1. Legislation: Legislation dealing with the use of languages
The Constitution of the Republic of Austria, adopted in 1929
Protection of minority status in Austria has been legislated since 1976. However, this law has not been universally applied. On November 5, 1992, Austria signed the European Charter for Minority or Regional Languages. Since 1995, fifteen organizations representing minority language communities have met in a Committee as part of the Council of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages.
All Austrian national minorities have legal protection as stipulated in the “Staatsvertrag“ STGBI. No.303/1920 – Articles 66 to 68. This, the St. Germain State Treaty, is incorporated into the Constitution and as part of this law a consultative body has been established to advise regional and central government on minority protection and the distribution of State funding amongst the linguistic minorities. In addition, the law for national minorities, “Ethnic Groups Act” (“Volksgruppengesetz” of 7 July 1976 BGBI No. 196/1976) provides minority rights for Slovaks, Romanies, Burgenland Croats, Hungarians in Vienna and Burgenland, Carinthian Slovenes and Czechs.
Because of the 25% barrier introduced by the Ethnic Groups Act, limiting the protection of minorities as guaranteed under Article 7/Z.3 of the Constitutional Vienna State Treaty (1955), an amendment to this law according to the Ethnic Group Basic Act (October 24, 1995 Draft) is needed.
The Slovene language group, in common with other ethnic groups in Austria is subject to the constitutional law, which derives from the Treaty of St. Germain. Three Articles of that treaty are the most relevant:
Article 66, which conveys equal rights and includes reference to language use by context.
Article 67, which guarantees legal equality and the right to establish private schools where any language may be used and any religion preached.
Article 68, which affords public primary education in the minority language. The Treaty also guaranteed linguistic and other minorities, which represented a considerable proportion of the regional population, a share of public funds for education, religion and charity.
In 1955 the Vienna State Treaty was implemented.
Article 7 states that Slovenes in Carinthia have the right to have their own organizations, press and public meetings in Slovene, the right to receive primary level education in Slovene and a modicum of secondary level education in that language as well as their own Inspectorate of Education. Slovene was to be treated as an official language in Carinthia and would have a role in the cultural, administrative and judicial systems. Bilingual road signs could be erected and anti Slovene organizations were outlawed.
The Ethnic Groups Act of 1976 established Ethnic Advisory Councils, which act as consultative authorities and can submit proposals to the federal as well as the regional governments. They also play a role in the funding of the groups to which the Act pertains. These Councils consist of 50% appointees from the representative organization of the ethnic group and the other 50% by political parties or the church respectively, providing they are members of the ethnic group. The Voluntary Cultural Association for Styria was founded in 1988. One of its main goals is to ensure the protection of the constitutional rights of the originally Slovene and now bilingual population of Styria. The Association is currently the sole representative of the interests of the ethnic group.
Croatians in Burgenland (applies also to Slovenes in Styria and Carinthia) enjoy further legal protection in Article 7/Z.3 of the constitutional Vienna State Treaty of May 15, 1955 (Federal Law Gazette No. 152/1955), which contains one of the strongest declarations of rights for these minorities. Legal provisions also exist for Croatian in the Provincial School Act of the Burgenland (LGBI.1937/40).
Burgenland Croats have the following constitutional rights under Article 7/Z.3 of the constitutional Vienna State Treaty:
- To use Croatian with the authorities; granted in 25 communities
- To use Croatian before courts of justice; granted only before 6 district law courts
- To bilingual printed forms; granted only sporadically
- To use Croatian in official publications; not granted in Burgenland
- To bilingual place and road signs, not respected in Burgenland. To date not one single official bilingual topographical sign has been posted
The rights of the Czechs of Vienna are established in the “Ethnic Groups Ac” of 1976, which also applies to other groups. In the Treaty of 1955, the Czechs (and the Hungarians) were not mentioned.
The Bruenner Agreement of 7 June 1920, “Treaty of Brno” (Czechoslovakia BGBI No. 163/1921) between Austria and Czechoslovakia allows the establishment of private Czech or Slovak schools in Vienna recognized by the State. The treaty also allows for the establishment of public schools in Vienna with Slovak or Czech as languages of instruction.
The Slovaks are subject to the same conditions as other language groups within Austria. Most of these legal conditions pertain to the Treaties of St. Germain and the Austrian Ethnic Groups Act of 1976. The Treaty of Brno between Austria and Czechoslovakia of June 7, 1920 (Federal Law Gazette No.163/1921), which allows the establishment of private Czech or Slovak schools in Vienna recognized by the State and also the establishment of public schools in Vienna with Slovak or Czech as languages of instruction.
