OPINION: Montenegrin Wikipedia (Incubator:Wp/cnr) – to be or not to be? *(text from CEE newsletter)

My OPINION piece:
Montenegrin Wikipedia (Incubator:Wp/cnr) – to be or not to be?
from now revived CEE newsletter

After the breakup of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, the language most commonly known as Serbo-Croatian (now discussed mostly as BCMS pluricentric language, spectrum or continuum), a language of 20+ million speakers, started to disappear (at least under that name) as a standard language in the former federative republics, now independent countries. For the last 30 years, the young populations of Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and finally Montenegro nowadays call their official standard languages Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian and Montenegrin language, mostly without thinking about it, while for those who lived in 80s shared Yugoslavia experience, there is an afterthought.

The originating language shared among all these language standards was actually created based on a dialect of South Slavic languages that is used far away from both Belgrade (Serbia) and Zagreb (Croatia), which are now polarising standardisation axis ends. It was created from the štokavian dialect spoken along border of Herzegovina to Montenegro, mostly as an emancipation coordination act of that highly rural and fragmented region, supported by than still strong Dubrovnik Republic city-state with interest in emancipating South Slavs also against then powerful Venice. Standardisation was later (Vienna Literary Agreement).

Wikimedia currently hosts 4 separate Wikipedia language instances as equal: HR/Croatian, SR/Serbian and BS/Bosnian - and also a SH/Serbo-Croatian language instance of Wikipedia, the latter was actually the first one among ex.Yugoslav Wikipedias (before splintering off BS and others following, with their copies of base articles)…as well as much younger, smaller (but not too small) Montenegrin, albeit in Wikimedia Incubator, a wiki that hosts language test projects before they spin-off into own wiki instances.

Since 2006 the Montenegrin language is the official language of Montenegro, smallest of countries that split from original SFR Yugoslavia, and it has its own language code: cnr (SIL, Glottolog), ISO 639-1 or 639-3. Montenegrin language is the only official language deriving from the Serbo-Croatian spectrum which does not yet exist as a separate Wikipedia.

Since 2017 Montenegrin Wikipedia has a status of incubator project and since (at least) 2022 this incubator project was partially disabled without discussion and communication with the Montenegrin community, including its test-admin. This disabling means that new users can not create new pages to be added, though existing pages can be edited.

The future of the Montenegrin language incubator is formally in the hands of Wikimedia Language Committee (LangCom) whose members are to decide if the whole Montenegrin Wikipedia incubation should be declared as eligible (or not) now for the 5th time. Unfortunately they have little capacity *(all volunteer positions) and overview *(no proper research of context aside from formal checks is really done).

The Meta discussion on this topic can be followed here. The most important point that LangCom makes on this page, and which shows the direction towards which they are leaning when making this important decision, is the following: ‘Montenegrin is little more than Ijekavian Serbian dialect with two additional sounds and letters’ (mind you unlike any other of mentioned languages), so for them it does not seem that Montenegrin Wikipedia would be different from Serbian in any ‘meaningful’ way.

If the current project creation rules had been in place before, the Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian Wikipedias would not have been created as projects separate from the original Serbo-Croatian Wikipedia, for at least the reasons above. Because those Wikipedias already existed when the current project creation rules were adopted, they are from the point of view of LangCom allowed as “grandfathered”. But they do not want to create new projects violating the new policy. The first, second and third requests for a Montenegrin Wikipedia were all rejected for this very same reason. The ISO code has also been mentioned as a reason, especially in the fourth request, but it’s hardly been the only reason for rejection. Approval of an ISO code does not really change this fact. An ISO code is necessary in order for a project to be approved in Incubator, but just having an ISO code does not automatically give you the right to a Wikipedia project.

Therefore some of the LangCom members ‘feel’ ‘that the Montenegrin community should be able to contribute to, and participate in, the community of the Serbian Wikipedia, the Serbo-Croatian Wikipedia, or both. It should not need a separate project.’

On one hand it might be adequate according to current LangCom regulations to block the Montenegrin Wikipedia project…on the other hand is it in line with Wikimedia rules to support at the same time Serbo-Croatian, Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian Wikipedias although according to LangCom all these should not even exist at the same time? According to some of the LangCom members these three would not have been created as projects separate from the original Serbo-Croatian Wikipedia if current rules apply (to all retroactively).

This decision might be (according to current rules) fully formally lingual or not, but shouldn’t WMF and LangCom be considering diverse perspectives and local/regional context when deciding on such sensitive issues? Should they not consider past decisions *(recognizing separate languages and sustaining Serbo-Croatian) and tentative repercussions for the future? This is the future where equity should be central, when most of the small Wikipedias will likely use Abstract Wikipedia/WikiFunctions or other systems that would create much of base articles, while local and unique content will be the most precious.

Montenegrin has been a separate language standard for 18 years now (with valid ISO code) that also has two additional letters (compared to others). Meanwhile Montenegro periodically experiences ongoing war-like tensions with Serbia, so both linguistically, culturally and socially there is a need for a separate Wikipedia project, rather than assume collaboration and commitment.

Having a Wikipedia has long been not only a thing of just language distinction but also a matter of social and cultural distinction. Wikipedia is nowadays even used to emancipate, empower and elucidate preservation of (sub) cultures (often minority speaking populations, languages close to extinction, or even artificial languages). Since the local language is not supported with Wikipedia in Montenegrin, the content gap *(especially if you consult Wikidata) is just rapidly increasing instead of shrinking when compared with all other regional languages, and especially with Serbian, which is the fastest growing and for 15 years the only well-resourced language of C-B-M-S spectrum with two distinct affiliates (all others have none). Mind you SR Wikipedia is by now about 2 times bigger than SH, 3 times than HR and 7 times than BS, but that only concerns article pages, not depth, no Commons, no Wikidata, where the gap is even greater.

The reality of hosting Montenegrin Wikipedia in the Incubator (in terms of resources) does not cost WMF anything extra (no need to fake scarcity) and requires no action (no extra for sure). Blocking it however will render a full state and one language standard unwelcome (including its institutions and a half a million people), rendering for example Outreach work in GLAM and Education there impossible…while providing even more indirect support to those who are against it for different types of arguments (often mutually exclusive radically left, right or liberal in political/cultural/economic rationalities)…

Blocking or marking Montenegrin Wikipedia Incubator project as not eligible is also neither urgent nor useful and it will for sure become a public matter at least for Montenegrins that will waste more energy and create more frustration/conflicts…so why not just…let it be?!.

Z. Blace (User:Zblace) is Wikimedian engaged in topics of content, participation and method gaps, member of several user groups and initiatives, currently working on Incubating HBS Wikivoyage as an effort to diversify collaborations and contributions strategies and options.

我覺得以目前見到的線上討論氛圍以及相關討論提出的次數,可能需要藉由正式的組織(無論是基金會、Hub 或地方分會)進行較詳盡的意見調查、及安排後續的社群規劃,才能有效地處理這個問題。當然,這可能需要語言委員會成員願意放下陳見協助調查,所以在調查前需要做事前的溝通。


我不知道 CEE 的實體活動/線上活動會不是一個開啟這段對話和調查的好場合,但或許可以從這邊試試看。我們華人有一句話叫「見面三分情」,意思指人們見面後就不會爭論得過於激烈,而能坐下來好好溝通事情了。

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I agree. There is much more to do and think than just block due to subjective interpretation of formal standard or not…or just let it be. Sometimes not doing anything specific (but just acknowledging the situation) is the best thing that can be done.