Minorities: An Enriched Expression of the Cultural Heritage
Lying at the heart of Europe, bordering four countries, Slovenia has always been a hub of trans-European routes. By virtue of its geographical position, throughout history the territory of Slovenia has been an important transit area, where varied influences and interests have mingled. Consequently, over time, different nations have lived on the territory of today's Slovenia. These days, members of other national and ethnic minorities also live in Slovenia alongside Slovenians. Since the country is aware that the protection of minorities, which provide an important link with neighbouring countries, is essential for the establishment of a modern society integrated into the modern world, Slovenia has established an exemplary system of minority protection.
According to the 2002 census, 2,258 members of the Italian national community and 6,243 members of the Hungarian national community live in Slovenia, and enjoy direct and permanent formal legal protection, having the guaranteed status of autochthonous minorities. The main provisions concerning the protection of national communities are set out in the Constitution, whilst more detailed provisions are included in legislation in various areas.
The Slovene Constitution, adopted in 1991, guarantees the Italian and Hungarian minorities living in Slovenia basic and special rights - the right to the free use of national symbols, preservation of their identity and the founding of their own organisations, the development of economic, cultural and scientific research activities and activities in the sphere of public media and publishing. The Constitution guarantees them the right to upbringing and education in their own language. Moreover, the Republic of Slovenia enables representatives of the national minorities political participation on various levels of decision making. Of the ninety members of the Slovene National Assembly, two members represent the Italian and Hungarian national communities, and are elected by representatives of the respective national communities. In addition, the two national minorities are represented on municipal councils in nationally mixed municipalities.
The Government of the Republic of Slovenia morally and financially supports the realisation of minority rights through the Government Office for Nationalities, which is the central institution for guaranteeing and respecting minority rights. In addition, the Office monitors the practical effects of protection, drawing attention to problem areas, preparing suggestions and initiatives for the Government and other state bodies and, together with the relevant ministries, preparing analyses and reports on wider issues relating to the protection of nationalities. The National Assembly also has a special Commission for National Communities.
The national minorities are politically organised in self-administering national communities, which represent them as organisations in relations with the state. The two umbrella organisations consist of representatives of municipal national communities that function on a municipal level. The Italian national community is strongly linked with the Italian national community in Croatia, primarily through the association of Union of Italians - Community of Italians, which operates in Slovenia. In Croatia, three important institutions also function for the Italian national community: the publishing house EDIT from Rijeka, Italian Drama Rijeka and the Historical Research Centre in Rovinj. All these institutions are co-financed by the Republic of Slovenia, although there has been no inter-state legal document on this since the declaration of Slovene independence ten years ago. In both nationally mixed regions, there is a well- developed network of bilingual nursery, primary and secondary education. The state, together with both minorities, is aware of the importance of setting up and developing their economic foundations. The national communities receive favourable loans from the Ministry of the Economy, which leads to the economic development of the national communities and to enhanced border co- operation.
The national communities have developed the information activity of printed and audio-visual media. Among many minority media in Slovenia, the Regional Radio and Television Centre Koper - Capodistria is a particular phenomenon and is considered a unique example in Europe. The Koper television centre has in fact been active for thirty years in the multi-ethnic and multicultural area at the meeting point of three countries. Today, it is one of the most developed minority, regional and border television stations in the whole of Europe and has broken fresh ground in terms of minority programmes in Europe. In the last decade, as an integral part of RTV Slovenia and within the Regional Radio and Television Centre Koper - Capodistria, the Koper television station has focused on creating, preparing and broadcasting television programmes for the Italian national community in Slovenia and the Slovenian minority in Italy, preparing regional television programmes and creating broadcasts as a correspondent for TV Slovenia. Trans-border television operating at the level of daily information broadcast exchange between the third programme of the Italian national television, RAI, and Koper - Capodistria Television is an ambitious experimental project in operation since May 1999.
The agreement on co-operation in culture, education and science signed between Slovenia and Austria in 2001 is also of major importance in building a multicultural society in Slovenia. Article 15 of the so called 'cultural agreement' refers to the German-speaking population in Slovenia and says that members of the German-speaking community in Slovenia shall enjoy the rights set down in Article 61 of the Slovenian Constitution, which states that "everyone has the right freely to identify with his national grouping or national community, to foster and give expression to his culture and to use his language and script".
In a similar way as applies for guaranteeing the rights of the two national communities, the Republic of Slovenia also guarantees normative and financial protection to the Romany ethnic community.
Romany ethnic community
According to statistical data from the census of 2002, 3,246 persons defined themselves as Roma, although unofficial estimates speak of 7,000 to 10,000 members of the Romany community. On a normative level, their protection is guaranteed by sectoral laws, which guarantees Roma similar rights to those of the members of the two national communities. Since in the case of the Romany community there is the additional problem of a lack of social and economic cohesion, in 1995 the Government of the Republic of Slovenia adopted a specific Programme of Measures for the Assistance of Roma which is directed above all at arranging living conditions, their subsistence through the receipt of social support and other forms of assistance, and to providing opportunities for education. Ever more is devoted to the development of their culture, providing information, preserving their identity, as well as the political participation of Roma on a local level. Since 1999, a special Government Committee for the protection of the Romany ethnic community has functioned within the framework of the Government, which deals with the problems of Roma, and includes the direct participation of Roma. Eight Romany societies function within municipalities with larger Romany populations, and Roma are also organised in the Association of Roma of Slovenia, which publishes a weekly magazine "Romano Them - Romski svet". A regular weekly broadcast for Roma within the framework of local radio stations in areas in which they live contributes to a better familiarity and understanding of the Roma.
The Republic of Slovenia additionally protects the guaranteed level of minority rights through the implementation of various international conventions and documents in this sphere of which it is a signatory. It is not therefore surprising that it is recognised within international forums such as the Council of Europe that Slovenia takes exemplary care of minorities living on its territory and provides them with even above standard minority rights in comparison with the norms of the European Union.
Table: Population by ethnic affiliation, Slovenia, Census 1953, 1961, 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2002