These legal concessions grant equality and the freedom to use the Slovak language within different contexts, often subject to self-financing by the language group. Since public funding often depends upon the size of the group the small size of the Slovaks is prohibitive.
Legal provisions exist for the Hungarian language in Burgenland in the Provincial School Act of the Burgenland (LGBI.1937/40).
The Hungarian minority is protected by the Treaty of St. Germain (State Law Gazette No. 303/1920; Articles 66 to 68), which has constitutional status, and the Ethnic Groups Act of July 7, 1976 (Federal Law Gazette No. 196/1976).
In 1992 Romas received formal recognition by the Austrian government as a national minority. This placed their language under the protection of the 1976 Ethnic Group Act.
Updated (January 2001)
NEW LAW ON MINORITY BROADCASTING
The Austrian council of ministers has approved a new law concerning linguistic minorities and the public broadcaster ORF. The new law ensures that for the first time the six official minority languages in Austria (Croatian, Slovene, Hungarian, Czech, Slovakian, and Roma) are mentioned in ORF policy documents. Under the legislation, it is up to the state’s audience council (which represents Austrian listeners and viewers) to decide about the exact number of minority programs in a year.
However, Austrian minority representatives have strongly criticized the fact that the law also allows ORF to broadcast these programs on private radio stations and therefore frees the state broadcaster from its obligation to provide such a service. They demand ORF to confirm explicitly in its policy document that it will produce and broadcast the minority programs itself and to ensure that large groups of Burgenland Croats, Hungarian, Slovaks and Czechs in Vienna, as well as the Slovenes in Carinthia will have their own special programs in the future.
The Austrian parliament will pass a bill concerning bilingual education in Carinthia following a recent decision by the Austrian Constitutional Court. Now parents will be able to choose bilingual German-Slovene education for the first four years of primary school instead of the three years. This follows a ruling by the Austrian Constitutional Court last year and it is expected to be implemented during plenary meeting in the Austrian Parliament in June.
Updated (July 2001)
However, Haider’s discussions about the closure of the bilingual schools in Carinthia are causing astonishment and panic among the Slovenian representatives. They define the closure as a “contradiction to the regulations of the Austrian convention and the European democratic standards”. Haider points out that the concerned communities themselves were in favor of the closure. Furthermore, 40 new bilingual teachers will start in autumn, Haider says, because of the constitutional court decision stating that bilingual classes should be provided all four years of elementary schools, instead of only three years.
Updated (December 2001)
Austria’s Constitutional Court declared the law that limits the right for bilingual place name signs to communities with a minimum of 25% minority members as unconstitutional. According to the Constitutional Court, a percentage of “more then 10% of minority members over a longer term” is sufficient, reports the minority service of the Austrian Broadcaster ORF.
Bilingual place name signs are guaranteed by the Constitution for districts in Carinthia, Burgenland and Styria with Slovene, Croat or mixed population. However, the 1976 law of implementation states that bilingual place name signs are to be put up only in districts with a “considerable” (25%) minority population. The Constitutional Court decided that the original law text does not clearly implement a minimum of 25% of minority speakers.” According to the international practice, minority rights are given if the minority makes up 5 to 25% of the population, ” said the president of the Constitutional Court Ludwig Adamowich.
Slovene minority representatives in Carinthia welcomed the amendment.
However, the Governor of Carinthia, Jörg Haider, is not happy at all wit this verdict. According to Haider, the Court decision was an “accelerated carnival joke”. He will stick to the regulation from 1976 and not put up any additional place name signs. Haider also plans a referendum and the preparations for it should start in January 2002.
On the second hand, the Governor of Burgenland, Hans Neissl from the Social democrats, had no problem with additional place name signs, “We will continue to go our common way with the minorities and to find the solution together. Therefore we will stick to the Court decision and apply the new legal regulation by putting up bilingual place name signs where the law foresees it.”
Updated (June 2002)
The Austrian Parliament will soon pass a law according to which all immigrants (except those coming from the EU) arriving to Austria or those who have settled in since 1998, must attend German lessons (at least 100 hours).
The bill also stipulates that some 750,000 immigrants, coming mainly from Turkey, the former Yugoslavia and the Balkans, are to pay part of the related costs. Those who refuse to take the lessons can even loose their residence.
Source: Mercator, http://www.troc.es/ciemen/mercator/index-gb.htm, June 2002
Updated (September 2002)
If a high court ruling on minority legislation is not implemented before the end of this year, Austria is heading for an “illegal situation,” claimed legal experts.
