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President of Austria, van der Bellen, visits Slovenia at the invitation of President Pahor

Ljubljana, Slovenija & Celovec, Republic of Austria, 24. 5. 2017 | press release, speech, statement

At the invitation of the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, the President of Austria, Dr Alexander van der Bellen, is today on an official visit to the Republic of Slovenia.

This is the first official visit of the President of Austria, Alexander van der Bellen, to Slovenia, which is the third country to which he has paid an official visit, following Switzerland and Germany, since replacing Heinz Fischer as the President on 26 January this year. This reflects the great importance that the Austrian President places on Slovenia.

An official visit is an indication of the strengthening of excellent relations that Slovenia has with neighbouring Austria and the solidification of the direct dialogue between the presidents of the two neighbouring countries. The Governor of Carinthia, Peter Kaiser, and the largest economic delegation in recent years, led by the Chairman of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce, Christoph Leitl, are accompanying the Austrian President on his visit to Ljubljana.

After an official reception with military honours on Congress Square in Ljubljana, the President of the Republic of Slovenia and the President of the Republic of Austria met in private for the first time at the Presidential Palace. The delegations of the Republic of Slovenia and the Republic of Austria led by both presidents later held plenary discussions. The central topic of the plenary discussions was mostly focused on the future strengthening of mutual dialogue and cooperation within the European Union and preparations for a trilateral meeting among Slovenia, Austria, and Croatia, which will be hosted by the Austrian President on 18 July in Salzburg. The areas in which Slovenia wishes to see more progress were also discussed, in particular the expectation of the comprehensive and consistent fulfilment of the obligations of the Republic of Austria within international law concerning the fulfilment of the rights of the Slovenian ethnic minority in Austria.

President Borut Pahor hosts the first official visit by Austrian President dr. Alexander van der Bellen to Slovenia
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

President Borut Pahor hosts the first official visit by Austrian President dr. Alexander van der Bellen to Slovenia
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

After the plenary discussions, the presidents opened a press conference by issuing a joint statement expressing their condolences and solidarity for the British people due to the recent terrorist attack in Manchester: “We, the Presidents of Slovenia and Austria, strongly condemn the cruel terrorist attack in Manchester. This was a barbaric attack on innocent victims, including children and young people who wished to spend a wonderful evening enjoying a concert. We would like to express our solidarity with the United Kingdom. We feel for the victims, their relatives, and friends. However, regardless of everything that happened, this event should not instil fear in us, but we should rather continue with our way of life. Let us stand together and fight terrorism and extremism together.”

As the press conference continued, President Pahor stated that President van der Bellen and he find that the relations between the two countries are excellent, but they also find that there is always room for improvement. The private discussion and the official discussion between the delegations were candid, and in their assessments the presidents gave credit where credit is due and they tried to discover how to resolve those issues that might be less than ideal. “The relations between our countries are multifaceted and varied, and both of us will make efforts to keep them this way,” said President Pahor. He also added that the economic cooperation is good and indicates growth, which should continue. In 2016, the trade in goods between the countries amounted to €4.7 billion, which accounts for nearly one tenth of the volume of the total trade in goods of the Republic of Slovenia. Austria is also the number one foreign investor in Slovenia, it is number one in the volume of the trade in services, and number two in the number of tourists visiting our country. According to President Pahor, we greatly value the opinion of Austria that the Port of Koper, in the economic sense and otherwise, is the most important port for the Austrian market.

With regard to the draft of the new constitution of the Austrian state of Carinthia, President Pahor finds that changes are going in the right direction, but that there is no reason to be either excited or disappointed. The President of Austria finds that the language of the state constitution with regard to the Slovenian minority is very well formulated, as this is the first time that it is recorded in a document of this kind.

The presidents also discussed the resolution of the border issue between Slovenia and Croatia and the upcoming decision of the court of arbitration. President van der Bellen stressed that the decision of the court of arbitration should be respected, as its basic purpose is to resolve conflicts in a neutral and peaceful manner. President Pahor expressed that he honours the view of the Republic of Austria, which shows commitment to the observation of agreements, and he added that both Slovenia and Croatia have committed to observe the decision of the court of arbitration. Furthermore, he expressed his expectation of the court reaching a decision soon.

