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José Miguel DIAS ROCHA

December 2018 marks the date when Sebastien Kurz, the leader of the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), and Heinz-Christian Strache, the chairman of the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ), reached an agreement to form a new government.

The new government plans to impose sanctions on immigrants who refuse to integrate into Austrian society: for instance, the program paves the way for the implementation of German language and Austrian culture/values classes and those who fail exams will need to pay a fine. Another rule states that if (and while) a child has no sufficient German skills, he/she will not be able to start school. In its program, there is also a whole subchapter dedicated to the need of fighting “political Islam” by exercising a strict vigilance over both the content of the messages preached in the mosques and the curriculum of Islamic schools and kindergartens[1].

The coalition deal also calls for end to European Union-Turkey membership talks by stating that the government is going to “seek allies to achieve a final cancellation of the EU accession negotiations, in favor of a Turkish-European neighborhood concept”[2]. In a written statement, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded that “this unfortunate and short-sighted clause in the program of the new government in Austria unfortunately confirms concerns that this political line is based on discrimination and marginalization”[3].

The FPÖ’s return to the government (as a junior partner) for the first time since 2000-2005 (a period in which they also formed a coalition with ÖVP) means the rise to power of a “populist radical right party”[4] that can contribute to the implementation of tougher measures on fields like immigration, refugees and borders, in tandem with both the Hungarian and the Polish governments[5]. Especially because, in the new Austrian cabinet led by Chancellor Sebastien Kurz, the FPÖ is running the foreign, the defense and the interior (which deals with security and citizenship issues) ministries.

Founded in “1956 by former Nazis for former Nazis”[6], the party turned toward a more liberal approach in the early 1980s, but, when Jörg Haider ascended to its leadership in 1986, the FPÖ “reinvented itself as a formidable populist force thriving on xenophobic and anti-European slogans”[7]. From then on, and despite a change of leader (in 2005, Strache became the head of the party), it hasn’t mitigated its extremist political views.

Anti-immigrant (Strache thinks that his country needs “zero immigration, actually minus immigration, because all illegal individuals and criminals belong outside of the country”[8]) and anti-Islamic[9] (“Islam has no place in Austria”[10] is one of its slogans), one of the main targets of the FPÖ is the Turkish community. According to official statistics, in a country with a population of 8,764,540[11], 272,000 people with Turkish background are living in Austria and 115,000 of them hold Austrian passport[12].

In a 1990s campaign, Haider said that “‘we did not fight the Turkish wars’ [in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries] in order to let Turkish immigrants now come into Austria, but in order to keep them out”[13]. However, the truth is that only after Strache seized the leadership of the party “campaigning against Turks and Muslims became one of the [its] main strategies”[14]. For example, in 2005, the FPÖ openly mentioning the Turkish sieges of Vienna in 1529 and 1683, in which “Turkish troops pillaged individual municipalities across East Austria”[15], to conquer votes.

More recently, the FPÖ’s candidate for President of Austria in the 2016 election Norbert Hofer asked for an inquiry into how it was possible to swiftly mobilize 5000 demonstrators in Vienna after the failed coup attempt in Turkey[16] (as a matter of fact, last year, in July, 21, Sebastien Kurz, then the minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, said there was “evidence that the demonstrations for Erdogan that have taken place in Vienna were called for directly from Turkey… and that, of course, is absolutely untenable and we want to protest against that”[17]).

Heinz-Christian Strache even compared the coup attempt in Turkey with the German parliament fire in Nazi Germany in 1933, for which Hitler blamed the communists, taking advantage of it to increase and strengthen his power (in this case, he was under the “impression that it was a guided putsch aimed in the end at making a presidential dictatorship by Erdogan possible”[18]). Moreover, he expressed his worries over the number of Austrian citizens coming from Turkey who keep their Turkish citizenship –something that is illegal since Austria has tightened dual-citizenship laws– and proposed a ban on the naturalization of Turkish people living in Austria while the situation is not cleared.[19] In the wake of this year’s referendum in Turkey, which backed some constitutional amendments increasing the power of the President, Hofer stressed that idea (related to the dual-citizenship issue), mostly because of the fact that Turks in Austria strongly supported the changes[20].