“No more bilingual place name signs in bilingual communities in the Austrian province of Carinthia,” is the status after a special commission did not reach an agreement on how to implement last year’s high court ruling on this question.
The Austrian chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel made a proposal for the Slovene minority in Carinthia to double the number of bilingual signs from 74 to 148, to support kindergartens, schools, culture and media, and to organize regular meetings between the Slovene minority and the German nationalist group. In the same solution-package the minority was asked to sign a declaration, that their constitutional rights thus were fulfilled. Minority representatives called such a declaration “a symbolic suicide.” Slovenia is sorry about collapse of the negotiations, and describes Schüssel’s suggestions as unacceptable for the minority.
The Slovene and the Croatian minority in Austria enjoy a number of basic rights according to the Article 7 of the 1955 Constitution. Bilingual education and bilingual place name signs are explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, and the activities of organizations threatening the existence or the rights of minorities are prohibited.
In December last year the constitutional court ruled that bilingual place name signs have to be put up in all communities, where the Slovene or the Croatian minority creates more than 10 percent of the population, thus overruling the Austrian legislation on place name signs saying that only communities, where more than 25 percent belong to the minority, can have bilingual signs.
Minority representatives speak of nearly 400 signs, or – if small villages are not taken into account – at least 200 signs in Carinthia that have to be put up according to the high court ruling.
In the three provinces where Slovene and Croatian minorities live, place name signs haven’t been put up according to the law yet. The leader of the province of Carinthia, Jörg Haider, in December 2001 announced that he considers the ruling to be a joke, and he intends to ignore it. Shortly before Christmas he also suggested to remove all existing bilingual place name signs and to focus on other issues of minority protection.
Source: Eurolang News, Flensburg, September 13, 2002, by Brigitte Alfter, www.eurolang.net
Updated (December 2002)
Minority rights for Croatians in Burgenland are recognized under Article 7 of the Austrian State Treaty of 1955, which is an integral part of the Austrian Constitution. The Austrian Constitution, the State Treaty of 1955 and the 1976 Law on Ethnic Groups regulate language use but do not contain specific personal rights or ethnic group rights.
Within Burgenland the use of Croatian in dealings with state administration was only legalized by a decree in 1990, after Croatians had fought their cases all the way to the Austrian Constitutional Court.
Bilingual topographical signs, although their use was expressly instituted by Article 7 of the Austrian State Treaty (1955), were erected only in July 2000, after a government decree had put an end to 45 years of bickering between political parties, local administrations and provincial and federal governments.
Despite a lack of official recognition, Croatian has always been widely used in all spheres of public life in Burgenland, especially at a local level, although before 1990 it was not used in written form. All Croatian speakers in Burgenland today are in fact bi-, tri- or multilingual.
Education in Croatian was first regulated by the Burgenländisches Landeschulgesetz of 1937, which guaranteed tuition in Croatian at primary school level in all municipalities where the minority made up at least 30 percent of the local population. However, no provisions were made for secondary schools. The new Minority Language School Law of 1994 (Minderheitenschulgesetz für das Burgenland) brought a number of changes. Whereas the old school law of 1937 linked tuition rights in Croatian with the census figures, the new law provided for tuition in Croatian in all provincial schools, classifying 28 local primary schools and 2 lower secondary schools as bilingual German-Croatian.
The possibility of tuition in Croatian was extended to the whole educational system within the province and the number of pupils necessary to open a class has been reduced. Specifically the number of pupils required for the introduction of Croatian as an optional subject was reduced to seven pupils, in some cases five. Since 1994, bilingual school certificates can be issued to pupils of the bilingual schools.
However, the new law has some major flaws. According to the old law of 1937, all pupils in the bilingual municipalities had to attend bilingual schooling irrespective of their mother tongue, while currently parents may opt out of the bilingual education. Whereas the old school law defined the extent to which Croatian had to be used in tuition, the new law contains no such provisions, defining either the extent of minority language tuition, or curricula or general educational goals and standards for minority language schooling. Thus Croatian tuition and language planners have labelled it as “the beginning of the end of bilingual tuition in Burgenland.”
Source: Mercator Education, Regional Dossiers, the Croatian Language in Education in Austria
Minority rights for Slovenes in Carinthia are recognized under Article 7 of the State Treaty of 1955 and are based on territorial principles, according to which an access to minority schools is granted.
The Austrian Constitutional Law, the State Treaty and the Ethnic Group Law (Volksgruppengesetz) of 1976 do not contain any direct guarantee of protection for the ethnic group itself, but to some extent regulate language use. Nevertheless, the absence of any coordinated language planning and policy in Austria very often leads to numerous different laws and regulations concerning the use of language in the country.
