Slovenia's Ombudsman fights for minority rights with travelling exhibition

Matjaz Hanzek, photo:

Members of Slovenia's minorities groups such as Roma and people from other parts of the former Yugoslavia are often victims of xenophobia and racism. But Slovenia's Ombudsman has taken up their cause. He wants Slovene's to see the problem and has mounted an exhibition which will be shown across the country.

Several organizations that are fighting for minority rights, stress the problem of intolerance in Slovenia and have made it a public issue that has caused heated debates. Slovenia's ombudsman Matjaz Hanzek definitely believes that awareness about this issue should be raised and to this end his office has started a project called "forms of intolerance in Slovenia." Part of this project is an exhibition on intolerance, which is currently on display in the town of Novo Mesto. And the question is: has intolerance increased since Slovenia's independence?

"After independence in Slovenia intolerance has not increased but become visible. Hidden or invisible intolerance has been misused by politicians for political purposes."

The exhibition, which was on display last year in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, as well as in Maribor, shows the development of intolerance in Slovenia since its independence 14 years ago and it is divided into six complexes comprising problems such as hate speech, physical assault or systematic discrimination. Visitors to the exhibition are able to write down their thoughts and impressions on a blank sheet of paper and therefore play an active part in the exhibition. The exhibition demonstrates how hostile activities develop and what the consequences are:

"Consequences of such behaviour are always destructive for the whole society. The government and politicians are not active enough to stop hate speech, unfortunately. Sometimes, some politicians even support these activities."

Slovenia's Ombudsman points out that Slovenian legislation might defend minority groups against discrimination in principle, however in practice the situation is rather worrying and even encouraged by some politicians, who gain political votes by emphasizing patriotic feelings and a feeling of superiority against groups that do not fit into their pattern. But which groups are usually subject to such behaviour?

"Intolerance is expressed against minorities according to the social or political situation. At this moment, the erased and Muslims are such exposed groups."

The exhibition will be displayed later in the year in other towns in Slovenia and it will be on show for the second time in Maribor at the end of the year. A tolerant society should be a common goal for everyone, or as Matjaz Hanzek stated:

"Any level of intolerance is too much intolerance. We must all build a tolerant multicultural society, if we want a society where human rights are respected."