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Serbian signs of the times are not in Cyrillic

A symptom of Westernization: Serbs read and write as well with the Latin alphabet.

Alphabet blizzard: Latin letters are increasingly replacing Serbian Cyrllic in newspapers, signs, and even bestselling books.

Nicole Itano

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In the years since this city emerged, battered and bombed, from the nightmare of Slobodan Milosevic's rule, Western capitalism has remade this city's graceful streets. Billboards hawk McDonald's and Coca-Cola, and young Serbs window shop for Diesel, Nike, and other Western brands.

But the most visible symbol of Western encroachment may be the signs themselves: Everywhere, the Latin alphabet is edging out Serbian Cyrillic, the alphabet that once distinguished Serbs from their Croatian neighbors.

Around the globe, English-dominated culture threatens to subsume many small cultures and languages, but the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet is particularly endangered because there's a perfectly acceptable form of the written language, Serbo-Croatian, that uses the Latin alphabet. It's just not, well, historically Serbian.

Before World War II, Serbian Cyrillic – a 19th-century adaptation of the Russian alphabet – was dominant, and the Latin alphabet was rarely used here. But under Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavia, which tried to forge a common identity among the its many peoples, the two scripts had equal status. In the 1990s, some of Serbia's nationalist politicians tried to assert the primacy of Cyrillic, but the wave of Western cultural influence that has washed in since Milosevic's 2000 fall has largely swept away those efforts.

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The Latin alphabet rules the streets of Belgrade today – with the exception of official documents and the fraying campaign posters that are almost all in Cyrillic, the vast majority of newspapers, magazines, billboards, and menus are written in Latin characters.


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