There are 35 municipalities in the bilingual area in Carinthia. Only 6 of them have topographic signs in both languages; in 13 municipalities Slovenian is recognized as the official language for communal matters, but only in 9 Slovenian can be used when dealing with the local police. In all of the 35 municipalities parents have the right to ask for bilingual education for their children, and Slovenian can be used in the churches.
Source: Mercator Education, Regional Dossiers, the Slovenian Language in Education in Austria (Carinthia), http://www1.fa.knaw.nl/mercator/regionale_dossiers/regional_dossier_slovenian_in_austria.htm
Updated (May 2003)
THE STATE TREATY OF ST. GERMAIN AND THE VIENNA STATE TREATY
The earliest constitutional provisions date back to the State Treaty of St. Germain (Federal Law Gazette No. 303/1920).
Article 66 of the Treaty stipulates that all Austrian nationals are equal before the law and enjoy the same rights without distinction as to race, language or religion; furthermore, the free use of any language in private life, in commerce, in religion, in the press or in publications of any kind, or at public meetings is protected.
Article 67 of the Treaty lays down that Austrian nationals who belong to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities enjoy the same treatment and security under the law and in reality as the other Austrian nationals. This Article underlines in particular that they have an equal right to establish, manage and control at their own expense charitable, religious and social institutions, schools and other educational establishments, with the right to use their own language freely therein.
Another constitutional provision guaranteeing equal treatment and prohibiting discrimination is Article 7 of the Vienna State Treaty. Paragraph 1 stipulates that Austrian nationals belonging to the minorities enjoy the same rights as all other Austrian nationals, including the right to their own organizations, meetings and press in their own language.
Paragraph 4 of the same article stipulates that nationals of the minorities are granted the right to participate in the cultural, administrative and judicial systems on equal terms with other Austrian nationals.
Paragraph 5 prohibits organizations whose aim is to deprive minorities of their minority capacity or rights.
BURGENLAND-CROATIAN IN THE BURGENLAND-CROATIAN LANGUAGE AREA IN THE LAND OF BURGENLAND
In accordance with the 1995 Burgenland Act on Nurseries, State Law Gazette No. 63 as amended in Federal Law Gazette No. 91/2002, Burgenland-Croatian is the compulsory second language in nurseries in specific communities defined by the law. In other communities in Burgenland the Burgenland-Croatian language has to be used as a medium of instruction in nurseries if at least 25 percent of parents/guardians request it upon registration. In these nurseries Burgenland-Croatian has to be used to the extent necessary but not less than six hours a week.
By virtue of the constitutional provision of Article 1 (1) of the Minority Schools Act for Burgenland, Austrian nationals belonging to the Burgenland-Croatian minority are granted the constitutional right to have education in their language or to learn Burgenland-Croatian as a compulsory subject. Article 3 of the Act provides for primary schools or classes at primary schools where instruction is given in Burgenland-Croatian and German (i.e. bilingual primary schools or classes). The Minority Schools Act for Burgenland also guarantees the continuation of existing bilingual primary schools (Article 6 (2)) and permits the establishment of additional bilingual primary schools in the event of long-term demand (Article 6 (3)).
Article 6 (1) of this Act stipulates that bilingual primary schools have to be available in those communities and to the extent that all members of the Burgenland-Croatian ethnic group who register, would be able to attend such schools.
In conformity with the Minority Schools Act for Burgenland, the Burgenland-Croatian language is taught in lower secondary schools, special higher secondary schools and in special language programs also at other schools in Burgenland, i.e. generally in all state-run schools of Burgenland.
Due to the university autonomy guaranteed under the law, the powers of the government to intervene in university study courses are limited. Croatian is; however, offered at Austrian universities as a study course.
In Austria the curricula take into account the history and culture reflected in the minority language (cf. in particular the Ordinance issued by the Federal Ministry for Education that serves as a basis for designing the curricula for minority primary schools and teaching in minority languages in primary and lower secondary schools in Burgenland and Carinthia, Fed. Law Gazette No. 1966/118, as amended in Fed. Law Gazette Vol. II, No. 1998/309).
Moreover, the subject “mother tongue education” (offered as an optional subject or a subject without formal assessment) includes facts and figures on the country of origin of the pupils concerned.
In accordance with Articles 13 of the Ethnic Groups Act in conjunction with the Ordinance regarding the Use of Croatian as an Official Language, Croatian is admissible to be used upon request as the second official language in addition to German before the district courts of Eisenstadt, Güssing, Mattersburg, Neusiedl am See, Oberpullendorf and Oberwart as well as before the Eisenstadt Regional Court.
