Strained ties with Turkey not expected to thaw any time soon: Austrian official

YUNUS PAKSOY @yunuspaksoy
ANKARA
Published 13.10.2017 20:29

A thaw in the already sour Turkish-Austrian ties does not seem to be on the horizon as Austria's notorious Sebastian Kurz of the center-right People's Party (ÖVP) and the chief of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) Heinz-Christian Strache are poised to run the country following the elections this Sunday.

Some 6.5 million Austrian citizens are set to cast their votes in the Oct. 15 snap elections. The projected electoral success of Kurz, a widely known anti-Turkey figure, and far-right leader Strache are expected to extend the frostiness of the Ankara-Vienna ties, a senior Austrian official told Daily Sabah.

The high level official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, stressed that the relations would not be in a trend for normalization in the upcoming period following this Sunday's elections.

That being said the official expressed his belief that ties would not go south upon Kurz's election as Austrian chancellor. The highly likely future chancellor of Austria has long been calling for the end of Turkey's EU accession process. Kurz previously urged Brussels to halt the EU's accession talks with Turkey, calling it "diplomatic fiction."

Apart from his dislike of Ankara, Kurz is a staunch anti-Islam figure. Kurz told a local Vienna newspaper in late June that he wants to close all Islamic preschools in the country, contending that they serve as a barrier to the integration of immigrants. The young chancellor-to-be also believes in an "Austrian-style Islam."

Furthermore, Kurz reportedly manipulated scientific research in order to ban all kindergartens that teach children about Islam. The Austrian Falter news outlet claimed that Kurz changed many sections of a scientific report to manipulate public opinion.

Ednan Aslan, a religious educational theorist assigned by the Austrian Foreign Ministry to prepare a report, allegedly changed parts of his work at Kurz's request.

"[He] has shifted toward the right as if there is no other party more on the right side than him. We do not see any other party that is more right-leaning than his anymore," Kazım Keskin, a European researcher for the Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), said.

The future deputy Austrian chancellor and partner of Kurz, FPÖ leader Strache, is likely to easily find common ground with Kurz on the issue of Islam.

"No, Islam is not a part of Austria," he said at a gathering earlier in 2017.

Meanwhile, Saadet Oruç, senior adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said in an article on Friday that the situation in Austria is "sad."

"What is sad is these bigoted discourses and hostile attitudes toward Islam and refugees, or what they like to consider the ‘others,' have been met with sympathy among segments of Austria's public, demonstrating the far-right party's firm base in the country," Oruç contended amid concerns in Ankara that an Austrian coalition run by the likes of Kurz and Strache may further deteriorate the atmosphere.

Turks in Austria may also turn into victims of such a spat. Following the April 16 referendum, a controversy broke out in Vienna in regard to Turkish dual passport holders. Nearly 108,000 Turkish citizens were eligible to cast their votes. With a turnout rate of 48.59 percent, more than 52,000 people opted to partake in the referendum. The Austrian government has been in pursuit of illegal dual passport holders among the aforementioned 108,000 Turks.

An Austrian expert interpreted the sudden debate regarding the subject in Vienna at the time as a punishment for the Turks.

"I would designate this debate about the dual citizenship not just as cheap populism as some do but as a coolly calculated punishment against the majority of Turkish voters who voted 'yes' in Austria," Klaus Jurgens, an Austrian political analyst and journalist, said.

Even though the Oct. 15 snap elections in Austria do not offer a promising future for the bilateral ties, the senior Austrian official expressed optimism.

"We should talk to each other rather than talk about each other," the official underlined.

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