National Legislation on Minority Language Rights in Italy

In document Identity Crisis in Italy (Pldal 136-139)

Linguistic Rights and Small Minority Communities in Italy from Trento to Sicily

3. National Legislation on Minority Language Rights in Italy

As it can be seen, international norms could only offer guidelines for the development of Italian minority rights legislation. The Italian Constitution does not contain any reference to general language arrangements or a national language, however, the political preference on linguistic minorities has not changed even after the adoption of the new law in 1999.

Act 482/1999 on the “Rules on protection of historical language minorities”8 established the promotion of minority languages, at the same time, it stipulated clearly that Italian is the official language of the Republic. The Italian legal terminology has never used the term

“national minorities”; instead, it used the form “linguistic minorities”. The Constitution uses exclusively linguistic criteria for the recognition of minorities. Palermo and Woelk argue that this clearly reflects the long-standing political approach to that ideology and in political terms all Italian citizens shall belong to the Italian nation (along the French nation state model) (Palermo and Woelk 2011, 283). Even if the term “ethnic” appears in regional statutes of Trentino-Alto Adige or Friuli Venezia Giulia, the intentions of the constitutional assembly in 1947 were clear in preferring to recognise exclusively linguistic identity. The political connotations of ethnic or national identity are still strong, and obviously not only in Italy, but in many other European countries, as well.

The protection of historical minorities is based on the linguistic criteria, but it does not mean that all linguistic minorities enjoy the same level of legal protection. In Italy there are various minority groups in very different demographic positions and under very different legal recognition. All together they may count around 4.5% of the population (approximately 2.5 million people) divided in at least twelve linguistic groups. Furthermore, neither the Constitution, nor Act 482/1999 do not introduce a general definition of linguistic minorities, so we have to distinguish between minorities recognised by law (as listed under Article 2 of the Act 482/1999, these are: Albanian, Catalan, Germanic, Greek, Slovenian, Croatian, French, Franco-Provencal, Friulian, Ladin, Occitan and Sardinian) and other minorities that do not get legal recognition. The situation becomes even more complicated if we consider the difficulties in differentiating between dialects and languages. The line between the two categories is rather blurred and there needs to be a political decision on categorising the different linguistic groups. In literature the different minority groups are usually distinguished along three main categories (Palici di Suni Prat 1999):

1. The so-called “super-protected” minorities (minoranze superprotette) living in the autonomous regions in North Italy, namely French-speakers in Val d’Aosta, German-speakers in Trentino-Alto Adige and Slovenian-speakers in Friuli Venezia Giulia. Although they enjoy rather different legal protection in each region, they are all historical minorities, traditionally living in their homelands and having special relations with their kin-states (France, Austria and Slovenia respectively). All the three minority communities are protected under the special autonomy statue of their region.

2. The minorities recognised by law (listed in Act 482/1999) are entitled to eventual protection, but the level of their protection differs according to the diversified implementation of the 1999 law.

8 Legge n. 482/99 “Norme in materia di tutela delle minoranze linguistiche storiche.” 15 Dicembre 1999, Gazzetta Ufficiale n. 297, 20 December 1999.

3. The last group of minorities are not recognised by law and thus are not protected under Italian legislation, even if in subjective criteria they could qualify as minorities, without legal recognition they do not meet the objective criteria (they are not listed in the 1999 law) and thus they may not be entitled to any protective measures under public law.

(Among traditional minorities Sinti and Roma fall in this category, but some consider also immigrant communities as potential minorities in this aspect) (Palermo and Woelk 2011, 284).

The most important characteristic of the Italian regulation of minority rights is that it applies a differentiated and gradual approach to the different minority groups. As it was mentioned above, the distinction between linguistic and other minorities is already featured in the Constitution, while Article 6 refers to linguistic minorities specifically, other minorities may only rely on the prohibition of discrimination (based on race, sex, language, religion, etc.) and religious minorities are protected under Articles 8, 19 and 20.