In accordance with the same article, Croatian is admitted as an additional official language before administrative authorities within the districts mentioned above. A person is entitled to submit written and oral applications in this language and to receive decisions and orders of the authorities in German and Croatian (Article 16 of the Ethnic Groups Act).
SLOVENE IN THE SLOVENE LANGUAGE AREA IN THE LAND OF CARINTHIA:
On October 1, 2001 the Carinthian Nursery Funds Act (State Law Gazette No. 74/2001) entered into force. The aim of this Act is to promote private bilingual or multilingual nurseries of the Slovene minority in Carinthia.
In accordance with Article 10 (1) of the Minority Schools Act for Carinthia, primary schools for the Slovene minority have to be located in communities where bilingual elementary instructions were provided at the beginning of the school year 1958/59. This legislation ensures that all pupils of primary schools in Carinthia regions may receive Slovene or bilingual education.
The parents/guardians of pupils have to register them either for Slovene or bilingual education. In bilingual primary schools (grades 1 to 4) instruction has to be provided in both German and Slovene to the same extent. From grade 5 onwards, German becomes the language of instruction but the syllabus has to provide for four lessons a week in the Slovene language (having the status of a compulsory subject). Religious instruction has to be offered in Slovene and German in all bilingual grades.
To support bilingual teaching, a second teacher has to be appointed for mixed classes. If children enrolled for bilingual instruction do not have an adequate command of the Slovene language, remedial teaching in Slovene has to be offered. Slovene can also be studied as a subject without formal assessment at German-only primary schools in Carinthia.
In conformity with the Minority Schools Act for Carinthia, the Slovene language is taught in lower secondary schools, special higher secondary schools and in special language programs also at other schools in Carinthia, i.e. generally in all state-run schools of Carinthia.
Article 24 of the Minority Schools Act for Carinthia provides for bilingual higher secondary education. Such a school is located in Klagenfurt and Slovene is used there as a medium of instruction, while the use of German in all subjects is also compulsory. Pupils have to have an adequate command of the Slovene language to be admitted to this school. German is a mandatory subject in the final school leaving examination.
As for university education, Slovene is offered at Austrian universities only as a study course.
In accordance with Articles 13 of the Ethnic Groups Act in conjunction with the Ordinance regarding the Use of Slovene as an Official Language, Slovene is admissible as the official language in addition to German before the district courts of Ferlach, Eisenkappel and Bleiburg as well as before the Klagenfurt Regional Court. Any resident of the indigenous settlement area may request to use Slovene as the official language in criminal proceedings conducted against him/her before these courts.
In the districts mentioned above Slovene is admitted as an additional official language before administrative authorities. This means that a person may deal with such an authority in Slovene. A person is also entitled to submit written and oral applications in this language and to receive decisions and orders of the authority in German and Slovene (Article 16 of the Ethnic Groups Act).
In proceedings before the above-mentioned administrative authorities conducted in Slovene, written and oral applications in Slovene have to be translated into German ex officio (Article 14 (1) Ethnic Groups Act). Pursuant to Article 15 of this Act, the services of interpreters have to be used if necessary. If records of these proceedings are prepared in German, they have to be translated immediately into Slovene.
HUNGARIAN IN THE HUNGARIAN LANGUAGE AREA OF THE LAND OF BURGENLAND:
In accordance with Article 2 (a) of the 1995 Burgenland Act on Nurseries (State Law Gazette No. 63 as amended in Fed. Law Gazette No. 91/2002) in nurseries, in specific communities defined in the law, Hungarian is the second compulsory language. Upon request of at least 25 percent of the parents/guardians Hungarian can also be used as a medium of instruction in nurseries in other communities of Burgenland. In these nurseries Hungarian has to be used to the extent necessary but not less than six hours a week.
By virtue of the constitutional provision of Article 1 (1) of the Minority Schools Act for Burgenland, Austrian nationals belonging to the Hungarian minority are granted the right to Hungarian language instruction or to learn Hungarian as a compulsory subject. Article 3 of the Act provides for primary schools or classes where instruction is provided in both Hungarian and German (bilingual primary schools or classes). The Minority Schools Act for Burgenland also guarantees the continuation of existing bilingual primary schools (Article 6 (2)) and permits the establishment of additional bilingual primary schools in the event of a long-term demand (Article 6 (3)).
In conformity with the Minority Schools Act for Burgenland, the Hungarian language is taught in lower secondary schools, special higher secondary schools and in special language programs also at other schools in Burgenland, i.e. generally in all state-run schools of Burgenland.
