FRI, 30 MAR 2001 01:31:41 GMT

Slovenia and Minorities


Now that the Slovenian ethnic minority in Italy, after decades of struggling in the Senate, has finally secured for itself a special law (after which it can no longer be considered as discriminated against, as opposed to other, protected minorities), and when the small German minority in Slovenia (through a so-called "cultural agreement" with Austria) has been granted special protection -- the uneven position of minorities in Slovenia attracts great attention. This is primarily the case with discrimination against unrecognized minorities.

AIM Ljubljana, March 23, 2001

Slovenian legislation protects three minorities -- Hungarians, Italians and (partly) Roma. The first two groups are protected by the Constitution and laws. They have a guaranteed right to education in their native languages, their news media are entitled to financial support, their languages are in official use in local government, they can widely use their national symbols and are issued bilingual personal documents. Every member of these two groups has a dual voting right: in addition to being able to choose candidates from national tickets, these two minorities have two seats guaranteed by the Constitution, regardless of the changing number of ethnic Hungarians and Italians.

Such protection of (privileged) minorities even in international terms is even more conspicuous when compared with the position of other, much more numerous ethnic minorities which enjoy no rights in Slovenia and are far from any "positive" discrimination. According to the latest, 1991 census, in addition to the Slovenians, the country had 53,688 Croats (2.74 percent), 47,097 Serbs (2.4 percent), 26,725 Muslims (1.36 percent), 12,237 Yugoslavs (0.62 percent), 8,499 Hungarians (0.43 percent), 4,233 Montenegrins (0.22 percent), 4,412 Macedonians (0.22 percent), 3,558 Albanians (0.18 percent), 3,063 Italians (0.16 percent), 2,282 Roma (0.12 percent), 546 Germans (0.03 percent), 322 Czechs (0.02 percent), and an even smaller number of others.

Most Slovenian politicians and experts in "minority issues," who almost without exception are paid by the state, will respond, when told that according to the census, certain minorities are more numerous that those protected by the Constitution, by saying that numbers do not mean anything per se, and that other factors should be taken into consideration, such as, for example, their compactness, being "indigenous," etc. These explanations, however, are faulty even from the perspective of Slovenian "minority policies" themselves. And for two reasons at that.

First of all because "being indigenous" as a criterion, according to international definitions, is not a condition for recognition and respect of the rights of a certain ethnic minority. According to all such definitions, "lasting or prolonged ties" of a minority with its home country is the chief condition. As far as the expert definitions go, ties existing for only two generations suffice for this purpose. The other reason is that to certain unrecognized minorities in Slovenia -- Croats, Serbs, and Germans, for example, indigenousness cannot be denied. Serbs appeared in the territory of the so-called Bela Krajina (White Frontier) as early as 1530, and permanently settled there in 1593. Soon, several Serb settlements appeared on this region's borders -- Bojanci, Marindol, Paunovic, Adlesic, Zunic, and others. In Austria-Hungary, Bojanci, for example, were granted the status of a parish, and between 1880 and the mid-1960s, a Serb elementary school existed there. During the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (between the two World Wars), 6,745 Orthodox Christians, mostly Serbs and Montenegrins, lived in Slovenia.

Even before the great migrations, at the beginning of the 1850s 11,225 Serbs and 1,365 Montenegrins lived in Slovenia. The Slovenian Central Committee of the Alliance of Communists, for instance, used to describe as "destructive" the demands of the Serb ethnic community for the right to education in their maternal tongue and the preservation of the cultural tradition of Bela Krajina. That there were locations in Slovenia where Serbs were the indigenous population was also shown by numerous newspaper articles which until the 1990s frequently tackled this phenomenon. Thus for instance, under the title "Bela Krajina Serbs Do Not Feel Threatened," the newspaper Delo in its issue of Oct. 16, 1990, reported on a visit paid to the Bela Krajina Serb community by Slovenian Presidency President Milan Kucan and a member of this body, Dusan Plut. A little later the same newspaper reported on the results of a plebiscite in Slovenia. "Bela Krajina Serbs firmly back independent Slovenia -- the fact that most of them voted in favor of independence means that the Serbs in Bojanci will peacefully coexist with their Slovenian neighbors in the future," said Delo.

Eleven years later, Serbs can hardly be found in Bela Krajina. As far as education goes, Prezihov Voranc Elementary School, which was the only one in Slovenia to offer courses in the Serbo-Croatian language, in 1992, acting on a decision of the municipal assembly, began to gradually eliminate these courses. The last classes were disbanded in 1998. One of the arguments used then was that the courses were unnecessary because it was a "(former) Yugoslav privilege." The other maintained that it was not proper to organize courses in Serbo-Croatian for pupils "who have mostly been granted Slovenian citizenship."

The situation with the Croat and German ethnic minorities is more or less the same. That members of the German minority have deep and lasting roots in Slovenia is an undisputed historical fact. Its problem lies in its small numbers. This, however, is not the case with the Croat minority. Although Croats arrived in Slovenia as part of three large migratory waves, in various areas on Slovenia's southern borders live several thousand Croats indigenous to the region. In addition, the border between Croatia and Slovenia is not as homogeneous as it appears at first glance. Surveys conducted by the Slovenian Institute for Minority Issues have shown that on the border with Croatia, there are 18,657 Croats and 7,320 Serbs, whereas on the Croatian side there are 14,580 Slovenians.

Finally, it is not difficult to conclude that at the time it declared its independence Slovenia should have protected at least the three aforementioned ethnic communities, if it wanted consistency in its implementation of the "indigenousness" factor. The fact that it did not do so is due to a lack of an internationally valid definition of minority. Because international standards pertaining to minorities are deficient, minority rights primarily depend on each individual country, and in defining them a dominant role is played by political elements.

Strong countries can ensure better protection for their nationals living elsewhere. Where there is no state (the case of the Roma or the Kurds, for instance), protection is poor, or does not exist. The results are quite obvious -- some states are affected by strong waves of separatism, and in others, ethnic minorities are gradually assimilated. The case of Slovenia shows that even good protection of some ethnic groups does not exclude discrimination against others, even by the state itself.

Igor Mekina