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


3.3 Political Participation at the State and at the Local Level

The Hungarian and Italian minorities are guaranteed the right to be directly represented in the Parliament, where they are allocated a seat each.(23) Minorities are granted dual voting rights in parliamentary elections and when electing members of a municipal council. Out of two votes thy cast -one is for an election of the representative of the autochthonous national community and the second one for an election of other delegates or members of the municipal council or the National Assembly. They are entitled to elect representative of their ethnic community, regardless of the size of the autochthonous ethnic group, as well as to vote for regular electoral lists. The Constitutional Court ruled that the absence of criteria for the entry of members of autochthonous minorities in the special voting register of citizens with dual voting right in the Law on the Records of Voting Rights was contrary to the Constitution.(24) The Constitution sets down the obligatory consent of the representatives of the ethnic communities in passing laws and other legislative acts regarding the recognition of the constitutional rights and status of the ethnic communities (Art. 64.5).

The political representation of minorities at the local and regional level is guaranteed through provisions in the Law on Local Government(25) and the Law on Local Elections.(26) The Law on Local Self-Government provides the right for national minorities to elect at least one representative to the municipal council in areas where autochthonous communities are settled. Statutes, regulations and other legislative act issued by the official institutions which affect the exercise of minority rights or the status of minority could be enacted only upon consent of the minority representatives (Art. 64.5 of the Constitution). In April 2001, the Constitutional Court ruled that provisions of the Law on Local Government were in breach with the Constitution as it did not provide an adequate legal basis for Roma candidates to run in the local election in the municipality Novo Mesto in which the autochthonous character of the Roma community has been established beyond doubt.(27) By that time the provisions on political participation of Roma in local self-government units had been implemented in only one municipality. The Constitutional Court decision resulted with the amendments to the Law on Local government in May 2002 that introduced the right of the Roma minority to be directly represented in 20 municipalities. However, the implementation of the provision falls short because many Roma have not been officially registered yet in municipal registrars what makes a total number of registered Roma under the legislative limit. Furthermore, the right to representation in municipal councils is guaranteed to Roma minority exclusively in those municipalities inhabited by autochthonous community of Roma. In those municipalities where Roma have settled as a result of immigration during the last century they do not enjoy the right of political participation at all.

3.4 National Minority Councils

The Constitution (Art. 64.2) and the Law on Local Government provide national minorities with the right to establish self-governing ethnic communities in the areas which they traditionally inhabit. Self-governing national minority councils as legal entities represent a special form of minority autonomy.(28) They are established for the promotion of needs and interests of national minorities and for organized minority participation in public matters.(29) The self-governing ethnic communities are elected by the members of the national community in direct elections. Elections into the council of municipal self-governing ethnic community take place simultaneously with elections for the bodies of self-governing local communities. The provisions of the Law on local elections are applied for the election of members of self-governing ethnic communities.(30) Self-governing ethnic communities cooperate with bodies of self-governing local communities and state bodies and are entitled to submit proposals, initiatives and opinions on matters regarding the status of ethnic communities to state bodies and to the to the National Council, a representative body for social, economic, professional and local interests established by the Constitution (Art. 96).(31) They furthermore take care of the preservation of characteristics of minority groups in ethnically mixed territories.(32) Activities of the Italian and Hungarian self-governing ethnic communities are financed by the state budget.(33)

4. Minority language in Education and Media

4.1 Use of minority languages

Even though the official language of the country is Slovene, the Constitution foresees other official languages in those areas where Italian or Hungarian ethnic communities reside (Art. 11). The right to the use ones language and script is furthermore extended by granting a right to each person to use his own language and script in such a manner as determined by statute in areas inhabited by autochthonous minorities (Art. 62 of the Constitution). In such municipalities street names and topographical signs have to be bilingual.(34) Slovene is the official language used for communication with state bodies and authorities. However, the administration in municipalities inhabited by the Italian and Hungarian ethnic minorities carries out operations, conduct proceedings and issue legal and other acts in Slovene or in the language of the ethnic minority.(35) Moreover, administrative officials in such municipalities are obliged to be bilingual in order to be able perform their duties efficiently.(36) Registrars are furthermore obliged to issue extracts and certificates from registers in the Italian or Hungarian language.(37) The personal name of a member of the Italian or Hungarian national minority shall be entered in the Italian or Hungarian script and form, except if the member of the minority determines differently.(38)

If determined by statute of municipalities in which Italian or Hungarian minority live the forms for personal identity cards are printed in Slovene, English and also in Italian or Hungarian language.(39) Passports and visas, usually printed in Slovene, English and French, in those areas can be issued in Italian or Hungarian language instead of French.(40) It is possible to use Italian or the Hungarian language in the court procedures and acts for members of national minorities.(41)

4.2 Publications in Minority Languages

Autochthonous minorities are guaranteed the publication of newspapers and magazines in their own languages. The Italian minority issues following print editions which are co-fiananced by the state: ‘Voce del popolo’, ‘Panorama’, ‘La Cittŕ’, ‘Il Mandracchio’, ‘Lassa pur dir’, ‘Il trillo’. Publications in Hungarian language ‘Népújság’, ‘Naptár’ and ‘Muratai’ are also backed financially from the budget. The national public broadcaster, RTV Slovenia, produces programs in Italian and Hungarian languages which are broadcasted by its regional centres Koper/Capodistria and Maribor. Furthermore, members of the Italian and Hungarian minorities appoint representatives to the Council of RTV Slovenia. Roma community publishes a magazine ‘Romano them’, a magazine published by Roma community contains articles in the Slovenian and Romani languages and local radio stations in Novo Mesto and Murska Sobota broadcast program in Roma language co-financed by the Office for Nationalities. The State financially supports publishing of several newspapers in languages of non autochthonous communities.

