Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Slovenes live in 39 municipalities in the Trieste, Gorizia, Udine and Pordenone provinces of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in north-eastern Italy. Slovene-speakers are estimated to number approximately 60,000. Most Slovenes live in areas which are bilingual or trilingual. The Slovene language is used both in the literary and the dialect form. Dialects are divided into groups: the dialects of Zilje, Resia, Torre Valley, Natisone Valley, Brda and Kras.
More than half of Slovenes in Italy live in the cities of Trieste and Gorizia and the surrounding municipalities of San Dorligo della Valle/Dolina, Monrupino/Repentabor, Sgonico/Zgonik, Doberdò del Lago/Doberdob, Savogna d’Isonzo/Sovodnje ob Soci and San Floriano del Collio/Števerjan. In the province of Udine the Slovenes live mainly in the area of the Natisone and Torre river basins, the Resia and the Canale Valley.
Slovenes are successful in business, trade, banking and agriculture. Many own small businesses. The business, banking and agricultural communities are well organized.
The Slavs occupied the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, Carinthia, Styria and modern Slovenia from the end of the sixth century. The area became part of the Frankish Empire under Charlemagne in the late eighth century and then part of the Hapsburg lands. In the fifteenth century the western Friuli area became part of the Venetian Republic, while part of the eastern area, including Trieste, remained under Austrian rule. Publishing in Slovenian began in 1551 with a catechism and an ABC. The first Slovenian translation of the Bible was published in 1584. Trieste gained free port status in 1719. After the First World War eastern Friuli became part of Italy. The Slovenes were persecuted under the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. In 1947 Italy ceded eastern Friuli except for Trieste and Gorizia to Yugoslavia, but territorial disputes continued between the two countries until the Memorandum of London in 1954, which was confirmed by the 1975 Osimo Treaty. In 1991 Slovenia became an independent country. In 1994 the National Alliance party, coalition partners in the Italian government, claimed that the Osimo Treaty was no longer valid, having been drawn up with Yugoslavia, and that the Istrian peninsula, now held by Slovenia and Croatia, should be returned to Italy. This was also an attempt to block Slovenian membership of the European Union and it failed. Slovenia joined the EU in 2004. The status of Slovenia helps protect the Slovene minority in Italy.
In the 1947 Italian Constitution the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia was given autonomous status. This included recognition of the minority languages. Trieste, where the main language minority was Slovenes, was made the capital of the region, where the larger minority was Friulians. Most subsequent laws for specific minority protection have mentioned Slovene rather than Friulian. The 1947 Regional Special Statute specifies that all citizens of the region should be treated equally, whatever linguistic group they belong to, and that their respective ethnic and cultural characteristics should be safeguarded. The 1954 Memorandum of London required recognition for the Slovene minority in Trieste but not elsewhere in the region and this caused dispute for decades. Article 3 of the 1963 constitutional law provides for instruction in local languages.
A 1996 regional law defines the means, including finance, of protecting and promoting the minority languages and culture in education, public administration and access to the law. In public administration the law gave the right to use a minority language in oral communication. It gave the right to be heard in Slovene in court proceedings if Italian is not understood. All public documentation is in Italian. The 1996 law gave the regional government the right to conclude broadcasting arrangements for the minority languages with Italian state broadcaster RAI.
A 1999 Italian law on protection of minorities mentions Slovene. A 2001 law sets out the detail of this protection with regard to public administration and education for the Slovene community in Trieste, Gorizia and Udine provinces, but not in Pordenone. In order to claim their rights locally Slovenes must constitute at least 15 per cent of the population.
Minority-language recognition is confined to specific areas. Slovene is officially recognized in the provinces of Trieste, Gorizia and Udine, but not in Pordenone, where there are 7,000 Slovenes.
Slovene is the language of instruction in around 100 nursery, primary and secondary schools in Trieste and Gorizia provinces. Trieste has a secondary technical school for industry and crafts, a business school with a department for surveyors, a teacher training school and a language lycée. In Gorizia there is also a classical lycée, a business school and a Slovenian medium course at an Italian secondary technical school for industry. The Regional Slovenian Institute for Vocational Training was set up in 1979.
Teachers, whether or not they have Slovenian as their mother tongue, attend courses at the Universities of Trieste, Udine and Gorizia, where the medium of instruction is Italian. But students following courses to become teachers at Slovenian secondary schools are taught in Slovenian. Teacher training in higher education is also provided at the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia). Qualifications were supposed to be recognized in Italy under the provisions of the 1974 Treaty of Osimo, but a further agreement was between Slovenia and Italy was required in 1994. The Slovene language is taught as a subject at the universities of Trieste, Udine and Padua.
There have been attempts to establish Slovene language instruction in Udine schools. The Slovene minority has campaigned for the provision of optional courses in the Slovene language and culture at Italian schools in the region.
Literary Slovene is the language used in education and many of the textbooks are published in Slovenia. The curriculum mirrors the Italian school curriculum with the addition of courses in Slovene language and literature. Slovene is offered as a foreign language in Italian schools.
In November 2001 the Slovene Academy of Sciences and Arts published a new Slovene grammar, featuring over 130,000 words. The work is the sixth Slovene grammar and the first since Slovenian independence in 1991.
Four communities of Trieste province make administrative and legal documents available in Slovene. Some towns in Gorizia also supply documents in the language. Public municipal signs are occasionally in Slovene. Slovene is used orally in the courts in Trieste, Gorizia and Udine provinces but all judgments are in Italian. A 1997 regional law allows the minority-language-speaker to present applications and other documents to the regional authorities in Slovene, but the speaker is responsible for providing a translation.
The Slovenska kulturno gosposdarska zveza (SKGZ – Slovenian Commercial and Cultural Association), which was set up in 1954, provides an umbrella for many cultural and community organizations, including organizations for business, agriculture, sports, theatre, music, students and overseas Slovenes. The Svet slovenskih organizacij, which has a Roman Catholic stance, was formed in 1976 from the merger of 15 organizations. Slovenski raziskovalni institut (SLORI – Slovenian Research Institute) was established in Trieste in 1974 and expanded to Gorizia and Val Canale in 1976 and 1983 respectively. It conducts research regarding the practical situation of the Slovenian-speaking communities and into general problems of minorities.
The future prospects for the Slovene community in Trieste and Gorizia are improved by exchanges with the Republic of Slovenia, especially as Slovenia is now a member of the EU. But the number of Slovene-speakers is declining in Udine and Pordenone, where their cultural rights are largely denied. Interest in Slovene as a foreign language is growing internationally. It is taught in Ljubljana and at about 30 universities throughout the world.
Minorities and indigenous peoples in