Ten years since agreement on bilingual signposts marked in Klagenfurt
Klagenfurt, 9 July - The 10th anniversary of the compromise on bilingual city limit signs in the Austrian region of Carinthia was marked on Thursday. Political representatives and some of the initiators of the agreement gathered in Carinthia's capital Klagenfurt, highlighting the importance of bilingualism in their speeches.
In a speech that he opened in both German and Slovenian, Austrian president Alexander Van der Bellen said that "not accepting bilingualism is like rejecting a gift", reported the Austrian news agency APA.
He said that he had never understood how it could be a problem if someone grew up bilingual. "It's something wonderful," he added.
Governor of Carinthia Peter Kaiser spoke of a Carinthia united in diversity, saying that this was already present "when two languages, two cultures and groups of people bring to the fore what unites them".
According to Kaiser, Austrian Carinthia has developed over the last ten years in such a way that it is now aware of its role "at the heart of Europe and at the crossroads of many cultures".
He added that positive steps had been taken on a path towards mutual recognition and respect, and expressed the wish that the German-speaking community in Slovenia would also be part of this path.
Former Austrian State Secretary Josef Ostermayer pointed out at the ceremony that he had been to Austrian Carinthia 24 times during the negotiations, "from one municipality to another, from one organisation of (Carinthian) Slovenes to another".
Ostermayer added that the former regional governor Dörfler had repeatedly stressed that he wanted a solution, and that his goal was "peace, coexistence and understanding".
The presidents of Slovenian minority organisations also spoke at yesterday's ceremony. Bernard Sadovnik, president of the Community of Carinthian Slovenians (SKS), stressed the importance of language as part of a person's identity.
Valentin Inzko, president of the National Council of Carinthian Slovenians (NSKS), said that there had been a great effort for consensus in recent years, but warned that "the national community is not only about consensus (...) justice is also important".
Manuel Jug, president of the Association of Slovenian Organisations (ZSO), said that coexistence was a task. "Everyone has a responsibility to pass on the consensus to the next generation," he said.
On 26 April 2011, the Austrian government, the state government of Carinthia and the representatives of the Slovenian minority reached an agreement in Klagenfurt on the installation of bilingual signposts in 164 places in Carinthia.
The Austrian parliament approved the agreement on 6 July of the same year. On the 10th anniversary of the signing of the agreement, many representatives of the Slovenian minority told the STA that the agreement had helped to improve the atmosphere in the region, but warned that much remained to be done.
The Memorandum that accompanied the compromise agreement, which promised the adoption of a new law on ethnic communities, systemic funding for the Slovenian Music School and regulation of funding for private bilingual kindergartens, has only been partially implemented.