1 Introduction

Slovenia has a highly developed system of national minority protection, with several interesting peculiarities, one of them being the self-governing national communities (SGNCs) for the Italian and Hungarian communities.Footnote 1 The right to establish SGNCs is anchored in the Slovenian constitution (art. 64.2), with the aim of facilitating the exercise of minority rights for the two communities. The constitution authorises the state to delegate certain functions to these bodies under national legislation, while obliging it to provide funds for the performance of such functions (art. 64.2).

The model combines personal and territorial elements in an interesting way: SGNCs are established by persons belonging to the respective community (personal element), but ‘in geographic areas where they live’ (territorial element; art. 64.2). Thus, they are in the first place local entities, established in the so-called ‘ethnically mixed areas’, which are defined in the respective municipal statutes. Accordingly, the Italian SGNCs exist in the municipalities of Koper/Capodistria, Piran/Pirano, Izola/Isola and Ankaran/Ancarano, while the Hungarian community has established its SGNCs in the municipalities of Lendava/Lendva, Dobrovnik/Dobronak, Hodoš/Hodos, Moravske Toplice and Šalovci.Footnote 2

The central body of the local SGNC is the council, whose members are directly elected by persons belonging to the respective community. Crucial in this respect is the special voting register, which forms the basis for the exercise of voting rights (both active and passive).

Local SGNCs associate through the regional SGNCs: the Coastal Italian Self-Governing Community and the Pomurje (Muravidek) Hungarian Self-Governing Community. Members of these regional entities are not directly elected but are instead delegated by the local SGNCs. In this two-tier structure, the local SGNCs are minority agents at the local level and interact with the municipal authorities, whereas the regional SGNCs are regional/state actors and represent minority interests in relation to the state authorities.

The functioning of the SGNCs is regulated by the Law on Self-Governing National Communities (adopted in 1994), which addresses the issues of their tasks, organisation, relation to the local and state authorities, cross-border contacts and financing. Without going into detail, here are just a few points that might be relevant for future discussions. The purpose of the SGNCs is threefold: implementation of special (minority) rights; promotion of minority needs and interests; and organised participation in public affairs (art. 1 of the Law). According to the Law, the SGNCs decide autonomously in matters within their competence, participate in the decision-making of public authorities by providing consent or submitting proposals and initiatives and facilitate activities that contribute to the preservation of the community’s identity (art. 3). The Law emphasises the following aspects of the SGNCs: their right to establish organisations and public institutions, their role in minority education through ‘participating in the planning and organizing of educational work and the preparing of educational programs’, cross-border contacts, as well as the possibility of performing delegated tasks (art. 4).

Most of the SGNC’s competences (on both levels) fall under the category of ‘shared rule’, i.e. the SGNCs participate in managing institutions (schools, for instance) or in decision-making by providing consent or opinion, while no state powers (e.g. in education or culture) are entirely delegated to these bodies. Hence, the quality/strength of their participatory rights is of crucial importance. According to the Law, the SGNCs have the right to submit proposals, initiatives and opinions pertinent to community-related issues to municipal and state bodies (arts. 12.1 and 15.1 of the Law). This right is underpinned by the legal obligation put on the municipal authorities to deal with such initiatives and adopt a position towards them (art. 12.2). Such an obligation does not exist on the central (state) level; however, when dealing with matters related to the status of persons belonging to the communities, state bodies are obliged to acquire the prior opinion of the SGNCs (art. 15.2).

It is worth noting that in addition to participation via the SGNCs, minority participation is secured through the reserved seats for the two communities in local and state parliaments. The Constitution mandates direct representation of the Italian and Hungarian communities in the local and national representative bodies (art. 64.3), reserves one seat each in the National Assembly for the Italian and Hungarian communities (art. 80.3),Footnote 3 and gives representatives of the communities veto rights over general legal acts pertinent to national minorities (art. 64.5). Interestingly, while there is no formal link between the MP representing the national community and the respective SGNC, such a link does exist at the local level. The Law on SGNCs obliges minority community representative(s) in the local parliament to acquire the consent of the SGNC prior to decisions on issues pertinent to the community (art. 13 of the Law; see also art. 39.3 of the Law on Local Self-Government). Hence, the SGNC has twin means of access to the local parliament: directly, when providing proposals, initiatives and opinions; and indirectly, through the minority representative, when giving consent to municipal decisions.

