Swimming in the morning, in a quiet lake, that’s still warm enough, driving a dramatic mountain road to heights of over 2000 meters in the afternoon, Carinthia is a stunningly beautiful and surprisingly diverse country.
You could tell from these pictures and the many that you’ve seen over the course of the last almost three years. This stunning beauty is marred by the presence of ghosts though.
The Carinthians are a fearful people. The ghost that haunts them most, is the danger of immediate annexation by communist Yugoslavia. Their fear is still awake, more than 60 years since the victorious partisans in Yugoslavia last tried to wrestle parts of Carinthia away from Austria, and in fact 20 years after the end of communism in Yugoslavia and in fact the end of Yugoslavia itself. Spooky, those ghosts, huh?
It all began much further in the past. After the slavic invasion, Carantania was what could be called the first Slovenian state. It emerged in the middle of 7th century and lasted for almost 200 years. Since then, the largest part of what is now Carinthia, was always populated by slavic-speaking people. Christianization of Carinthia was directed from Bavaria though, and soon the ruling class was german speaking as well.
That’s how it ever was until the end of the 18th century. The 19th century brought the same kind of industrialization, mobility of workers and rise of the urban middle classes as everywhere else, and in that process, the Slovene language was increasingly seen as the language of the peasants, and either through active suppression or through economic forces began to wane everywhere but in the rural areas.
After the end of World War I, Carinthia was the place of continuing civil war between a slovenian nationalist faction that proposed incorporation of the southern part of Carinthia into the new Yugoslav Kingdom, and the now german speaking majority. After two years, an internationally controlled referendum decided that a unified Carinthia would continue to be part of Austria.
From then on the Austrian/German nationalist faction in Carinthia continued to play an important role as the guardians of Carinthia’s unity. With nationalism being such a defining part of carinthian history, it is no wonder that this same faction became involved in National Socialism almost from the beginning, and during the six years of Nazi reign, the slovenian population was a target of ethnic cleansing.
With the downfall of the Nazi Empire the leading class in Carinthia should have been disqualified, but surprisingly this was not the case. Now communist Yugoslavia tried one more time to incorporate southern Carinthia, and this was no more than a short episode, ended by Allied occupation, but still the danger was felt again. Carinthia rallied around nationalist leaders and protected war criminals. The ghosts of 1918 were stronger than any revulsion against Nazi crimes.
After World War II Carinthia was ruled by the Social Democratic Party, and many former Nazi members simply changed membership books. In the 1970s Carinthia was in the headlines when the government tried to install constitutionally guaranteed bilingual signs at the borders of towns and parishes. You find those bi- and even trilingual signs all over Europe. It’s no problem in Italy, Switzerland, France or elsewhere, but in Carinthia it caused unprecedented riots and the signs were forcefully removed. The ghosts were back.
Since then there have been countless trials by the government to come to a peaceful resolution. To no avail. The rise of Upper-Austrian Jörg Haider to Carinthia’s political leader was possible to a big part because he instrumented nationalist feelings and hate against Slovenia. A solution would have been against his interests and those of his party. Now, even after Haider’s death, his party rules supreme and it looks as if this could go on and on.
Stupid, huh? Modern Slovenia is part of the European Union, all borders have fallen, there is no cause for conflict any more, and still the ghosts haunt us. I wonder how long this can go on.
The Song of the Day is “Ghost Of Yesterday” by Billie Holiday. I have it on a 10 CD collection that I bought for 10€. It’s not available elsewhere, thus I suggest the collection “Canciones” that I’ve linked to. Hear the Song on YouTube.