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Since the beginning of the 1960s, the necessity for an institution able to provide information, analysis and political and scientific studies on the situation of the Slovene community in Italy began to assert itself. The linguistic minority felt that such an institution was essential for the development and involvement of the community in cultural, political and economic spheres.
Such a need was the result of the efforts of the Slovenian minority since the end of the war to obtain clear rights within the framework of national and regional legislation, and also from the will to be able to participate actively in fields which required a deeper and more documented knowledge in order to organise, preserve and strengthen the Slovene ethnic identity. The emerging demand for a scientific approach in studying questions facing the minority reflected the general desire of the Slovene community for an active role also in the research field. It was agreed that only an institute established and run by the minority itself could dedicate adequately to the study of the complex issues facing it and at the same time be able to take into consideration the expectations and objectives of the community for the future. The institute would have to be capable of analysing the dynamic events and changes happening both internally and externally, in order to ensure a prompt and positive reaction to such challenges.
These ideas found a concrete implementation in 1972-73, when the largest organization of the Slovene minority (Slovenska kulturno-gospodarska Zveza) created a committee for researching led by Karel Šiškovič. The committee started with some researches, buti t was particulary engaged in preparing a list of potential collaborators of the future institute.
From its very beginning the Institute could make use of the help given by two scientific institutes in Slovenia: the Inštitut za narodnostna vprašanja (Institute for Ethnic Studies) and the Inštitut za geografijo (Institute for Geography). In the same period two similar minority research institutes appeared among the Slovene national minority in Austria and the Italian national minority in Yugoslavia. The Slovene Research Institute established good relations with them both.
The Institute’s research activity started with a limited staff in modest premises. In the first period the role of its employees was distinctively directed towards organization and coordination of the scientific contributions of the active fellows of the Institute and a larger number of university and secondary school students. These contributions enabled the Institute to present at the 1974 International Conference on Minorities as many as 15 papers and 3 scientific publications in different languages.
The establishment of a research institute was spurred by the International Conference of Minorities for which a strong and qualified participation of the Slovene minority in Italy was required. On the 21st June 1974 the Slovene Research Institute – SLORI was officially founded.
The first office in Trieste was followed by further centres opened between 1976 and 1983 in Gorizia, Cividale and Val Canale. Thanks to the arguments studied and the contributions of its members, the SLORI managed to quickly cover the entire territory where the Slovenes in Italy are present, from Tarvisio to Muggia. After the establishment and development of the provincial offices, with a consequent increase in the staff involved, the centre of the research work moved from the members to a group of steady researchers.
As a result, a good deal of the Institute’s activity has been now undertaken by its researchers. The realization of four large study-meetings reflected the need for filling up the gaps in the knowledge that the Slovene minority in Italy has had about itself and its own situation. From this point of view they represented a successful event, but at the same time they clearly showed how much work still should be done by the minority to pass from an occasional discussion of its open problems to a regular and systematic control of the main social processes occurring within the group or in which this group is involved.
In the next period the Slovene Research Institute has been intensely engaged in creating its scientific library and a documentation bank, but also dedicating more in-depth studies to social and living space of the Slovene minority in Italy.
During this period the Institute has been given both from the EC and local authorities some commissions for researches, whereas the governments of the region Friuli Venezia Giulia, its Provinces and major Communes have not been yet prepared to recognize its potentialities and to support it in its future growth.
At the beginning of 1982 suddenly died the director of the Institute, Karel Šiškovič, who had a decisive role in establishing and developing social and political studies within the Slovene minority in Italy. He was succeeded by Darko Bratina who tried to make a reorganization of the Institute introducing a new research “philosophy”. According to this “philosophy” the Institute’s research activity should lean on the specialization of each researcher in one particular discipline, while its programme could be divided into three different levels:
- basic, mainly theoretical research;
- applied empirical research, of direct interest of the minority;
- “first aid” research studies aimed at providing an immediate answer to the demands of various institutions and organisations etc.
With the odd exception (which has mainly depended on external factors) these levels have continued to complement each other over the years. The realizationof the above programme required both a change in composition of the staff and in organization of the Institute.
In the mid-eighties the Slovene Research Institute, in spite of its chronic budget restrictions, made a big effort towards the renewal of its research tools, particulary regarding the collection of specialized books and journals, the modernization of some offices, the introduction of computerization in the research work and a more functional organization of its administration.
The last part of the eighties was marked by important scientific results and events that meant a wider recognition of the Institute in the socio-cultural fields, as well as by an increasing financial pressure and uncertainty, a condition shared anyhow by the majority of the Slovene organizations in Italy.
The Institute’s management decided for a long-term balance plan, which included the adaptation to a tighter financial framework. Constant attention of the management, dismissal of part of the staff, alongside with the unexpected death of two regular collaborators, severe restrictions in ordinary expenses and some extra-ordinary financial subsidies given by the Region Friuli Venezia Giulia, the Slovene umbrella organizations in Italy and the Ministery for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia contributed to a successful ending of the balance plan.
In the Nineties three unexpected deaths signed the Institute. In 1994 died Pavel Stranj, who contributed to the research activity of the Institute – especially in demographic and education research-projects – with unselfish dedication and based on a large scientific background in social studies. In 1996 another regular researcher of the Institute suddenly died. Salvatore Venosi was the director of the Canale Valley branch office from its very beginning and had dedicated himself with unselfish efforts to the research work and cultural activity in general. In 1997 the unexpected death of Darko Bratina followed. Bratina actively collaborated with the Institute in organising and running research projects, and organising the Institute. After Karel Šiškovič's death he became its director and as such instilled a new drive into the Institute. Even afterwards, when the political activity brought him to the highest ranks of political representation, he always followed the research activity of the Institute and continued to care for its further development.