As for Islam (%74 of the Austrian Muslim community come from Turkey[21]), the leader of the FPÖ stands for a prohibition of (what he calls) “fascistic Islam” and of Muslim symbols, similar to an already existing ban on Nazi symbols and political affiliation. “Let us put an end to this policy of Islamization… otherwise we Austrians, we Europeans will come to an abrupt end[22], he added. In Strache’s opinion, Islam is a “misogynistic,” “anti-liberal” religion with “a fascistic worldview”.[23]

The party campaigned for a long time for a ban on face veils, which was implemented last October –in public spaces, “faces must be visible from the hairline to the chin”, the law created to protect “Austrian values” says.[24]

Earlier in 2015, Austria’s law on Islam was overhauled, bringing several changes[25] like the one that forbids foreign funding for imams and mosques. The main face of that alteration was Sebastien Kurz. While he said that the aim was “to reduce the political influence and control from abroad and (…) to give Islam the chance to develop freely within our society and in line with our common European values”, the opinion of some Muslim groups is that the law “reflects a widespread mistrust of Muslims”.[26] Farid Hafez claims that it “has institutionalized a number of anti-Muslim claims made by the FPO [sic]”.[27]

This demonstrates the party’s leverage in Austrian politics. Hafez argues that the FPÖ “has had a deep impact on the country’s political discourse throughout the years, as it managed to carry its aggressive politics towards minorities to the mainstream” and that “right-wing populism has long been in power and practised by both the OVP [sic] and SPO [sic]”.[28] (Since the end of the World War II, the ÖVP and the Social Democratic Party of Austria, SPÖ, have been the dominant political actors in Austria.) Cas Mudde, an expert on right-wing populism, says that “the biggest effect [of the FPÖ leverage] has been over the last year or so, during which time both parties [ÖVP and SPÖ] have moved strongly to the right on immigration, crime, and terrorism[29], while political analyst Anton Pelinka believes that “the Social Democrats and the OVP [sic] are in a kind of race to see who can take issues away from the Freedom Party[30]. That’s easily understandable when it comes to last election’s campaign. Kurz insisted that he was the best person to “protect the country’s borders, fight political Islam and limit immigration” and Heinz-Christian Strache claimed that Kurz “was late to the game when it comes to recognizing what he believes is the importance of topics like Islamism and immigration[31].

This is definitely not the best context for the Turkish community, the second largest group of non-EU immigrants in Austria. “Many Turkish immigrants fail to integrate and/or to find their position in” Austria and “remain rather marginalized and segregated[32]. This is recognized by both the majority of the Austrian population and the people with Turkish background.

The most recent “Integration Barometer” (December 2017) shows that 6 in 10 Austrians rate the current coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims in the country as negative.[33] In addition, only 37% of the respondents perceive the integration of the Turkish community as “very or rather good” –a critical result if we compare to those when it comes to assessing the integration of the Serbs (54%), the largest group of non-EU immigrants in Austria, or of the Bosnians (63%).[34] Regarding the problem of “parallel societies”[35], 3 in 4 Austrians believe that they exist.[36] 41% of the interviewed people think that the most problematic are the Turkish and/or the Muslim ones.[37] In another study, it is claimed that in Austria “rejection of Muslims as neighbors reaches its highest level (…) with a share of 28 percent[38].

According to the “Migration and Integration 2017” study, the lack of integration is also emphasized by the immigrants with a Turkish migrant background: 57% feel more attached to Turkey than to Austria[39]; 50% believe that they are disadvantaged in Austria due to their immigrant condition[40]; 38% are of the opinion that their personal life situation has worsened during the last five years[41]; and almost 35% of the respondents don’t feel themselves connected to the Austrian society in general.[42]

If one checks the corresponding results for the other group of interviewed people with immigrant background (those coming from the former Yugoslavia), all the four statistics presented before show a much better situation in which concerns their integration in the Austrian society. In another survey, 57% of people with Turkish origins answered that, personally, the observance of the laws and regulations of their religion is more important than those of the Austrian state, a much higher percentage compared to that of the other 8 migration groups: the Macedonians (30%), the Serbians and the Polish (21%) are the ones coming next.[43] Additionally, 55% refuse the possibility of a marriage between their son/daughter and a non-Turkish partner.[44]

