U.S. English Foundation Research



Language Research

3. Language issues: Where does one observe language to be a problem in the country?

Since 1995, the Centre of Ethnic Groups of Austria (“Österreichisches Volksgruppenzentrum”) has submitted proposals for a new fundamental law for minorities in Austria. The Hungarians and Croats of Burgenland, along with the Slovenes of Carinthia seek a revision of the Law since it does not afford any benefit to the ethnic groups.

The Austrian Member State Committee concerning the situation of minority languages in Austria proposed the resolution at the Annual Assembly of the Council of the European Bureau for Lesser used Languages, held in Trieste on May 31-April 1, 2000. It deals with the following problems, which should be prioritized and resolved:

  • The new codification of Austrian minority legislation, especially by the redrafting of the Article 19 of the original Constitution of 1867. Specifically, equal treatment for all the minorities in respect to legislation as well as the right for minority organizations to have due legal process and the right to sue in court is requested.
  • The guarantee to use one’s first and last name in a minority language. The formal recognition of these names and the use of diacritical signs of minority languages in both formal and semi-formal papers. The use of place names, names of streets and other topographical names in minority languages. The use of traditional Onomastics in formal or semi-formal systems, also in minority languages.
  • Recognition of the Slovenes in Styria as a minority community.
  • Creation and improvement of bilingual education systems from kindergarten to high school level. Within this system a good teacher training service and training for kindergarten staff. The headmasters of this education system shall have a formal ability to teach and understand the respective minority language.
  • Establishment of an international level minority language High school in Vienna.
  • Establishment of college level classes in the Komensky School.
  • The founding and improvement of minority language broadcasts on ORF national radio and television.
  • Assurance of financial provisions for private radio programmes and printed media in minority languages.
  • A substantial increase in the allotted budgets of minority organizations, especially for small minority groups, and an adoption of rules concerning the grants for minority languages to be decided in agreement with the representatives of the respective minorities.
  • The ratification and implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages as it pertains to all Austrian minorities. The implementation of the Framework Convention of the Protection of National Minorities and the involvement of the Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) representing Austrian minorities in drafting the Austrian report on the implementation of the Framework Convention.

Minorities in Austria are still facing major problems with bilingual education and support for their media. The chairperson of the Austrian Parliament’s Human Rights Committee has criticised the government for, on the one hand, passing new legislation granting minorities increased protection while, on the other, closing down their media. The biggest difficulties are in Carinthia, the southern province with a Slovene minority, where Jörg Heider is provincial governor. It is alleged that as many as ten bilingual school principals in that region have been replaced by him. According to the head of the department for bilingual schools in the province, Thomas Ogris, at least four of the new principals are not bilingual in Slovene and German, but speak only German. A number of representatives of Slovene minority organizations do not believe that the replacement of bilingual principals with German speakers is in keeping with the existing legislation. Among the duties of principals is the job of advising and assessing teachers, an impossible task if the principal does not understand one of the two languages. The recent close attention and monitoring of Austrian politics is the likely motivation behind Jörg Haider and the Austrian government now responding positively to requests that have been put forward by the Austrian minorities for decades. According to Austrian Slovene Marjan Pipp, who is the chairman of the Austrian Minority Center in Vienna, the Slovenes do not quite trust words before they see action.

After World War II, a popular movement in South Tyrol agitated for the region to be incorporated into Austria, but the Allies did not support these aspirations. An agreement in 1947 between Italy and Austria provided South Tyroleans with a special autonomous status. The implementation of this status became a continuing point of contention that sometimes erupted into violence between South Tyroleans and Italians and caused friction between Vienna and Rome. However, in 1992 political representatives of the German-speaking South Tyroleans and the Italian authorities in Rome succeeded in drafting legislation that is likely to satisfy South Tyrolean claims for autonomy as an Italian region.

