The Slovenia Times

Light shed on disappearing Slovenian culture in Carinthia


Disappearing, an award-winning documentary that sheds light on how the Slovenian language and culture have been disappearing from everyday life in Carinthia, Austria, is on show at Ljubljana's Kinodvor Cinema. The director Andrina Mračnikar believes the reason for the disappearing has been systematic discrimination for the past 100 years.

"It's been happening ever since Slovenians became a minority. Slovenian has never been seen as an equal language, it has always been inferior and to this day we as Carinthian Slovenians do not have the same rights as the majority," Mračnikar told the STA at the 8 May Slovenian premiere.

Her film Verschwinden/Izginjanje discusses the history of forced assimilation, persecution and discrimination since the 1920 Carinthian plebiscite, which decided that this part of Carinthia should fall to Austria, rather than the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

The documentary intertwines the personal and the political. Like a large part of the then Slovenian population of southern Carinthia, Mračnikar's grandfather voted for the province to stay part of Austria too. She was invited to make a documentary about Hodiše/Keutschach by historian Oliver Rathkolb, who did not know that it was her hometown because she now lives in Vienna.

The director wonders in her film whether along with the language the minority is losing its memory and its own history. In the film, Carinthia lawyer Rudi Vouk says: "It's just 20% of us left". The minority has shrunk from 60,000 a century ago to an estimated 13,000 today.

Vouk says that to prevent the Slovenian language and minority from disappearing from Austria, bilingual schooling should be available from nursery to university and both languages should be equally present in public life.

Through interviews with her family members, Mračnikar shows how ethnic Slovenians suffered from persecution, humiliation and intimidation in various ways. She included family photographs, excerpts from her previous films and archival recordings of key historical events.

The film shows how bilingual town signs were torn down in 1972, how agreement was reached in 2011 to put up bilingual signs in 164 places, and how Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen apologised to the Carinthian Slovenians for the past injustices in 2020 on the centenary of the Carinthian plebiscite.

Mračnikar told the debate accompanying the premiere that the apology meant a lot to the minority, but met with little response from the broader Austrian public. Contrary to the expectations, little has changed for the better since the president's apology, she said.

Her documentary, which is an Austrian-Slovenian co-production, has been received well in Austria and with the exception of one letter from the right-wing bloc Mračnikar is not aware of any negative reactions. For quite a while, the film's screenings kept being sold out in Austria.

Mračnikar is especially happy that the film will be shown by the Austrian public broadcaster ORF with subtitles rather than being dubbed in German.

The discussion accompanying the film heard that there was a need for systemic solutions to protect the Slovenian minority in Austria, something that was up to Austrian regional and federal politics.

On a positive note, the discussion also heard that despite there being ever fewer ethnic Slovenians in Carinthia who actively spoke Slovenian, young people were increasingly keen to learn the language.

President Nataša Pirc Musar, who also took part, talked of the importance of justice and education reform in the Austrian province, warning that "without their language the future looks grim for Carinthian Slovenians".

She was critical of Carinthia Governor Peter Kaiser, who she said promised a lot but did little. She called on Slovenians in Austria to get politically engaged to enforce their rights and show they are a productive part of the Austrian society.

She urged everyone who has the power "even though it's just the power of words" to consider what they could do to prevent Slovenians in Austria from dying out.

Talking with TV Slovenija, Mračnikar also pointed her finger at Slovenia, which she said was not speaking strong enough for the minority. "If we come to Slovenia, we hear jokes about our R, but otherwise I don't think Slovenians know much about the minority in Austria, which probably plays a role in why we don't feel like Slovenians here," she said.

Disappearing won the audience award at the Diagonale film festival in Graz and the Vesna Award for special achievement at the Festival of Slovenian Film last year.

The film runs at Kinodvor until 17 May, and is also available on demand via the cinema's website. It will also be screened in other places around the country this month.

Born in 1981 in Hallein, Mračnikar grew up in Ljubljana and Carinthia and studied art history in Vienna as well as directing at the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television in Ljubljana and directing and screenwriting at the Vienna Film Academy.

She has made two other documentaries about Carinthian Slovenians and National Socialism, a short called Andri 1924-1944 (2003) and feature-length film Der Kärntner spricht Deutsch (2007). Disappearing is the last part of her trilogy about the minority. She is now working on a live-action film about the Partisan resistance.


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