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Kurz rejects plan for Turkish Islamic school

Foreign and Integration Minister Sebastian Kurz has spoken out against plans to found a Turkish Islamic high school in Vienna-Simmering. He said the idea “is completely the wrong approach”.

Kurz rejects plan for Turkish Islamic school
Sebastian Kurz. Photo: APA/DRAGAN TATIC

According to a report in the Salzburger Nachrichten paper the Islamic Federation has already started to build a private Turkish-language school for imams in Austria – which would effectively be run by the Turkish state, with all lessons taught in Turkish, and German offered as a foreign language option.

There are also plans to build similar schools in Strasbourg, France and in New Jersey, USA.

A pre-existing training centre in Vienna-Simmering would be an ideal location, according to Islamic Federation spokesman Yakup Geçgel. He said that the plan would have been to open the school in the autumn, but that there have been delays in the construction. The school would have capacity for around 80 students. Upon completing their exams the students would get certificates from the Turkish school board.

Kurz has said that imams should be taught in public, transparent training courses, run by the Austrian government.

Imam Hatip schools are vocational high schools in Turkey which educate future Imam (prayer leaders) and Islamic preachers. "The basic idea is that we train imams in Austria and so we will get better imams," Geçgel said. He denied that the school was being financed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP party, and said that it would be a fee-paying school and would also receive money from the Islamic Federation.

The Islamic Federation coordinates the Milli-Görüs religious movement in Austria, which is controversial because of its links with Turkish nationalists. In Germany, Milli-Görüs has been under observation because of its “anti-democratic” nature. “In Germany a school like this would never be allowed to be built,” an Islamic expert told the Salzburger Nachrichten.

Currently, imams in Austria receive their training at local universities, and are taught in German.

Erdogan and Kurz to meet?

This Thursday Erdoğan will make a speech at Vienna's Albert-Schultz Ice Rink. His visit is being seen as a controversial election rally and a bid to win oversees votes ahead of presidential elections in August.

Turkey only recently allowed Turks living outside the country to vote. According to the media service centre New Austrians, there are around 90,000 Turkish citizens living in Austria who were old enough to vote.

Erdogan may meet with Kurz on Friday, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The ministry said Kurz would insist on Austria's standpoint on integration. Kurz has already made his opinions clear to his Turkish counterpart, Ahmed Davutoglu, before Erdogan's trip.

 

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Reader question: Can I vote in Austria’s presidential elections?

On October 9th, Austria will vote to elect a new president, but who can vote in these national elections?

Reader question: Can I vote in Austria's presidential elections?

Austria’s presidential election will take place on October 9th, with seven candidates vying to take over at the Hofburg – the official workplace of the country’s president.

According to opinion polls, the favourite to win is the current president Alexander Van der Bellen, who is running for reelection.

READ ALSO: Austrian presidential elections: Who are the seven candidates?

A presidential candidate must be an Austrian citizen, be eligible to vote in the National Assembly and be at least 35 years old on election day.

Members of ruling dynasties or families that reigned in the past are not eligible to run in the presidential election. This is to avoid a return to monarchy in Austria via the role of the Federal President.

Who can vote in these elections?

The only people allowed to vote in Austrian federal elections are Austrian citizens aged 16 or above.

That means foreigners – even those born and raised in Austria, are not entitled to choose a new president. Unless, of course, they take up Austrian citizenship (usually giving up their original citizenship).

Since Austria has a large proportion of foreigners in the population, many people will not be able to vote in these elections.

READ ALSO: ‘I pay taxes in Austria’: Anger as foreigners barred from Vienna council vote

In fact, some 18 percent of residents (or 1.4 million people) in Austria over the age of 16 do not have the right to vote because they are not citizens, with the highest concentration of ineligible people in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg.

In comparison, 20 years ago, Austria had just 580,000 people without the right to vote.

Statistics Austria data evaluated by the APA shows that around 30 percent of the voting-age population in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg are not entitled to vote. In Linz and Graz, it is about 25 percent.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does Austria’s presidential election work?

However, there are some smaller communities in Austria where the number of people without the right to vote is even higher.

In Jungholz in Tyrol, 66 percent of the population are not eligible, followed by 51 percent in Mittelberg in Vorarlberg. Kittsee in Burgenland and Wolfsthal in Lower Austria also have high proportions of Slovakian residents who cannot vote.

Austrian citizenship

Currently, in Austria, if someone wants to take up citizenship via naturalisation, they must undergo an extensive and expensive process and fulfil specific criteria.

Generally, there needs to be at least ten years of lawful and uninterrupted residence in Austria. But there are exceptions for those with citizenship of an EU or EEA country, those born in Austria, or married to an Austrian, for example.

READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

The main hurdles, however, include having to give up any other citizenships, as Austria doesn’t allow for dual citizenship in naturalisation cases with few exceptions, and the payment of a high fee, which depends on the municipality, but could reach thousands of euros.

And though the topic of easing the requirements has come up several times in Austria, the country doesn’t seem any closer to changing its citizenship laws.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Where in Europe can non-EU foreigners vote in local elections?

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