Austria protested to Turkey on Wednesday after its ambassador suggested Turks living in Austria were treated “like a virus” and denied the chance to integrate. In unusually blunt remarks by a career diplomat, Kadri Ecvet Tezcan also told the daily Die Presse that Austrian parties were not doing enough to counter the far right, which has gained electoral support on an anti-Muslim platform. "If you don't want any foreigners here, then just chase them away.
You must learn to live together with other people. What’s Austria’s problem?” Tezcan said in the interview.
Chancellor Werner Faymann called the comments “unprofessional” and “unacceptable.” Austria’s Foreign Ministry summoned Tezcan over the interview, and Minister Michael Spindelegger telephoned his Turkish counterpart, Davutoğlu, to complain. “I told him [Davutoğlu] it was completely unacceptable for us that a Turkish ambassador in Austria attacks members of the government and uses a tone that we’re not used to from Ankara,” Spindelegger told Austrian radio Oe1.
Speaking at a press conference in Strasbourg on Wednesday evening after participating in a ceremony for the handover of the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Davutoğlu said he had no information regarding the content of the interview when he spoke with Spindelegger earlier in the day. Following the conversation, he had examined the interview text and also spoke with Tezcan, Davutoğlu explained. “It is seen there are expressions which led to certain sensitivities by our Austrian counterparts in regards to diplomatic practices,” Davutoğlu said.
When asked whether his Austrian counterpart had asked him for Tezcan’s removal, Davutoğlu said there was no such request and stressed that bilateral relations between Ankara and Vienna have been based on mutual respect. “We have to mutually take these kinds of sensitivities with understanding,” he said.
The minister said he would have another telephone conversation with Spindelegger later on Wednesday night, adding: “We will openheartedly talk about what can be done over these sensitivities. However, this [interview] should be completely regarded as personal and sincere statements on the integration issue which we consider a common issue of the two friendly countries.” Davutoğlu indicated that the eventual decision over Tezcan would be made following his telephone conversation with Spindelegger.
Spindelegger has said he had receives assurances from Davutoğlu that Tezcan’s comments did not reflect Turkey’s official stance toward Austria. “I don’t think we have to fear far-reaching discord between Austria and Turkey because of this interview,” he said, noting that the two countries were planning to hold a joint conference on the integration of immigrants in Vienna next year.
Ankara and Vienna may have differing views over Turkey’s EU membership process, but these two countries have the deepest-rooted relations in European history, Davutoğlu said. “No Turkish official can intend to offend Austria. We have engaged in diplomatic relations for centuries with mutual respect. That is why our conversation today was friendly.”
Recalling that Spindelegger had recently paid an official visit to Turkey, Davutoğlu explained that at the time Turkish officials shared their views on the issue of integration in a frank way, as they have done with both German and French officials. “Therefore, the integration debate did not just begin today and will not be over tomorrow. These debates will continue. It is important to have an openhearted debate on the future of the European continent and the relations between societies.”
While speaking to reporters on Wednesday night during a ceremony commemorating the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Tezcan said his aim in making these statements was not to offend or blame anyone but to start a healthy debate favoring both the Turkish community in Austria and the Austrians themselves. “I hope this will lead to a very beautiful, honorable, peaceful outcome for both sides and all of society, and that we experience harmony in its real sense,” Tezcan said.
Roughly 250,000 Austrians of Turkish ethnicity live in Austria as well as some 112,000 Turkish citizens. People of Turkish background have long been scapegoated and vilified by the far-right Freedom Party, which recently saw its support surge in local elections in the capital of Vienna, following gains in the 2008 parliamentary polls. Other political parties have struggled to find ways to integrate them.
Tezcan’s remarks have also caused a nationwide outrage among the country’s most-circulated newspapers, even amounting to a protest, claiming that the ambassador’s views are a clear provocation in the country. Kronen Zeitung, with a circulation of over a million, requested in its main story that the ambassador immediately leave the country after his non-diplomatic remarks.
Die Presse, which originally published the interview, also included Davutoğlu’s statements on the matter and said Turkey is distancing itself from its envoy’s opinion. The Kurier daily asked in its main story why the Turkish ambassador had provoked Austria in this way.
Turkey frequently complains that immigrant Turks, many of whom moved to countries such as Germany and Austria as government-sponsored guest laborers decades ago, are not given the opportunity to fully integrate and that they face discrimination. It is also frustrated with countries such as Austria, Germany and France, which oppose Turkish accession to the European Union.