Vienna: Turk in parliament

Migrants rarely reach the pinnacle of society in their adopted countries but a Turkish-born female politician has managed to climb the ladder of success in the challenging field of politics, setting the standard for the Anatolian working spirit in Austria.

"My family was the only Turkish family in the apartment building when we first moved from Kýrþehir in 1979. We were very warmly welcomed by our Austrian neighbors," Sirvan Ekici, member of the Vienna Parliament City Council, told the Turkish Daily News in an interview.

She was accompanying visiting Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik on her visit to Turkey this week.

"We haven't been subjected to any discrimination due to being Turkish," she said. "My mother learned how to make chocolate cake from her Austrian neighbors, while teaching them how to make 'su böreði [a Turkish pastry].'" Indeed, halal food (food allowed in Islam) is served for her at group meetings in the Austrian parliament given her religious faith.

Ekici told the TDN that she did not experience any problems at school either and that at the age of 15 she was encouraged by her Austrian teacher to participate in an open political discussion forum aired on a major Austrian television station – a sign that there is no room for discrimination in the Austrian education system.

"I finished university in two years and this was thanks to the help of my Austrian friends," she said.

Ekici, of the center-right Austrian People's Party, is a successful role model for the nearly 200,000 Turks in Austria and is generating solutions to the problems stemming from Turks' integration into Austrian society.

To her, education, language and domestic violence against women are among the common problems faced by the Turkish immigrant society. The number of Turks in women's shelters is higher than that of Austrian women, she said.

"Many Turkish families are lacking in education and are unable to guide their children," said Ekici. She emphasized that although the number of Turks joining Austrian social life has increased in recent years, it is still unsatisfactory.

Last year, Ekici took a personal initiative to contact the Austrian interior minister and launched a project to enhance communication both within immigrant families and between Turks and Austrians.

"My goal was to enable Turks to join the program, but at the end of the day I saw that many Austrian officials attended the six-month mediatorship program," she said.

Turks in Austria 'business card' of Turkey

Ekici emphasized that Austrians were describing Turkey by looking at their Turkish next-door neighbors and said Turks in Austria were the "business card" of Turkey.

"Austrians are surprised when they see me. But I am not the only one. Turkey has many faces; there are millions of people like me," she added.

Turkey should take on responsibilities as well to improve the tarnished image of immigrant Turks, according to Ekici, who complained that Turkish governments have so far tended to see the "guest workers" who moved to Europe in the 1960s as a means of capital and investment for the motherland.

"Nothing has been done in the name of integration. In recent years, some steps have been taken but they are too late, and not enough," she said.

'EU path will be long'

Referring to Turkey's bid to join the European Union, Ekici said that it would be a long path that would be finalized upon the decisions of both Turkey and the EU when the time is ripe.

"But what I don't like here is that some extremely rightist politicians in Europe abuse Turkey's membership prospects to play up to voters as part of election campaigns. This is very ugly," she said. "They are disseminating fear among the European public, which believes 70 million Turks will flow into their lands on the day when Turkey joins the bloc."

The Austrian public is more adamantly opposed to Turkish accession than any other EU member state. According to the latest Eurobarometer survey from late 2006, support for Turkey's membership has fallen to 5 percent. This is rather low given that 24 percent of Greeks supported Turkish accession in 2006, a figure which is five times more support than in Austria.

A recent study found that Austrian politicians are also to blame for this due to their failure to hold a serious public debate on the merits of Ankara's possible accession. Moreover, they have played on popular fears and prejudices, absolving themselves of responsibility for the decision by pushing the issue on Turkish accession off to a referendum.

For her part, Ekici urged the Turkish government to place priority on its EU objective and press ahead with the reforms, which will bring Turkey in line with European standards.

Source: Turkish Daily News (English)

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