The SGNCs are deeply entrenched in the Slovenian system of minority protection, but are often taken for granted and are rarely assessed to gauge their real impact. There is no systematic monitoring of their performance, and evidence-tracking of their everyday work is scarce and scattered. Against this background, this paper rests on the analysis of the implementation monitoring of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) in Slovenia, and the issues pertinent to the SGNCs that have appeared in the monitoring so far. The FCNM has been in force in Slovenia since 1998 and four monitoring cycles have been completed so far (with the fifth cycle under way) (Council of Europe, n.d.). Each monitoring cycle has a standard structure consisting of the State Report, Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (ACFC) visit, followed by the Opinion, government comments and the Committee of Ministers Resolution. These phases of the cycle have all been subjected to the analysis here, with the aim of identifying the role, importance and impact that have been ceded to the SGNCs in implementing the FCNM. The general preliminary impression is that while the institutional position and the formal role of the SGNCs have been acknowledged, their concrete contribution and impact on the implementation of minority rights as indirectly stipulated in the FCNM have been tackled in a rather superficial way. Nevertheless, the documents in question offer a valuable insight into the issues relating to the functioning of the SGNCs that have attracted attention in almost 25 years of monitoring practice. This paper offers a brief overview of the most striking issues relevant to the SGNCs’ functioning and the implementation of minority rights, as documented by the FCNM monitoring process. The order of presentation follows the FCNM structure.

2 Personal Scope of Application

The SGNCs are based on the special voting register: stricto sensu, members of the minority community are persons enrolled in the special voting register. On this basis, they are entitled to vote (and stand in the elections) for the SGNC council and for minority representatives in the local and national parliaments. The SGNCs have a decisive role in the process because they (or, more precisely, their commission) are entitled to decide on the entry of persons in the special voting register. The issue of the special voting register had been problematic as early as the 1990s, on the grounds of the lack of any criteria for enrolment. The matter reached as high as the Constitutional Court, which found that the lack of legal stipulation of criteria for the entry of persons in the special voting registers was unconstitutional (Government of Slovenia, 2000, p. 25).Footnote 4 After a very brief mention in the First State Report, the issue only re-emerged in the Fourth ACFC Opinion, where the ACFC noted concerns expressed by the Italian minority on the implementation of provisions pertinent to the special voting register (ACFC, 2017, para. 16).

In 2013, Slovenia adopted a new Law on the Voting Right Register, in which it finally responded to the finding of the Constitutional Court and set an outline for the enrolment criteria. The Law combines subjective and objective criteria and authorises the competent SGNC commission to decide on the enrolment (art. 12). The chief precondition for enrolment is a statement of belonging to the community, which a person submits to the SGNC. However, this is not sufficient in itself, and in order to make a decision on the enrolment the SGNC commission assesses objective criteria too. The law has authorised the SGNCs to determine these criteria but has defined a few guiding parameters: ‘maintaining long, solid and lasting ties with their community, or care to maintain everything that constitutes the common identity of individual communities, including their culture or language, or family ties up to the second degree in direct line with a citizen who has already been granted the voting right as community member’.Footnote 5

In the fourth monitoring cycle, representatives of the Italian community questioned the definition of criteria as potentially harmful to the right to free self-identification and the ‘official size’ (i.e. it would have a reducing effect) of the community (ACFC, 2017, paras. 16, 85). The ACFC has not engaged in detail with the issue, but simply recalled ‘the importance it attaches to the principle of free self-identification’ (ACFC, 2017, para. 85). The real-life implications of the respective legal provisions remain unclear.

