Croat in Austria
Research Centre of Multilingualism
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Croat in Austria

1. General description of the linguistic community

1.1 Linguistic, geographic and economic description

Croat is a meridional Slav language very similar to Serbian. Because of its isolation for 450 year the Croat spoken in Burgenland differs from standard Croat. It is spoken within linguistic islands by about 25,000 in the "Südmähren" area of Slovakia and of western Hungary extending as far as Burgenland, that is by about 9% of the population (also there are about 6,000 speakers in Vienna). The principal locations where the language is used are Neusiedl/Niuzalj, Eisenstadt/ Äeljezno, Mattersburg/Matrstof, Oberpullendorf/Gornja Pulja, Oberwart/Borta et Güssing/Novi Grad.

The Croat of Burgenland has its origin in the èakavique-icavique-ekavique dialects of central Croatia and Bosnia which have developed since the 18th century within a German and Hungarian language environment without contact with the country of origin. All the Croats of Burgenland also speak German. The spoke language displays many interference phenomenon with German. The written language is based upon the Croat dialects of Burgenland and reveals grammatical changes in relation to standard Croat, the tendency to preserve archaic forms, as well as innovations based upon the language contact model, German and Hungarian. The linguistic differences between standard Croat and the Croat of Burgenland, especially by reference to the written form, are marked, thereby making written communication difficult.

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1.2 General history of the region and the language

The Croats left the Balkans (Croatia and Bosnia) as part of a series of migrations associated with the Ottoman advance during the sixteenth century (in advance of the invading Ottomans), establishing themselves in western Hungary, Slovenia and the "Südmähren". There they were established as Catholic islands under the protection of the Catholic episcopal authority) within a region occupied by German and Hungarian speaking Protestants. Over period of centuries this protectionism served to counter any assimilationist process. Hungarian society - the Croats of Burgenland lived within the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire under the Hapsburg monarchy - conserved the structures associated with the end of the feudal and the post feudal periods which have significantly marked the cultural and political life of the Croat minority. In particular, during the nineteenth century the Croats were subjected to strong pressures to assimilate into Hungarian society. In 1921, at the time of a popular consultation concerning the historical nature of western Hungary, a considerable number of Croats expressed a desire to remain in Hungary. Most of the Croat establishments, other than the economic centres of Ödenburg/Sopron and Steinamanger/ Szombathely, were ceded to Austria. The territories which separated from Hungary and were linked to Austria were referred to as 'Burgenland' which was allocated the status of a confederation (Bundesland) within Austria. For many the establishment of the frontier signified a drastic deterioration in living conditions and prompted about 10% of the population to emigrate, mainly to the United States during the inter war period. Geographic mobility, including emigration continues to characterise the entire situation in Burgenland, regardless of ethnic belonging. It is for this reason that many of the Croats migrated to Vienna where they retain a considerable presence.


Hrvatsko kulturno drustvo/Kroatischer Kulturverein, the Croat Cultural Association founded in 1929.

Hrvatsko Gradisæansko kulturno drustvo u Beèu/Kroatisch-Burgenländischer Kulturverein in Wienn, the Croat Cultural Association of Burgenland founded in 1934 is the umbrella organisation for Burgenland Croats living in Vienna.

Hrvatski akademski klub/Kroatischer Akademikerklub, the University Croat Circle founded in 1947 is the institution of former Croatian students.

Komitet za prava Gradisæanskih Hrvatov/Komitee für die Rechte der Burgenländischen Kroaten, a committee which represents the rights of the language group in Burgenland.

There are also links with the Austrian Centre for Ethnic Groups (Österreichischen Volksgruppenzentrum) located in Vienna, an institution which researches and represents the interests of all minorities and within which the Croats and the Slovenes are particularly active.

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1.3 Legal status and official policy

The juridical status of the Croat language group relates to the Treaty of 1955 and the 1976 Ethnic Group Act. Article 7 of the 1955 Treaty made explicit reference to the Slovene and Croat language groups indicating that:

Austrian nationals of the Slovene and Croat minorities in Carinthia, Burgenland and Styria shall enjoy the same rights on equal terms as all other Austrian nationals, including the right to their own organisations, meetings and press in their own language.

They are entitled to elementary instruction in the Slovene or Croat language and to a proportional number of their own secondary schools; in this connection school curricula shall be reviewed and a section of the Inspectorate of Education shall be established for Slovene and Croat schools.