4.3 Education of Minority Members

The Constitution provides that freedom of education is guaranteed and that primary education is compulsory, and imposes on the State the duty to provide opportunities for all citizens to obtain a proper education (Art. 57). Members of the Italian and Hungarian minorities are guaranteed the right to education and schooling in their own languages from pre-school education to completed elementary education in areas where these communities reside traditionally (Art. 11 and 64 of the Constitution). The Law on Kindergartens prescribes Slovene as the language of instruction in kindergartens, providing for a possibility of bilingual instructions in ethnically mixed areas. The later option should be regulated by special statute.(42)  The Law on Primary Schools establishes Slovene as the language of instruction in primary schools. In ethnically mixed areas in which education in primary schools is performed in languages of national minorities, special rights of the Italian and Hungarian national communities in the area of primary education are regulated by municipalities’ statutes.(43) Legislation on secondary and higher education prescribes Slovenian as the language of instruction, foreseeing additionally the possibility of carrying out the teaching in a foreign language.(44)

In the areas populated by the Italian national community, education is provided in separate schools, with either Slovene or Italian as language of instruction.(45) Bilingual instruction in kindergartens and schools in those municipalities inhabited by Hungarian national minority embraces both members of national minority and Slovenes. The different types of education in minority languages in the areas inhabited by members of the Hungarian national minority than in those areas populated by the Italian minority was a subject of a constitutional complaint. Few parents submitted a constitutional complaint arguing that in the ethnically mixed areas inhabited by the Hungarian national minority, Slovenian children were put in an unequal position compared to children from other parts of Slovenia who are taught exclusively in Slovenian language. According to the petitioners, this eventually leads to a different extent of knowledge for Slovene children living in the bilingual area gain, since they are obliged to have a command of the Hungarian language to the same extent as the Slovenian language. In its disposition, the Court stated that in forty years of the existence of bilingual schools, only few complaints by parents have been raised. Pupils that attended local educational institutions have achieved satisfactory results in secondary schools they attended in Slovenia and in Hungary, what implies that the applied educational system has not diminished their chances for a continuation of education. The abolition of an existing model, Court held, would “lead to the decline of the existing school network, and to the decline of minority schooling.”(46) 

Even though education in Roma language is also provided it is not as successful as one conducted in Italian and Hungarian languages. Certain improvements are needed in the field of education of Roma, as members of this minority group mostly face discrimination in society and difficulties with integration due to a generally low level of education. Certain actions have been undertaken; following the fact that a high number of Roma children attended classes for children with "special needs", the authorities have set up a commission to decide in a non-discriminatory manner whether a child should attend such classes or not.(47) Furthermore, due to the measures undertaken by the Government that was also urged in the European Commission’s Accession Reports a number of Roma children who regularly attended kindergartens and school have increased.(48) The other ethnic communities do not enjoy the privilege of education in their mother tongues. Prezihov Voranc Elementary School taught courses in the Serbo-Croatian language until 1998 when a decision of the municipal assembly eliminated this practice.

5. Conclusion

The well functioning protection of linguistic differences of the autochthonous Slovenian minorities has been inherited from the former Yugoslav times. After the country gained its independence no new minority group has been granted the minority status and has not been recognized protection of linguistic rights, which are relevant component of the minority rights agenda. The examination of the situation regarding the rights of national minorities emphasizes that rights are mostly exercised by two minorities: Italian and Hungarian, while Roma and particularly other immigrant ethnic communities enjoy significantly less protection. Not all of former Yugoslavia’s ethnic groups are exclusively immigrants. German, Croat and Serb ethnic communities, for example, have been dwelling in several traditional settlements in Slovenia. However, they are not entitled to the same rights as the constitutionally recognized autochthonous ethnic communities are. Nevertheless, together with other non-autochthonous ethnic groups, they are entitled to an indirect protection through a number of existing general constitutional and legislative provisions that guarantee human rights protection.

The European Commission’s Monitoring Reports on Slovenia’s progress towards accession have mostly highlighted inadequate level of the protection of Roma minority. Since members of the Roma minority occasionally face discrimination in employment, housing, health and education, the reports warned that policies promoting Roma socio-economic integration should be introduced. The Reports furthermore urged the Government to enhance its efforts in the implementation of the special status of Roma granted by the Constitution. An integration strategy developed for Roma minority could possibly be extended in order to include as well the immigrant communities which greatly outnumber the autochthonous minorities and are not granted any collective rights. The expected adoption of wide-ranging anti-discrimination legislation required by the EU will probably have implications on the status of members of all ethnic communities in Slovenia. Once Slovenia has embarked to the EU, it is also very likely that all its citizens will benefit from a policy of the cultural and linguistic diversity promoted in the Union.


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Antonija Petricusic

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