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Autumn 2004

Slovenian Legislative System for Minority Protection: Different Rights for Old and New Minorities, by Antonija Petricusic

The three constitutionally recognized autochthonous national minorities in Slovenia (Hungarians, Italians and Roma) enjoy a privileged status in comparison with the other minority ethnic groups that originate from the territories of former Yugoslavia and who greatly outnumbered those traditional national communities. National legislation, case law as well as the practices of national authorities that should provide for a successful accommodation of minority ethnic groups are examined in this paper in order to gain understanding whether Slovenia's accession to the European Union has enhanced the level of a minority protection in the country.

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1. Introduction

2. General Information
2.1 Number and Location of National Minorities
2.2 Non-Autochthonous Ethnic Groups

3. Legislative Framework
3.1 Constitutional Provisions that Guarantee Minority Protection
3.2 Application of International Agreements Regarding Minority Rights
3.3 Political Participation of Minorities at the State and at the Local Level
3.4 National Minority Councils

4. Minority Language in Education and Media
4.1 Use of Minority Languages
4.2 Publications in Minority Languages
4.3 Education of Minority Members

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography


1. Introduction

Occupying territory of just about 20.000 square kilometres, Slovenia is among five smallest European Union’s member states. However, out of ten new member states that enriched the European Union on May 1, 2004 Slovenia is having the most advanced economy. In thirteen years after it declaration of independence in June 1991, Slovenia has done a remarkable transition towards pluralist democracy and a market economy, particularly compared with the other countries in its eastern neighbourhood that had been members of the same country, socialist Yugoslavia. Bordering Italy on the West, Austria on the North, Hungary on the East and Croatia on the South, it aspires to be considered a Central European country. The country indeed has historically ties with the Central Europe since it had been ruled by Austria until 1918. Later it joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, that became Yugoslavia in 1929. Slovenes were recognized as one of six constituent nations of the Social Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that came into being after the World War II.

The legislative provisions on the protection of national minorities are contained in the Constitution and a number of special laws regulating various issues of minority protection. However, this overview of minority rights in Slovenia explains not only the legislative provisions but also applied governments' policies towards integration of minorities and the most relevant Constitutional Court’s ruling concerning implementation of minority rights. The overview will proceed by introducing the constitutional framework, the possibility of minority participation in public life and the use of minority language in education and media.

2. General Information

2.1 Number and Location of National Minorities

Slovenia is an ethnically homogenous country. Out of 1,964.036 inhabitants registered in the 2002 Census, 83.06 % of population was of Slovene ethnic origin.(1) The Hungarian community forms 0.32 %, Italian 0.11 % and Roma community 0.17 % of population respectively. The Hungarian and Italian ethnic communities are considered to be autochthonous minorities.(2) Roma are guaranteed similar status. Being entitled to the status of the autochthonous groups, those three ethnic communities are not only given privileged treatment by the legislation, but also implicitly a stronger level of protection. Approximately 8.500 members of Hungarian national community are settled in the northern part along the border with Hungary in five municipalities (Hodoš, Moravske Toplice, Šalovci, Lendava, and Dobrovnik).(3) The Italian national community (numbering approximately 3.000 persons) is settled in three coastal municipalities (Koper/Capodistria, Izola/Isola, and Piran/Pirano) along the border with Italy. Most Roma live in the north-eastern part of Slovenia. Even though official data report 3.246 citizens of Roma ethnic origin it is unofficially estimated there are between 6.500-7.000 members of Roma minority in the country as many Roma have not officially registered as members of the Roma community in the census.(4) Since the total number of registered Roma remains under the legislative limit, Roma minority has not been granted protection it is constitutionally entitled to. In addition, not all members of Roma community might enjoy constitutionally guaranteed rights. Those apply only to those members of Roma minority who are considered ‘autochthonous’ while ‘non-autochthonous’ Roma who immigrated (e.g. as refugees in 1990s) are not entitled to the protection in spite of having a citizen status.

