Carinthian Slovenians criticise Austrian report on minority protection

Klagenfurt, 5 August - The National Council of Carinthian Slovenians (NSKS) is very critical in its response to Austria's report to the Council of Europe (CoE) on the protection of national minorities. The report suggests that everything is fine with minorities in Austria, which is not the case, says lawyer Rudi Vouk, the author of the NSKS response.

Klagenfurt, Austria
Klagenfurt, the capital of Austria's Carinthia, the region where the majority of Slovenians in Austria live.
Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA
File photo

Klagenfurt, Austria.
Headquarters of the National Council of Carinthian Slovenians (NSKS)
Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA
File photo

The NSKS is very unhappy with the 254-page report that Austria has submitted to Strasbourg to outline the implementation of the CoE Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

CoE countries usually submit such reports every five years and the CoE, or more specifically its Committee of Ministers, then usually adopts some recommendations.

In a 47-page response, Vouk, the president of the Association of Slovenian Lawyers in Carinthia, notes that in its last review of the situation in Austria in 2017, the CoE made a number of very concrete recommendations on the use of minority languages, topography and minority representation.

"Austria has not implemented or even started to address any of them, which is a terrible state of affairs, and they are acting as if these recommendations did not even exist, or at least not presenting the factual situation in a correct way," the Klagenfurt-based lawyer told the STA.

As an example, he pointed to the CoE's recommendation that Austria create an effective way for minority languages and bilingual topographical signs to be used, noting that the report from Vienna said that Austria is a state governed by the rule of law and that everyone has the right to complain to the courts.

"But this is only partly true," Vouk said, adding that members of minorities had no effective means of appeal, as they simply cannot succeed due to the constitutional status of minority rights.

"They have taken away our right to use Slovenian as an official language in front of certain institutions, for example the court in Klagenfurt," said Vouk, explaining that under the current regime, Slovenian is not allowed in certain offices, even though it should be in line with the Austrian State Treaty (ADP). The same applies to bilingual signs.

"Of course, you can theoretically complain that a bilingual sign is missing, but you won't be successful," said the lawyer. "We don't really have the possibility to appeal, and the Austrian report says nothing about that."

Nor does the Austrian report even mention Article 7 of the ADP, which is the central provision for minority protection for Slovenians in Austria. "They act as if this provision no longer existed," Vouk said, adding that Slovenia should pay more attention to this issue.

Vouk is also critical of the fact that the Austrian report does not say anything about the development of support for minorities.

The report does indicate what support is being given and what the arrangements are in individual areas, but Vouk believes it glosses over the fact that there is no discussion on where changes should be made, for example in the area of education, where reforms are necessary.

"They act as if everything is fine, when in fact there is a long list of outstanding issues on which there is no dialogue, no discussion," said Vouk.

He is also critical of the implementation of the CoE's recommendation that Austria should establish an effective minority representation system.

"Literally nothing is happening in this area. I would actually say that it is getting worse, because the only thing we have is a sort of nationalised minority policy."

"The government appoints some representatives to the councils, the ones that suit them best, there is no transparency, there are no elections, there is no democratic legitimacy. There is no public debate about minority politics," said Vouk.

He also criticised the fact that the Austrian federal authorities had given the minority representatives only four weeks to respond to the report, in the middle of the summer, and that this response was supposed to be only five pages long and already coordinated among minority organisations.

"This is ridiculous. You cannot have serious dialogue like that," commented Vouk. He said the situation was similar at the regional level in Carinthia, citing a lack of will to deal with minority issues.

© STA, 2021