In the Eighties it became therefore a thoroughly valued research institution. Beside the research activity it was offering also a substantial translation and interpreting service. Its contacts and practical collaboration with several institutes, organizations and universities was intense, while a formal collaboration charter with the University of Trieste was signed in 1991. Eventually, the government of the Region Friuli Venezia Giulia recognized its value by including it in the list of the research institutes entitled to a subsidy for the cross-border cultural activity, as said in the Osimo agreement signed by Italy and Yugoslavia in 1975.
In 1991 the Region approved the law for border areas and included the Institute in the list of those Slovene organizations entitled to a State subsidy. In 1992, during the extraordinary assembly, the statute of the Research Institute was changed for some parts, which meant a change in the structure of the body.
Taking into consideration some of the recent events on a local and European level, such as the approval of the global protection law for linguistic minorities in Italy, the entry of Slovenia into the European Union and the acceleration of international integration processes, the Institute is continuing to strengthen its philosophy of research developed over the past years, with a mental attitude of “think globally, act locally”. More specifically the global thinking refers to both the distant and the neighbouring European realties, whereas the local thinking regards the social environment of the Slovene minority in Italy. In these terms the Institute must continue to be fully involved in both contexts, it can not appear impartial to the events which involve the minority to such a degree. The Institute’s future role and motivation for existing will not depend on the attention it has dedicated to such happenings in the past, but on its interest in the present and future ones.
At the General Assembly in 2006, Slori, considering its own autonomy, after a long debate, accepted a resolution according to which, as of 2007, it decided to operate in only one location in Trieste. The resolution was based on financial forecasts and on the fact that, considering contemporary mobility, several seats with administrative personnel are not needed anymore; moreover, researchers can perform most of their work at home, although at least one functional office has to be guaranteed in which to offer the necessary literature and spaces for young researchers.
In spite of the difficulties, Slori has now a solid and fairly young research team. These specialists possess excellent skills and have shown, in these last years, a strong will, great effort and excellent scientific capabilities. The researches prepared for the programmatic conference in 2002 have contributed crucially to the success of the conference itself. Moreover, by organising the International Conference on Minority Languages in Trieste in 2005, Slori gained prestige within the international scientific context in the field of ethnic studies.
Therefore, the Institute will also have to develop applied projects, aimed at finding the answers to real, day-to-day problems which relate to the minority, as well as basic and theoretical projects linked to the post-graduate study of its collaborators who will continue in the tradition of success in the field of scientific self-examination. With the latter, the SLORI and its collaborators have offered their own considerable contribution to Slovene sociological research, which furthermore will be significantly useful for the opening of further possibilities for development and will ensure a greater role for the Slovene minority in an ethnically mixed environment.
The SLORI has always paid great attention to the education of the young generations in all fields, especially in research through the organisation of various conferences and seminars and by providing assistance to students in their research and preparation of final dissertations. During recent years the SLORI has been striving to enlarge and strengthen the group of young collaborators and researchers, very much needed if it wants to satisfy the demands of the forever changing society and inter-ethnic relationships. The Institute has accordingly renewed its promise to favour, guide and support students belonging to the minority community in their undergraduate and postgraduate studies. As part of their pledge, the SLORI holds an annual competition for degree theses. These initiatives hope to attract new, young researchers for future possibilities of collaboration with the Institute.
Since its origin, the foremost aims of the research and activities of the SLORI in the social environment of the Slovene minority have been professional training and the Slovene language. Special attention was paid to the new proposals for education in schools as regards learning processes and the link between school and the surrounding social reality, as well as for the future possibilities of development following the entry of Slovenia into the European Union. SLORI monitorred regularly the development of the structural parameters of the Slovene-language school and its social environment, and also the reasons behind the enrolments in both the Slovene-language schools and the Italian-language schools. Together with this the Institute follows the social and linguistic processes that are evident at all levels, both internally between the members of the community, and externally in the communication between the minority and other linguistic and ethnic groups. The research in these two fields will have to consider the various vectors that determine the self-definition of nationality in ethnically mixed environments and the development of inter-ethnic relationships.
The work of the Institute will also concern the range of assistance available for the orientation of undergraduate and postgraduate studies of young people, to act as a mediator between different Slovene and Italian university environments in order to integrate and strengthen the minority’s intellectual potential. Special attention will therefore be paid to the creation of an adequate information network and respective “bank of knowledge”. As regards to the protection and development of the Slovene intellect in Italy, it will be necessary to analyse in detail the structure, breadth and dynamism of the Slovene presence outside of the autochthon minority and especially in the Italian environment.
In the publication of thoughts and the transmission of research results, the role of the Institute is vital, as it is also in the organisation of congresses, consultations and round tables at a local, national (Slovene and Italian) and international level on various current and fundamental aspects of the state of affairs and development of the Slovene community in Italy and of other minorities in general. Since its beginning the SLORI has published almost 150 specialized and scientific works either autonomously or in collaboration with other organisations. In addition to these we must also remember the contributions from the Institute’s collaborators that have been published in other scientific or research volumes at both a local and international level.
Taking into consideration both the present and future challenges, the Institute will have to participate actively in the process of definition and adaptation to the new equilibriums, and help by means of its own professional and research activity to better understand the problems that arise in the various fields of society and in interethnic relationships.
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