VIENNA – A study commissioned by an Austrian government minister critical of Vienna's Muslim-run kindergartens has ignited a political fight between the minister's party and rivals seizing on allegations that his staff rewrote parts of the study to make it more negative.
The study's author, a professor at the University of Vienna, says he would never allow his work to be changed, while Foreign and Integration Minister Sebastian Kurz has indirectly denied the allegations.
But the alleged tampering reported by Austrian media was serious enough for the university to announce the study was under review for evidence of possible manipulation.
The incident also has injected a potential note of volatility in Austria's national election scheduled for October. Kurz's chance to become Austria's next chancellor could hinge on the outcome of the university's review.
Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern — a Social Democrat whose greatest challenge to re-election is Kurz's conservative People's Party — said Wednesday that the matter needs to be investigated but he doesn't believe the minister was personally involved in any wrongdoing.
Officials of Vienna's Social Democratic and Green coalition government indirectly targeted in the report were less charitable. Social Democratic Mayor Michael Haeupl on Wednesday described the study as "forged" and said Kurz was responsible "as the chief" of his ministry.
The telegenic 30-year old has vaulted his party from third to first place in popularity polls with increasingly tough messages on migrants and integration.
The People's Party last month granted Kurz unprecedented authority to pick parliamentary candidates and senior party officials and to run the election campaign.
Kurz has responded only indirectly to the text-altering allegations, saying the study "carries ... the handwriting" of University of Vienna Islam expert Ednan Aslan, its author.
Aslan himself says he backs the report "to the last period."
In first reporting the allegations, the monthly Falter magazine juxtaposed several texts it said showed willful changes to the original wording to reflect negatively on kindergartens run by Muslims.
One section purportedly written by Aslan originally said Muslim parents look for "values like respect, tolerance, individuality of the child ... love, warmth and security, independence and transparent rules" in such kindergartens.
The magazine reported that the text was rewritten at the ministry to say parents consider "the transmission of Islamic values of paramount importance" for their children in Muslim-run kindergartens.