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Cablegate: Bilingual Sign Dispute Overshadows Chancellor's Slovenia

VZCZCXRO3598
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSK RUEHSL RUEHSR RUEHVK
RUEHYG
DE RUEHVI #1096/01 2401453
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 281453Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY VIENNA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3227
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 VIENNA 001096

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR EUR/CE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM HR AU

SUBJECT: BILINGUAL SIGN DISPUTE OVERSHADOWS CHANCELLOR'S SLOVENIA
VISIT

1. (U) Summary: A long-running dispute over bilingual signs in
Carinthia Province overshadowed Chancellor Faymann's August 26 visit
to Slovenia, during which Slovenian PM Pahor called on Faymann to
resolve the issue. A contact in the Chancellor's office told the
Ambassador that Faymann will try to find a political solution, but
said the issue would be difficult to resolve. Pahor reportedly
declined Faymann's offer to help mediate Slovenia's border dispute
with Croatia. End Summary.

GOA Surprised by Pressure
-------------------------

2. (U) Juergen Meindl, foreign affairs advisor to Chancellor Faymann
(SPO), told the Ambassador August 27 that the Austrians were
surprised by how assertive Pahor was in pressing for a resolution of
the decades-old dispute over bilingual town signs.

3. (U) The Austria State Treaty of 1955 recognizes Slovenes, among
other groups, as national minorities, and requires that local
governments provide bilingual town signs (road signs featuring the
name of the town) , as well as education and media, in communities
with Slovene or "mixed populations" (i.e. German and Slovene
speaking). This was originally interpreted to mean communities in
which minorities constitute 25 percent or more of the population.
In 2001, the Constitutional Court ruled that the threshold should be
lowered to 10 percent. The Slovene minority in Carinthia has access
to Slovene language education and media, and bilingual signs have
been installed in 77 towns. But the Carinthian Government has, for
over 30 years, refused to install enough signs to meet either the 25
percent (91 town signs) or 10 percent (150 town signs) threshold.

A "Trivial" But Difficult Issue
-------------------------------

4. (SBU) Meindl said the sign issue was "emotionally overloaded" and
politically difficult to resolve. On substance, he maintained, the
matter is trivial, involving the installation of approximately 70
additional bilingual signs in towns with a total Slovene population
of about 12,000. Burgenland Province has erected bilingual signs
without controversy, but in Carinthia - stronghold of the rightwing,
nationalist BZO - the government has dug in its heels, he said.
(Note: History plays a role in sharpening the dispute -
German-speaking Carinthians recall two short-lived occupations by
Yugoslavia following each World War, while Slovenes remember
Austrian domination within the Hapsburg Empire).

5. (SBU) After meeting with Faymann, Pahor told reporters the GOA is
obligated to respect the legal rights of the Slovene minority, and
rejected the argument that the dispute requires a political
solution. Faymann said in an interview with the Austrian daily Der
Standard that he would be willing to advance a solution against the
will of the BZO, provided the solution were supported by a
combination of other parties forming a majority of the Carinthian
provincial parliament. Meindl told the Ambassador that Faymann will
approach the issue cautiously, starting with "informal contacts" in
the hope that an agreement can be reached "in a couple of months."

6. (U) Even before his visit to Slovenia, Faymann had come under
pressure within Austria to weigh in on the sign issue. In early
August, the Vienna weekly Falter published documents indicating that
prosecutors had dropped a case against Carinthia Governor Gerhard
Doerfler (BZO) for illegally moving a number of signs on the grounds
that Doerfler "did not know his actions were illegal." Justice
Minister Bandion-Ortner (who is officially independent but was
nominated by the OVP), denied that her ministry had made mistakes in
the investigation, and suggested that the issue required the
Chancellor's intervention.

Pahor Declines GOA Help With Croatia Dispute
--------------------------------------------

7. (U) The dustup over the signs appears to have crowded out other
bilateral issues during the Chancellor's visit. However, Faymann
reportedly did manage to offer Austrian assistance in mediating
Slovenia's border dispute with Croatia, which Pahor politely
declined.

Comment: Resolution Will be Difficult
-------------------------------------

8. (SBU) This seemingly trivial dispute has plagued Austro-Slovene
relations for three decades. Despite the pressure on Faymann, it
may not be resolved any time soon. Many Carinthians would resent a
heavy handed intervention from the national government, and Faymann
will not want to undermine the SPO's already weak position in the
province. For BZO Governor Doerfler, flouting Vienna, and
Ljubljana, on the sign issue is a reliable way to rally the party's

VIENNA 00001096 002 OF 002


nationalist base, and he therefore has little reason to back down.

9. (SBU) Because of the sign dispute, and the perception that
Austria for economic reasons is eager to see Croatia accede to the
EU as soon as possible, it appears that Slovenia does not view
Austria as an appropriate mediator in the border dispute with
Croatia.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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