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The unknown Turk

EU and Turkish flags. Photo: Source unknown

Given the prominence of this issue in Austrian politics, it is striking is how little knowledge there is in Austria about modern Turkey. Looking at Austria's most popular history and geography schoolbooks, ESI found that Austrian students learn nothing about the modern Turkish Republic.

History books used in the Hauptschule (11-14 years) do not mention modern Turkey at all. Austrian students learn about China, African decolonisation and the transformation of Central and Eastern Europe after 1989. The only reference to Turkey is in a section entitled, "How Austria, fighting the Ottomans, extended its power to the southeast of the empire." In Erde Mensch Wirtschaft, used in the final class before graduation, students learn about enlargement, Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Tellingly, in a timeline on European integration, Turkey is not mentioned.

Although Austria has long taken pride in its position as a centre for Ottoman Studies, scholarly connections with Turkey itself have been lukewarm in recent decades. Unlike Germany, Austria has no academic centre for Turkish studies. There is also no official cultural centre to promote contemporary Turkish culture (unlike other countries such as Poland or Bulgaria). Between 1995 and 2001, only 38 Austrians went to Turkey for an academic exchange financed by the Austrian government, while in the same period, 3,561 Austrians went to Great Britain, 3,436 to the US, 2,971 to France and 102 to Bulgaria.

In previous Austrian enlargement debates, Austrian institutions produced a considerable volume of serious empirical studies. Think tanks, industry and labour institutions, party institutes, the Austrian National Bank, ministries, regional and local governments and universities all set out in the early 1990s to understand the transition countries. The Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS) produced close to a hundred studies and reports between 1994 and 2005 on the topic of EU enlargement. The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies (WIIW), established in 1973, also published a large number of research reports.

The debate on Turkey has been entirely different, when it has taken place at all. A seminar held on 25 and 26 November 2004 in the Austrian Diplomatic Academy, organised jointly with the Austrian Institute for European Security Policy, had the title "Where is the EU going? Turkey and the risk of overstretch." The summary of the conference was called "EU-Turkey: explosion of a time bomb." There was no Turk on any of the discussion panels. Austrian political parties have very few contacts with likeminded parties within Turkey.

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