2.2 Non-Autochthonous Ethnic Groups

The other significantly present ethnic groups are Serbs (1.98 %), Croats (1.81 %), Bosniaks/Muslims(5) (1.63 %), Albanians (0.31 %) and Macedonians (0.20 %). A vast number of them have arrived to Slovenia after the Second World War and settled in industrial towns, as a result of internal economic migrations within former Yugoslavia, to which Slovenia belonged to till 1991. Members of those ethnic communities, together with other linguistic and religious communities (Czechs, Germans, Jews, Slovaks, Turks, Ukrainians and others) that dwell on Slovenian territory, are not recognized collective rights granted to the autochthonous minorities.(6) However, a part of German, Serb or Croat ethnic communities would be probably entitled to be recognised as autochthonous minorities since their members have been residing on that territory of Slovenia for centuries.(7) The number of citizens who declared belonging to the Muslim/Bosniak ethnic community has increased in a previous decade due to the arrival of refugees from Bosnia and Kosovo. This community has been striving to build an adequate place of worship. Since it does not benefit from special cultural rights that the autochthonous minorities are entitled to, the request to be granted a space where a mosque would be built has been administered for several decades. Although a site has already been granted by the authorities, the construction of the mosque has yet not started due to administrative delays.(8) The rights ensured to members of non-autochthonous ethnic groups are contained in the constitutional provisions on the equality before the law, the expression of national affiliation, the right to use one’s language and script and the right to assemble and associate.

The country has granted citizenship to the majority of members belonging to ethnic communities from the countries of former Yugoslavia that resided in Slovenia and who had a permanent residence there prior to country’s independence and applied within a time-limit of six months after the publication of the law.(9) However, due to the time constrains in application period, insufficient information on the procedure and situations in successor states in former Yugoslavia, a number of immigrants eligible for the citizenship failed to apply or was rejected the citizenship. This resulted with a removal of about 18,000 persons which are popularly named “erased” from the register of permanent residents after they failed to meet the deadline set on February 26, 1992. The government tried to repair this in 1999, passing the Law on the Regularisation of the Status of Citizens of the Other Successor States to the Former SFRY in the Republic of Slovenia(10) which provided the opportunity for persons with no legal status to apply for a permanent residence permit under certain conditions and within a period of three months. Furthermore, the Law on Citizenship was amended in 2002 in order to facilitate the acquisition of citizenship for persons who had not succeeded to regularise their legal status under the aforementioned laws. Since a certain number of people remained without civil status following the renewed government’s efforts and after the Constitutional Court decided that the Law on the Regulation of the Status of Citizens of Other Successor States to the Former SFRY in the Republic of Slovenia was inconsistent with the Constitution,(11) the government put forward a bill with the aim to retroactively restore residency rights. The bill was however rejected by the majority of voters in the referendum held on April 2004. The Constitution prescribes a right of political asylum for foreigners and stateless persons persecuted for their commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms (Art.48). Foreigners, refugees and asylum seekers are furthermore dealt with in legislation on asylum that has been promulgated in the August 1999.(12)

3. Legislative framework

3.1 Constitutional Provisions that Guarantee Minority Protection

The Constitution(13) contains a general anti-discrimination clause, ensuring equal human rights and fundamental freedoms and equality before the law to each individual irrespective of his/her national origin, race, sex, language, religion, political or other beliefs, financial status, birth, education, social status or other personal status (Art. 14).  Racial and ethnic intolerance is rarely manifested in the country. Any kind of incitement to ethnic, racial, religious or other discrimination, as well as the inflaming of ethnic, racial, religious or other hatred or intolerance is punishable (Art. 63). Slovenia yet has to transpose antidiscrimination legislation that forms part of the EU’s acquis, namely the Race Equality Directive and the Employment Equality Directive.(14)