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Updated (January 2001)

Conflict between Jörg Haider and Slovene minority:

In April, governor of the province of Carinthia, Haider demanded a change to the Austrian constitution provisions concerning minority protection and refused to implement request made by the Slovene minority in this province following a High Court decision last year. According to the decision of the Austrian High Court last year the Slovene and Croatian minorities can claim that their language is the second official language in communities where more than 10.4% of the population belongs to the minority. Following the High Court decision, Slovenes has requested change of the legislation concerning bilingual place names to be applied in communities with minimum of 10.4%. (Currently, it should be applied with a minimum 25%)

There is still problem with school bilingual principals who have been replaced by monolingual German speakers. Jörg Heider, who is responsible for schooling, removed from advertisements the request of knowledge of the minority language as a qualification. This is not in the compliance with federal legislation on bilingual schools. German nationalist group “Kärntener Heimatdienst” (Carinthian Home Service) considers the request for knowledge of Slovene a discrimination against German teachers. Lawyer Rudi Vouk will approach the Constitutional Court on behalf of these two teachers. According to him, this case will be a precedent for the whole province. He expects a decision not before the end of 2002.

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Updated (August 2001)


The Slovene minority considers taking yet another question of minority rights to the Austrian Constitutional Court. The focus is on bilingual schools. The Austrian State Treaty of 1955 guarantees bilingual education in the bilingual regions. Now six bilingual schools in villages are threatened to be incorporated into branches of larger schools.

“Every movement on minority rights in the last 10-15 years has been moved due to decisions by the constitutional court”, says Vouk, a lawyer of Klagenfurt, who is involved in cases concerning minority rights. Currently two cases are waiting to be decided upon by the court, one about bilingual place name signs, and another one about bilingual principals at bilingual schools. Further cases about bilingual place name signs are waiting for decisions in lower courts. Another case that may be also on the way, is a minority radio station in Vienna which was denied license to broadcast recently.


Quadrilingual radiostation, Mora/Antenne4 did not receive money which had been granted by the Parliament of the province and which will allow it to run until the end of September. Money has been blocked by ÖVP (the local Peoples Party) members of the Parliament. If the minority broadcaster Mora had no more money, it would be easier to sell its shares in the license. This case has now been taken to court by director of Mora, Manfred Csenar. He asks the c ourt to confirm that the contract has to continue. Thanks to a loan given on the background of the money granted, but not yet paid by the government of the province, the quadrilingual radio expects to be able to broadcast until end of September.

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Updated (December 2001)

In December, the Austria’s Constitutional Court debated whether federal legislation can limit minority rights by demanding a minimum of 25% minority members in a region when applying the constitutionally guaranteed rights. The same court last year ruled that a village in the province of Carinthia, with a minority population of only slightly more than 10%, could introduce Slovene as the second official language. Slovene minority members now claim that last year’s decision has still not been implemented in the community.

Slovene representatives have announced that they will not anymore accept the lack of implementation. According to Secretary General of the Council of the Carinthian Slovenes, Franc Wedenig, the Slovene language should have been introduced as the second official language in the community of Eberndorf/Dobrla Vas by the end of April this year, following last year’s court decision.

Dr Christa Achleitner, the director of the Minority Department at the Federal Chancellors Office, explains that with the current legal situation each public authority has to check whether rules on a minority language as a public language have to be applied. Concerning the case of Eberndorf/Dobrla Vas she says that the question of implementation could only be checked by looking at single cases whether there have been requests of the use of Slovene. The Constitutional Court continues the case on the 25% clause on December 13th.

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Updated (March 2002)


In Carinthia, the situation of the minority language spoken by 14,600 people (according to the 1991 census) is very ambivalent. Slovene is the second language of the region but it hardly appears in public life. Slovenes rarely speak their language in public, because they do not want to be pointed out as Slovene speakers. There are 2 or 3 Slovene newspapers, but you cannot buy them in the shops – only through subscription, and there are no Slovene signs. An implementation of the Constitutional Court decision from December 2001 still encounters difficulties.

