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Criticism as Slavic studies MA course scrapped in Klagenfurt

Klagenfurt/Ljubljana, 19 July - Members of the Slovenian minority in the Austrian state of Carinthia have expressed strong criticism of the decision of the Klagenfurt University to abolish the MA course of Slavic studies, arguing it would cause major damage. Concern has also been expressed by President Borut Pahor and the Government Office for Slovenians Abroad.

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

Long-serving minority official Rudi Vouk of the Slovenian Consensus for Constitutional Rights (SKUP) spoke to the STA on Tuesday of a significant blow to the minority on a symbolic level and "of an indifference of the competent authorities" of Carinthia that posed a danger of further developments that would harm the minority.

"It starts with the university, there is not enough interest, we cancel the studies", then all the other levels can follow, along with all of the bilingualism in schools, since the Slovenian minority is getting smaller and smaller, Vouk warned.

He argued the scrapping of the Slavic studies MA course at Alpen-Adria Universität Klagenfurt was coming at a time when even the German-speaking public was acknowledging that the minority needed the possibility for comprehensive studies in the Slovenian language at all levels. He feels it could lead to less interest in the undergraduate course, which has been preserved.

A critical reaction also came from Austrian MP Olga Voglauer (Greens), who labelled the decision "an unprecedented insult and diametrically opposed to the principle of protecting the national community".

"Everyone is sticking their heads in the sand again, without thinking about the consequences for the Slovenian language in (Austrian) Carinthia, which is already severely marginalised," the minority member wrote in a press release, adding "the symbolism is in any case disastrous, and the effects, if the decision is not reversed, will be quite catastrophic".

The Klagenfurt University told the STA that the decision was a result of enrolment in the course having gradually declined to almost zero. Those already enrolled will be able to finish and the undergraduate programme will continue, it added.

"Apparently, no one was interested in the MA course - not even within the Slovenian community. Before the decision was taken, intensive talks were held with the Austrian Ministry of Education, Science and Research and also with representatives of the minority, but the issue of the lack of students could not be resolved," the university moreover said.

It highlighted the new Cross-border studies MA course, focused on Slavic languages and cultures, which it argues will secure better employment opportunities.

However, both Vouk and Voglaur asserted the decision had been taken without consultations with the minority and without a political debate.

Vouk acknowledged that the problem is "that there are fewer and fewer of us" but he added the university should make an effort to make the Slavic studies more attractive. He argued the decision was particularly painful because this very university had been among the main defenders of the minority's rights in the past.

Meanwhile, the Government Office for Slovenians abroad responded by calling for the long-term strengthening of the Slovenian language at the university and by arguing that securing stable and quality studies of the Slovenian language was one of the ways of looking after the endangered minority.

While speaking of the need to secure education in the Slovenian language "from the nursery to the university", the office also noted the need for enough quality bilingual staff that will be up to the challenges and needs of bilingual education in Carinthia.

It said that this applied not only for the Klagenfurt University but also for the University of Graz and the Vienna University.

Concern over the situation was also expressed by Slovenian President Borut Pahor during his visit of Carinthia on Monday. Pahor hopes a solution will be found soon to re-introduce the course.

Earlier this month, strong protest was moreover voiced by the National Council of Carinthian Slovenians (NSKS), which said the move violated Article 8 of Austrian federal constitution, which prohibits deterioration of the situation of the Slovenian community.

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© STA, 2022