by Svetlana VASOVIC-MEKINA
GLOOMY PICTURE: The former Rop government (the current government of prime minister Janez Jansa is simply ignoring the whole matter) was so thoroughly shaken by the conclusion, for example, of the chief investigator in the project Dr. Vera Krzisnik-Bukic, that members of ABCHMS ethnic groups, or "new minorities", are discriminated in comparison with minorities recognized in the Slovenian Constitution. Then - collective rights of a large group of ABCHMS members in Slovenia are endangered. Slovenian politicians with all sorts of backgrounds have been trying to dismiss that conclusion for more than 15 years and now the trouble is coming from "troublemakers in our own ranks", scientists and researchers who were recruited by the government, and approached the given task conscientiously and very ambitiously, instead of, as expected, superficially.
Briefly, they counted all those whom Slovenian authorities have treated for the last fifteen years as invisible and presented results to bureaucrats and politicians on the left and right. Therefore, to those who in the name of "protection of Slovenian national interests" are ignoring all mention of the so-called new minorities, including increasingly loud demands of the Bosniak community in Slovenia for the recognition of its cultural and political minority rights. Alarming reports from the Slovenian ombudsman for protection of human rights office did not help at all, so when the report arrived the only idea the authorities had was to try and suppress it. Their reaction is not surprising given that Dr. Krzisnik-Bukic (a historian) proposed that the status of the so-called new minorities be specified in the constitution. Co-author of the report under the title "Perspectives of Slovenian integration policy", Dr. Vera Klopcic (expert for international law and conventions that deal with minority rights) proposed, on the other hand, that the law adopted in 1999, dealing with the status of citizens originally from other parts of the former Yugoslavia, be amended with an article that would guarantee to those minorities "preservation of national identity". The third researcher, political scientist Dr. Miran Komac, did not agree with ideas proposed by his colleagues, although he had to agree that government subsidies to associations of "non-Slovenians" should be increased because they are "shamefully low". Although the report offered diverse, and even contradictory conclusions about the status of ABCHMS minorities, they seriously shook up the political leadership that fears accusations of "treason of national interests" if it concedes any rights to the "southerners". Dr. Krzisnik-Bukic was dumbfounded by such attitude of the entity that requested that the research be conducted. She spent a year trying to convince bureaucrats that it was not useful and even harmful to keep the report suppressed, but everything was in vain. "For more than a quarter of a century, I've been involved in various research projects and I can definitively say that I would not initiate a project knowing that someone may block the publication of its results. Such a decision was made after the fact and I opposed it," Dr. Vera Krzisnik-Bukic explained her views. Although (allegedly) she is supported by numerous colleagues, Slovenian intellectual elite hasn't made much noise regarding this issue; the policy of suppressing results was most harshly and publicly denounced by Dr. Ljubo Bavcon, professor at the Ljubljana University Law School and first president of the Slovenian Human Rights Council. Based on what is known about the research project from the statements of scientists involved in it, as well as on the basis of parts of the report we have had a chance to see, we can state that this is a very thorough, valuable project that precisely analyses the number and movements, as well as aspects of cultural life of members of ethnic groups from the other parts of the former Yugoslavia living in Slovenia. Briefly, based on Dr. Krzisnik-Bukic's statements, the project demonstrated that "members of ethnic groups from other parts of the former Yugoslavia and their communities in the Republic of Slovenia have been pushed to the margins, especially if we compare them to other minority communities, with different [legal] status". Dr. Krzisnik-Bukic emphasizes that this especially has to do with the "humiliating denial of existence" of minorities lumped together in the amorphous acronym ABCHMS, as well as other rights. In the former Yugoslavia these ethnic groups enjoyed rights equal to those of Slovenians. However, after the declaration of independence members of other ethnic groups in Slovenia were "submerged in some generic lack of identity, and became formally and legally invisible". However, they do not constitute a negligible group but a large segment of population that any country would find difficult to ignore. Slovenia, the country that in the late twentieth century formally supported human rights, has at the same time widely abused the status of citizens labeled by the ABCHMS acronym who ended up on its soil. And that continued for more than a decade, partly due to numerous problems facing ABCHMS members after the break up of the former Yugoslavia, partly due to difficult communication between them. Another paradox is that 90 percent of them are Slovenian nationals. According to the researchers, "ABCHMS individuals" want to actively participate in the life of the country in which they live but not through open, forced or hidden assimilation. They do not want to live in ghettos, but crave life with the majority that openly despises them. Despite hatred of the majority ethnic group towards them, remaining members of the ABCHMS group have in the meantime organized themselves in ethnic associations, and forged alliances. They have understood that joint action is the only way they can preserve at least some cultural diversity. Consequently, they demand from the authorities "state run media that will allow them to present themselves to the public, the way Hungarians and Italians do now".
Dr. Krzisnik-Bukic, to cut the long story short, recommended to the government to put members of ethnic groups from other parts of the former Yugoslavia living in Slovenia in the Constitution. Knowing that her recommendation was likely to meet strong resistance, she limited her proposal to the suggestion that Slovenia recognize a limited set of rights of "ABCHMS ethnic groups", only those mentioned in the constitution, as that would not significantly burden the budget. However, Dr. Krzisnik-Bukic's approach remained in minority, even within the Institute for Minority Issues. Director Mitja Zagar claimed that the government had the right to do with the report as it pleased, and emphasized that he "disagreed with Dr. Krzisnik-Bukic regarding the constitutional rights of ABCHMS minorities". Dr. Ilija Dimitrievski, president of the Coordination, the association bringing together presidents of different cultural societies (founded by ethnic groups from other parts of the former Yugoslavia living in Slovenia), is convinced that the report was suppressed exactly because of Dr. Krzisnik-Bukic's "radical approach", given that, unlike her, most researchers are more inclined to support a more "patriotic" conclusion - that the current status of the so-called new minorities is perfectly fine and requires no changes. There is no doubt that members of ABCHMS minorities very strongly disagree with the official, forged projection about "consumed special rights" of members of the so-called new minorities, which have been imposed on them for years by their environment and politics. On the contrary. They are also now rejecting the Slovenian division into "native" and "non-native" or "new" minorities, which has no basis in any relevant international document, and was created on the eve of the creation of independent Slovenia with the goal to deny "southerners" minority rights. The Amnesty International warned a few days ago that the status of ABCHMS minorities in Slovenia is very difficult, quoting alarming numbers. Even the most recent population census, although it actively discouraged collection of data about ethnic background, demonstrated that more than 200,000 Slovenian nationals [roughly 10 percent of the population] originally hail from other parts of the former Yugoslavia. According to the official data, since 1954 Slovenia has been the destination of 350,000 immigrants from other parts of the former Yugoslavia, 200,000 of whom have left in the meantime.
EQUAL AND MORE EQUAL: Altogether, ABCHMS minorities have set up 64 associations. Individuals, just like all other Slovenian nationals, have voting rights, pay taxes, public TV tax and all other state taxes, while their associations receive annually from the state budget (via the Ministry of Culture) less than 17 million Tollars [$85,000], just enough to keep them running on the verge of survival, fuelled by much trouble and spite, as it is estimated that the minimum required to cover basic activities is between 60 and 70 million Tollars [$300,000-$350,000]. Unlike 64 "ABCHMS associations", Slovenia generously finances the two recognized minorities (despite their negligible size), so that the Hungarian and Italian minority have their newspapers, TV and radio shows, schools in mother tongue, and even one representative each in the parliament. All of that, despite their numbers, ABCHMS minorities do not have. So far Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina have demanded protection of rights for their compatriots. Bosnia-Hercegovina handed to the Slovenian Parliament a special resolution demanding that minority rights be provided to all nationals of the former Yugoslavia. Serbia has recently joined them. Some Slovenian media, some with concern, others somewhat panicky, reported news that Belgrade (the Ministry for Diapora) had sent to the Slovenian parliament an official proposal regarding minority rights of Serbs living in Slovenia. Deputy Minister for Diaspora Aleksandar Cotric justified that move to a Delo journalist by saying that Serbs had been living in Slovenia for several centuries and that, given that in the 2002 population census about 39,000 Slovenian nationals declared themselves to be Serbs, they are today the most numerous ethnic minority in Slovenia. Some local media rejected the mentioned demands by Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Serbia as excessive. Serbs from seven villages in Bela Krajina had education in the Serbian language until 1964 when that practice was abandoned. In Ljubljana and a few other cities all over Slovenia there were schools with instruction in Serbian until the break up of Yugoslavia. Naturally, one of the demands of the Serbian government to their colleagues in Slovenia is that Serbs living in Slovenia are provided with education in Serbian. "In Slovenia, there