Hungarians do not have their university but Hungarian is offered at Austrian universities as a study course.
In accordance with the Articles 13 of the Ethnic Groups Act in conjunction with the Ordinance regarding the Use of Hungarian as an Official Language, Hungarian is admissible as an official language in addition to German before the district courts of Oberpullendorf and Oberwart as well as before the Eisenstadt Regional Court. Everybody may request to use Hungarian as the official language in criminal proceedings conducted against him/her before these courts.
Hungarian is also admitted as an additional official language before administrative authorities in these districts and it means that a person may apply to such an authority to use Hungarian. A person is entitled to submit written and oral applications in this language and to receive decisions and orders of the authority in German and Hungarian (Article 16 of the Ethnic Groups Act).
In proceedings before the above-mentioned administrative authorities conducted in Hungarian written and oral applications in Hungarian have to be translated into German ex officio (Article 14 (1) Ethnic Groups Act). Pursuant to Article 15 of this Act, the services of interpreters have to be used if necessary. If records of these proceedings are drawn up in German, they have to be translated immediately into Hungarian. In accordance with Article 22 of this Act, costs arising from such translations or from interpretation have to be borne ex officio.
Based on Article 21 of the Personal Status Act in conjunction with Article 154 of the Austrian Civil Code (ABGB), parents decide about the first name of their child. There is no requirement under the Austrian law that a German first name or surname must be given to the children. Article 5 (3) of the Personal Status Ordinance states that the transcription of personal names with Latin characters has to be true to the characters and marks of the original. This means that diacritical marks not used in the German language have to be reproduced.
However, the personal status register has to be kept in German (Article 18 of the Ethnic Groups Act). If documents drawn up in the language of an ethnic group are submitted upon registration, the authority has to procure translation into German. On the other hand, extracts from the register have to be translated into the respective minority language if requested (Article 20 Ethnic Groups Act).
The Act amending the Law on Name Changes grants people a far-reaching right to change their names. Members of linguistic minorities who adopted a Germanized name are able to change it to a name in the minority language. Names may now be changed for any reason.
Source: Council of Europe, Initial Periodical Report by Austria presented to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in accordance with Article 15 of the Charter, January 23, 2003, http://www.coe.int/t/e/legal%5faffairs/local%5fand%5fregional%5fdemocracy/regional%5for%5fminority%5flanguages/documentation/1%5fperiodical%5freports/2003_5e_MIN-LANG%20PR_Austria.asp
Updated (November 2003)
BASIC LAW OF DECEMBER 21, 1867 ON THE GENERAL RIGHTS OF NATIONALS IN THE KINGDOMS AND LÄNDER REPRESENTED IN THE REICHSRAT
All nations of the state have equal rights and every nation has the invulnerable right of protection and cultivation of its nationality and language.
The equality of all customary languages in school, administration and public life is acknowledged.
TREATY OF ST. GERMAIN, 1919
(Part III, Section V, Protection of Minorities)
Austria undertakes that the stipulations contained in this Section shall be recognized as fundamental laws, and that no law, regulation or official action shall conflict or interfere with these stipulations, nor shall prevail over them.
Austria undertakes to assure full and complete protection of life and liberty to all inhabitants of Austria without distinction of birth, nationality, language, race or religion.
All inhabitants of Austria shall be entitled to the free exercise, whether public or private, of any creed, religion or belief, whose practice are not inconsistent with public order or public morals.
STATE TREATY FOR THE REESTABLISHMENT OF AN INDEPENDENT AND DEMOCRATIC AUSTRIA, 1955
Article 7. Rights of the Slovene and Croat Minorities
(1) Austrian nationals of the Slovene and Croat minorities in Carinthia, Burgenland and Styria shall enjoy the same rights on equal terms as all other Austrian nationals, including the right to their own organizations, meetings and press in their own language.
(3) In the administrative and judicial districts of Carinthia, Burgenland and Styria, where there are Slovene, Croat or mixed populations, the Slovene or Croat languages shall be accepted as the official languages in addition to German. In such districts topographical terminology and inscriptions shall be in the Slovene and Croat languages as well as in German.
(4) Austrian nationals of the Slovene and Croat minorities in Carinthia, Burgenland and Styria shall participate in the cultural, administrative and judicial system in these territories on equal terms with the other Austrian nationals.
(5) The activity of organizations whose aim is to deprive the Croat or Slovene population of their minority character or rights shall be prohibited.