In the administrative and juridical districts of Carinthia, Burgenland and Styria where there are Slovene Croat or mixed populations, the Slovene or Croat language shall be accepted as an official language in addition to German. In such districts topographical terminology and inscriptions shall in the Slovene or Croat language as well as in German.'

In the 1976 Ethnic Groups Act which also applies to other 'ethnic' groups, the Consultative Committees of ethnic groups are put in place, which, in principle, have a consultative function, but which can also exercise an important right of joint decision by reference to the distribution of the financial resources allocated to the minorities.

By reference to political revindication the language groups are divided into two camps: a conservative group politically associated with the ÖVP party, and the so-called Conference of Mayors of the SPÖ, which adopts an assimilatory stance. The two positions are currently drawing closer together but the division which has persisted for several decades constitutes a hindrance by reference to the establishment and the maintenance of a durable politics that would be of benefit to the minorities.

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2. Use of the language by domains

2.1 Education

Until 1921 as a consequence of the Croat exercising their prerogative for autonomous status by reference to the language of education in their local schools, the prevailing law in Burgenland was the 'Imperial Law concerning the primary education' of Hungary. At the turn of the century the Croats had more than sixty confessional schools. From 1921 the Church was always responsible for the Croat confessional schools, but with German introduced as an obligatory subject. The social-democrats insisted upon German as a means of promoting the social and cultural emancipation of the language group and thereby entered into opposition with the Christian socialists who saw in the Croat language confessional schools a guarantee for the survival of the ethnic group. This struggle characterised the entire First Republic period.

Pre-school education

The language group in Burgenland does not have any private kindergarten and it is only thanks to the personal initiative of some nursery teachers that the children of the language group receive any education in their maternal language. It was not until after 1989 that teaching at this level was required by law. Croat is used in addition to German in the following kindergartens: Hornstein/Voristan, Klingenbach/Klimpuh, Oslip/Uzlop, Siegendorf/Cindrof, Zagersdorf/Cogrstof, Steinbrunn/Stikapron, Zillingtal/Celindrof, Trausdorf/Trajstof, Wulpaprodersdorf/Vulpaprodrstof, Güttenbach/Pinkovac, Neuberg/ Nova Gora, Stinatz/Stinjaki, Draßburg-Baumbargen/Rasporak-Pajngrt, Antau/Otava, Neudorf/Novo Selo, Pama/Bjelo Selo, Parndorf/Pandrof, Frankenau/ Frakanava, Unterpullendorf/Dolnja Pulja, Großwarasdorf/Veliki Boristof, Weingraben/Bajngrob, Nikitsch/File, Kroatisch Gertesdorf/Geristof,Schachendorf/Èajta and Weiden/'Bandol. Beyond these locations it is possible to receive bilingual German-Croat education if more than 25% of the eligible parents seek it. In the above mentioned kindergartens Croat is used for at least six hours weekly. The training of the teachers is the responsibility of the Federal Agency of Education in Oberwart/Borta, which is responsible for this level. There Croat is offered as a subject. There are about 35 active kindergartens at this educational level that use Croat. In general there is an increasing interest in bilingualism.

Since 1990 there are nursery assistants available, these being the responsibility of the Pre-school Inspectorate. In 1998 this body gave each of the kindergartens the assistance of such a person for between six and eight hours a week.

Primary Education

There are no primary schools in Burgenland in which Croat is the medium of instruction. In most of the primary schools (first four years of schooling) Croat is taught as a language course for three hours a week. In some schools teaching conforms with a bilingual pattern. The 28 or so German-Croat primary schools in Burgenland are attended by 1,300 pupils and employ 180 teachers (where only some dozens of the pupils are from the language group).

There are three intermediary school (fourth to eight year of education) in Oberpullendorf/Gornja Pulja, Rechnitz/Rohunac and Stegersbach/Santalek respectively, where Croat is taught as an obligatory subject, with 80 students receiving such courses, and seven other schools where Croat is offered as an optional subject. At the secondary level there are 330 pupils enrolled in Croat courses, these being taught by 34 teachers.

Secondary Education

There are some secondary schools where Croat is offered as an obligatory subject with an option??? (Eisenstadt/ Äeljezno, Oberschützen/Gornje Sice and Oberpuollendorf/Gornja Pulja). In 1992, such a secondary school was opened for the language groups of Oberwart/Borta. It offers two bilingual combinations of teaching languages - Croat-German and Hungarian-German. This is the relevant data:

German-Croat bilingual education91
Croat as an obligatory subject with an option189
Croat as a facultative? subject47

Bilingual German-Croat education21
Croat as an obligatory subject with option9
Croat as a facultative? subject4

Teacher Training

Teacher training for bilingual teachers is the responsibility of the Pedagogic Academy in Eisenstadt/ Äeljezno. This Academy was closed in 1998 and incorporated into the Academy in Vienna. After completing their studies the teachers are eligible for a salary supplement if they return for further training.

