Croatian linguist, politician, journalist and writer, Gaj was one of
the central figures of the Croatian national revival, also known as
the pan-Slavist Illyrian Movement, that strove to defend Croatian
interests by calling for the unification of all the South Slavs and
facilitated through the adoption of a single literary language.
Though the Illyrianists failed to win over the other South Slavs,
they did succeed in integrating the linguistically and
administratively divided Croats within one national movement.
Ljudevit Gaj (1809-1872) was
born in the small Croatian village of Krapina, Croatia, which was
then in Varaždin County in the Austrian Empire. His family was of
German-Slovak descent and lived for several generations in that
territory in the Austrian Empire. His original birth name was Ludwig
Gay which he used exclusively in his youth.
He started publishing very early; his 36-page booklet on stately
manors in his native district, written in his native German,
appeared already in 1826 as
Die Schlösser bei Krapina. In 1830 Gaj published his Latin
alphabet in Buda, "Brief Basics of the Croatian-Slavonic
Orthography", which was the first common Croatian orthography book
(after the works of Ignjat Đurđević and Pavao Ritter Vitezović). The
book was printed bilingually, in Croatian and German. The Croatians
used the Latin alphabet, but some of the specific sounds were not
uniformly represented. Gaj followed the example of Pavao Ritter
Vitezović and the Czech orthography, using one letter of the Latin
script for each sound in the language. He used diacritics and the
digraphs lj and nj. The book helped Gaj achieve
Among his non-journalistic writers, in 1833 Gaj wrote the most
popular poem of that time, "Još Horvatska ni propala" ("Croatia is
not in ruin yet" or "Croatia has not yet Fallen"). It is a famous
Croatian patriotic reveille which was set to music by the composer
Ferdo Livadić. The song is considered the anthem of the Illyrian
Movement, which constituted a great part of the Croatian national
Gaj's story of how the song came about was related in Franjo
Kuhač's work Illyrian Songwriters (Ilirski glazbenici).
Travelling to Samobor to visit Livadić, Gaj thought to himself,
"Croatia has not yet fallen so long as we [revivalists] are alive".
At the same time he heard the sound of villagers singing in church.
When he arrived at Livadić's house, he already had the words and
melody ready. That night they penned several other verses, of which
three became the best known and were treated as the unofficial
anthem of the Illyrian Movement. [Full
The song was first performed publicly on February 4, 1835 in a
Još Hrvatska ni propala dok mi
visoko se bude stala kad ju zbudimo.
Ak je dugo tvrdo spala, jača hoće bit,
ak je sada u snu mala, će se prostranit.
Hura! nek se ori i hrvatski govori!
Ni li skoro skrajnje vrijeme da
ter da stransko teško breme iz nas bacimo?
Stari smo i mi Hrvati, nismo zabili
da smo vaši pravi brati, zlo prebavili.
Hura! nek se ori i hrvatski
Oj, Hrvati braćo mila, čujte našu
razdružit nas neće sila baš nikakva već!
Nas je nekad jedna majka draga rodila,
hrvatskim nas, Bog joj plati, mlijekom dojila.
Hura! nek se ori i hrvatski
Croatia is not doomed as
long as we live,
it will rise high when we revive it.
If it's slept this hard and long, it will grow
if it's so small in its sleep, it will expand.
'Hurrah!' let it resound, spoken in
Isn't it high time to raise (the
and throw away the heavy foreign burden?
Us Croats, we are old too, we did not forget
that we are your true brethren, regardless of the
'Hurrah!' let it
resound, spoken in Croatian!
Oh, Croats, dear brothers, hear us
when we say,
there is no force that will separate us now!
One dear mother gave birth to us once,
breastfed us Croatian milk, thank God for that.
'Hurrah!' let it resound, spoken in
Fascinated from an early age by the idea of a single southern
Slavonic race, Gaj became the champion and founder of what was to be
called the Illyrian movement, believing that the south Slavs were
the immediate descendants of the ancient Illyr nation. After
creating the Illyrian Club at the University of Graz, Ljudevit Gaj
established the first Croatian newspaper in 1834, the "Croatian,
Slovenian, and Dalmatian Newspaper". He thus succeeded where fifteen
years before Đuro Matija Šporer had failed - that is, in obtaining
an agreement from the royal government of the Habsburg Monarchy to
publish a Croatian daily newspaper. Thereafter, he was known as an
intellectual leader and quickly distinguished himself by becoming
the foremost authority on the Serbo-Croatian language at the
University of Graz.
On January 6, 1835, Novine Horvatske ("The Croatian News")
appeared, and on January 10, it got the literary addition Danica
Horvatska, Slavonska i Dalmatinska ("The Croatian, Slavonian,
and Dalmatian Daystar"). It was a big progress in realizing the idea
of marking Croatian literature as being unique. The "Novine
Horvatske" were printed in the Kajkavian dialect until the end of
that year, while "Danica" was printed in both the Shtokavian and
In early 1836 the publications' names were changed to Ilirske
narodne novine ("The Illyrian People's News") and Danica
ilirska ("The Illyrian Morning Star"), respectively. This was
because the historians at the time hypothesized that Illyrians had
been Slavic and were the direct forefathers of the present-day South
Slavs [a.k.a. Yugo-slavs].
Renamed "The National Illyrian Newspaper" in 1836 and
combined with two literary journals he founded, Gaj set about
standardizing a Serbo-Croatian literary language. Choosing the
Stokav dialect, one of the three most important dialects of the
language spoken by Serbs and Croatians, he sought in an
all-encompassing drive to unify the southern Slavic peoples. A
gifted agitator with great personal magnetism and initially a
liberal (only later becoming a conservative supporter of the
Habsburg dynasty), Gaj's efforts were very successful within the
Croatian intellectual community, leading to the preeminence of the
Illyrian Movement as a cultural force during the years prior to
In 1848, Gaj was part of the early provisional nationalist
triumverate of Croatia. One of the leaders of the newly created
National Assembly, he helped to write their "National Demands". A
close advisor of Jellacic, he headed the political section of the
Ban's Council. Still, Gaj differed with Jellacic over relations with
Serbia. Gaj wanted to create a southern Slavic kingdom with Serbia
at the center, a plan he had been cultivating since 1842. Most of
his time spent on the council was directed toward this end.
Gaj's political career ended abruptly on June 7, 1848 after the
"Miloš affair" became public.
Gaj had arrested the Serbian Prince Miloš Obrenović (1780-1860), a
Serbian peasant revolutionary who became prince of Serbia (1815–39
and 1858–60), as a matter of foreign policy talks with Serbia. Miloš
accused Gaj of attempting to extort money (current rumors were of an
amount of around 7000 forints). Even though the accusations were
never confirmed, the scandal ended Ljudevit Gaj's career in
(edited as noted)
- Juraj Krnjevic. "The Croats in 1848" Slavonic and East
European Review December, 1948. 106-114.
- Stephen Gazi. A History of Croatia New York:
Philosophical Library, 1973.
- Francis H. Eterovich. Croatia; Land, People, Culture
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1970.
- Elinor Despalatovic. Ljudevit Gaj and the Illyrian
Movement New York: Columbia University Press, 1975.
- Barbara Jelavich. History of The Balkans
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
- Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions -