Bilingual place-name signs controversy settled

Political leaders seem to have ended a lengthy argument considering bilingual place-name signs.Negotiators announced in Klagenfurt yesterday evening (Tues) they agreed that 164 towns and communities in the province of Carinthia will be equipped with place-name signs in both German and Slovenian.Provincial decision-makers and representatives of the Slovenian minority have been at odds over the issue for decades. Politicians have quarrelled about the number of affected towns ever since the Austrian State Treaty was agreed upon in 1955.A low point was reached in 1972 when opponents of a decree by the federal government of Social Democratic (SPÖ) Chancellor Bruno Kreisky tore down several bilingual place-name signs.Late Carinthian Freedom Party (FPÖ) and Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) Governor Jörg Haider successfully tried to delay a settlement over the years by removing the affected signs by a few metres to make aware of legal loopholes.Haider’s successor as governor of the province, Gerhard Dörfler refused to leave Haider’s uncooperative course after the right-wing spearhead’s death in 2008 before making a remarkable U-turn on the issue earlier this year.”We carried the State Treaty’s requirement over the finish line today,” Dörfler – who is the deputy head of the Carinthian Freedom Party (FPK) – said at the end of yesterday’s eight-hour Marathon session of negotiations with SPÖ State Secretary Josef Ostermayer and representatives of Carinthia’s Slovenes.However, Dörfler said the agreement included the decision to hold a referendum in the affected towns and communities. The FPK official stressed he was convinced that the vast majority of residents will back the settlement.Valentine Inzko, one of the Slovenian minority’s leaders, announced: “One chapter of Carinthian history is over – may the next begin.”SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann congratulated the negotiators for having come to an agreement. The settlement also includes a pledge by the Carinthian government to subsidise music and Slovenian language lessons for the minority’s children. Figures have shown that more and more Austrian kids living in the southern province are opting for Slovenian as an optional subject.The ongoing feud has been observed with bewilderment by many Austrians over the decades as there have been little difficulties in the coexistence of Austrians and Slovenians, Hungarians, Roma, Croats and Czechs elsewhere in the country. Most Austrians are understood to consider the bilingual aspect as an advantage in today’s ever-changing world, also since many international businesses consider Austria as a gateway to do business in Eastern Europe (EE).Around 50,000 Slovenians live in Austria. The 2001 census showed that nearly 26,000 people residing in Austria are members of the Hungarian minority. The number of Czechs living in Austria is believed to range around 20,000. Furthermore, 20,000 Roma and 15,000 Slovaks are currently living in the country.Germans are the strongest minority in Austria at 213,000 ahead of people from Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro with 207,000. The third-strongest group are Turks (183,000), followed by people from Bosnia and Herzegovina (130,000) and Croatia (70,000).