CoE encourages Austria to promote education in minority languages

Strasbourg, 16 October - The Council of Europe (CoE) has welcomed Austria's commitment to protecting the rights of national minorities, while expressing concern about the rise of intolerance, mentioning among other things an anti-Slovenian electoral slogan of the Freedom Party of Austria. It has called on the authorities to encourage more teaching in minority languages.

The CoE Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities says in the report published on Monday it is concerned about the increasing number of reported cases of hate speech and hate crimes over the past year.

It mentions the Slovenian minority in the Austrian state of Carinthia, where, despite a period of positive development, including an apology by Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen for historical injustices, the election campaign at the beginning of the year saw anti-Slovenian sentiment.

The committee notes the call by the youth wing of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) to stop the "Slovenisation" of Carinthia.

It urges the Austrian authorities to boost efforts to promote mutual respect, intercultural dialogue and understanding in the majority population, which should be better informed about the diversity of residents, including through education.

In this light, the committee welcomes the curriculum, presented in January, which contains more information about the history and culture of members of ethnic minorities in Austria.

It meanwhile notes that education in the languages of minorities at the basic level is accessible in the states of Carinthia and Burgenland, while there is no similar regulation elsewhere in Austria.

Solutions regarding the teaching of members of the Czech and Slovenian minorities in Vienna is emphasised as necessary.

The committee says it is absolutely necessary to assess the need for teaching, i.e. education in Slovenian, Hungarian, Croatian and Roma languages also outside of Carinthia and Burgenland, and take appropriate measures based on this assessment.

Regarding Carinthia, it notes the "limited opportunities for bilingual preschool education" and calls for regulation that would enable the implementation of the right to bilingual education in the last year of kindergarten to be adopted.

The report comes as representatives of Carinthian Slovenians have been critical of the representation of Slovenian in education in the past year.

They are bothered by what they see as insufficient number of classes in Slovenian, and want representatives of the ethnic community to be involved in the drafting of new curricula.

As for the situation of the Slovenian minority in the state of Styria, the committee regrets that the authorities continue to cite their insufficient number as a reason not to introduce special measures.

Regarding access to administrative services in minority languages, including Slovenian, it mentions the dissatisfaction of the Slovenian minority regarding the exercise of these rights in practice.

It calls on Austria to facilitate oral and written use of minority languages in administration, including by reminding minority members of this right, and advocates for the use of minority languages in digital administrative procedures.

© STA, 2023