In 2006, a researcher called Johan Wets wrote that Turks in Austria “tend to have higher unemployment rates, lower wages, less educational success and poorer housing conditions than that of the Austrian host society”.[45] The situation hasn’t changed. Besides, in terms of holders of a university degree, no other community in Austria performs as poorly as the Turkish one (only 6% have completed a university degree and 58% have attained only compulsory education)[46] and the participation of Turkish women in the labor market remains staggering low.[47]

To conclude, one can hardly expect an improvement regarding the situation of the Turkish community in Austria. On the contrary, “the rise of the Right in the domestic politics of” Austria “impacted on the evolution of immigration policies (…) in respect of employment and especially citizenship rights. Often these policies have caused the challenges of integration that immigrants face to become even greater”.[48]

Even though some positions taken by Sebastien Kurz (ÖVP) are extremely similar to the FPÖ, the integration of people with Turkish origins will be even more challenged if we take into account the entrance of the FPÖ into the government. So, it hardly seems a favorable opportunity to break the “vicious circle” consisting of “weak immigrant integration, the rise of anti-immigrant feelings and adoption of legislation that is discriminatory against immigrants and immigration[49].

Furthermore, it’s not hard to guess that Heinz-Christian Strache will force the Austrian government to, if necessary, toughen up his position on the accession of Turkey to the European Union. It’s worth remembering that the FPÖ is strongly against that, pledging to support a referendum on leaving the European Union if Turkey joins the organization[50]. Be that as it may, it has to be said that Kurz, as a minister of foreign affairs, was clear on his stance by saying “that this Turkey does not have a place in the European Union” and even proposed a suspension of Ankara’s EU membership.[51] The new government program is already a straightforward sign of the hardening of Austrian rhetoric on Turkey, immigrants and Islam.


José Miguel DIAS ROCHA – Erasmus Volunteer of SASAM
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[1] Leonid Bershidsky – “Why Austria’s Anti-Immigrant Experiment Is Worth Watching”. 12/18/2017.

[2] Leopold Traugott – “What EU policy under Austria’s new right-wing government?”. 12/19/2017.

[3] Hürriyet Daily News – “Ankara blasts new Austrian coalition government’s Turkey program “. 12/17/2017.

[4] Al Jazeera – “Austria, Europe and the far right: A Q&A with Cas Mudde”. 10/13/2017.

[5] Politico – “Austria heads for right-leaning coalition”. 10/15/2017.

[6] Ruth Wodak & Anton Pelinka – “The Haider Phenomenon in Austria”. Transaction Publishers, 2009:215.

[7] The Local – “The rise, fall, and rise again of Austria’s far-right”. 12/01/2016.

[8] The Local – “Leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party calls for ‘zero immigration’”. 01/16/2017.

[9] Reuters – “Win or lose, Austrian far right’s views have entered government “. 07/16/2017.

[10] The Local – “Muslims worried as Austria’s party leaders put spotlight on Islam”. 09/21/2017.

[11] Statistik Austria –“Population since 2008 by Länder”. 09/08/2017.

[12] Statistik Austria –“ Bevölkerung mit Migrationshintergrund im Überblick (Jahresdurchschnitt 2016)”. 03/22/2017.

[13] Czernin, 2000 (as cited in Ruth Wodak & Anton Pelinka – “The Haider Phenomenon in Austria”. Transaction Publishers, 2009:88-89).

[14] Christian Ochsner & Felix Roesel – “Activated History – The Case of the Turkish Sieges of Vienna”. Cesifo. Number 6586. July 2017.

[15] Ibid., 1.

[16] The Local – “Hofer proposes burka ban and Turkish passport blocks “. 08/14/2016.

[17] Reuters – “Austria summons Turkish ambassador over pro-Erdogan demonstrations”. 07/21/2016.

[18] Reuters – “Austrian far-right leader likens Turkish coup to Reichstag fire”. 08/06/2016.