3 Culture

It is not easy to assess the role and impact of the SGNCs on the preservation and development of minority culture, as the monitoring documents provide only limited information on implemented cultural activities. While it was acknowledged in the First State Report that SGNCs establish and co-establish cultural institutions (Government of Slovenia, 2000, p. 27), neither the State Reports nor the ACFC Opinions provide a comprehensive overview of cultural institutions that have been co-established by the SGNCs. Exploring the monitoring documents, one can learn that in 2004 the Lendava Library was established by the municipalities of Lendava and Dobrovnik and the two respective municipal Hungarian SGNCs (Government of Slovenia, 2004, p. 33). At the time of reporting, about one-third of the library fund covered books and materials in Hungarian. The Third State Report reveals that the cultural activities of the Hungarian community are managed by the Institute for the Culture of the Hungarian National Community, but it in no way acknowledges the founding role of the SGNC in the Institute (Government of Slovenia, 2010, pp. 27–28). In the later monitoring cycle, the ACFC observed that the Institute ‘is very active in preserving the Hungarian language and cultural identity, in particular by providing professional support to local dance, music and folklore associations’ (ACFC, 2017, para. 39), but completely ignored the role of the SGNC. A reference is also made to the Lendava Cultural Centre, again without mentioning the SGNC’s role in it (Government of Slovenia, 2010, p. 12). Similarly, information that the Italian Centre for Promotion, Culture, Education and Development Carlo Combi was established in 2007 does not disclose its founder structure and the role of the SGNC (Government of Slovenia, 2010, p. 12). Cultural activities facilitated through the SGNC have gained more attention in the Fifth State Report, but interestingly under the area of cross-border cooperation (Government of Slovenia, 2020, pp. 50–53). In the case of the Hungarian community, this covers ‘literary presentations, important anniversaries, commemorations, Statehood Day ceremony, local holidays and village feasts’, and, for the Italian community, ‘music concerts and artistic events’ (Government of Slovenia, 2020, pp. 50–53).

The position of the SGNCs in the management of local/regional cultural institutions co-founded by the municipality or the state is completely absent from the monitoring documents. The SGNCs’ participation in drafting state cultural policies, programmes and projects also remains unaddressed. The sole indication in this respect is an ACFC recommendation inviting the Slovenian authorities to ‘secure effective and timely participation of national minority representatives in decision-making on projects aimed at supporting minority culture’ (ACFC, 2011, para. 61), signalling room for improvement in the quality of participation in this area.

4 Media

The main role of the SGNCs in the field of media is linked to their indirect participation in the management of the national radio and television broadcaster RTV Slovenia. Both the Italian and Hungarian communities have a representative on the Programme Board (in some of the monitoring documents also referred to as the Programme Council), which is the highest managing body of RTV Slovenia (Government of Slovenia, 2000, para. 109). Although not explicitly mentioned in the monitoring documents, the respective umbrella SGNC delegates a representative to the Programme Board. This body has 29 members in total, and the monitoring documents do not reveal the factual position of the minority representatives, nor do they mention to what extent minority concerns are addressed by the Programme Board.

RTV Slovenia has a remarkable programme in the two minority languages, facilitated through the regional centre Koper/Capodistria for the Italian community and the regional centre Maribor-studio Lendava/Lendva for the Hungarian community (see, for instance, ACFC, 2017, para. 62). Central to the Italian and Hungarian community programmes are the respective programme committees, where two-thirds of the members are appointed by the umbrella SGNC (see, for instance, Government of Slovenia, 2010, p. 47). The competence of the respective programme committee to participate in the appointment of the Assistant Director-General for the community programme means that the SGNC can exert at least indirect influence on this decision.Footnote 6 Notwithstanding the imperative of the freedom and independence of the media (including from the SGNC), the structure of the programme committee provides a channel for the SGNC to have some say in minority programming. As the ACFC has assessed it: ‘National minorities are represented in decision-making bodies of the RTV and enjoy a certain degree of autonomy at regional level as regards programme production’ (ACFC, 2017, para. 62).

However, it remains unclear whether and to what extent the umbrella SGNCs can voice minority concerns with regard to media policies, strategies, or regulations. Indicative in this respect is the Law on RTV Slovenia, an issue that appeared in both the second and third monitoring cycles. Reporting on the adoption of the Law in 2005, the government pointed out ‘that the proposers held a meeting with representatives of the Italian and Hungarian national communities and tried to bring the text of the draft law in line with comments made by the above representatives’, and ‘that the draft law in no way reduces the rights of the two national communities’ (Government of Slovenia, 2005, 20). This implies that there was an issue with the draft law, but in no way reveals the minority position and whether the respective SGNCs were involved in the deliberations. The issue re-emerged in the third monitoring cycle, in the context of the RTV Law of 2010 (later cancelled by referendum), in which context ‘the representatives of the Italian minority feared restrictions on their rights and opportunities with regard to broadcasting in Italian’, and ‘regretted a lack of timely consultation in the process of elaboration of the act’ (ACFC, 2011, para. 89; emphasis added).

