Pahor, Van der Bellen agree Austria should do more for Slovenian minority rights
Ljubljana, 9 December - Slovenian and Austrian presidents Borut Pahor and Alexander Van der Bellen held talks in Ljubljana on Friday, stressing the excellent relations between the two countries and their personal friendship. They agreed Austria should do more to implement the rights of the Slovenian minority in Carinthia.
"I think it is right to demand more. It is right to expect that the obligations from international treaties and bilateral agreements are fully implemented," Pahor stressed.
Noting that the minority rights are guaranteed by the 1955 Austrian State Treaty, he said Austria was obligated to implement them.
Pahor said he had told Van der Bellen that his apology to the Slovenians in Carinthia on the 100th anniversary of the plebiscite in Klagenfurt was an extraordinary symbolic move. "After that there has been some disappointment and bitterness among Slovenians in Carinthia as well as in Slovenia that the process of implementing their rights was not going as fast as we would have wanted."
Van der Bellen admitted that the treatment of the Slovenian minority in Austria was all but exemplary. He said that decades had had to pass before the situation stabilised somewhat.
He is convinced that minorities everywhere deserve all incentives and encouragements possible to learn their mother language. This is in everybody's interest, he said.
He also reiterated that Austria was striving for official recognition of the German-speaking community in Slovenia as a part of the Slovenian society. "It would be gratifying if it were treated the same way as the Italian and Hungarian minorities," he said.
"This is a request to study this issue and determine what could be done," he added.
Pahor replied that the rights of the German-speaking community were regulated by a bilateral contract called the Cultural Agreement from the end of the 1990s. The Slovenian government is obligated to make sure the community fully develops its language and other elements of identity.
Since then, the funds for the community have doubled, Pahor said, adding he had held several meetings with its representatives. However, the National Assembly does not consider changing its status to a minority, he said.
The pair will also host representatives of the German-speaking community for talks later today.
Turning to economic relations, the presidents labelled them as very good. "We are proud that Austria is the third or fourth most important Slovenian trade partner and the leader in direct investment," said Van der Bellen, noting that Austrian companies employ about 20,000 people in Slovenia and about 26,000 daily migrants come to work to Austria from Slovenia.
The two presidents also called for Bosnia and Herzegovina to be granted an EU candidate status this month. "That way we would break the vicious circle that has led Bosnia nowhere with the EU in the last 15 years," Pahor said.
He was also critical of the EU in relation to the enlargement to the Western Balkans, saying it did not see the region as a whole but as individual countries, which increased conflicts among people and encouraged pointless competition among countries as to who has better conditions for progress.
"If the EU changes this position and sees the Western Balkans as a whole there is chance that the countries will help each other rather than prevent their joint European prospects," he stressed.
"The European prospects for all six countries of the Western Balkans are more important now than ever," said Van der Bellen.
The two presidents also expressed regret that Austria did not support the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen Area yesterday. Pahor said Slovenia too considered opposing the enlargement but had made a wise decision not to block Croatia's entry even though the country has not implemented the border arbitration award.
Among the topics discussed today were also the war in Ukraine and climate change. According to Pahor, they agreed that a peaceful settlement of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict would be good for peace and stability but "we do not have the moral and political right to enforce peace at all cost to the Ukrainian people and leadership".
Van der Bellen said he was happy to see Europe and the US united in their support for Ukraine.
The visit by Van der Bellen is the last official visit by a foreign statesman hosted by Pahor. He arrived in the country yesterday for an informal friendly dinner with Pahor at Strmol Castle.
The presidents exchanged the highest state decorations for their contributions to the strengthening of bilateral relations and ties between Slovenia and Austria in the EU spirit. Van der Bellen received the Order for Exceptional Merits and Pahor the Grand Star of the Decoration for Services to Austria.
The Austrian president also discussed minority issues with parliamentary Speaker Urška Klakočar Zupančič. She stressed that Slovenia very much appreciated the steps Austria had made to implement the minority rights and would like this process to be stepped up.
Van der Bellen pointed out that the relations with Slovenia were of special importance to him, especially the relations with representatives of the Slovenian minority, as he knows many personally.
He said he was glad that Austria increased funding for minorities but admitted that some issues regarding the Slovenian minority remain open.
Van der Bellen and Klakočar Zupančič agree there need to be constant efforts to improve human rights and that existing rights must not be taken for granted. Crises that unfortunately no generation can avoid demonstrate this clearly.
Klakočar Zupančič thanked the Austrian president for his active role in strengthening the Slovenian-Austrian relations.
Van der Bellen also had an informal meeting with President-elect Nataša Pirc Musar, who will start serving as president on 23 December.
Pahor and Van der Bellen will also visit Ptuj today to inaugurate a bench of friendship between Slovenia and Austria at Ptuj Castle in what will be the last, 27th bench of international friendship sponsored by Pahor and inaugurated during state visits.