The Slovenian Constitution provides special rights for the Hungarian, Italian and Roma minorities to political participation and the right to exercise their own cultural, linguistic and educational affairs. Slovenian legislation applies a principle of territoriality which stipulates that the special rights guaranteed to national minorities are exercised in their autochthonous settlements. Furthermore, special rights guaranteed to the Italian and Hungarian national minorities are applied irrespective of the number of minorities’ members. Minorities are also encouraged to foster contacts with their kin-states as well as with other Italian and Hungarian communities living in other neighbouring states (Art. 64.1). Anthems of the minority groups may be performed along an official anthem during ceremonial events in those areas traditionally inhabited by Italian or Hungarian communities.(15) The Constitution foresees a right of peaceful assembly and association which provides a legal base for a formation of minority associations dealing mainly with cultural and information activities (Art. 42).

The Constitution prescribes special rights of the autochthonous Italian and Hungarian ethnic communities that are guaranteed collectively to members of those two ethnic groups (Art. 64). The special status of the Roma community is also guaranteed by the Constitution, which foresees the adoption of a special law for the protection of Roma (Art. 65). Roma, as the most discriminated ethnic community, face difficulties with integration, housing, employment and health care.(16) The first government’s Programme of Measures for Helping Roma was launched already in 1995 while a more comprehensive Programme on Equal Opportunities of Employment for the Roma has been introduced in 2000.(17) The prospective of EU enlargement additionally motivated the state to undertake a set of policies in order to improve Roma minority perspectives for a successful integration. Improvements in the fulfilment of a political component of the Copenhagen Criteria that concerns protection of human and minority rights were assessed in the regular annual reports on Slovenia’s progress towards accession.(18) Nevertheless, the country was generally evaluated already at the beginning of the accession period as having fulfilled the greatest part of the political set of the Copenhagen Criteria successfully and was not expected to significantly improve the minority protection related legislation. Three autochthonous minorities are represented in the Government’s Commissions for National Communities and for the Protection of the Roma. The Government Office for Nationalities monitors the implementation of the minority related legislation and provides funding related to media and cultural events in minority languages. It additionally co-ordinates the work of state agencies and local community bodies regarding the special rights of the national minorities, oversees the implementation of the Government's policies regarding minorities and has several other duties.(19)

3.2 Application of International Agreements Regarding Minority Rights

The Constitution prescribes supremacy of international law.(20) All major international instruments in the field of protection of minorities have been ratified. Upon the ratification of the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, Slovenia made the statement that the convention’s provisions would be applied to the members of the three aforementioned autochthonous communities.(21) The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages which Slovenia ratified on October 4, 2000 entered into force on January 1, 2001. The country has declared its commitment to the protection of Italian, Hungarian and Roma languages.

A bilateral agreement which binds Slovenia with respect to its Hungarian minority was concluded with Hungary in 1993. The country concluded as well the Agreement on Friendship and Cooperation with Hungary as well as the Agreement on cooperation in the field of education, culture, science and technology between governments of Slovenia and Italy in 2000. Slovenia has bound itself to respect the provisions of the Osimo treaty which was originally signed on November 10, 1975 in Osimo near Ancona between Italy and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It peacefully solved disputed issues that originated from the World War II. Among other provisions, it set down the right of Italian claimants for compensations for the property they left behind on the Yugoslav territory after they fled to Italy in the aftermath of the World War. It furthermore established the right to protection of the Italian ethnic minority in Yugoslavia and the Slovene minority in Italy. Bilateral agreement on mutual protection of national minorities have not been signed yet with Italy, but both countries have guaranteed in the legislation a special status to the national minority members of Slovene and Italian ethnic origin.(22) In addition, the Agreement on cooperation in the field of education, culture, science and technology between the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and the Government of the Republic of Italy was signed in 2000. A similar agreement was signed with the Republic of Austria in 2001. However, Slovenian authorities would appreciate to see improvements of the status of the Slovene minority in the Carinthia, a province of neighboring Austria.

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