Italian national community in Slovene Istria and European integration.

Author:Sabec, Ksenija
 
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Abstract

The article aims to explicate the potential effects of European integration and cross-border cooperation initiatives on the Italian national community in Slovenia in terms of its rights and protection, political participation, socio-economic activity and cultural vitality. These factors will be studied on a comparative basis, i.e. looking at changes in the minority situation after the dissolution of communism and the creation of new independent Slovene state to conditions in the former Yugoslavia. The article proceeds from the case study on the condition of the Italian minority in Slovene Istria, which represents part of the eligible cross-border region between the two states, Slovenia and Italy. In addition it strives to respond to the following questions: how and to what degree has the Italian minority in Slovenia been involved in cross-border cooperation, does cross-border cooperation promote integration between minority and majority populations (Italians in Slovenia and Italians in Italy) or between two minority populations (Italians in Slovenia and Slovenes in Italy) and what are minority and majority perceptions of their regional or national-ethnic identity in relation to the European Union and European identity.

Keywords:

Italian national community, European integration, minorities, identity, cross-border cooperation

  1. Introduction

    The present study focuses on the condition of the Italian national community in Slovenia and on the statistical border region of Littoral-Karst (Obalno-kraska). Although the eligible area of cross-border cooperation between Italy and Slovenia (Phare in the past and Interreg III A Italy--Slovenia for the present) also includes the Goriska statistical region on the Slovenian side or the border, there is not a substantial Italian community in this area. The study also discusses the Italian national community in Croatia since it represents a significant number of the Italians in the former Yugoslavia (2,258 members of Italian national community lived in Slovenia in 2002 and 19,636 in Croatia). The relationship of these two Italian minority populations on the territory of new independent states created in the 1990s is a particularly interesting question as regards European integration processes. Slovene EU membership on the one hand and Croat accession status has had a notable affect, particularly on Slovenia's small Italian minority. However, the real impact of the EU on the once unified Italian community (in former Yugoslavia in the past and in the EU in the future) can be fully understood only after Croatia becomes a full member state in the EU.

    In accordance with the project objectives, the study strives to respond to the following four research questions:

    * What have been the effects of EU integration and cross-border cooperation initiatives on the Italian national community and on minority communities in terms of rights and protections, political participation, socio-economic activity, cultural vitality and mobilisation? This question should be explored on a comparative basis i.e. looking at changes in the situation after the dissolution of the communist regime and the creation of a new independent Slovene (and Croatian) state in comparison to conditions in the former Yugoslavia.

    * How and to what degree has the Italian national community in Slovenia been involved in cross border cooperation up until now? Does cross-border cooperation promote integration between minority and majority populations (Italians in Slovenia and Italians in Italy) or between two minority populations (Italians in Slovenia and Slovenes in Italy)?

    * According to respondents, what are the main threats to minority identity, culture and interests in the multi-cultural European sphere?

    * How do minority and majority representatives perceive their regional or national-ethnic identity in relation to the EU and European values?

    The structure of the study follows the research questions enumerated, although there were some important findings that fell outside the defined questions that were included. A background section summarises the historical situation of Italians in this region, particularly after World War Two. A comparison of the community's rights and protections in the former Yugoslavia and in the current Republic of Slovenia is presented, followed by the political and economic consequences of the dissolution of Yugoslavia for the entire minority community in the Istria region. This situation is also discussed in light of recent European integration. Political and economic factors undoubtedly affect the social manifestations of community identity as well as its cultural vitality and mobilisation (that is the organisational structure of the community) in bilingual regions. Cross-border cooperation initiatives and their implications for the integration of the Italian community in the region, and particularly in relation to the Slovene minority in Italy, are also discussed. According to many respondents, there are common threats to and demands made of the Italian community that will need to be considered. These are divided into five categories: consistent implementation of bilingualism, economic autonomy, educational problems, mass media, and socio-demographic issues. A discussion of the (re)configuration of regional (Istrian) and national-ethnic (Italian, Slovene) identity vis-a-vis identification with Europe and European values concludes the study.

  2. Data and methodological framework

    The data have been collected through two channels: the fieldwork conducted in Slovene Istria and the desk research. The main purposes of the fieldwork were to collect an as wide as possible variety of perceptions of actors who are involved in the minority-majority relationship issues, border cooperation, regional development, Europe, and their identity structure, and to collect relevant socio-economic data which are otherwise unavailable. The interviews were conducted among members of the Italian national community in Slovenia and among members of the majority population in the period between August 2005 and May 2006.

    Some difficulties did emerge in the selection and contacting the people because many of the minority representatives discharged a variety of different public functions (deputy mayors, town councillors, coordinators and presidents of Italian organisations, etc). All the same, many of the respondents (particularly those employed at governmental institutions such as the National Agency for Regional Development) provided me with relevant material in response to the specific issues I raised. In addition, a number of well-organised websites exist. These are mostly run by the majority population. In contrast, the Italian minority in Slovenia is less current as regards ongoing information bulletins, web sites, etc.

    No significant problems were encountered conducting the interviews, which lasted from twenty to ninety minutes. All of them except three were recorded on tape. The only exception took place during an interview with a governmental representative on the majority side. Eight minutes into the interview, he demanded that the recording device be switched off. I encountered great and almost unimaginable problems in my attempts to contact the mayor and deputy mayor of the bilingual municipality of Koper/ Capodistria.

    Thirty interviews had been conducted. The interviewees were selected according to defined target groups: elected representatives, community leaders, civil society and media representatives, development public officials, development private business, and main project beneficiaries. The interviewees were the following:

    * Among elected representatives: mayor of bilingual municipality (majority) (R8); deputy mayor of bilingual municipality and president of self-governing community of Italian nationality (minority) (R9); deputy mayor, headmaster of Italian secondary and elected member of self-governing community of Italian nationality (minority) (R10); member of National assembly of Republic Slovenia (minority) (R17); director of government office for nationalities (majority) (R25); deputy mayor of bilingual municipality (majority) (R26); deputy mayor of bilingual municipality (majority) (R30);

    * Minority politicians and community leaders: president of association of Italian minority (minority) (R4); chair of Community of Italians and town councillor (minority) (R14); professor and former community leader (minority) (R29);

    * Civil society, think tanks and media representatives: headmaster of Italian Gymnasium (minority) (R6); chair of cultural and research association (minority) (R7); headmaster of Italian elementary school (minority) (R12); director of Radio-television programmes for Italian national community, former chief editor of Italian programme, former president of local self-governing community of Italian nationality and vice-president of self-governing community of Italian nationality (minority) (R16); editor of Italian cultural programme on Regional RTV Centre Koper (minority) (R18); chair of Community of Italians, former headmaster of Italian gymnasium (minority) (R19); chair of Community of Italians (minority) (R20); managing committee's member of Community of Italians and town councillor (minority) (R21); cultural coordinator of Community of Italians, town councillor and member of programme council of Regional RTV Centre (minority) (R23); headmaster of Italian Kindergarten and town councillor (minority) (R24); chief of Community of Italians (minority) (R27); editor of Italian programme on Regional RTV Centre Koper (minority) (R28);

    * Development public officials: head of cross-border cooperation and the INTERREG initiative (majority) (R1); head of regional development office (minority/majority) (R2); director of regional development office and representative of self-governing community of Italian nationality for public tenders in state office (minority) (R15); deputy...

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