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Ljudevit Gaj

Dr. Ljudevit Gaj (1809 - 1872) Born without noble blood in a small Croatian village, Ljudevit Gaj quickly distinguished himself by becoming the foremost authority on the Serbo-Croatian language at the University of Graz. 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 thae 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". 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 1848.

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 Milos affair became public. Gaj arrested the Serbian Prince Milos Obrenovic as a matter of foreign policy talks with Serbia. Milos accused Gaj of attempting to extort money (current rumors were of an amount of around 7000 forints). Even though the accusations never confirmed, the scandal ended Ljudevit Gaj's career in politics.
Brian Smith


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.

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