Minority media outlets are almost invisible in the monitoring documents. The State Reports briefly reveal that La Cittá, Il Mandracchio, Lasa pur dir and Il Trillo have been published in the Italian mixed areas (Government of Slovenia, 2000, para. 82, 2017, p. 55). A reference is also made to the daily newspaper La Voce del Popolo, which has been published in Rijeka (Croatia) but which is also relevant for the Italian community in Slovenia (Government of Slovenia, 2000, para. 82, 2017, p. 55). However, the Reports do not address the role of the SGNCs in supporting these publications. On the other hand, the Second State Report reveals that the Hungarian weekly Népújság is published by the Institute for the Information Activity of the Hungarian National Community (Government of Slovenia, 2004, p. 32), but does not indicate that the Hungarian SGNC founded the Institute. Some relatively detailed information on Népújság appeared only in the Fifth State Report, in the context of the co-financing of media programmes, where it was described simply as ‘a weekly magazine of the Hungarian national minority in Slovenia’, with no reference to the SGNC (Government of Slovenia, 2020, p. 24).

5 Language Use

Language protection is one of the central elements of the Slovenian system of minority protection. The Italian and Hungarian languages enjoy a high level of legal protection and ‘ethnically mixed areas’ are de jure bilingual, with the minority language enjoying equal official status. There are various measures in place to underpin bilingualism at the local level, the most prominent being the 3–6% increase in basic salary for positions where knowledge of a minority language is required (Government of Slovenia, 2000, p. 45). However, implementation of the legal framework is not always smooth, and ‘minority representatives and the government acknowledged that there were gaps in the use of these two languages’ (ACFC, 2017, para. 69). As the ACFC has observed, for the purpose of improvement ‘training for public employees and language promotion in education and teaching, information and media activities, cultural activities and scientific research are provided’ (ACFC, 2017, para. 69).

Monitoring documents do not provide substantive information on the role of the SGNCs in the promotion of minority-language use. The Fourth State Report only reveals that in 2015 the government adopted the Programme of Measures for the Implementation of Regulations on Bilingualism for 2015–2018, and that the representatives of the Coastal (Italian) and the Hungarian SGNCs were part of the working sub-group that drafted the action plan (Government of Slovenia, 2017, p. 9). The State Report does not provide details on the Programme, nor the action measures adopted, so it remains unclear whether any role was given to the SGNCs in the implementation of the Programme/measures.

In the Third State Report, it was noted that the Italian MP had initiated proceedings before the Constitutional Court, challenging a provision of the Law on Societies related to the name of a society, arguing that it violates the equal status of minority languages in ethnically mixed areas (Government of Slovenia, 2010, p. 40). This prompts a question about the extent to which the SGNCs are active in addressing violations of language rights or making institutional claims for the implementation of these rights. Indicative in this respect is the Fourth ACFC Opinion, which reveals ‘that no complaints had been received by the central authorities or the ombudsperson on the use of the two official minority languages at local level’ (ACFC, 2017, para. 70). The ACFC further notes that inspections were carried out by the authorities (ACFC, 2017, para. 70), but it remains unclear whether the SGNCs initiate such inspections via complaints.

Language protection is not limited to language use, but also covers the visible appearance of the language, in which context the topographical indications gain significance. As noted in the Third and Fourth State Reports, the municipality must obtain the consent of the relevant SGNC when deciding on the names of settlements (and other topographical indications) in ethnically mixed areas. Interestingly, the SGNC provides its consent through the minority representative(s) in the municipal assembly (Government of Slovenia, 2010, p. 55, 2017, p. 64). The Reports do not indicate the practical implementation of this provision.

6 Education

Minority education appears to be an area in which the SGNCs have the strongest potential for impact. The SGNCs are co-founders of minority schools/educational institutions and as such they participate in school management. It is interesting to note that the SGNCs are a privileged co-founders, in the sense that they do not bear financial obligations (Komac, 2000, p. 370), but still exercise the powers of a co-founder.