University education

Within the higher education establishments of Graz and Vienna Slavonic Studies include a course on the Croat of Burgenland as well as Croat studies offered as a programme of study. The associated qualification leads to the teaching profession.

Adult Education

There is also an Croat Adult education centre in Burgenland (Drustvo za obrazovanje Gradisæanskih Hrvata, or DOGH), where bilingual courses are offered. Between twelve and fifteen teachers offer 480 course annually.

Finally there is also the pedagogic subjects for adults, in particular the innovator Glasi/Stimmen (Voix), published in 1997 for those German speakers wishing to learn Croat in Burgenland.

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2.2 Judicial authorities

In relation to Article 7 of the 1955 treaty members of the language group have the right to use Croat as the official language in administrative and judicial affairs at the regional level. The use of Croat is permitted as the official language in the following districts: Eisenstadt/ Äeljezno, Güssing/Novi Grad, Mattersburg/Matrstof, Neusiedl/Niuzalj, Oberpullendorf/ Gornja Pulja and Oberwart/Borta.

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2.3 Public authorities and services

The use of Croat as the official language is fixed by the 1990 decree. In 26 communes (relevant to six administrative regions), Croat is authorised as the official language serving the six following regions: Eisenstadt/ Äeljezno (9 communes),Güssing/Novi Grad (3 communes), Mattersburg/ Matrstof (3 communes), Neusiedl/Niuzalj (3 communes), Oberpullendorf/Gornja Pulja (5 communes) and Oberwart/Borta (3 communes). Also, Croat can serve as the official language by other administrations such as the military command of Burgenland, the railways and the postal service.

In virtue of the ethnic group law road signs must be available bilingually in those regions where 25% of the population belong to the language group. This is considered by the various Austrian language groups to be unconstitutional because of the measure of Article 7 of the Treaty which states that the rights of ethnic groups are not subject to a numerical measure of their demographic incidence. In the absence of a concrete decree by reference to bilingual road signs there is an absence of bilingual signs in Burgenland. The signs indicating the names of places are only in German even though the street names within the localities are bilingual, which explains the division of competencies - the place names are the responsibility of the state whereas the street names are the responsibility of the communes.

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2.4 Mass media and information technology

The Press

The following periodicals are published in Croat in Burgenland:

Hrvatske Novine/Kroatische Zeitung. This periodical, the Croat Journal, founded in 1910 has a circulation of about 3,500 and is published by the Croat Press Association (Kroatischen Presseverein/Hrvatsko stamparsko drustvo).

Crikveni Glasnik Gradisæa/Kirchenbote des Burgenlandes. This is an ecclesiastical bulletin published by the episcopal seat of Eisenstadt/ Eljezno that was founded in 1946.

Put/Weg. It appears bimonthly in Vienna and has existed since 1980. It is published by the Croat Association of Burgenland (Kroatisch-Burgenländischen Kulturverein/Hrvatsko-gradisæansko kulturno drustvo u Beèu).

Novi Glas/Neue Stimme. This is published by the Croat University Circle (Kroatische Akademikerklub/Hrvatski akademski klub) in Vienna. It appears four times a year and has existed since 1967.

Glasilo/Zeitschrift. This is a quarterly publication of the Croat Cultural Association (Kroatischen Kulturvereins/Hrvatsko kulturno drustvo) and has existed since 1988.


The regional radio station of the Austrian broadcasting service (ORF) broadcasts 42 minutes daily. It consists of local information, and an important dose of music.


Each Sunday the regional studio of ORF broadcasts the programme Dobar Dan Hrvati/Guten Tag Kroaten ("Good Morning Croats") between 1 p.m. and 1.30 p.m. It consists of local aspects and a strong 'folklore' ingredient.

Information technology

The use of Croat script is possible in Windows95, Windows NT and MacOS. There is no software available in Croat.

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2.5 Cultural production

Among the most important cultural activities is the cultural initiative - Kulturinitiative Kulturna zadruga/KUGA à Großwarasdorf/Veliki Boristof which was founded in 1982. It organises an important series of cultural and socio-political events, teaching programmes etc. There is also the amateur theatre groups, especially in the villages of Klingenbach/ Klimpuh, Zagersdorf/Cogrstof, Oslip/Uzlop, Wulkaprodersdorf/Vulkaprodrstof, Pama/ Bijelo Selo, Kroatisch Minihof/Mjenovo, Nikitsch/File, Kleinwarasdorf/Mali Boristof, Frankenau/Frakanava, Stinatz/Stinjaki and Güttenbasch/Pinkovac.