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Updated (July 2006)


Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel has announced a new compromise agreement on bilingual signage in Carinthia, which was supported by the government coalition as well as by the opposition and the Association of Carinthian Slovenes. However, the Council of Carinthian Slovenes, the second largest organization representing Slovenian minority, and the Austrian Greens have rejected it. According to them, the compromise is still not in line with the Austrian Constitution.

The compromise is a slightly modified version of the proposal tabled two months ago – it allows the erection of bilingual signage in municipalities with populations greater than ten percent Slovene and in settlements with populations greater than fifteen percent. About 65 new bilingual signs should be put up by 2009, as a result

While the Slovenian government welcomed the compromise agreement, opposition parties in Slovenia criticized it claiming that the new law is still in breach of the Austrian State Treaty, in which, among other measures, it is stated that district with considerable number of Slovenian minority shall have bilingual topographic signs.

It is expected that the Austrian Parliament will pass the proposal because it has support of all major political parties in the country.

Source: Eurolang News, July 5, 2006 by Peter Josika http://www.eurolang.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2674&Itemid=1&lang=en

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Updated (August 2006)


Controversial Carinthian Governor, Joerg Haider, has recently announced plans to remove all existing bilingual signs in Carinthia and make them monolingual German, with only a small supplementary board in Slovenian underneath.

After the Austrian Constitutional Court had declared his recent attempt to stop the erection of bilingual signs in Bad Bleiburg/Pliberk to be illegal, Haider has now attached a small supplementary board with the Slovenian place name “Pliberk” below the current monolingual sign in German. At the press conference afterwards, the governor expressed the opinion that such boards would fulfill all legal requirements.

Supplementary boards in bilingual towns are also used in some other parts of Europe, including Slovakia, Poland and France. However, this method is not best practice because the writing on the supplementary board is usually smaller than on the main sign, giving the impression that one of the languages is less important and less official than the other. On the other hand, territories usually considered as more minority-language friendly, such as South Tyrol, the Basque Country or southern Finland, have all place-names in each language on the same board, and the writing always in the same size and font.

Analysts see this Haider’s move as a political stunt in view of the upcoming Austrian parliamentary elections in October. His newly founded BZÖ party has performed poorly in all opinion polls and some pollsters predict that the party will not re-enter Parliament. Therefore, his latest stunt is seen by some as an attempt to boost the anti-Slovene vote in Carinthia, a key state for the BZÖ Party.

Source: Eurolang News, September 1, 2006 by Peter Josika http://www.eurolang.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2696&Itemid=1&lang=en

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Updated (December 2007)


The Council of Carinthian Slovenes has sent an open letter to Austrian Chancellor Dr. Alfred Gusenbauer requesting immediate legislative changes in line with various rulings by the Vienna Constitutional Court over the last six years.

As previously reported, the Constitutional Court ruled an article in the minority law as unconstitutional and suggested launching bilingual place names in municipalities with minority population by lowering the percentage threshold from 20 to 10 percent of the population concerned.

The law, however, has not yet been modified. Both the previous and the current Austrian governments promised a solution in consensus with majority and minority. However, all attempts have so far failed.

Furthermore, some Carinthian and Styrian politicians have also demanded that bilingual signs be put up on both sides of the Austrian-Slovene border, including areas in Slovenia where a large Austro-German minority lived before their post-War expulsion.

The open letter signed by Matthäus Grlic, President of the Council of Carinthian Slovenes, reads: “the finding of the Constitutional Court has still not been implemented in any case and in any municipality without exception.” It further points out “the current situation in Carinthia is as if the High Court rulings had never happened”. Grlic concludes that the principles of the constitutional state are simply ignored by the legislator.

Source: Eurolang News, December 17, 2007 by Peter Josika http://www.eurolang.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3009&Itemid=1&lang=en

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