Another determining element is the territorial approach to minority rights, Act 482/1999 is in itself a framework law and specific rights are guaranteed at regional, provincial or local level. This means that it only establishes a potential protection mechanism, which has to be “activated” subsequently at local level. Local authorities may therefore use Act 482/1999 as a basis for granting genuine language rights, but must in so doing also respect the limits imposed by it. European states are inclined to link minority language rights claims to territorial competences and sovereignty; this approach leads to apply territorial restrictions for minority language rights. Following this logic, Italian minority rights legislation based on territorial principle does not target minority language speakers, but the territory where they live (Vizi 2016). The territoriality principle has been confirmed by the Constitutional Court when the Court abolished a regional law of Friuli Venezia Giulia, among others because it provided for the possibility of generalising the use of Friulian to the entire territory of the region.9

4. Act 482/1999

For legal scholars the interpretation and direct applicability of Article 6 of the Constitution was an important question (Piergigli 2000, 126–129; Bartole 1999). The constitutional provision under Article 6 apparently requires the adoption of special legislative instruments, as it reads as follows: “The Republic safeguards linguistic minorities by means of appropriate measures.” But for more than 50 years these “appropriate measures” could be found only in the special statutes of three autonomous regions (Trentino-Alto Adige, Valle d’Aosta and Friuli Venezia Giulia) and in a few regional laws. The adoption of the specific law on the protection of linguistic minorities in 1999 signified a turning point in this aspect. Act 482/1999 was expressively adopted to implement Article 6 of the Constitution and “the general principles established by European and international organisations”. The law gives a taxonomical list of minority language communities that are entitled to specific protection, recognising for the first time the smaller minority groups as well (see above). The law empowers the provincial councils for determining the areas where the provisions of the law

9 Corte Costituzionale, Sentenza del 18 maggio 2009, 159/2009, pt. 3.1.1 of the part “considerato in diritto”.

may be applicable, requiring also the involvement of local citizens and local councillors belonging to linguistic minorities (Article 3). The provincial council shall adopt a resolution on the matter only if at least 15% of the local citizens residing in the municipality concerned or 1/3 of the municipality councillors submit their initiative for that. So the law relies on the individual citizens’ self-identification and in this aspect on their free choice of identity.

The rights enshrined in the law intentionally follow the logic of the CoE Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities (Palermo and Woelk 2011, 289). The law focuses on linguistic and cultural rights. The scope of the linguistic rights which may be granted to the minorities concerned is broad. It covers the use of the minority language in the local municipal council, dealings with the local administration, as well as before the Justice of the Peace, but it reaffirms the exclusive legality of Italian in judicial and administrative procedures (Article 8): only deliberations or acts made in Italian produce legal effects. In the field of education, the law guarantees the right to receive education on minority language, especially in elementary schools (Articles 4 and 6). Municipalities may also decide to add traditional or customary place names to the official Italian names (Article 10). Surnames and first names of persons that were changed into Italian or that were refused by the local administration before the entry into force of Act 482/1999, may be changed back without charge into the original linguistic form. Nonetheless, an important limit is put on the use of other languages than Italian. The national language may never be replaced by the minority tongue. The law contains a few provisions regarding the media as well, the Ministry of Communications shall stipulate an agreement with public broadcaster companies for securing the “conditions for the protection of linguistic minorities” [Article 12 (1)]. Moreover, the regions are entitled to sign on their own specific agreements with public or private broadcasters for providing news, cultural and other media programs on minority languages [Article 12 (2)]. It is also important to note, that the law recognises the importance of inter-regional and trans-border cooperation for the promotion of minority cultures [Article 19 (2)].

In sum, the law builds on three main pillars of Italian minority rights legislation: the sole linguistic criteria for identifying minorities; the need for legal recognition; and the territorial dimension of the acquired rights.

Since Act 482/1999 offers only a framework for regional, provincial or local legislation, it is particularly important what are the financial resources available for the implementation of minority rights. In this aspect the law introduces a financial limit for the central budget:

besides establishing a provisional national fund for the protection of linguistic minorities (Article 20) and special financial means to the Ministry of Education, the law limits the budgetary resources maximising it at 10 million Euros. This provision is a clear sign to highlight the responsibilities of the regions, and enables minority communities to lobby for additional resources at local and regional level. Taking into account the demographic position of minority communities, it is more realistic for minority representatives to influence political decisions at local or provincial level than at national or regional level. Nevertheless, the limitation of central budgetary resources introduces an inappropriate differentiation between minority groups living in better-off regions and minority groups living in poorer areas, as the following comparison of Trento and Sicily will clearly show.

In document Identity Crisis in Italy (Pldal 136-139)