The nature of the co-founder partnership depends on whether a school resides under municipal or state competence. For ‘municipal’ schools (kindergartens and primary schools), the co-founder is the respective municipal SGNC, while for secondary schools, which fall under the jurisdiction of the education ministry, the respective umbrella SGNC acts as co-founder. In the Coastal area there are three kindergartens, three primary schools and three secondary schools. Accordingly, the municipal SGNCs of Koper/Kapodistria, Izola/Isola and Piran/Pirano are co-founders of the kindergarten and primary school in their respective municipality, and the Coastal SGNC is the co-founder of the three secondary schools. All these schools have instruction in Italian, with Slovenian being an obligatory subject. Things are different in the areas inhabited by the Hungarian minority, where schools in ethnically mixed areas are bilingual (Hungarian-Slovenian). In this context, there are four kindergartens, five primary schools and one secondary school. Again, local SGNCs are co-founders of the respective kindergarten and primary schools in the relevant municipality, whereas the Hungarian SGNC is the co-founder of the bilingual secondary school in Lendava.

As a co-founder, the SGNC has the right to delegate representatives on the school council/board (see, for instance, Government of Slovenia, 2017, p. 69). However, representatives of the SGNC are not dominant on the school board, but interact with representatives of other stakeholders, and as such they cannot impose school board decisions. Another channel for the SGNC to exercise some influence on schools is provided through its competence to ‘give an opinion on the proposal for the annual work plan of a school’ (Government of Slovenia, 2020, p. 19).

The umbrella SGNCs also play a role in minority education through their participation in various state bodies pertinent to education. Both the Coastal and the Hungarian SGNCs send one representative each to the Council of Experts for General Education, the Task Force for the Education of Communities and the Extended Task Force for the Education of Communities (under the National Education Institute), while the presidents of both SGNCs are members of the special working group for minority education under the Ministry of Education. Moreover, under the Council of Experts, there is a committee for minority education composed of three members, of which two are the minority representatives on the Council (Government of Slovenia, 2017, p. 73). The Committee ‘deals with issues relating to education in ethnically mixed areas’ and ‘submits opinions to the Council of Experts regarding the adoption of syllabuses, curricula, the adaptation of programmes, etc. in these areas’ (Government of Slovenia, 2017, p. 73). In addition, the Council of Experts, when determining the programmes pertinent to the minorities, must solicit the opinion of the respective umbrella SGNC, and cannot adopt or determine a minority educational programme without the agreement of its members who represent the Italian and/or Hungarian SGNC (Government of Slovenia, 2017, p. 73). It is also noteworthy that any change in the education network requires the consent of the relevant SGNC (Government of Slovenia, 2017, p. 69). Furthermore, the consent of the Coastal and Hungarian SGNCs is needed for the adoption of ministerial rules relating to organising and financing schools from the state budget (Government of Slovenia, 2017, p. 74).

According to the monitoring documents, it appears that the weakest element in minority education is the lack of minority-language skills among teachers (ACFC, 2017, para. 80). Positively, both the Coastal and the Hungarian SGNCs have addressed this issue, engaging in a project for ‘improved minority language competence of teaching professionals’ in Italian and bilingual Hungarian-Slovenian schools, respectively (Government of Slovenia, 2017, pp. 38–39). Moreover, the Hungarian SGNC has implemented a project related to ‘e-competences of teachers in bilingual schools’ (Government of Slovenia, 2017, p. 39). The ACFC also acknowledged that the SGNCs ‘have been in charge of projects, which are meant to involve 150 teachers for the period 2016–2020’ (ACFC, 2017, para. 80).

7 Participation in Public Affairs

As shown above, the core SGNC powers relate to participation in decision-making, be it through delegated representatives in competent bodies or by providing an opinion or consent. Together with the minority representatives in national and local parliaments, the SGNCs are the channel for articulating minority interests and for the formal minority’s participation in public affairs. In its Third Opinion, the ACFC noted that ‘persons belonging to the Hungarian and Italian minorities continue to have good possibilities to participate in public affairs at the local level in the “ethnically mixed” areas’, but that ‘their involvement in policy-making at central level remains insufficient’ (ACFC, 2011, para. 125). This is a slight improvement from the second monitoring cycle, when both Hungarian and Italian representatives reported deficiencies in the actual impact of their participation, especially at central level (ACFC, 2005, para. 25). They complained that ‘their voices are insufficiently heard in public affairs and that […] the impact of their participation in the taking of decisions concerning them, particularly at the central level, has been diminishing’ (ACFC, 2005, para. 167). Against this background, in the second monitoring cycle the ACFC recommended that the authorities ‘identify, in conjunction with representatives of the minorities, ways to improve their participation in the taking of decisions concerning them, at local and central level’ (ACFC, 2005, p. 41).

