Austrian elections pave way for populist government, making Muslims apprehensive

The elections to the National Council, the lower house of the Austrian Parliament on October 15, have marked a firm shift to the right in Austrian politics, particularly on matters of immigration, integration, and Islam.

Sebastian Kurz headed for an ÖVP-FPÖ coalition

After an electoral campaign dominated by at times vicious diatribes against Muslims and foreigners, the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) with 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz at the helm managed to secure 31.5 per cent of the popular vote, making it the largest group in parliament.

The Social Democrats (SPÖ), who had previously led a ‘grand coalition’ with the ÖVP as junior partner, took second place, with 26.9 per cent. They are followed closely by the third-largest political force, the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), which gained 26 per cent of the ballots cast. Liberals and an offshoot of the Green Party obtained 5.3 and 4.4 per cent of the vote, respectively.

With no party gaining an absolute majority, the most likely option for putting together a government appears a right-wing coalition between ÖVP and FPÖ. This would bring the Austrian populists into the government afte all, less then a year after they narrowly failed to clinch the country’s Presidency.

A campaign focused on immigration, integration, Islam

An ÖVP-FPÖ government is all the more likely since the obvious alternative – another grand coalition between Conservatives and Social Democrats – is despised by the electorate and viewed with weariness by party bosses. Against this backdrop of dissatisfaction with the status quo, the youthful Sebastian Kurz has not only stylised himself as a figure of radical political renewal since taking control of his ÖVP party; he has also steered a course of rapprochement with the FPÖ.

Throughout the electoral campaign, Kurz presented himself as the guarantor of a restrictive immigration policy – he claimed that it had been his initiative that had secured the closure of the refugee route across the Western Balkans in 2015.

Kurz also pushed the topic of “Islam” into the limelight of the campaign. Among other things, he called for a hijab ban in schools (while demanding that the Christian cross continue to be displayed prominently in every classroom).(( http://www.fr.de/politik/wahlkampf-in-oesterreich-sebastian-kurz-entdeckt-das-thema-islam-a-1337052 ))

Study on ‘extremist’ Islamic nursery schools falsified

Similarly, the ÖVP politician insisted on the need to close nursery schools run by Islamic organisations, claiming that they were hotbeds of Salafist radicalism.(( https://kurier.at/politik/inland/sebastian-kurz-im-kurier-gespraech-islamische-kindergaerten-abschaffen/271.008.503 )) Confessional educational institutions are widespread in Austria, with the Catholic Church running the vast majority of them.

Kurz justified his stance by pointing to a study on Islamic kindergartens that he had commissioned while serving as Austria’s foreign minister. Subsequently it emerged, however, that the Foreign Ministry had tampered with the study’s results in order to make them more amenable to Kurz’s ‘hard-line’ position.

Where the study’s author had observed that Muslim parents who sent their kids to nursery schools run by Islamic associations were looking for an education based on values of “self-reliance, respect, and love”, a foreign Ministry employee replaced this with the assertion that Muslim parents were seeking to “protect their children from the moral influence of majority society”.

In another passage, the study originally asserted that parents were interested in “respect, serenity, the child’s individuality, hygiene, the child’s happiness, punctuality, love, warmth and caring, self-reliance, as well as transparency of rules”. The Foreign Ministry altered this to claim that “parents place particular emphasis on the imparting of Islamic values”.(( https://cms.falter.at/falter/2017/07/04/frisiersalon-kurz/ ))

Difficult times ahead for Austrian Muslims

Against this backdrop, many Austrian Muslims unsurprisingly see an ÖVP-FPÖ coalition under the leadership of Sebastian Kurz as a threat. Austrian blogger and activist Dudu Küçükgöl observed that “when it comes to efforts at integration, Austria will be thrown back by 20 years.” She expects a rise in racism and anti-immigrantism, particularly directed against the country’s Muslim population.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/10/16/oesterreich-erlebt-einen-starken-rechtsruck/ ))

Austria’s recently passed “Islam Act” might turn out to be particularly important in this respect. Enacted two years ago at the instigation of Kurz, Muslim activists have criticised the law for eroding Muslims’ civil rights.

Notably, the legal text provides far-reaching possibilities to dissolve Muslim associations should they fail to display a “positive basic disposition” towards the Austrian state – whatever this requirement might mean in practice.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/10/17/rechtsruck-unter-dem-deckmantel-der-integration/ ))

Discriminatory agenda

Consequently, many Muslims fear that the future government will use these extremely flexible legal provisions to their detriment. Murat Başer, chairman of the Islamic religious community in the city of Linz, observed:

“A possible FPÖ+ÖVP coalition could mean a broadening of the burqa ban into a general headscarf ban. It could also lead to a more robust and unchecked application of the Islam Act, which would see mosques and Islamic institutions being put under permanent surveillance.”(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/10/16/oesterreich-erlebt-einen-starken-rechtsruck/ ))

Should Kurz decide to go down this route, he will have the enthusiastic support of the FPÖ: the populists’ campaign called for “redistribution from foreigners to Austrians”, and their electoral placards promised that “we give back to YOU what THEY take from you.” Importantly, ‘they’ not only usurp economic opportunities but also rob Austrians of their cultural identity: “Islamisation must be stopped”, another FPÖ poster read.(( http://diepresse.com/home/innenpolitik/nationalratswahl/5282218/FPOe-plakatiert-Kurz-Kern-und-Gusenbauer ))

International significance of the vote

Political developments in Austria resonate beyond the country’s borders in particular ways. The FPÖ, one of Europe’s most long-standing and most successful far-right parties has been a pioneer of the present-day populist movement. It thus serves as a model for many other comparable parties across the continent.

