The Alpe-Adria region, which also includes Austria’s Carinthia and Styria, the Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Slovenia and Istria, is a laboratory of many of the characteristics that both divide and unite the peoples of the area. Even though the “tumultuous” 20th century with its nationalisms, wars and conflicts has already ended, it still affects the daily life of the region. Ethnicity remains an important part of human identity, and its study is one of the key dimensions of scientific thought in the early 21st century.
Relations between Austria and Slovenia
The events of the 20th century and their consequences had a fatal impact on the social context, cross-border relations and geographical space spanning Austria and Slovenia. They made a particularly large impact on the Slovene ethnic community in Austrian Carinthia and Styria, and on the German-speaking community in Slovenia.
Historical events that have left the area deeply traumatised and which gave rise to a contradictory and often conflicting culture of remembrance include: the post-World War I border disputes, the so-called “Carinthian Defence Fight” or “Fight for the Northern Slovene Border” on the Slovenian side, Nazism and the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia, the Partisan resistance, the Yugoslav occupation of Carinthia, and the new border disputes following World War II, the post-war massacres and the communist regime in Slovenia, the issue of minority rights of the Carinthian Slovenes, Austrian-Yugoslav (Slovenian) relations during the Cold War, and also the issue of the “German-speaking minority” in Slovenia after 1991.
Stereotypes shape the relations between the neighbouring countries and their policies towards minorities
The negative and even hostile image of Germans/Austrians in Slovenia and Slovenes/Yugoslavs in Austria is the result of interpreting history through a national and/or nationalist prism. In Europe, the notions that developed in the mid-nineteenth century, at the beginning of the formation of modern nation states, still prevail. National stereotypes between neighbouring nations play a big role in this. The “national” understanding of social developments in the Alpine-Adriatic geographical space was reinforced in the twentieth century with the two world wars, and is only slowly and with difficulty receding into the background. When there are certain “disturbances” in the relationship between two neighbouring countries, these feelings come to the surface, mainly in the form of mistrust towards the neighbouring nation. The divergence of political opinions is particularly evident with regard to the issue of the attitude of the Republic of Austria towards the Slovenian ethnic community in Carinthia and Styria and the attitude of the Republic of Slovenia towards the German-speaking ethnic community in Slovenia.
German-speaking community in Slovenia
It is well known that the umbrella organisation of the German-speaking ethnic community in Slovenia is not satisfied with the regulation in the bilateral cultural agreement between Slovenia and Austria, which in its Article 15 refers to the inclusion of cultural, educational, scientific and other projects of the German-speaking population in Slovenia in inter-state relations. In addition, the Austrian Parliament has repeatedly called for the recognition and regulation of the minority rights of the German-speaking community as are already in place for the Italian and Hungarian national communities living in Slovenia.
Currently, the Ministry of Culture has a Working Group for a permanent dialogue with representatives of the German-speaking ethnic community in the Republic of Slovenia, which is important as it gives the community an interlocutor an the national level. I see the fact that the Austrian and Slovenian peoples were unable to find a common language after the tragedy of the two world wars as a historical defeat. The historical and cultural links between the two countries make it essential that the German-speaking community in Slovenia be preserved and nurtured. To this end, rapid steps forward are needed.
The near disappearance of the German minority in Slovenia
After the World War II, the German minority in Slovenia suffered the fate of many German communities across Europe. Because of their Nazification prior to and during the World War II and their collaboration with the Nazis, the Germans in Slovenia have been collectively blamed and often victims of vengeful acts for the crimes committed by Hitler’s regime. After the expulsion of most Germans in 1945 and 1946 (most of them fled for fear of retaliation by the new authorities, but there were also numerous extrajudicial killings, executions, harsh treatment in camps and forced evictions), only a small number of members of the pre-war German national minority remained in Slovenia.
The German community in Slovenia after World War II
The German community in Slovenia (i.e. persons of Austrian and German nationality and persons with German as mother tongue) in the post-World War II period was characterised by its small number, dispersion and, to a large extent, “non-nativeness”, as around 70% of those who declared themselves to be German-speaking or Austrian or German in the 2002 census were not born in Slovenia. In terms of ethnic vitality, i.e. sheer number, group life and the preserving of an ethnic community, the German-speakers do not seem to be in a good position to achieve the conditions for a successful long-term survival.
The dispersed settlement of Germans, Austrians and people with German as mother tongue has “some practical opportunities for preserving their own ethnic and cultural identity”. These include the possibility of learning your mother tongue from primary school onwards, where German is the mother tongue, second or elective language. The possibility of learning German exists more or less throughout the territory of the Republic of Slovenia. This practice continues in secondary schools and some colleges.
Since Slovenia’s independence, the Gottscheer community in Občice has been active, particularly in the field of cultural activities.
Let diversity unite Europe
The 10 or so societies and associations that bring together the German-speaking community in Slovenia or are involved in preserving German culture are not unanimous in their views on what protection the community needs. Nevertheless, I believe that state institutions must provide the conditions for the cultural diversity and the diversity of ethnic composition (e.g. the remnants of the Gottscheers and the Germans) in Slovenia to be preserved and nurtured. The recommendations and opinions of the Commission of Experts on the implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in Slovenia also go in this direction.
Today, the geographical area of Europe includes more than 300 different ethnic, religious and cultural-linguistic national groups, comprising around 104 million people (Europe’s current population totals approximately 900 million). This is why Europe pays special attention to minority issues. Europe’s democratic future lies in recognising Europe’s national communities and its various minorities, and in “generously” addressing the issues involved. Solutions must be found by recognising our common history and the qualities that bind us together and build trust between our peoples. Commitment to rigorous implementation of the legislation adopted ultimately contributes to a more prosperous and attractive Europe for all its citizens.
This article was written within the project The Weight of the past. Heritage of the Multicultural Area: Case Study of Gottschee . The authors acknowledge the project (The Weight of the past. Heritage of the Multicultural Area: Case Study of Gottschee, J6-4612) was financially supported by the Slovenian Research Agency.
Read more about the activities of the Gottscheer native sttlers here.