Bilingual Education




According to Article 7(2) of the Austrian State Treaty, the Burgenland Croats have the right to elementary education in their mother tongue and to an appropriate number of secondary schools of their own. Detailed provisions are contained in the Minorities School Act for Burgenland. However, there are no provisions for Vienna that would ensure elementary education in the language of the national minority.



In September 1994 a new “Minorities School Act” (Federal Law Gazette 202/1994) came into force for Burgenland, which has been described by committed teachers as “the beginning of the end of the bilingual school system in Burgenland”. The main shortcomings of this law regarding teaching at primary schools are as follows:

It is possible to withdraw from bilingual classes at traditional bilingual schools at any time. Teachers can be put under pressure by parents (“If my child gets a bad mark, I will simply deregister him/her from bilingual lessons”). According to the Burgenland school authorities, the “normal” (monolingual) curriculum applies to children who are deregistered.

The law should have defined at least a minimum level of use of the Croatian language, a minimum standard to be achieved or a teaching objective. Compulsory bilingual teaching in a traditionally bilingual area would be ideal for the preservation of the language.

The law has been criticised by many Croatian organisations. An academic report has criticised the law for its many anti-ethnic provisions and its inconsistency. Some provisions have been deemed unconstitutional by renowned legal scholars, but it has not yet been possible to bring about an amendment.

The only positive aspect of the new law is the regulation according to which bilingual pre-school groups (from four enrolments), pre-school classes (from seven enrolments) and school classes in grades 1 to 4 (from seven enrolments) can also be run at school locations where there was previously no bilingual teaching. This took account of a decision by the Constitutional Court, according to which the right to elementary education in the language of the national minority exists in the entire federal province under certain conditions. On the basis of this regulation, a bilingual class was established at the primary school in Eisenstadt in September 1999. Croatian is offered as an optional subject at some monolingual primary schools.



The bilingual lower secondary schools and classes that were previously run as school experiments were placed on a statutory basis. In addition, Croatian is offered as an optional subject at several lower secondary schools. Most lower secondary schools in Burgenland have switched to the new secondary school system.



The law provides for the establishment of a (single) general secondary school (Gymnasium or Realgymnasium). The school trials of bilingual classes at other AHS in Burgenland were not taken into account. They remain school experiments whose continuation depends solely on the goodwill of the responsible minister.

Looking at the geographical situation in Burgenland, it is obvious that hardly anyone from Neudorf or Oslip (in northern Burgenland) will attend the bilingual grammar school in Oberwart.

Article 7 provides for a “proportionate number of separate secondary schools”. While the Carinthian Slovenes, for example, have two secondary schools, the law stipulates the establishment of a single such school for the numerically larger group of Burgenland Croats (including Burgenland Hungarians). Here, the literal fulfilment of Art. 7 was not taken so seriously.




The Burgenland Kindergarten Act (LGBl. 35/1995) provides for bilingual kindergartens.

Today, kindergarten is in most cases the first place where children are confronted with the meaning of a language and the importance of language mastery. This is also where the course is set for the child’s further linguistic development. If both languages are not used almost equally in a bilingual kindergarten (games, songs, instructions from the teachers, etc.), the child subconsciously experiences one language as the more important, the better, the more beautiful, etc. The child will only use one language in very specific situations. A language that is hardly ever used, only at very specific times, only for a short time or only in very specific situations is perceived as inferior and in extreme cases even rejected. Such an attitude in the child can only be corrected with great effort and consistent persuasion.

The Burgenland Kindergarten Act declares kindergartens in certain municipalities to be bilingual kindergartens. The language of the ethnic group is the “kindergarten language” in addition to German. The deregistration principle applies. The Croatian language can also be authorised as a “kindergarten language” in other kindergartens in Burgenland if 25% of the legal guardians with Austrian citizenship request this.

If a bilingual kindergarten does not employ at least one kindergarten teacher who also has knowledge of the language of the national minority, the province must provide an assistant kindergarten teacher. The language of the national minority group must be used to the extent necessary, but at least 6 hours a week, if possible one hour every day. According to the law, “the kindergarten has the task of contributing to language training” as well as “promoting school readiness in special consideration of the linguistic and cultural diversity of the province of Burgenland”.

In everyday kindergarten life, the extent to which Croatian is used as a “kindergarten language” depends primarily on the linguistic competence and personal commitment of the kindergarten teacher. Whether the kindergarten teacher can speak Croatian at all depends on the local council or the mayor. In some kindergartens Croatian is spoken and played, in others the children only learn a few Croatian songs or poems.
Many parents try to counteract the linguistic assimilation of their children, at least at home, but many also simply accept this and thus deprive their children of the opportunity to learn two languages at the same time through play.




There is no legal obligation to hold lectures or tutorials on the Burgenland Croats in the study programmes. Slavic Studies at the University of Vienna has offered a lecture on the cultural history and literature of the Burgenland Croats (2 hours per week) and a tutorial on the Burgenland Croatian language (2 hours per week). However, these are jeopardised every year. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funds, the universities give up on the needs of the ethnic groups. As teaching in Burgenland has to take place in the Burgenland-Croatian language in the lower grades, one wonders where the teacher is supposed to acquire this knowledge or linguistic knowledge. The Slavic Studies Department in Graz organises lecture series on Burgenland Croats (not every year).

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