When it entered the Austrian government for the first time – as a junior partner to the ÖVP – in 2000, the EU and its (at the time) fourteen other Member States reacted with a downgrading of bilateral relations with Austria. Seventeen years later, no such moves will be forthcoming.

German perspectives on the election

German observers tend to pay especially close attention to events in the Alpine Republic across their southern border. Against the backdrop of the strong showing of Germany’s own right-wing populist fringe in last month’s federal elections, commentators are debating the insights and lessons to be drawn from the Austrian case.

Many – including many German Muslims – see Austria as a harbinger of potential things to come: the inexorable growth of a xenophobic, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic party on the right fringe; a party whose ability to attract ever-growing numbers of voters ultimately paves the way to its inclusion in government.

Austria as a warning…

In this view, events in Austria ought to be a cautionary tale to policy-makers and activists in Germany. Academic Werner Ötsch, whose research focuses on populist movements, asserted that “the Austrian development should really be a warning for Germany. Here [in Austria], no means against the right-wing populists has been found; and the participation in government such as it occurred in 2000 has not debunked the FPÖ but only made the situation worse.”(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/interview-populismusforscher-oesterreich-sollte-eine-warnung-fuer-deutschland-sein-1.3711357 ))

German Muslim voices have often struck a similar note, with for instance the Secretary General of the Islamic Community Millî Görüş (IGMG), Bekir Altaş, echoing the notion that the Austrian election results constitute “a stark warning”.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/10/16/oesterreich-erlebt-einen-starken-rechtsruck/ ))

… or as a role model

Others, however, interpret the electoral outcome in the opposite light: Edmund Stoiber, former leader of the CSU, Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel’s CDU, asserted that Sebastian Kurz’s campaign had delineated the path to be taken by centre-right parties in order to win elections against far-right populist opponents.(( http://www.focus.de/kultur/kino_tv/focus-fernsehclub/tv-kolumne-hart-aber-fair-bayerns-ex-ministerpraesident-edmund-stoiber-macht-seinem-unmut-in-der-sendung-luft_id_7721375.html ))

Thus, for Stoiber, Austrian developments do not offer a cautionary tale but should instead be emulated. (Stoiber had already supported the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition of the early 2000s. At the time, this sparked enormous anger among his German colleagues from the CDU.((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/empoerung-in-der-cdu-ueber-edmund-stoibers-koalitionsempfehlung-zu-gunsten-der-fpoe/96400.html )) )

In some sense, Kurz’s victory might seem pyrrhic: it was, after all, the FPÖ that set the agenda for the electoral campaign and will most likely define the topics and the tone of Kurz’s policy initiatives in government. Stoiber’s statements nevertheless highlight the ways in which the Austrian election results will further intensify the factional dispute within the German CDU/CSU  over whether to respond to the rise of right-wing populists by emulating them.

Turkish Referendum : The diaspora said “yes” to Erdogan

The 16 April 2017, a constitutional referendum in Turkey increased President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers. According to the Turkish press agency Anadolu and the news website Ouest France, the Turkish diaspora living in Europe has largely supported Erdogan in their vote.

Despite a context of tension between the Turkish President and European governments, the level of support of Erdogan is undeniable among Turkish communities in Europe. Especially in the countries where the largest communities live. The vote in favor of Erdogan reached 63 % in Germany, 77 % in Belgium, 73% in Austria, 70% in the Netherlands, 65% in France.

According to Kareem Shaheen, writing for the Guardian: “The result of the referendum sets the stage for a transformation of the upper echelons of the state and changing the country from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential republic, arguably the most important development in the country’s history since it was founded on the ashes of the Ottoman Republic”. (April, 16)

 

Source :

http://www.ouest-france.fr/monde/turquie/comment-la-diaspora-turque-en-europe-t-elle-vote-au-referendum-4938460

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/16/erdogan-claims-victory-in-turkish-constitutional-referendum

Austria Passes ‘Law on Islam’ Requiring Austrian Muslim Groups To Use German-Language Qurans

Austria’s parliament passed a law on Wednesday that seeks to regulate how Islam is administered, singling out its large Muslim minority for treatment not applied to any other religious group.

The “Law on Islam” bans foreign funding for Islamic organizations and requires any group claiming to represent Austrian Muslims to submit and use a standardized German translation of the Koran.

The law met with little opposition from the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic population, was backed by Austria’s Catholic bishops, and was grudgingly accepted by the main Muslim organization. But it upset Turkey’s state religious establishment.

