SHIFTING POLITICAL AND CULTURAL BORDERS: LANGUAGE AND IDENTITY IN THE BORDER REGION OF AUSTRIA AND SLOVENIA

in Culture and Cooperation in Europe’s Borderland
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Abstract

State borders and linguistic borders rarely coincide, and often minorities are ascribed a ‘bridging’ function in cross-border co-operation. However, whether or not they can fulfill such ideal expectations depends not only on bilateral relations between states but also on wider geopolitical constellations. Narratives about a common past and myths related to the foundation of national states play an important role in the construction of national identities, and language often serves as a key marker of identity. Although such narratives and myths are extremely persistent, transformations occur over time, and especially in periods of major geopolitical change. This article presents a case study of such transformations in the border region between Austria and Slovenia. It traces and analyses myths and narratives which have been constitutive of national identities in the two states and which have shaped perceptions of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’, and particularly attitudes towards the Slovene minority in Austria. It focuses on moments of transformation linked to geopolitical changes at the end of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, in the World War II period, and after the fall of the Iron Curtain. It provides a diachronic perspective necessary for understanding present shifts arising from the enlargement of the European Union. The article concludes that the Slovene minority will only fulfill a ‘bridging’ function if diversity within the European project is conceived in an open and inclusive way.

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