The presidents then visited the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Ljubljana and signed the record of guests of honour. They then had an animated discussion with students on the future of the European Union. President Pahor stated that he believes that, in the future, the formation of a sort of united states of Europe will be possible, in which the differences between nations will have to be respected. The President of Austria, Dr van der Bellen, agreed with the President's statement and added that this is just their personal opinion. Students posed different questions, among them on the border control between the countries. The presidents answered that they do not advocate fences, and President Pahor expressly added that he is once again calling for the removal of the fence on the border with Croatia.

President Borut Pahor and Austrian President dr. Alexander van der Bellen, Faculty of Social Sciences
Photo: Stanko Gruden/STA

After the discussion with the students, a formal lunch followed, which was organised by the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, in honour of the President of Austria, Dr Alexander van der Bellen.

In the afternoon, the presidents attended the final event of the Slovenian-Austrian business forum organised by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Slovenia. The presidents also addressed those in attendance.

After the official visit to Slovenia ended, President Pahor and Austrian President van der Bellen attended a ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Slovenian Grammar School in Klagenfurt. President Pahor decorated the Federal Grammar School and Federal Secondary School for Slovenians in Klagenfurt with the Order for Services in June 2013, for its work benefiting the Slovenian ethnic minority in Austria.

A ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of a Slovenian school in Klagenfurt
Photo: Stanko Gruden, STA

Speech by the President of the Republic of Slovenia, Borut Pahor, at the celebration commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Slovenian Grammar School in Klagenfurt
Klagenfurt, 24 May 2017

The 60th anniversary of the Federal Grammar School for Slovenians is much more than just a jubilee of an educational institution – it is a jubilee celebrating the existence and development of the Slovenian ethnic community in Austria.

Today, we are celebrating the power of knowledge that the school has given to more than two thousand graduates in the past six decades, to whom it has served as an important stepping stone on their path to the highest academic titles and successful professional careers.

Today, it also commemorates the Slovenian language. The grammar school has been strengthening its social significance and it has been raising the awareness of the historical presence of Slovenians in Carinthia.

This is a holiday of the Slovenian ethnic community, which the grammar school helped create its own intellectual core, maintain national identity, and encourage creativity. Due to these potentials, the Slovenian ethnic community significantly contributes to creating the cultural and social reality of the Austrian state of Carinthia.

The jubilee celebrated tonight is also a holiday of coexistence and good neighbourly relations. Today, Slovenia and Austria are friendly countries, partners, and close allies in our common European family. We face modern challenges together and use dialogue to seek solutions for ensuring the welfare of the citizens of both countries. We live in a time in which common European values are facing a great test. I am convinced that we have an answer to this test: the answer is greater connectedness and closer cooperation, the answer is honest and friendly neighbourly relations.

The Slovenian Grammar School might be the best way to achieve this. Nearly 20 years ago, it launched its visionary project of four-language Kugy classes, and it opened its doors to pupils with German-speaking parents, thus attracting numerous young people from Slovenia and Italy. Since then, every new generation of Kugy graduates has been continually strengthening the Alpine-Adriatic region as a region of peace and cooperation, thus helping to overcome the burden imposed on this area by a long history of wars and conflict.

To know the language of your neighbour, and other languages as well, is invaluable capital. This realisation must also be the source of confidence for the Slovenian ethnic community, even though many pupils do not learn Slovenian from early on, but have to learn it later. However, the constant increase in the number of children enrolled in bilingual primary schools and in all three bilingual secondary schools is proof of the increased awareness of parents and children, even from German-speaking families, that bilingualism is an asset for the future.

Therefore, the anniversary commemorated tonight also celebrates the multi-culturalism fostered by the Slovenian Grammar School since the time of its difficult beginnings. It has never moved away from its mission to spread not only knowledge, but also tolerance and respect for others, not even in those periods in the recent past that were less favourable towards Carinthian Slovenians than the situation today, and in which tolerance was tested. This has also contributed to the reputation of this honourable institution which goes beyond the borders of the state of Carinthia, and I have no doubts that future generations of teachers and pupils will also not only maintain it, but develop and strengthen it as well.