“We want an Islam of the Austrian kind, and not one that is dominated by other countries,” said Sebastian Kurz, the 28-year-old conservative foreign minister – formally the minister for foreign affairs and integration – who is easily Austria’s most popular politician.

Austria’s half a million Muslims make up about 6 percent of the population and are overwhelmingly the families of Turkish migrant workers. Many of their imams are sent and financed by Turkey’s state religious affairs directorate, the Diyanet.

Mehmet Gormez, head of the Diyanet, said before the law was passed that “with this draft legislation, religious freedoms in Austria will have fallen back a hundred years.”

Austria’s biggest Islamic organization, IGGiO, accepted the law, but its youth arm opposed it, as did the Turkish-financed Turkish-Islamic Union in Austria (ATIB), which runs many mosques and has vowed to challenge the bill in the Constitutional Court.

RELATIONS UNPROBLEMATIC

While the government has said Islamist militancy is on the rise, and around 170 people have left Austria to join jihadists in Syria or Iraq, Austria has experienced no Islamist violence of note, and relations with the Muslim community have been relatively unproblematic. Unlike France, Austria has not banned Muslim women from wearing full-face veils in public.

Nevertheless, the opposition far-right Freedom Party, which opposed the bill as too mild, attracts about 25 percent support with an anti-immigrant stance that is also highly critical of Islam. Meanwhile, the ruling Socialist and conservative parties struggle to muster a majority together.

Austria’s neighbor Germany has also experienced an upsurge of anti-Islam sentiment in the form of the weekly PEGIDA protests in Dresden.

These have, however, been met with much larger anti-racism demonstrations and a robust response from Chancellor Angela Merkel, mindful of Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews, who asserted that “Islam belongs to Germany.”

The Austrian government says the new law strengthens Muslims’ legal status, for example by guaranteeing Islamic pastoral care in hospitals and the army, and protecting Muslims’ rights to eat and produce food according to Islamic rules.

The bill updates a “Law on Islam” dating from 1912 that was intended to guarantee the rights of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Muslims in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Turkey’s Gormez, who had attended centenary commemorations for the 1912 law, said its replacement would disregard the “morals and laws of coexistence” that Austria had established a century ago. (Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan in Paris and Ece Toksabay in Istanbul; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Islam Law in Austria

Since the last few months the amendment of the Austrian Islam law is critically discussed by constitutional lawyers, academics as well as members of the Islamic community. However, according to the daily newspaper standard the minister of foreign affairs Sebastian Kurz and other party members of the ÖVP are willing to discuss key points of the Islam law.

Additionally, the Austrian government wants to involve the Islamic community, their leader Fuat Sanac, much stronger in their ambitious project.

Demonstrations against the IS, violence between Kurds, Turks and Chechen and the Islamic law

In several Austrian cities Kurds have demonstrated against the violence of the IS and for an international intervention to save their countrymen in Kobane. During some of the mentioned demonstrations people were seriously injured (for example in Bregenz, the capital of Vorarlberg). According to Austrian newspapers Muslims with Chechen or Turkish origin were attacking Kurds; however, there are also reports, which are accusing Kurds for acting violently against Chechens or Turks.

At the same time the Austrian government tries to stop such developments by redesigning the Islamic law. However, the leader of the Austrian Muslim community, Fuat Sanac, criticizes the efforts of the government; according to him the government is not interested in a dialog with Muslims, it rather wants to control the Muslim community.

Beside the Kurdish demonstrations, members of the green party have demonstrated in front of the Turkish embassy in Vienna. They accuse the Turkish state to not do enough to save the Kurds in Kobane; and to not do enough to fight the IS.

Turkish fast food: Kebab

Der Standard reports that the first Turkish Kebab restaurant celebrates its 30th anniversary in Vienna. The story is embedded into the Turkish migration history to Austria. The report also explains, that the first Kebab restaurants were a welcome alternative to Austrian fast food. However, it also focuses on 9/11, the current discussions on Islam as well as on the difficulties that Turkish migrants face today.

Presidential elections in Turkey

July 26, 2014

The upcoming presidential elections in Turkey are a recurring theme in several Austrian newspapers. In two weeks Turkey will vote a new president; however, the ORF is reporting on the early voting possibilities for Turks, who live outside of Turkey.

Austria Matura qualifications and citizenship

July 25, 2014

To become an Austrian citizen, one must successfully pass a German language skill exam. According to the ORF, public authorities in Austria even ask those who hold a University degree in German philology to participate at it. However, currently this procedure is discussed among politicians.

Austria: Attacks during a soccer game

July 25, 2014

The Austrian newspaper der Standard is reporting, that soccer players from an Israeli soccer club were attacked during a friendship game in Austria. According to the newspaper the attackers had a Palestinian and Turkish background. They wanted vengeance for the Israeli attacks on Gaza – the newspaper said.

Subsequent immigration on family members in Austria

July 10, 2014

The proof of German language skills for family members, who want to immigrate to Austria, is against the treaty of association, which was signed between Turkey and [EWG] EU back in the early sixties (12. Sept. 1963). Austrian law has already been adjusted in 2012. The Austrian press is discussing the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union with regard to the “right” approach to immigration, as well as integration process for people from Turkey.