A Turkish immigrant faces losing his livelihood after his local city council in Austria’s northeast ruled those unable to speak fluent German cannot have a stand in the main marketplace.
Alihan Turgut has been in the country for 27 years and served food from his mobile doner stand in Wiener Neustadt for 11 years. But this law-abiding tax-payer is no longer wanted: Mayor Klaus Schneeberger has said “we don’t need [immigrants like Alihan] who don’t know German” in the soon-to-be refurbished market area.
After more than a quarter of a century in Austria, the small business owner’s German remains at a basic level. It wasn’t a problem before, but failing to improve his second language has now counted against him in a council whose members also include those from the far-right, anti-immigrant Freedom Party.
Local officials in the small city located south of Vienna have told Alihan he is not entitled to a permit to serve food, denying him not only a spot in the main square, but also banning him from setting up anywhere else in the downtown district.
The policy has left the kebab shop owner anxious, and neighbouring stands and customers shocked. One regular customer Frederike Steiner told media Alihan was “a traditional part of Wiener Neustadt”, while Gabriella Jacob, who runs the vegetable stand next to “Kebab Ali”, described him as “part of us.”
Tanja Windbüchler-Souschill, leader of the local Green Party, is another who is upset, especially with the bad press Wiener Neustadt is now getting internationally. She calls the decision of the local council “shameful”, and not reflective of the “diversity and peaceful coexistence” of the city.
“The mayor’s People‘s Party should not try to reach the racist ideology of the Freedom Party”
Both her Green Party and the Social Democrats have lent their support to Alihan, whose lawyers are currently seeking to overturn the ban.
The incident comes at a time of increasingly strained relations between Vienna and Ankara, the former banning members of the ruling AK Party from campaigning in Austria in advance of the forthcoming Turkish referendum on an executive presidency.
In recent years Austrians, like other Europeans, are veering to the right in their political views in response to the influx of ‘foreigners’ in their midst. The huge swing in support for the Freedom Party saw its candidate Norbert Hofer (pictured below) come first during the first round of the national presidential election, taking 35% of the vote before losing in the run-off.
And the party’s hard line anti-immigrant rhetoric is impacting local politics too, with one Freedom Party council member recently writing on Facebook, “we don’t want to see kebabs in Wiener Neustadt”.
Dubbing the post racist, one local Turkish media outlet, Virgul at, posed the question if Wiener Neustadt’s policy was about reclaiming Austrian heritage, why does the council allow other foreign foods such as McDonald’s?
The issue has wider political ramifications for the central European nation, which previously welcomed thousands of ‘guest workers’ like Alihan , who arrived in 1990, due to its need for cheap labour. Back then, neither Austria, nor neighbouring Germany intended for their temporary workers to stay for life, putting in little effort to integrate them. However stay they did.
Today the official status for Alihan remains “guest worker” and he still holds his Turkish citizenship. He says he has not had time to learn good enough German to pass the country’s strict citizenship test, as his priority has always been to sustain himself and his family. He is proud of the fact that he has been unemployed for just 3 month during the entire time he has been in Austria, doing a host of menial jobs to get by, before setting up his own mobile doner business.
“I am ready to praise those who integrate. Others who don’t must be sent home.”
These facts mean little to Schneeberger, the mayor, who is from the People’s Party, a conservative Christian political party. He acknowledges past mistakes over the handling of immigrants and points to present integration efforts as proof that Austria has learned from them. He praises recent arrivals from Syria as “progressive, ready to adapt,” and qualifies his comments on the ‘problematic Turks’, saying it is “not the Turks, it’s some of the Turks.”
He adds, “I am ready to praise those who integrate. Others who don’t must be sent home.”
Tanja Windbüchler-Souschill vehemently disagrees. Her party started a petition to show solidarity with Alihan, quickly receiving over 2,200 signatures, which they presented to the council on Tuesday. In a statement afterwards, she said:
“The request is very clear. We all want a new, attractive and central location for Alihan Turgut’s stall. The mayor’s People‘s Party should not try to reach the racist ideology of the Freedom Party.”
“It is time for them to take a step back and work for every single citizen in our hometown. We live together, we work together, we eat together and there is no need for social exclusion and repression!”