Indeed, the Second State Report noted the complaints of the Italian community about ‘the inconsistent application’ of Article 15.2 of the Law on SGNCs, which provoked the Secretary General of the government to issue, in 2003, an instruction ‘on the integration of national communities in the decision-making procedures related to the status of their members’ (Government of Slovenia, 2004, p. 24). Following the provision of Article 15.2, requiring the state bodies to get the prior opinion of the SGNCs when deciding on matters related to national communities, the instruction called on ministries to ‘cooperate with national communities already when preparing the documents’ that will eventually be adopted by the National Assembly, notwithstanding the fact that the National Assembly is also obliged to seek the opinions of the SGNCs (Government of Slovenia, 2004, p. 24). Moreover, the instruction called on the state authorities, when they make decisions within the framework of the executive (the government, the ministries and other state bodies), to acquire a preliminary opinion from the Italian SGNC for matters involving the Italian community, and from the Hungarian SGNC for matters involving the Hungarian national community (Government of Slovenia, 2004, p. 24). This corresponds with the findings of the ACFC in the third monitoring cycle that ‘at central level, the impact of the involvement of representatives (of Italian and Hungarian) minorities could be greatly improved by a consultation, at the right moment, in particular during law-making process’ (ACFC, 2011, para. 24). Along these lines, the ACFC has invited the authorities ‘to ensure timely and effective consultation of representatives of the Hungarian and Italian minorities, especially when preparing new legislation of concern to them, in order to make sure that their views are duly taken into account’ (ACFC, 2011, para. 128). The issue disappeared from the radar in the fourth monitoring cycle, nor was it addressed in the Fifth State Report. Moreover, consultation within the Government Commission for the Italian and Hungarian Communities, to which the umbrella SGNCs of the two communities send one representative each (Government of Slovenia, 2000, para. 115, 2010, p. 13), has not been sufficiently addressed in the monitoring, and the impact of the SGNCs within this body remains unclear.

8 Territorial Organisation (Administrative Change)

The establishment of the municipality of Ankaran/Ancarano (in the area where the Italian community resides) attracted significant attention in the third monitoring cycle. In 2009, a local referendum was held in Ankaran/Ancarano, at the time part of the Koper/Capodistria municipality, in which voters expressed the wish to create a new municipality of Ankaran/Ancarano (ACFC, 2011, para. 129; Government of Slovenia, 2017, p. 19). The Constitutional Court even had to intervene in 2010 and order the creation of a new municipality, which was eventually established in 2011 (ACFC, 2011, para. 129; ACFC, 2017, para. 90; Government of Slovenia, 2017, p. 19). This issue raised the question of the involvement of the Italian community in the process and even resulted in the ACFC including the issue among the ones requiring ‘immediate action’.

The ACFC observed that this development was a source of ‘deep concern for part of the Italian minority living on this territory’, noting a ‘lack of consultation and involvement of representatives of the Italian minority in the preparation of this administrative change’, as well as ‘a lack of clarity as to the possible consequences of this administrative change for the protection of the rights of persons belonging to the Italian minority’ (ACFC, 2011, para. 129). Since there was apparently insufficient involvement of the representatives of the Italian community in the process, the ACFC expressed doubts that their concerns had been duly taken into account (ACFC, 2011, para 24). Consequently, the ACFC has urged the authorities to ‘ensure effective involvement of national minority representatives in discussions on any administrative change that could have an impact on minority protection’, and especially to ‘take measures to guarantee that the protection of persons belonging to national minorities will not diminish as a result of the creation of the municipality of Ankaran/Ancarano’ (ACFC, 2011, p. 2).

