150TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ST HERMAGORAS SOCIETY
Meeting the press
(Audio in Slovenian Language)
Klagenfurt (Austria), 28 September 2001
After the solemn celebration the President of the Republic Milan Kucan gave a statement for the press in the Palace of St Hermagoras Society:
Ladies and gentlemen, I am most pleased that today I have had the opportunity to pay a visit to the Slovenes of Carinthia, all the more so as it falls on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the St Hermagoras Society.
For as long as it has existed, the St Hermagoras Society has played an exceptional cultural and spiritual role, as well as raising and preserving national consciousness. It has survived through difficult times, out of which there have emerged two sister organisations to your society here in Klagenfurt; the St Hermagoras Societies in Celje and Gorizia. During the fairly difficult times following the Second World War, the St Hermagoras Society in Klagenfurt made it possible for Slovenes to acquire a different view of events in the world, and also of happenings among us in the mother country. It did not force this view upon people, but it was possible for all to decide for themselves, and I believe that it was useful and welcome, considering everything that later awaited us.
Today I have had the opportunity to visit several centres of Carinthian Slovene life. I was particularly pleased by the fact that these centres are fully alive, and that life there is being invigorated and receiving new substance and new impetus.
I believe that the 150th anniversary of the St Hermagoras Society is a fitting opportunity for Slovenes to self-confidently and proudly look upon their past and the role that they have played in Carinthia and in Austria as well. After all, the culture of the Carinthian Slovenes is also a part of Austrian culture. Its richness is expressed not only in its literary life, but also in other areas of cultural activity. I believe that there are reasons to justify what I refer to as national pride. In truth, this is also an opportunity for strengthening coexistence and dialogue with the national majority. In this process, it seems quite significant to me that this dialogue is today taking place under different circumstances – under circumstances that demand that we focus on the future.
A attention must be directed to our understanding of a united Europe, to our understanding of the globalised world, in which not only intensive deliberation will be necessary, but intensive enforcement of global responsibility as well. For each of us, this begins at home and in our own country, through the prevention of events that could threaten human dignity here at home, that could threaten our neighbours, our security and the peace of others. It also demands that we be attentive and sensitive to what others are doing.
I am an optimist. Not because there have not been any problems, but because of the need to enforce global responsibilities that – in democratic and law-governed states such as Austria, from the perspective of the position of the minority – can also be resolved by appealing to international agreements, to the Austrian Constitution, to the Austrian State Treaty and, ultimately, to decisions by the Constitutional Court, if there exists a feeling that rights have been violated. One must of course ask whether all of these standards and decisions also apply to our lives. In my judgement, this is fundamental and essential. Ultimately, the fulfilment of the rights of a minority and its protection, all legal standards aside, is a fundamental issue of the dignity and honour of the majority nationality. This is how we view it, and in Slovenia we are also under the same obligation when it concerns the issue of the Italian and Hungarian minorities, who live among us as genuine minority groups.
I would like to say that I am quite happy that President Klestil has joined in today's celebration with an official letter, and particularly that my friend Mr Fischer, parliamentary speaker, is here and that I can meet him once again and discuss issues of interest to both of us, and which concern not only relations between our countries, but also the future of Europe.
I would also like to discuss with him what possibilities might exist in those areas that are ethnically mixed and that, in my judgement, require somewhat different criteria so that the economic measures of the Austrian government would not encroach on the rights of Carinthian Slovenes.
Could you explain, Mr President, what kind of fears you have related to the economic measures that the Austrian government has adopted, in connection with the Slovene minority in Carinthia?
I don't have any fears; I'm really not a fearful person. But Carinthian Slovenes, citizens of the Republic of Austria, have drawn attention to the fact that the programme – which would abolish some branch schools or dismiss demands for bilingual head teachers or interfere in the organisation of legal authority – could mean that bilingualism as a value will, objectively, begin to be valued less. They also feel that their rights for access to state bodies and schools will be curtailed.
But the economic measures – could they not also have a harmful effect on bilingual institutions?
I believe that that is not, and cannot be, their purpose.