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Bunjevci (singular Bunjevac, pronounced Bunye'vtzi and Bunye'vatz resp.) are a South Slav ethnic group originally from the Dinaric Alps region, now mostly living in the Bačka/Bácska (today northern Serbia or Vojvodina) and southern Hungary (particularly in the Baja region). They are Roman Catholic by faith although not all practicing. Nationally, they register mostly either as Croats, as a separate ethnic group, or as Yugoslavs, while some also register as Serbs or as Magyars.
The Bunjevci migrated from their previous location into Bačka in several groups in 1682, 1686, 1687. Bunjevci also live in present-day Lika, western Herzegovina as well as the Dalmatian hinterland (in the region of the mountains of Dinara and Svilaja ), but there they do not register as an ethnic group and rather foster a devout sense of Croatdom.
There are several explanations for their name, most common of which is that it comes from the river Buna in central Herzegovina, their supposed original homeland before their migrations. Another explanation is that it comes from the word "bunja", a type of a round house. However, it is not exactly certain from which exact part of the Dinaric Alps the Bunjevci came. Due to the fact they speak the ikavian štokavian dialect of the Serbo-Croatian group, some claim that they originate from northwestern Herzegovina and northern Dalmatia.
Historic documents also refer to Bunjevci as Dalmatians, Bosnians, Catholic Serbs, Catholic Rascians or Racz Catholics, Vallachs-Catholics etc. The 19th century brought on a period of nationalism, including Magyarization and the Croatian romantic nationalism. Some Bunjevci developed a Croat national feeling in mid-19th century, when the Hungarian royal censa started registering "Croats" rather than regionally named groups. Notably, the bishop of Subotica Ivan Antunović (1815–1888) supported the notion of calling Bunjevci and Šokci (another similar Catholic group that lives in Srem, Baranja and Slavonia) Croats.
In 1880, they founded Bunjevačka stranka, an indigenous political party. During this time, opinions varied on whether the Bunjevci should try to assert themselves as a standalone ethnic group, or side with either the Serbs or the Croats. Nationally, the Magyar censa from 1880 onward to 1910 numbered the Bunjevci distinctly, separate from the Serbs even though they were referred to as Catholic Serbs.
In October 1918, Bunjevci held a national convention in Subotica and decided to secede Vojvodina from Hungary and join Serbia. This was confirmed at the Great National Assembly of Serbs, Bunjevci and other Slavs in Novi Sad, which proclaimed unification with the Kingdom of Serbia in November of 1918. The subsequent creation of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (renamed Yugoslavia in 1929) brought most of the Bačka Bunjevci in the same country with the Croats (with some remaining in Hungary).
After 1945, in Communist Yugoslavia the census of 1948 did not officially recognize the Bunjevci, and instead merged their data with the Croats. However, it did not try to assimilate them otherwise, given that the Bunjevac schools in Vojvodina also taught the Serbian version of the unified language. Proponents of a distinct Bunjevac ethnicity regard this as another dark period of encroachment on their identity.
Following the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the renewed Bunjevac national movement was officially recognized as a minority group in Serbia in 1990. The community, however, has been divided around the issue of the name: in the 1991 census, in terms of ethnicity, around 21,434 inhabitants of Vojvodina declared themselves Bunjevci whereas some 74,808 declared themselves Croats; in 2002, there were 19,766 Bunjevci and around 56,546 Croats in Vojvodina. Note that not all of the Croats in Vojvodina necessarily have Bunjevac roots.
In the Subotica region, there were 17,439 Bunjevci and 16,369 Croats in 1991. The historically Bunjevac village of D. Tavankut had 989 Bunjevci, 877 Croats, and 600 Yugoslavs, the latter probably being a reaction to national ambiguity and pressures at the time. A 1996 survey by the local government in Subotica found that in the community, there are many people who declare as Croats and consider themselves Bunjevci, but also some people who declare as Bunjevci but consider themselves part of the wider Croatian nation. The same survey found that the delineation between the pro-Croat and pro-Bunjevac positions correlated with the delineation between the people who were more supportive towards the then ruling regime in Serbia that did not favor special rights for national minorities, and conversely those who were against the then government and more interested in minority rights and connections with their second homeland.
Today, both major parts of the community (the pro-independent Bunjevac one and the pro-Croatian one) continue to consider themselves ethnologically as Bunjevci, although each subscribing to its interpretation of the term.
In early 2005, the Bunjevac issue was again popularized when the Vojvodina government decided to allow the official use of "bunjevački language with elements of national culture" in schools in the following school year — the štokavian-ikavian dialect. This was protested by the Croatian Bunjevac community as an attempt of the government to widen the rift between the two Bunjevac communities. They favour integration, regardless of whether some people declared themselves distinct, because minority rights (such as the right to use a minority language) are applied based on the number of members of the minority. Subsequently, it may happen that schools would teach the same dialect but in two separate classes, one named bunjevački jezik, one hrvatski jezik, based solely on the preference of the parents.
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