The day for young people (Dan mladine/Tag der Jugend) is a young people's festival organised once a year in Burgenland. In all of the villages where the language is widely spoken there is a dance group and a "tamburizza" band, the best known being Kolo Slavuj à Unterpullendorf/Dolnja Pulja. There are also the rock groups Pax and Bruji, the latter having considerable popularity throughout Austria.

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2.6 The world of business

The Croat language has no real importance in economic life except within family enterprises where Croat is used. Croat employees in Burgenland within those enterprises which have links with the old Yugoslavia can benefit from their linguistic competences in linking with economic partners.

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2.7 Language use in family and society

In the rural regions endogamy is more frequent than in the urban locations (for economic reasons). In general, one observes a core of representatives of the minority which resists assimilation and which is characterised by an ethnic consciousness and language awareness. In these circles the production and the reproduction of the language and traditions is assured. In contrast, outside of this group, the language is subject to a considerable erosion to the extent that it is no longer used by anyone other than the older population. Croat is used in the family, in the institutional world and in the villages where it serves as medium of public communication regardless of the mix of language groups, that is in commerce, on the street and in communal meetings, on condition that all participants understand the language. It is not rare that the Germanophones have a competence in Burgenland Croat and that they use it in their daily life.

The prestige of Croat varies appreciably in Burgenland. One must consider the negative and discriminatory connotations formerly associated with the low social status of the Croats of Burgenland, but which have attenuated in recent years, but not to the extent of having parity with German. The Croats of Burgenland are almost exclusively Catholics and the masses are chanted in Croat. The pilgrimage of Lorett constitutes a particularly important event in the religious calendar.

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2.8 Transnational exchange

Transfrontier contacts exist with the Croats of Hungary which retain historic and cultural links with the Croats of Burgenland. There are a range of different contacts with Croatia even though it does not share a frontier with Burgenland, contacts which already existed during the Communist period but which have since been consolidated (in particular by the intervention of those groups which sympathise with the current Croatian regime). Linguistic visits for children are arranged. Contacts with the Sorb population in Germany also play an important role, at least by reference to institutional links.

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3. Conclusion

After many years of decline Croat in Burgenland has being reinforced in recent years. There is a little use at the secondary educational level and there will be considerable research interest in the language among researchers in the future. With reference to legislating for the protection of minorities the application of certain actions are demanded by the representatives of the minority. If bilingualism is generally accepted in the world of education, in practice it is called into question. Thus one can easily note the 1,300 students in mixed schools but on closer examination we note that it only affects a few dozen of the Croat pupils. This leads us to believe that if the issue appears resolved on paper, in fact, that system does not really favour maintaining the language. The economic situation of the Croats is equally very precarious in a region which is characterised by important structural weaknesses. To a great extent the survival of the minority depends upon whether or not the economic programmes in place can arrest migration (in particular to Vienna). The intensification of economic relations with Croatia only has a small impact upon Burgenland and by extension on the Croats of Burgenland. The vitality of the Croat minority cannot be considered as very high, given that the most important social domains for its development are not under their control and that the consolidation of the education system can only partially compensate for that absence.

Useful addresses:

KUGA/Kulturna zadruga: 7304 Großwarasdorf/Veliki Boristof, Parkgasse 3, Tél.: 02614/21624, 2698

Kroatischer Kulturverein/Hrvatsko kulturno drustvo: 7000 Eisenstadt, Dr.L.Karall-Straße 23, Tél: 02682/62936

Kroatischer Akademikerklub/HAK, 1040 Schwindg. 14 Tél.: (01) 5057106

ORF Landesstudio Burgenland, Kroatische Redaktion: 7000 Eisenstadt, Buchgraben 51, Tél.: 02682/700-390

Zweisprachige Hauptschule Großwarasdorf, Dir. Mirko Berlakovich, Schulgasse 12

Pannonisches Gymnasium: Dirk. Karl Wiltschko, Gymnasiumstr. 21, 7350 Oberpullendorf, Tél.: 02612/2407

Mehrsprachiges Gymnasium Oberwart: Dir. Martin Zsivkovics, Schulstraße 29, 7400 Oberwart, Tél.: 03352/8185

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