GENERAL LEGISLATION AFFECTING MINORITIES AND THEIR LINGUISTIC RIGHTS
- Volksgruppengesetz (Minorities Act) (BGBl 396/1976 modified by BGBl I 2002/35)
- Minorities School Act for Carinthia (BGBl 1959/101 modified by BGBl I 2001/76)
- Minorities School Act for Burgenland (BGBl 1994/641 modified by BGBl I 1998/136)
Source: Minority-language Related Broadcasting and Legislation in the OSCE, Wolfson College, Oxford University & Institute for Information Law (IViR) (http://www.ivir.nl/index-english.html), Universiteit van Amsterdam (Study commissioned by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities), April 2003, edited by T. McGonagle (IViR), B. Davis Noll & M. Price (PCMLP), http://www.ivir.nl/publications/mcgonagle/Minority-language%20broadcasting.pdf
Updated (February 2004)
The legal standing of the ethnic groups (Volksgruppen) living in Austria is regulated by the Law on Ethnic Groups and the Decree on the Establishment of Ethnic Group Councils. The Law on Ethic Groups, adopted on July 7, 1976, applies to five ethnic groups, including Hungarians. The law defines an ethnic group as “a group of Austrian citizens born and residing on federal territory whose native language is not German and who possess their own folk traditions” (Article 1, paragraph 2). It also calls for the establishment of ethnic group councils, which are further described in the abovementioned Decree (adopted on January 18, 1977). These councils have 16 voting members, 8 are appointed and 8 are delegated by various associations. The functions in the council are divided equally between the Hungarian communities of Burgenland and those in Vienna and the surrounding areas.
The law states that any Austrian citizen who is eligible for membership of the Parliament and can be expected to represent the interests of the relevant ethnic group can become a member of the ethnic group council. The council is an advisory body without an independent sphere of competence, and its members are appointed by the chancellor.
On June 24, 1997 a body made up of ethnic group council’s chairmen and their deputies handed over to the federal chancellor and the chairman of the Parliament a joint memorandum, which contained the demands of every ethnic group from education and the media to the use of languages in everyday life. As a direct effect of this memorandum, bilingual signs (German-Croatian and German-Hungarian, respectively) were erected in July 2000 in Burgenland (Felsõpulya (Oberpullendorf), Felsõõr (Oberwart), Alsóõr (Unterwart), and Õrisziget (Siget in der Wart)).
Source: The EU Accession Monitoring Program (EUMAP), a program of the Open Society Institute, http://www.htmh.hu/reports2002/austria2002.htm
Updated (March 2005)
ADDITIONAL TWENTY SLOVENE-GERMAN BILINGUAL SIGNS WILL BE PUT UP IN CARINTHIA
At the Vienna Consensus Conference on March 13, the Carinthian government and various Carinthian organizations, representing the Slovene minority living in the country, agreed to put up additional twenty bilingual signs in southern Carinthia.
The parties also decided to meet again in April and reach a final agreement in line with the 2001 decision of the constitutional court that the current 25-percent threshold for bilingual signs is too high.
Representatives of the Carinthian Freedom Party (FPÖ), including Jörg Haider, initially intended to boycott the conference; however, eventually they accepted the invitation of the Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel.
Generally Slovene representatives aimed for to lower the threshold for bilingual signs to 10 percent, which would mean approximately 300 additional signs.
Currently there are 70 bilingual signs in southern Carinthia. Those twenty newly promised signs will be put up mainly in smaller villages, where Slovene speakers constitute more than 25 percent of the total population.
In 2002, the Austrian High Court decided that current Austrian legislation, making bilingual signs conditional on a minimum 25 percent of the population belonging to a minority, was unconstitutional.
Source: Eurolang New, Biel/Bienne, March 15, 2005, by Peter Josika, http://www.eurolang.net/news.asp?id=4970
Updated (May 2006)
AUSTRIAN CHANCELLOR ANNOUNCES DRAFT ORDINANCE ON BILINGUAL SIGNS
More than five years after the Austrian High Court had declared legislation on bilingual signs to be in breach of the constitution, Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel finally released a new draft on 11 May 2006.
The new draft ordinance increases the number of municipalities and communities in Carinthia with official bilingual signage from the current 76 to 158. It is to take effect on 30 June 2006.
As it was mentioned in previous updates, the Carinthian governor, Joerg Haider, whose party is part of the government coalition, has repeatedly and publicly rejected the erection of additional bilingual signs. However, he reacted in a surprisingly positive manner to the new draft proposal calling it “a fair basis for further discussions”. His reaction is particularly surprising as Schüssel’s ordinance also orders bilingual signposts for Bad Bleiburg/Pliberk where Haider had only recently moved the town entry signs to invalidate a High Court decision. On the other hand, the governor is still planning to conduct plebiscites on bilingual signs in Carinthia this year.
