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Slovenian minorities in Austria, Italy expect dialogue, support from new govt

Ljubljana/Klagenfurt/Trieste, 23 March - Leaders of Slovenian autochthonous minorities in Austria and Italy expect the new Slovenian government, which will be formed after the April election, to keep engaging in dialogue with them, provide support to resolve open issues, and remain as active on the minority front as Minister Helena Jaklitsch has been over the past two years.

Manuel Jug, the president of the Association of Slovenian Organisations (ZSO) in Austria's Carinthia, said that regardless of which parties make up the new government, the Slovenian minority wanted the government to continue to support it and engage in constructive dialogue.

He expects that the Government Office for Slovenians Abroad remains an independent government office and that the minister without portfolio for Slovenians abroad, who heads the office, keeps engaging in constructive talks with all representatives of the autochthonous ethnic communities.

The government has had an extremely active minister for Slovenians abroad over the past two years, and Valentin Inzko of the National Council of Carinthian Slovenians (NSKS) would like to see this continue under the new government.

Inzko noted that Austria had not yet met all the legal obligations from the Austrian State Treaty (AST) and the 2011 memorandum on bilingual town signs in Carinthia.

He said that in the current situation, the minority was not in favour of Slovenia's trying to notify the AST, a 1955 document co-signed by Yugoslavia, from which Slovenia declared independence in 1991. Jug said there was no need for it.

A representative of the minority in Styria, Susanne Weitlaner from the Article 7 Cultural Association for Austrian Styria, believes that care for the Slovenian language is what is needed most, which can be supported "in various fields, from exchanges in culture, education and business to ties and cooperation".

Ethnic Slovenian Olga Voglauer, an MP for the Austrian Greens in the Austrian parliament, stressed that "the bilingual area in Austria's Carinthia is part of a common Slovenian cultural area. To recognise this as potential and added value of this region was key. In the future, it will be important to also actively develop the common area in education and labour."

Voglauer said it was important for the Slovenian government to provide the minority support regarding changes to the Austrian law on ethnic communities and regarding the minority's efforts to strengthen Slovenian education in Carinthia and Styria.

The minority in Italy sees care for the Slovenian language and economic development of the area populated by the minority as key fields in which the new government should be active. The minority would also like to be better included in bilateral relations between Slovenia and Italy.

Ksenija Dobrila from the Slovenian Cultural and Economic Association (SKGZ) believes the government should prioritise promoting the Slovenian language and "acquiring" new Slovenian language speakers through certified Slovenian language centres.

She would also like to see more incentives provided to enhance the minority's business initiative. The government should also keep an eye on the protection of the status of Slovenian schools in Italy amid plans for education decentralisation, she said.

Walter Bandelj from the Council of Slovenian Organisations (SSO) would like Slovenian minorities to have their own representative in the Slovenian parliament and the minority in Italy its representative in the Italian parliament.

He believes that Slovenia should consistently highlight its own arrangement of representation for minorities - the Italian and Hungarian autochthonous minorities have each their own guaranteed MP in the Slovenian parliament.

He pointed to the need to further enhance what are already close ties between Slovenia and the minority and include the minority into Slovenia-Italy relations to a greater degree. Bandelj also praised the work done by Minister Jaklitsch.

He believes that the Slovenian and Italian presidents, Borut Pahor and Sergio Mattarella, showed the direction in which Slovenia-Italy relations should go when they visited the two monuments important for the countries and paid respects to the victims of fascism and communism, respectively.

"The Italian and Slovenian sides must be developing high-level dialogue which should be future-oriented," Bandelj told the STA.

Senator Tatjana Rojc said: "We expect the state to stand by our side, to be interested in all of our open issues, and that we can rely on it." She hopes that the new government will manage to "reduce the minority's feeling of being far away from the homeland".

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© STA, 2022