On 10 November, 1,200 people came together at the Klagenfurt exhibition space for an impressive event to mark the 70th anniversary of the ‘Association of Carinthian Partisans and Friends of the Anti-Fascist Resistance’/Zveza koroških partizanov in prijateljev antifašističnega odpora.
A number of guests from Slovenia were in attendance, including two members of parliament from The Left (Levica), a left-wing Slovenian party: Violeta Tomić and Primož Siter. Several guests from Austria also took part. The list included the spokesperson for the Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ), Mirko Messner, and the Director of transform!europe, Barbara Steiner. The Republic of Austria had just one official representative at the event: Carinthia’s only ethnically Slovenian state parliament representative, Ana Blatnik (who attended on behalf of the Carinthian Social Democrat state governor, Peter Kaiser).
The association was founded following the Cominform conflict, which took place during the Cold War. In 1942 the Nazis deported hundreds of ethnic Slovenian families living in Carinthia. The battle waged by ethnic Slovenian partisans from Carinthia along the Osvobodilna fronta (‘liberation front’) together with the Yugoslavian People’s Liberation Army was the only significant armed military resistance in Austria and within the whole of Nazi Germany. Alongside efforts made by the Austrian resistance and Austria’s communists to combat National Socialism, this fight helped bring about the liberation of Austria and the 1955 Austrian Independence Treaty. It played a part in liberating Austria from German annexation as had been called for in the Moscow Declaration of 1943 signed by the foreign secretaries of the allied powers.
After 1955, Carinthia’s ethnic Slovenians were subjected to further ostracization and the German nationalism that arose during National-Socialist rule once again reared its ugly head. Despite the fact that the Independence Treaty contained clauses offering specific protection to minorities, ethnic Slovenians were denied their rights. They continued to be forced to assimilate to the German majority, both overtly and in less obvious ways. During this time there were also terrorist attacks on partisan memorials. This culminated in violent protests in 1972 when a mob, emboldened by the politics being pursued by parties in the state parliament, pulled down bilingual signs that were erected legally and by the Slovenian youth movement. Just a handful of these signs were reinstated – and only recently – following a ruling by the Austrian Constitutional Court.
Ethnic Slovenians living in Carinthia continue to face a number of challenges to this day. However, thanks to the hard work of countless dedicated individuals in the fields of culture, media, academia, education and civil society, Slovenian culture is now thriving in Carinthia. This year’s anniversary celebration is a perfect example. Alongside the main speakers from Carinthia and the Slovenian partisan association and the Russian Veterans Society and a video message from the chairman of the European Left, Gregor Gysi, there were also performances by several well-known Slovenian artists. The highlight was a performance by the Pinko Tomažić Trieste partisan choir. 90-year-old Valerija Škrinjar Tvrz, who, together with a few hundred other young partisans, fought in the Menina Mountains against the much larger 14th Waffen SS Division in the winter of 1944, concluded the celebration with a rousing call for vigilance against fascism.
In the morning, a meeting organised by the Carinthian partisan association took place between resistance and anti-fascist organisations, survivors’ groups and memorial projects from Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as transform!europe. The topic discussed was ‘Fascism and right-wing extremism today: what challenges do we face?’. It was during this gathering that the ‘Klagenfurt Declaration’ was agreed. The speeches and opinions voiced not only stressed the importance of keeping memories alive but, given Europe’s shift to the right, they also urged more commitment to combatting fascism and racism, and to fighting for a better society for everyone – not just now but in the future. During the annual Europe-wide gathering of Ustaše and Nazis, which is scheduled to next take place in May 2019 in Bleiburg, there will be jointly organised events to oppose fascism as well as a Europe-wide meeting of antifascist organisations.