In addition, the new draft ordinance was criticized by legal experts, the Austrian Greens and some members of the Slovenian minority for containing an ambiguous clause. It states that bilingual signs have to be erected in consultation with the public by the end of 2009, which allows a further delay of up to three years until the signs could finally be put up. “Definitely unconstitutional”, as Heinz Mayer, an expert on Austrian constitutional law, called this.
The Council of Slovenes in Austria has also rejected the new proposal. Rudi Vouk, a lawyer and Deputy President of the Council, said that the document contains many inconsistencies. He pointed out that the draft is incomplete as there are villages (parts of larger municipalities) with Slovene-speaking majority missing. He added that it is also unclear on what basis some villages have been considered and others ignored. Moreover, Vouk thinks that the draft has little to do with the High Court decision as such, adding that the Austrian minority law was passed in the 1970s and at that time, 394 municipalities and part-municipalities would have been qualified as bilingual.
In an unprecedented move, the Federation of Carinthian Slovenes and the Kärntner Heimatdienst (KHD), a right-wing association of Carinthian organizations, announced their joint support for the ordinance in a press conference in Vienna. The KHD was founded by German-speaking Carinthians in 1918 to stop attempts to incorporate Southern Carinthia into the newly formed Yugoslavia. Furthermore, the organization was able to exert influence on the province’s political parties during various “campaigns” such as those against bilingual traffic signposts (1972), minority census (1976), or abolition of bilingual primary education. Until recently, the Heimatdienst categorically rejected bilingual signs in Carinthia. Therefore, the joint declaration is considered a milestone in the Austro-Slovene and inter-Carinthian relationships.
Source: Eurolang News, May 17, 2006 by Peter Josika http://www.eurolang.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2629&Itemid=1&lang=en and http://en.wikipedia.org/
Updated (February 2007)
NEW LEGISLATION ON BILINGUAL SIGNAGE
Austria’s new Federal Government, comprising the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the center right People’s Party (ÖVP), have promised a solution to the ongoing saga of missing bilingual signs in Southern Carinthia. A paragraph on page 21 of the coalition’s agreement says that the government “wants to secure the constitutional rights of the autochthonous ethnicities of Austria” and “that there is no doubt that all decisions by the High Court need to be implemented in consensus with the ethnic groups”. The government is aiming for new legislation to take effect by summer.
As reported earlier, the High Court has rejected the practice of erecting small supplementary boards with Slovenian place-names instead of the traditional full size bilingual signs in its latest ruling on 29 December 2006. Joerg Haider responded by saying that the decision was “political and not constitutional” and called an extraordinary session of the regional assembly on 24 January 2007. However, all parties, except his BZÖ, boycotted the session. Meanwhile various experts have continued to demand bilingual signs in the historically bilingual areas on both sides of the Austro-Slovene border.
The main point of contention is how towns qualify for bilingual signs. Legislation valid until 2001 made bilingual signs compulsory if an autochthonous minority constituted at least 25 percent of the population in a municipality or settlement. The High Court rejected this law in 2001 and demanded that the percentage be reduced. Governor Joerg Haider and his FPÖ (later BZÖ), at the time junior partner in the government, rejected the High Court decision as “politically motivated” and effectively boycotted any new legislation on the issue.
Analysts expect that a plan drawn up by a consensus conference in 2004, aimed at reducing the required threshold of minority speakers to 10 percent for a municipality and 15 percent for a settlement, will be the most likely option for the new Austrian Government.
Nevertheless, experts generally criticize the practice of using percentages to determine if a place qualifies for bilingual signs. They demand bilingual signs in all historically bilingual municipalities in Austria and Slovenia. For example, Slovenes in Styria have proposed for the entire historic bilingual border region between the Drau/Drava River and Ptuj/Pettau, on both sides of the border, to receive bilingual signage.
While the Germans or “Old-Austrian” of Stajerska/Untersteiermark and the Kocevje/Gottschee area of Carniola, Slovenia, have virtually disappeared due to the post-World War II expulsion, the number of Slovenes in Austria has decreased by more than 80 percent since 1920 due to ongoing assimilation.
Experts warn that a percentage-based solution in Austria, and the continuous refusal by Slovenia to recognize her Austro-German heritage in the same way as their Hungarian and Italian one, will most likely accelerate the demise of historic bilingualism on both sides of the border and encourage prejudice between Austrians and Slovenes rather than heal historic wounds.
Source: Eurolang News, February 1, 2007 by Peter Josika http://www.eurolang.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2803&Itemid=1&lang=en