1. An ongoing conflict

by Dr. Hellwig Valentin. From the book: "Der Sonderfall. Kärntner Zeitgeschichte 1918-2004/08", 2009, 2nd edition, Klagenfurt/Laibach-Ljubljana/Wien (Hermagoras-Verlag).

Translation by Liz Finney

In the second half of the nineteenth century the „crown land“ of Carinthia 

- a constituent territory of former Austria-Hungary – was captured as a result of national conflicts which were increasingly rocking the Habsburg multiethnic state. While Slovenes were striving for political, economic and social emancipation, Germans were asserting their dominance. Social advancement was linked to the adoption of German language and culture. In the first few years following the turn of the century, antagonisms intensified. Speakers of the minority ethnic Slovenian community vehemently called for the Slovenian language in courtrooms, a move emphatically rejected by the „German parties“ – among whom were some social democrats. When in 1909 young Slovenes asked for tickets at Klagenfurt railway station to be issued in their native language, the opposition saw this as an attempt by them to „slovenise“ the „German“ state capital. During the first world war antagonisms were exacerbated, particularly as Slovenes were generally suspected of sympathising with the slavic anti-war activists on the side of the monarchy.

Harsh repressive measures by the authorities were the result. Not surprisingly, the southern slavic movement under the Carinthian Slovenes gained momentum.     

After 1918 the national conflicts of the Danube monarchy in Carinthia continued in a sort of microcosm. The dispute over the national border developed into a sustainable liability, which came to a head between Austria and southern Slavia in Autumn 1918. Belgrade laid claim to multilingual Carinthia, while Vienna adhered to the historic frontier. The ensuing resistance fighting in 1918 - 1919 against the southern Slavs who had invaded Carinthia; and the Austrian victory at the general referendum concerning the affiliation of the southern part of the country on 10th October 1920 still rank today as defining points in the contemporary history of Carinthia. The individual’s stance towards these events is for the general public an indicator of dependability and „loyalty to one’s country“. Anyone who calls into question the military impact of the resistance fighting and esteems other factors more highly can expect to be sharply rebuked. There is general consensus among experts that the granting of a general referendum by the victorious powers of the first world war was based on an assessment of the reciprocal forces of conflict and diplomacy.

The myth about Vienna’s so-called „stormy years“ lives on especially tenaciously in abandoned Carinthia. Austrian and Slovenian historians seldom agree, however, that without the the politico-democratic, military and economic backing support of Vienna, it would not have been possible for the resistance fighting to become organised. And that the decision concerning Austria’s future boundary could not have been made without this help. Even today it is still widely thought that the state chancellor Karl Renner would have been willing to accept the river Drau boundary, although this contention was long ago debunked as a legend. In professional circles there is no doubt that on 10th October 1920 every second vote for Austria was cast by a Carinthian whose mother tongue was Slovenian. In public debates this fact is barely given the time of day. Obviously many people do not want to accept that the Austrian election victory was not a combined result brought about by German- and Slovenian-speaking compatriots. The stereotypical image of the victory of „loyal“ Germans over the „flaky“ Slovenes needs to retain its impact. The Slovenes who voted for Austria later found themselves once again in a distinct political category: the so-called „Windischen“ – as opposed to „nationalist“ Slovenes. The fact that academics long ago conclusively clarified that there is no „Windisch“ nationality at all – and consequently no established political connection - is frequently ignored. It is generally accepted, however, that „Windisch“ is a collective linguistic term for the types of dialect spoken by Carinthian Slovenes.

In Carinthia it is apparent that quite a few people, given the choice between fact and legend, prefer legend.  The more historians try to take every opportunity to present the verified facts, the less these seem to be accepted.

On top of this, politicians fully exploit these shortcomings in historical awareness in order to score political points. When pointing out the alleged negligence of Carinthians’ concerns by the  federal government, reference is freely made to Vienna’s feigned „ignorance“ during the period from 1918 to 1920. On the question of ethnic groups, it is in leading actors’ standard repertoire to call into question the crucial involvement of Slovenian-speaking Carinthian men and women in the Austrian electoral victory, in order to avoid any moral obligation - albeit belated – of public gratitude towards the minority.

2. An extraordinary distribution of power