7. An escalation of conflicts regarding minority ethnic communities

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 arguments surrounding the subject of Carinthian minority ethnic communities reached their first climax at the end of the 1950’s when the state authorities - under pressure from the German-supporting ranks – tightened up the generous education act on minorities of Autumn 1945 by introducing a registration principle. As a result, the bulk of parents took their children out of bilingual tuition. The deployment of bilingual place-name signs based on clauses of the Austrian treaty of 1955 led in Autumn 1972 to the „place-name sign war“: activists from the majority population forcibly removed the bilingual place-name signs, until the federal goverment resigned and retracted the law. The federal chancellor Bruno Kreisky awarded the next step of the process to a study commission („Place-name sign commission“). The state governor Sima, a minority sympathiser, panicked under pressure within the party and resigned in 1974. The dialogue between German- and Slovenian-speaking Carinthians was then taken up by the churches as well as – in the aftermath of the 1968 movement in Carinthia - cultural-political initiatives like the Hildebrand Gallery working party, the International Music Forum in Viktring as well as the Solidarity Committee for the Rights of Carinthian Slovenes and the Carinthian Amnesty International group.

Unlike his predecessor in office Sima, the new state governor Leopold Wagner did not take to heart the interests of the majority population. The explusion of the famous Slovenian writer Janko Messner from the party sent out a clear signal. In the state elections of 1975 Wagner punctuated his change of policy with the statement declaration that in the Nazi period he had „held a high-ranking position in the Hitler Youth“. Outside the state protests were rife, while in Carinthia consternation was contained. It was decided to respond to speculation about the Hitler Youth confession with national elections. Immediate elections are advantageous in that they counter respect and loyalty to principles. On top of that the Carinthian Social Democrats’ hands from this time on were tied regarding any skeletons in the cupboards of their dealings with the Nazi past. Inadvertently Wagner, with his markedly nationalistic policy combined with a dominating type of exercise of power, prepared the ground for the acting FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria) politician Haider at the end of the seventies.

As with the resistance fighting and the national referendum, the political parties agreed on a common approach procedure to the conflict regarding minority ethnic communities. A „special language census“ in 1976 – thought to be a concession to the German-supporting ranks – was, owing to a boycott by Slovenes, reduced to absurdity. More Slovenian speakers were counted in Vienna than in Carinthia. The passing of an ethnic group law in 1976 and the trouble-free deployment of a number of bilingual place-name signs resulted in a brief easing of tensions. In the 1980’s an incited discussion laid on by the German-supporting ranks about a minority school reform gave rise to new confrontations. The reorganization of the bilingual school system, supported by educationalists, remained controversial. The apparent quietening down proved elusive, however. Parts of the ethnic group law and the acts based on it held further sentences to be passed by the Supreme Court of Justice which brought about fresh confrontations.

Despite these unpleasant attendant circumstances, Carinthia experienced a considerable upturn in many areas from the 1960’s onwards. From 1960 to 1981, 140 new industrial companies were founded, which provided work for 15,500 people. Most notably, the services sector expanded. From 1951 to 1998 the number of people employed in Carinthia rose from about 125,000 to nearly 190,000. The agricultural sector was on the decline, with many farmers concentrating on success in producing premium-quality natural products. In tourism the number of overnight reservations reached 15.8 million in 1983-4, the most significant figure yet. From 1965 to 1991 the motorway network was expanded on a large scale, having ever since connected Carinthia to the most important towns. Great progress was made in house construction, in energy consumption, in the use of energy and in healthcare. Every district capital obtained a secondary school and in 1970 – when the university of Klagenfurt was founded - the century-old dream of the rural population became a reality.

In the area of environmental protection, from the 1970’s and 1980’s onwards, the pollution abatement of the horrifically threatened Carinthian lakes and the founding of the „Hohe Tauern“ national park have been acknowledged as pioneering works in Carinthia. Cultural life in its diverse forms also flourished,  blossoming in Carinthia as never before after 1945.

8. An unusual assassination attempt