Austria cancels ‘political’ Turkish music concerts amidst referendum campaign scandal

Austria cancels ‘political’ Turkish music concerts amidst referendum campaign scandal
Austria has canceled contracts for Turkish concert events in Salzburg and Tyrol on the weekend, over concerns they may be political in nature. This comes amid an escalating row between Turkey and the EU over pro-Erdogan rallies, banned by several EU states.

The Olympic Hall of Innsbruck in Tyrol state, western Austria, on Thursday decided to cancel a performance by Turkish artists Osman Oztunc and Gokhan Tekin scheduled for Saturday, citing newly-obtained information about the organization of the event and the artists, Tiroler Tageszeitung reported. According to Olympic Hall authorities, they made an inquiry into the musicians’ performances at previous venues and came to a conclusion the event in Innsbruck was to have political content.

If this fact were known, the [Olympic Hall] would never have agreed to sign a contract [with the musicians]. [Our] terms and conditions are clear. The purpose of the event is an essential part of the contract, a one-sided change entails its immediate cancelation,” Managing Director Michael Bielowski told the press.

Furthermore, according to Prime Minister of Tyrol Guenther Platter, the musicians “clearly belong to the Turkish nationalist and far-right scene and are close to the Grey Wolves,” the radical wing of Turkey's Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Austria’s Die Presse reported. The group is classified as an extremist organization in Austria.

The MHP is a known supporter of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), which is currently pushing through constitutional changes to give the president more powers in an upcoming referendum in mid-April.

Turkey is caught up in a spat with a number of EU states over bans on pre-referendum rallies on the European soil, designed to attract the support of the Turkish diaspora living in the EU. Commenting on the cancelation of Turkish music performances, Platter stated on Thursday that he “would not allow Tyrol to be dragged into the Turkish referendum campaign.”

Apart from Tyrol, the municipality of Henndorf (Salzburg) also announced it was canceling the rental agreement it had signed for the use of its Wallersee Hall for a concert by the Turkish musicians planned for next Sunday.

The event is known to have been organized and promoted by the Avusturya Türk Federasyon, allegedly an umbrella organization of the Gray Wolves.

The hall was initially booked for a private event, reportedly celebrating a Turkish Spring Festival. Although the organizer is said to have refused political activities to be scheduled for the ceremony, Henndorf Mayor Rupert Eder ordered for the agreement to be terminated.

The Turks are to vote in a referendum on the extension of powers for the president on April 16. The referendum seeks to enable the president to issue decrees, declare emergency rule, appoint ministers and state officials, as well as dissolve parliament, which critics say would completely remove the system of checks and balances.

According to Erdogan, however, such changes are needed in order to tackle security threats Turkey faces, including from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Kurdish militant bombings.

The president’s supporters were looking forward to gaining access to the massive Turkish diaspora in Europe to get the required votes, but that effort has been met with opposition. Over the past few weeks, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands prevented Turkish officials from holding rallies in support of the referendum, causing anger in Ankara.

Prior to the concerts, four rallies by an AKP politician and a former minister were canceled in Austria last weekend. The country meanwhile has a 360,000 population of people of Turkish origin, including 117,000 Turkish citizens.