[19] The Local – “Hofer proposes burka ban and Turkish passport blocks “. 08/14/2016.

[20] Reuters – “Austrian far-right lawmaker: stop giving Turks Austrian nationality”. 04/28/2017.

[21] Bertelsmann Foundation – “Muslims in Europe – Integrated but not accepted?”. August 2017.

[22] Reuters – “Austria’s far-right Freedom Party calls for ban on ‘fascistic Islam’”. 01/17/2017.

[23] The Local – “Leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party calls for ‘zero immigration’”. 01/16/2017.

[24] BBC News – “Austrian ban on full-face veil in public places comes into force”. 10/01/2017.

[25] Deutcshe Welle – “New Islamic law sparks controversy in Austria”. 02/24/2015.

[26] BBC News – “Austria passes controversial reforms to 1912 Islam law”. 02/25/2017.

[27] Farid Hafez – “In Austria, the problem is not the far-right party “. 10/15/2017.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Al Jazeera – “Austria, Europe and the far right: A Q&A with Cas Mudde”. 10/13/2017.

[30] Reuters – “Win or lose, Austrian far right’s views have entered government”. 07/16/2017.

[31] Deutcshe Welle – “Austria’s leading election candidates target Muslims to score points”. 10/12/2017.

[32] Johan Wets – “The Turkish Community in Austria and Belgium: The Challenge of Integration”. Turkish Studies. Vol.7, Number 1, 85-100. March 2006: 85.

[33] Österreichischer Integrationsfonds – “Integrations barometer 2/2017”. December 2017:13.

[34] Ibid., 12.

[35] There are “five indicators for the examination of the formation of parallel immigrant societies: i. ethnocultural or religious-cultural homogeneity of an immigrant group; ii. economic segregation and civil society segregation; iii. dup duplication of majoritarian institutions; iv. (technically speaking) self-induced isolation as a result of discrimination; v. if all four criteria apply, then spatial segregation also constitutes an indicator, e.g. isolation within a specific area of the city”. Meyer, 2002 (as cited in Adamantios Karytianos – “Parallel societies: An acknowledgement of failure or a step towards integration? The Greek paradigm”. June 2007.

[36] Ibid. 27, 20.

[37] Ibid., 21.

[38] Ibid. 19, 12.

[39] Statistik Austria – “Migration and Integration 2017”. 2017:95.

[40] Ibid., 99.

[41] Ibid., 97.

[42] Ibid., 103.

[43] GFK – “Integration in Österreich”. 2009.

[44] Ibid., 56.

[45] Ibid. 26, 92.

[46] Ibid. 33, 61.

[47] Ibid. 33, 55.

[48] Ibid. 26, 96.

[49] Ibid. 26, 98.

[50] Reuters – “Austrian independent presidential hopeful bets on EU against far-right rival “. 08/23/2017.

[51] Reuters – “EU criticises Turkey but not ready to halt membership talks”. 11/14/2016.

sahipkiran Hakkında

Sahipkıran; 1 Aralık 2012 tarihinde kurulmuş, Ankara merkezli bir Stratejik Araştırmalar Merkezidir. Merkezimiz; a) Türkiye Cumhuriyeti’nin ülkesi ve milletiyle bölünmez bütünlüğünü savunan; ülkemizin her alanda daha ileri gitmesi ve milletimizin daha müreffeh bir hayata kavuşması için elinden geldiği ölçüde katkı sağlamak isteyen her görüş ve inanıştan insanı bir araya getirmek, b) Ülke sorunları, yerel sorunlar ve yurtdışında yaşayan vatandaşlarımızın sorunlarına yönelik araştırma ve incelemeler yaparak, bu sorunlara çözüm önerileri üretmek, bu önerileri yayınlamak, c) Tespit edilen sorunların çözümüne yönelik ulusal veya uluslararası projeler yürütmek veya yürütülen projelere katılmak, ç) Tespit edilen sorunlar ve çözüm önerilerimize ilişkin seminer ve konferanslar düzenleyerek, vatandaşlarımızı bilinçlendirmek, amacıyla kurulmuştur.

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