6. An odd handover of power

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

The handover of power in May 1945 happened in an odd way. Following a struggle which lasted for days and with the end of the war looming, the Nazi leadership surrendered, handing everything over to the hands of the representatives of both the old and new democratic parties. When British troops arrived in Klagenfurt from Italy on 8th May, they were met by former social democrats, Christian socialists and „Landbündler“ (members of the German Farmers’ Party). The Nazi top management had already absconded. Carinthia belonged to those areas of the Third Reich in which government power was formerly taken over by the resident local forces, before the arrival of the allied troops. When the Yugoslavian units enlisted in Klagenfurt a few hours later, they saw this as a „fait accompli“. At the end of May 1945 Tito’s followers left Carinthia under pressure from the Britons, having arrested at least 263 Carinthian men and women. More than a third of these displaced people did not come back. Their fate – they were killed or died in camps – was only brought to light in recent years, and exerts its influence still today.

The elections of November 1945 basically led to the reconstruction of the party-political configurations of the inter-war years. The social democrats were once again the largest party and their state governor was in place until 1989. The ÖVP (Austrian People’s Party) was relatively strong to begin with, on account of the merging of the former Christian socialists with the earlier German nationalist parties. The communists achieved the highest share of the vote of the federal states, as they managed to appeal to many Tito-supporting Slovenes. After the Tito-Stalin rift of 1948, this segment of the vote disappeared and the KPÖ (Communist Party of Austria) sank into insignificance. A unique feature in Carinthia was the presence of four parties, whereas in other states only three parties were permitted. The Democratic Party managed to enter the state parliament, only to soon after be disbanded by the British army of occupation as a result of Nazi tendencies.

Denazification, which was not handled very forcefully in Austria, was a more reluctant process in Carinthia. As Yugoslavs underpinned their territorial claims with the allegation that Carinthia was a „hotbed of Fascism“, it was not considered desirable to highlight this argument by employing overly conspicuous denazification measures. First of all, a considerable number of civil servants, teachers and employees were dismissed on account of earlier Nazi affiliation. However, soon the political parties in Carinthia vied for the grace of „the ones before.“ The parties’ administrative offices displayed the former NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party) members’ certificates of good standing - denazification certificates - so that their integration into democratic society was not impeded. The People’s Party - ÖVP - were „more successful“ at this than the social democrats. Following its personal testimony, the ÖVP intervened in 8000 cases, whereas the SPÖ (Social Democratic Party of Austria) came down hard on „only“ 6000 ex-Nazis. The widely-spread idea that the Carinthian SPÖ owes its strength to the former national socialists is a mere sweeping statement. Anyway, even in the days of the first republic, the social democrats in Carinthia were the strongest party by a long way.

Just as after the first world war, in the years following 1945, the struggle over the national border was at the forefront of regional politics. Yugoslavia made territorial claims on Carinthia once more, initially supported by one section of the nationalistic Carinthian Slovenes. Then the rift between Tito and Stalin led one to think that the Soviet Union was no longer nurturing the territorial aspirations of Belgrade. Yugoslavia had to abandon its calls for annexation. There remained Article 7 of the Austrian treaty of 1955, which regulated the rights of Slovenian and Croatian ethnic minorities.

The struggle to bring the established claims to fruition is something that has been wrestled with to the present day, and in Carinthia – as distinct from Burgenland – this has led to fierce internal conflicts and tensions with the southerly neighbouring country. On the other hand, as early as 1950 there were cultural encounters on the initiative of the Carinthian Slovenes at a time when there were still no diplomatic relations between Vienna and Belgrade.  For this „local foreign affairs issue“ Hans Sima, the state governor, campaigned on the Carinthian side, working towards the cooperation of Slovenia, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Carinthia and thereby popularising the term „Alpen-Adria“. Later transnational collaboration for the purposes of the Alpen-Adria consortium was expanded to cover the whole Eastern Alps area, where Carinthia played an active role and later served as an adminstrative centre. These intensive efforts to work towards a peaceful cooperation across for the most part political-ideological frontier barriers are considered a Carinthian idiosyncracy with a clearly forward-looking significance. The state governor Jörg Haider clearly distanced himself from the Alpen-Adria-confraternity during his second term of office, this organisation constituting an important contribution towards European integration in this sensitive area of the continent. Haider pushed against an „Eregio“ (cross-border conference) with the Italian neighbouring regions, which had not yet even built up any momentum. By and large, Carinthia’s external relations, which had in the early years been very intense - in particular with the neighbouring country of Slovenia - went noticeably into reverse in the later years of Haider’s term in government.

7. An escalation of conflicts regarding minority ethnic communities