is not a single school with extra curriculum in Serbian, unlike in Germany, where Serbs are not officially recognized as a minority, but German authorities (actually federal units) fund those classes. We support full integration of members of the Serb minority in the Slovenian society. Recognition of the status of ethnic minority would give impetus to their successful participation in economic, political and cultural life in Slovenia," Aleksandar Cotric stated for Slovenian media. There is no doubt that all such and similar demands frequently coming from Zagreb, Sarajevo, and until recently very seldom from Belgrade would be simply ignored by the Slovenian authorities if it weren't for the European institutions. Members of unrecognized minorities do not count so much with their motherlands as they do with the possibilities offered by the European Union. They have contacted the Council of Europe and informed it about their expectations and criticism of the authorities in Ljubljana. Thus, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and the European Commissioner for human rights Gil-Robles have already several times warned Slovenia that it would be in its interest to revisit its laws in connection with protection of minorities. Very generous legal protection of (privileged) practically almost non-existent minorities contrasts the unenviable status of all other numerically much stronger minority groups. After the break up of the former Yugoslavia, members of ABCHMS ethnic groups have absolutely no rights in Slovenia and are "light years" away from any sort of "positive discrimination". According to data from the 1991 population census, Slovenian minorities consisted of 53,688 Croats, 47,097 Serbs, 26,725 Muslims, 12,237 Yugoslavs, 8,499 Hungarians, 4,233 Montenegrins, 4,412 Macedonians, 3,558 Albanians, 3,063 Italians, 2,282 Roma, 546 Germans, 322 Czechs, and a few members of other ethnic groups. The most recent population census in 2002 reduced these figures, but altogether there are more than 200,000 members of all ABCHMS minority groups, or about 100f population of Slovenia. Majority of Slovenian politicians and experts for "minorities" rejects the argument that some of unrecognized minority groups are much more numerous than the official minorities by platitudes of the sort: "numbers are irrelevant; what really matters is whether the minority is autochthonous, how compact it is etc." A few dissidents warn that such arguments do not fly. First of all, according to definitions accepted by international organizations, minority groups must be recognized and their rights respected regardless of whether they are "autochthonous" or not. All definitions of minorities mention only "lasting and long term connection" of the dislocated ethnic group with its motherland. In expert encyclopedias on minorities in some cases that "long term" connection only goes two generations to that past. For example, Hungary is the only nation in the world to introduce a time limit as a test for recognition of ethnic rights - only those ethnic groups present in Hungary for at least 100 years have minority rights. Secondly, unrecognized minorities in Slovenia, above all Croats and Serbs (as well as Germans), are without doubt autochthonous in Slovenia. Serbs have been recorded in Bela Krajina as early as 1530. (...) Even before great migrations in the former Yugoslavia, therefore before the fifties, there were 11,225 Serbs and 1365 Montenegrins in Slovenia. Regarding education, "Prezihov Voranc" primary school in Ljubljana offered classes in the Serbocroatian language until 1992, when the Ljubljana city hall banned them. The last classes studying in Serbocroatian were dissolved in 1998. One of the justifications for the ban was that those classes were "a Yugoslav privilege", as well as that they were inappropriate as "most of the pupils were Slovenian nationals". However, the unbelievable success of the German micro-minority in Slovenia proves that much can be achieved in the presence of good will. Germans, i.e. Old Austrians are few in number (only between 350 and 500 persons) but a few years ago managed to win numerous concessions thanks to the signing of a special "cultural agreement" between Slovenia and Austria. In only three months, Slovenian authorities evolved from the initial statement of the minister for foreign affairs that he was "not aware of any German, that is Austrian minority in Slovenia"; prompted by angry reactions from the Austrian province of Carinthia and Vienna, they suddenly spotted the "missing" Germans and agreed to sign an agreement regulating minority rights of this ethnic minority in Slovenia. Perhaps now, given that relations between Slovenia and Serbia are currently on the upswing, it is finally time to resolve this issue in a civilized manner.(...)