The Association of Slovenian Organisations (ZSO), one of the umbrella organisations of Slovenians living in the Austrian region of Carinthia, celebrated its 60th anniversary at a ceremony in Klagenfurt on Saturday. The event was attended by President Borut Pahor and Minister for Slovenians Abroad Gorazd Žmavc.
On the occasion, Pahor presented the organisation with the Order of Merit for its services in realising the basic interests of the Slovenian community in Carinthia.
The justification of the honour said that the ZSO has since its establishment been aspiring for active involvement of ethnic Slovenians in the Austrian social and political structures so they could contribute to the democratic development of Austrian society.
The organisation has fought for preserving bilingual education, for the Slovenian language in offices and for bilingual place names.
Pahor in particular highlighted its role in the Slovenian minority advisory body to office of the federal chancellor which the ZSO president has headed for 23 years.
The ZSO is also praised for promoting respect for diversity, dialogue, tolerance and intertwining of cultures, its contribution to democracy and peaceful coexistence of nations and cultures in modern Europe.
As a special gesture, Pahor made a speech, also as he said, because his Austrian counterpart Heinz Fischer had asked him to extend his congratulations to the ZSO.
In a statement for TV Slovenija after the ceremony, Pahor hailed the improvement of the relationship between the minority and the majority population in Carinthia. "It's vital for the situation to stay that way, so that the EU is not only preserved but also enhanced."
The ceremony was also attended by Governor of Carinthia Peter Kaiser and Austrian Minister of Art, Culture, Constitution and the Media Josef Ostermayer, who meet President Pahor before the ceremony.
The officials discussed the potential for regional cooperation and common challenges in the EU, including the refugee crisis. Pahor later told reporters that, given the absence of a joint European policy on the matter, a solution lied in reaching an agreement with the closest neighbours.
"This is why we used this opportunity to ascertain where, when and how certain issues need to be tackled so that this problem is resolved in a more humane and successful way," Pahor said.
The Carinthia governor underscored the importance of exchange of information on the crisis and coordination of measures with Slovenia and other European countries. He said Slovenia and Austria would do everything in their power.
ZSO head Marjan Sturm says that the association has played a "very important role" and has consciously worked towards integration, including by founding private bilingual kindergartens.
This prompted Austria to gradually start financing such projects, he told the STA.
In the last decade, the ZSO has been engaging in dialogue with fierce opponents of the Slovenian minority in Carinthia and thus contributed to the positive changes in the atmosphere in the region.
Sturm notes though that the Slovenian community in Carinthia has shrunk throughout the years, but that the interest in learning Slovenian has been rising.
Currently, over 45% of children in south Carinthia take bilingual lessons. In the 1970s, the share was at 12-13%.
Commenting on the plans for the future, the ZSO boss says that the association is making efforts ro create the Alps-Adriatic region based on sustainable peace, cooperation, the preservation of linguistic and cultural diversity and business success. "That is a challenge for the 21st century."
The ZSO was founded on 25 March 1955, succeeding the Democratic Front of Working People. Its first president was Franci Zwitter. In 1982, he was succeeded by Feliks Wieser, while Sturm has been at its helm since 1992.
Photo: Borut Pahor Facebook