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THE SLOVENE ETHNIC MINORITY IN THE REPUBLIC OF AUSTRIA

June, 1999

 

According to estimates, there are between forty and sixty thousand members of the Slovene ethnic minority in the Republic of Austria; most are living in the federal province (Land) of Carinthia, and a smaller part in the federal province of Styria. This territory was annexed to Austria after the First World War, when a plebiscite was carried out in 1920 in Carinthia under the auspices of international forces, at which the majority - including Slovene votes - opted for the Republic of Austria.

 

One of the main reasons for this was the Austrian propaganda which advertised Austria as a democratic republic and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes as a backward and undemocratic Balkan monarchy. On the basis of the Treaty of Saint-Germain, Austria was supposed to guarantee suitable minority protection for Slovenes, but this was effected only to a small extent, mainly because of the pressure exerted by German nationalist organisations, which often enjoyed the support of the Austrian authorities. Following the Anschluss in 1938, pressure on the Slovene ethnic minority increased. In 1941, the Nazis banned all Slovene ethnic minority organisations and formulated a comprehensive plan according to which Carinthian Slovenes would have to be removed from Carinthia, an action which would finally solve the Slovene question in Carinthia. In 1942, approximately one thousand Carinthian Slovenes were expelled to the internal parts of the Reich, which strengthened their resistance against Nazism. During the Second World War the Carinthian Slovene partisans were the sole organised form of armed resistance in the territory of the German Reich, actively cooperating with the Allies.

 

After the Second World War the Slovene ethnic minority began to support annexation to Yugoslavia, for which Yugoslavia itself strove during diplomatic negotiations. However, following Yugoslavia's dispute with the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union withdrew its support of Yugoslav demands, resulting in the signing of the Austrian State Treaty (AST) which restored the pre-1938 borders. The AST, the fundamental international legal document to which the Slovene ethnic minority has referred in relation to minority rights, guaranteed the protection of the Slovene and Croatian ethnic minorities in Austria. Article 7 of the AST provides the Slovenes with minority rights in the areas of organisation, education and administration while prohibiting all activities hostile to minorities. After 1955, the nationalist pressure on the Slovenes continued, which in turn resulted in accelerated assimilation. Despite Austria's guarantees and the fact that the status of the Slovene ethnic minority has somewhat improved over the last decade, to date full compliance with Article 7 of the AST has not yet been entirely achieved. For example, Styria province policy does not recognise the existence of the Slovene minority in this region.

 

After the Second World War, the Slovene ethnic minority in Carinthia, supported by the country of origin (previously Yugoslavia and today Slovenia), has developed a wide and diverse range of activities. It operates within two central organisations: the conservative Narodni svet koroških Slovencev (National Council of Carinthian Slovenes) and the left/liberal Zveza slovenskih organizacij na Koroškem (Union of Slovene Organisations in Carinthia). There are also a number of cultural, educational, sports, and other associations. The Slovene ethnic minority runs three publishing houses, diversified bank/loan activity, two scientific institutes, two weekly magazines, a number of newspapers and, since last year, also a private radio station. In terms of party affiliation, part of the Slovene ethnic minority belong to their own political party, Enotna lista (Unified List), while individuals are also active in Austrian political parties. Officially Slovenes in Styria have no minority rights, but they do have their own cultural organisation, which is not, however, publicly recognised by the province.

 

Slovene ethnic minority organisations have wide-ranging contacts with Slovenia, which in turn provides them with suitable financial support in accordance with its constitutional obligations.

 

In addition to constant assimilation, one of the fundamental problems of the Carinthian Slovenes is reflected in deficient minority legislation, which territorially and in terms of content is rather restrictive. Apart from that, as the result of various types of pressure, the authorities have difficulty implementing the existing legislation. This is the reason why recently the most pressing problem has been the provision of bilingual pre-school education.

 

 

Boris Jesih