Austria’s Turkish guest workers mark their half-century

On a square in Vienna, more than ten thousand people have turned out to hear a speech by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.


Mr Erdogan’s visit is controversial because he’s not here to meet Austrian politicians: he’s here to seek political support from Austria’s Turkish immigrants.

These men now hold Austrian citizenship but they are strong supporters of Turkey’s leader.

“We like him. He is the best leader for us. I hope we see and hear him.”

“He is a good person, a good man, he’s done everything for Turkey and I hope he continues.”

It’s 50 years since Austria began recruiting a Turkish labour force to help in its post-war reconstruction.

Some of those at the pro-Erdogan rally were the children and grandchildren of those first guest workers; others came later.

But Austrian politicians, like foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, criticise the Turkish Prime Minister’s unofficial visit.

“It’s clear that he’s brought his election campaigning to Austria. And he’s created unrest in our country; he’s made the difficult subject of identity even more difficult. And this type of Turkish intervention is damaging to integration in Austria.”

Austrian media ran mostly negative stories on the Turkish leader’s visit. 

‘Ten thousand Turks and two thousand police’, ran one headline, emphasising the disruption and cost of such a large rally.

Cengis Gürnay is an expert on ethnic and cultural conflicts at the Austrian Institute for International Affairs.

He says Mr Erdogan appeals to the Turkish diaspora because they don’t feel part of the Austrian mainstream.

“In the eyes of many people living abroad they feel he is a voice, their spokesperson, for many people who feel marginalised and isolated.”

In another part of Vienna, a smaller demonstration opposed the Erdogan visit.

“Erdogan out of Vienna” read the placards.

Austrian Turks who didn’t agree with the Turkish leader’s politics and Austrians critical of his human rights record took part. 

“We are disagreeing with his policies inside of Turkey – how he is treating his people, not only the Turkish people but also Kurdish people are here. I think it’s an international demonstration.”

In recent years the Austrian government has stressed the importance of integration for its migrants.

But Cengis Gürnay says there’s been little effort to make migrants feel more welcome.

“There is a huge insecurity about Austrian identity and so Austrian identity, or the construction of Austrian identity, needs somehow a counter-identity which is The Turk, or the Turkish migrant in that case. So the fact that people who have been living here for years and who have the centre of their life in Austria are still waving Turkish flags is something which is irritating many Austrians – the majority of Austrian society probably.”

Mr Erdogan may have irritated most Austrians but not the thousands with Turkish roots who came to wave the Turkish flag and cheer him.

Among them is 21 year old Austrian-born Cedar, the son of guest workers.

“We are here. We live in Vienna, we live in Austria. And for years we have been invisible, and as a result many people think they can mess with us. And that’s why we sending this signal. Simply saying – we are here!”