In the early 19th century, under the influence of the Enlightenment and Romanticism as well as the national revival of other Slavic peoples, the national consciousness of the Lusatian Sorbs also awoke. In 1845/47, the first scientific-cultural (all-Sorbian) society, the "Maćica Serbska", was founded; it took care of the spiritual concerns of the Sorbian people in many ways. In the following decades, a relatively broad press spectrum developed. Scientific and fiction publications appeared. In 1912, the Sorbian associations joined together in the umbrella organisation "Domowina" in order to counter the continuing political and economic pressure as well as Germanisation.
In the interwar period, the Sorbs strove to realise the national rights enshrined in the Weimar Constitution (Article 113). There was an upswing in literature, art, music and science. In 1937, Sorbian culture and language were practically completely banished from the public sphere by a ban imposed by the Nazi leadership. Thanks to the defeat of German fascism, the Sorbian people escaped the threat of physical extermination.
In 1948, the Saxon parliament passed the "Law for the Protection of the Rights of the Sorbian Population", which made new, stable structures in cultural life possible. Now the state began to support Sorbian schools as well as Sorbian and Sorabist cultural, educational and research institutions (e.g. theatre, national ensemble, publishing house, university and academy institute). Despite material support, assimilation continued during the GDR period. Parts of the Sorbian settlement area were devastated in the interest of extensive lignite mining, and restrictive regulations in the education system damaged the national substance. Works by writers, composers and painters were able to cross national borders in some cases, and cultural traditions were preserved and developed. Sorabian studies gained international recognition.
After the GDR's accession to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990, a differentiated associational life developed among the Sorbs, and the political and cultural endeavours were united in the renewed umbrella organisation "Domowina". The Free State of Saxony and the State of Brandenburg granted the Sorbs political rights in their constitutions and other laws. In the decree of the "Foundation for the Sorbian People" (1991), which they established together with the federal government, they undertook to promote the Sorbian language, culture and science for the purpose of preserving Sorbian identity.
The Sorbian language
One peculiarity of Lusatia that is particularly interesting for foreigners is that a native "foreign language" is spoken here alongside German: Sorbian. Sorbian, for which the term Wendish has also been used since time immemorial, belongs to the family of Slavic languages. It is thus close to Czech, Polish and Slovak, with which it forms the group of West Slavic languages.
Sorbian is still spoken in parts of Upper and Lower Lusatia. A completely different situation existed in historical times. In the current states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, predominantly Slavic tribes once settled and Slavic dialects were spoken. Today's Sorbian is the only Slavic idiom in Germany that has survived to the present day.
There is no written evidence in Sorbian from the Middle Ages. However, we can get an approximate picture of Old Sorbian with the help of German. In large areas of eastern Germany, the present-day German names of numerous places are of Sorbian origin. As examples, two major Saxon cities: the name Leipzig is derived from the Sorbian word lipa "linden" and Chemnitz was formed from the Old Sorbian word for "stone", which in modern Sorbian is kamjeń.
The first written texts in Sorbian have come down to us from the time after 1500. The Lutheran Reformation demanded the spread of Christianity in the mother tongue of the faithful; this favoured the translation of the Bible and other texts needed in the Protestant church. A little later, a Sorbian-language literature of Catholic provenance also developed, which served the religious care of the non-Reformed Sorbian population.
While the first texts were written in a very different language, close to the respective dialects of the translators, written Sorbian took on a bindingly standardised form at the turn of the 18th century. At the same time, another linguistic peculiarity of Sorbian emerged, which is still valid today. There was not - as with the majority of other peoples in the early bourgeois period - a uniform written language, but two written forms: a) the Upper Sorbian written language in Upper Lusatia and b) the Lower Sorbian written language in Lower Lusatia. Even later, Sorbian did not grow into a unified written language, as it was never the state language and thus there was no compelling need for a common means of communication. The Lusatian Sorbs therefore speak and write in two languages to this day.
Contemporary Sorbian is not only structured in terms of the two written language forms of expression. Considerable dialectal differences have also been preserved. The "Sorbian Language Atlas", published in print from 1965 to 1996, shows the dialectal differentiation by means of numerous maps.
Sorbian is used today by about 40-60,000 people, both orally and in writing. It adapts to the requirements of modern communication by constantly expanding its vocabulary. Sorbian is currently used not only in everyday life, but also in a number of subjects in schools, in cultural institutions and organisations, in the church and in certain state and municipal announcements. The linguistic-sociological situation causes a constant development of both written languages. Nevertheless, the social conditions of existence of Sorbian are strongly limited in comparison to German and will remain so in the future.