In the Fourth State Report, the authorities acknowledged that ‘in the procedure for the establishment of the municipality of Ankaran, opinions on the matter were obtained from the Coastal Italian Self-Governing Community [and] the Italian Self-Governing National Community Koper’ (Government of Slovenia, 2017, p. 19). Nevertheless, ‘the Italian minority considered that the process concerning the creation of the Ankaran/Ancarano municipality and self-governing community did not take their concerns duly into account’ (ACFC, 2017, para. 90).

9 Cross-Border Cooperation

The SGNCs are important actors in cross-border cooperation. In fact, promoting contacts in the nation of origin, with minorities in other countries, as well as with international organisations is one of their statutory tasks (Law on Self-Governing National Communities, art. 4). Cooperation with organisations and institutions in the respective kin-state plays a considerable role in the SGNCs’ activities. The monitoring documents reveal numerous projects that the SGNCs implement with the support of their kin-state and in cooperation with organisations from the kin-state. The Fifth State Report reveals extensive cooperation between the Hungarian SGNCs and stakeholders in Hungary: meetings with representatives of the authorities, associations and societies, schools, cultural institutions, participation in business meetings, attendance of cultural and art events and fairs in Hungary (Government of Slovenia, 2020, pp. 50–51). The Italian SGNCs also maintain close contact with stakeholders in Italy through meetings at various levels, while they also cooperate intensively with Italian partners in organising music concerts and artistic events (Government of Slovenia, 2020, pp. 52–53). Moreover, the SGNCs maintain contacts with their co-nationals in other countries: Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin and Italians in Croatia, respectively.

It is axiomatic that the SGNCs also function as stakeholders in bilateral relations between Slovenia and the respective kin-state. Representatives of the SGNCs are members of the intergovernmental commissions dealing with cultural, scientific and educational cooperation, and they are able to voice their positions before relevant international agreements are reached,Footnote 7 as well as before meetings between high officials from Slovenia and Hungary/Italy (Government of Slovenia, 2000, para. 122).

The quality of cross-border cooperation has been positively assessed throughout the monitoring cycles and has not caused concerns. Indicative in this respect is the ACFC endorsement of ‘the well-developed co-operation with neighbouring states in the field of minority protection, both at inter-states level and at the level of co-operation between minority organisations’ (ACFC, 2011, para. 138). Interestingly though, the ACFC Opinion reveals that ‘insufficient implementation of minority rights by neighbouring States is sometimes used as an argument for not giving further consideration to claims by representatives of minorities’, which ‘has a negative impact on public perceptions of persons belonging to national minorities’ (ACFC, 2011, para. 138).

10 Conclusion

The analysis of the monitoring documents reveals a number of valuable findings. First, as is the case in many countries, the Slovenian reporting is predominantly focused on the normative framework, providing scant information on the implementation and impact of the legal provisions in practice. Accordingly, the documents reveal only very limited (or indirect) insight into the real-life functioning of the SGNCs. Second, the State Reports are heavily state-driven: even the ACFC has on several occasions criticised the failure of the state to involve minority representatives in the preparation of the State Report (ACFC, 2011, para. 8; ACFC, 2017, para. 2). Consequently, the minority perspective, and more precisely the SGNCs’ perspective, is almost invisible in the Reports (this perspective has only been to some extent voiced through the ACFC Opinions). This state-driven approach is also reflected in the general state attitude towards the SGNCs: they are treated as beneficiaries of state action/support, but less so as active minority agents and partners. Finally, the documents reveal an impressive potential for the SGNCs to act as full-scale minority agents. The powers of co-decision and channels for participation provided for the SGNCs in the Slovenian legal order are indeed remarkable: by virtue of law, no decision pertinent to national minorities can be adopted without at least the indirect involvement of the respective SGNC. However, the real-life situation is less ideal. While the formal presence of the SGNCs in decision-making is secured via the participation of their representatives in various public bodies, it remains unclear whether they can always voice minority concerns, and to what extent they can influence the decisions taken. It appears that the SGNCs have still not achieved the position that the law envisages for them. The SGNCs’ strikingly low presence in the monitoring documents does not correspond to the powers legally vested in them. One would expect the SGNCs to be the core stakeholders in minority protection, but this is not the case, and it appears that the state is still the predominant actor. Consequently, to be able to fulfil their role in minority self-government and as the core partner to public institutions in issues pertinent to minority protection, the SGNCs require further empowerment (capacity building) and additional attention, not only from the state but also from the ACFC.