The Slovenia Times

Cultural rights of ex-Yugoslav communities protected by law

The team contributing to the NaGlas! programme for ex-Yugoslav ethnic communities in Slovenia. Photo: Adrian Pregelj/RTVS

Ethnic communities from the former Yugoslavia who live in Slovenia will be able to exercise their cultural rights with the support of the state under a law passed by parliament on 23 May that the opposition had sought to put to a referendum.

According to some estimates, members of Albanian, Bosniak, Montenegrin, Croatian, Macedonian and Serbian communities make up 10-11% of Slovenia's population. But they do not have the status of an ethnic minority, unlike the Hungarian or Italian communities, who each also have an MP, or the Roma community, which enjoys a special status having dedicated seats on local councils in areas where most of them live.

The new Act on the Exercise of Cultural Rights of the National Communities of the Former Yugoslavia follows more than two decades of efforts by these communities for being recognised as minorities in Slovenia and having their cultural rights ensured.

The law recognises their right to preserve and develop their identity, nurture culture and preserve cultural heritage, as well as the right to use their mother tongue and alphabet, and the right to create media content.

These rights will be implemented through projects co-funded by the national budget and funds from international support mechanisms.

Financing or co-financing of the projects through open calls will no longer be in the purview of the Public Fund for Cultural Activities, but the responsibility of the Culture Ministry.

The law also grants the government council dedicated to the communities and their issues the status of a permanent government consultative body, chaired by the culture minister.

Divisive language courses thrown out

The ruling coalition withdrew the most divisive provision, one that would enable children from these communities to learn their mother tongue in primary and secondary school.

The opposition parties argued that this would put members of ex-Yugoslav communities in a privileged position and that instead of learning their mother tongue, they should learn Slovenian.

The conservative party New Slovenia (NSi) filed a request for a referendum, which delayed the adoption of the law although the request was voted down by the parliamentary majority.

NSi leader Matej Tonin said the party was prompted to seek the referendum because the ruling coalition voted against its amendments to the Primary School Act that would introduce preparatory classes for foreign children to learn Slovenian before they start school.

Both the NSi and the fellow opposition Democrats (SDS) wanted the final vote on the law postponed because even though the provision that would have allowed students of ex-Yugoslav background to learn the languages of their communities at school was thrown out, a provision remained instructing the Education Ministry to start performing tasks under the law within a year of its taking effect.

The parties called the law unacceptable, unnecessary and unimplementable.

Meanwhile, the three ruling coalition parties argued that after becoming independent, Slovenia assumed responsibility for the protection of the rights of ethnic communities that live in its territory and it was high time to put this into law.

Potential constitutional complaint

The NSi has been arguing that the law is "not rooted in the Slovenian Constitution and will sooner or later make its way to the Constitutional Court and the ballot box".

Similarly, two former senior officials who had worked with minorities argued in a debate in March that the bill was inconsistent with existing principles of minority protection and might be unconstitutional.

Dejan Valentinčič, former state secretary at the Office for Slovenians Abroad, argued that communities from the former Yugoslavia cannot have the same status as the Hungarian and Italian minorities, and the Roma.

Members of the Italian and Hungarian minorities "did not become a part of this country and its predecessors intentionally, they suddenly became members of minority populations and that is why they have received rights," he said. The circumstances regarding the Roma are unique as well.

Stane Baluh, until last year the head of the Government Office for Nationalities, finds it questionable whether just selected communities should get special rights and others would not. He thinks the legislation is "ripe for a constitutional review".


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