise, given to the honorable lawful deputies and future legislators of our Kingdoms, delegated to the future Hungarian Diet; by an old patriot of these Kingdoms

  • 2 Here Drašković most probably refers to the publishing activities of the sixteenth-century Croatian (...)

14In my treatise I shall use our own mother tongue, in the hope of demonstrating its ability to express all that the heart and reason may demand. I have chosen the most complete of our dialects, that preferred by our old men of letters. As the table in the appendix shows, it is the one most widely used among the Slavic-Croats who form the root stock of our kingdoms. It is surely also the only dialect shared by Slavonians, the Military Border-, littoral, and the River Kupa-dwellers, Dalmatians, Bosnians, Montenegrins and those Croats known as ‘Water (Bosnian)-Croats’, who are dispersed throughout Hungary. All the old books printed in Zagreb, Požega, Split, Venice, Wittenberg2 and Dubrovnik, the Missals of Senj and the littoral bishoprics are predominantly written in this dialect. No one, even after living for years in another region, would ever exchange it for another; yet, having learned it, no one would continue to speak his own mixed dialect.

15[…] For these reasons, therefore, be confident that Dalmatia will once more be reunited with us, and that we shall again form one nation and one blood, numbering over two million people. And possibly even more: for in time Bosnia, where so many of our families dwelt, may once again, with our help, return to our bosom. What a splendid prospect for our nation! Moreover, since it is the permissible hope of every heart and request of every tongue, even that part now called Illyria, which speaks a dialect related to our own, could, through the great goodness of our Kings, be united with us. Undoubtedly, such an Illyrian kingdom, numbering some four and a half million souls, would bring honor to our name, strength to our constitution, advantage to the crown for centuries to come, and tip the balance in our favor.

16[…] To return to the differences we have with Hungary, we willingly acknowledge that each nation has the desire and the right to speak its own language, to write it, and to publish in it, so that every native can understand it in public affairs and every literary subject can be treated in it. A nation that cannot do that has no moral fatherland; for language is the spiritual connection between peoples and countries. The inhabitants of a state can only be accorded a place in human society according to the degree of moral education, as contained in their speeches, books and deeds. It was therefore time for the Hungarians to fulfil this duty laudably for themselves.

17From this it does not follow, however, that they may impose their own Hungarian tongue on another, federate nation which speaks its own ancient language if the contract of federation does not permit it. We have shortly before demonstrated that the fusion of our own ancient and rich language with Hungarian is now no longer practicable as once. For that would mean to want to recommence and to complete immediately, what their more sagacious and powerful forebears once strove humanely to accomplish only after making a long effort. Now not only you, but any reasonable Hungarian, will concede that this is not the time to subject a nation of more than a million-and-a-half stalwart souls to such a humiliation.

18[…] It also behoves us to follow the good example of the Hungarians, and acknowledge the value, in our judgement, of the good and reasonable course they have chosen. Let us therefore show that we too have a language of our own fit for, and worthy of, any culture; let us take it as our language of public affairs and strive to adapt it to every general and scientific need, as the Hungarians have recently done. Believe me, therein lies our best answer to their usurpatory desire to introduce their language among our people.

19[…] The chief and most urgent need is to establish and consolidate money exchange courts, so that by passing quick sentences on letters of credit everybody is granted and given that to which his debtor has bound himself. This would immediately increase confidence; merchants and all those requiring capital for useful business undertakings would then be able to find money throughout Europe, whereas at present, in the absence of such courts, foreign as well as local investors are often loath to lend money to a Hungarian or a Croat, preferring, to the great detriment of the fatherland, to take their capital out of circulation by placing it in the abhorred lotteries and letters of credit of overseas trade, rather than face the trouble and expense of having to recover what belongs to them through lawsuits. Such lotteries are of benefit only to speculators, bringing cash only into the purses of those who, to our own disadvantage even in our lifetime, may continue to invest in other powers. Out of this lack of confidence, therefore, may arise not only a lack of necessary monies, but also political disadvantages.

20[…] We lie in the middle of Europe, beckoned by both East and West; the former a twilight zone, the latter a realm of over-enlightenment; the former in a condition of subjugation from which we freed ourselves more than a hundred years ago, and are now too wise to lapse into slavery again; the other bathed in a brilliance the weak eyes of our people are not yet able to bear. Here, therefore, we should follow the middle road; but to that end we need civil servants with the brightest minds and purest enlightenment. Thus all we need to avoid the threat of imminent evil is a better schooling, and more complete instruction of the clergy of all religious faiths.

  • 3 By the term ‘Old Believers’ (Cro. starovjerci, Ger. Altgläubige) Drašković refers to Greek Orthodo (...)

21[…] What I have said about the Old Believers3 also applies in many respects to our own taxable people. You are their guardians and fathers. In the spirit of this age it is no longer appropriate to rule children by the rod alone, even less so when they are already approaching adulthood. The people must be brought up with love; then born enemies are transformed into grateful children and, if they are well instructed, into friends.

  • 4 Saint Stephen, the first Hungarian king, crowned on Christmas of the year 1000. Drašković’s quotat (...)

22The people are more numerous than you; without them you lack sustenance and life. Therefore, show them due love, that they may feel attachment to you and to our constitution; uphold the rule of reason, wherever you may find it; demand from the people your customary basic taxes, but share with them the remaining public expenses; commend to the King every man who excels by his reason and actions, that nobility be conferred on him; and en-sure that those convicted of criminal offences lose their rights, so that the words of St. Stephen4 may hold true: ‘The only true nobleman is the one ennobled by deeds’. The invention of printing has facilitated enlightenment, so take heed that no bright mind slips through your net. For if these enlightened individuals join your cause, and if they have good cause for satisfaction, you will reap benefits without toil. By contrast, as adversaries these same men are sure to do you harm when times are hard. Much can be said on this subject; judge it, I pray you, without the prejudice of our grandfathers. Our viewpoint is no longer the same as theirs; the demands of loyalty, justice and truth call for a different illumination from that required in the seventeenth century.


1 In the early modern period the concept of “Hungarus” referred to members of the Hungarian political nation (natio hungarica) regardless of ethnic provenience. Around 1800, it was used, both by the non-Magyar elites of the Kingdom of Hungary and by some of the socio-economic reformers, as a conceptual alternative to the emerging cultural understanding of ‘Hungarianess’ (Magyarság).

2 Here Drašković most probably refers to the publishing activities of the sixteenth-century Croatian Protestants. However, it was not Wittenberg, but rather Urach-Tübingen, where the Croatian printing press was situated.

3 By the term ‘Old Believers’ (Cro. starovjerci, Ger. Altgläubige) Drašković refers to Greek Orthodox believers, whose worship practices were considered older than the Roman Catholic ones.

4 Saint Stephen, the first Hungarian king, crowned on Christmas of the year 1000. Drašković’s quotation may come from Stephen’s Admonitions, addressed to his son Prince Imre (Emericus), where an ideal king is described.


Robert Russell (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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