Source: Sorbian Institute, "On the History of the Sorbs", May 2002, Internet: www.serbski-institut.de
|Settlement of the area between the Oder, Ore and Fichtel Mountains, Saale and Frankfurt/Oder by about twenty Sorbian tribes.
|First documentary mention of the Sorbs in the chronicle of Fredgar.
|With the Milzeners in Upper Lusatia, the last Sorbian tribe loses its political independence.
|Inner land expansion by Sorbian farmers.
|Immigration of Frankish, Flemish, Thuringian and Saxon farmers.
|Foundations of monasteries and towns in Lusatia.
|Prohibition of the Sorbian language in Bernburg/S., Altenburg, Zwickau and Leipzig.
|Uprising of German and Sorbian craftsmen in Bautzen.
|Sorbian citizens' oath in Bautzen, the oldest known Sorbian scriptural monument.
|First Sorbian Bible translation by Mikławš Jakubica.
|First printed Sorbian book, a hymnbook with catechism by Albin Moller.
|Translation of the New Testament into Upper Sorbian by Michał Frencel.
|Edition of the New Testament by Bogumil Fabricius in Lower Sorbian.
|Begins of a bourgeois Sorbian national consciousness; German and Sorbian enlighteners deal scientifically with Sorbian history, cultural history and language.
|Peasant unrest in Lusatia under the influence of the French Revolution.
|Edition of a Sorbian monthly by the Bautzen carpenter Bohuchwał Dejka.
|Emergence of a Sorbian national movement with the aim of preserving Sorbian language and culture.
|Edition of the two-volume "Folk Songs of the Wends in Upper and Lower Lusatia" by Jan Arnošt Smoler and Leopold Haupt, an "Encyclopaedia of Sorbian Folklore"
|Foundation of the newspaper "Tydźenska Nowina" by Handij Zejler and Jan Arnošt Smoler, forerunner of the "Serbske Nowiny" still published today.
|Erstes sorbisches Gesangsfest in der Lausitz unter der Leitung von Korla Awgust Kocor;
Auftakt der sorbischen bürgerlichen Musikkultur.
|Gründung der wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft "Maćica Serbska".
|Entstehung sorbischer Bauernvereine in der Oberlausitz; Forderung nach sozialen und nationalen Rechten ("Sorbische Bauernpetition"), nach Gleichberechtigung der sorbischen Sprache und Kultur in der Schule, Kirche und vor Gericht ("Große Petition der Sorben").
|Erste große Auswanderungswelle von Sorben nach Texas und Australien; Gründung sorbischer Siedlungen.
|Her education of the "Young Sorbian Movement" under the leadership of Arnošt Muka and Jakub Bart-Ćišinski; forced appearance against national oppression in the German Empire and for stronger development of Sorbian culture.
|National epic "Nawoženja" (The Bridegroom) by Jakub Bart-Ćišinski; high point of classical Sorbian poetry in the 19th century.
|Foundation of the Domowina as an umbrella organisation of 31 Sorbian associations.
|Ban of the Domowina and any Sorbian cultural life; expulsion of Sorbian teachers and pastors from Lusatia.
|New foundation of the Domowina.
|"Law on the Protection of the Rights of the Sorbian Population" in Saxony.
|Government decree on the "promotion of the Sorbian ethnic group" in Brandenburg.
|Foundation of numerous Sorbian state institutions to promote national-cultural life.
|Regulation of Sorbian school education leads to drastic decline in participants in Sorbian language classes.
|I. Festival of Sorbian Culture, which was followed by six more until 1989.
|The Sorbian National Assembly calls for national dialogue and demands a fundamental turnaround from Domowina; revival of Sorbian associationism.
|Constitutions of the states of Saxony and Brandenburg guarantee the Sorbs their rights.
|Brandenburg parliament passes the "Law on the Formation of the Rights of the Sorbs (Wends) in the State of Brandenburg", the "Sorben(Wenden)-Gesetz"; the Bundestag rejects codification of binding rights and guarantees for Sorbs and other minorities.
|Saxon Parliament passes the "Law on the Rights of the Sorbs in the Free State of Saxony", the "Saxon Sorbs Law"; Foundation for the Sorbian People becomes independent.
Source: Peter Kunze, "Short history of the sorbs", 2001