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The Threat of Fascism In Vienna is Real And it is Here (Austria)

Reporting from Vienna

What has been happening in Vienna, Austria these past few days has shown once again how real and dangerous fascism is. No matter where it is, or where it’s from, and how little it concerns the political class and its executive arm so long as they can’t be called out for it . But that is exactly what we must do. Yesterday. Today. And Tomorrow.

Favoriten, Vienna’s tenth district, has a long tradition of being heavily working class and has long been a centre for radical politics, unfortunately on both sides. The Grey Wolves are a highly organized group of Turkish fascists who blindly follow the far right-wing party MHP and by extension the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his offensive war on Kurdistan and its people. They are portrayed in the bourgeois media as being a loosely knit group of youths, when they are in fact internationally organized and highly dangerous, with the intent of carrying the Turkish war on the Kurdish people out into the world and enforcing their world view. In Vienna, they consider themselves the be the “watchers” of the 10th district, where they regularly disrupt leftwing rallies, intimidate Kurdish and left-wing groups, and try to hinder people from attending cultural events or even drinking alcohol in public during Ramadan.

A Kurdish women’s organisation had been holding weekly events for months now towards the supposed end of the current pandemic in Austria. The Grey Wolves have a problem with this. Not only are the Kurdish activists speaking out against the fascist status quo in Turkey and are calling attention to the femicide carried out by the Turkish government, but they are Kurdish and they are women. Provocations started becoming more and more regular, and on Wednesday, 25 June 2020, the rally was attacked outright. The police did show up and try to stop the violence, but they were hopelessly overwhelmed when the Grey Wolves started to mobilise and hundreds of fascists showed up within minutes. The Kurdish women were able to flee into the nearby EKH, a squat that houses a number of Kurdish organisations.

The squat’s full name is “Ernst Kirchweger Haus”. It is named in honour of the first anti-fascist activist to be murdered by fascists in Austria after 1945 at a demonstration in 1965. The EKH has a 30-year long history in the district and acts as a centre for cultural and political events, housing a number of left-wing and immigrant organisations as well as hosting refugees and migrants.

The Turkish fascists tried to break into the house and practically besieged the building, shouting death threats at the activists inside, announcing their intent to burn the house down, brandishing knives, hurling stones and bottles, and throwing up the illegal salute of the Grey Wolves[1]. For a long time, the only defence of the EKH was that of the Turkish, Kurdish and Austrian activists inside, who managed to prevent the fascists from entering. By the time the police finally arrived, all they did was to block off the street and stand and watch. An activist inside remarked on Twitter that it was unclear what the role of the police was at this point. For hours the activists were trapped. For many of the Kurdish activists inside, this sparked memories of the massacre in Silvas, Turkey on 2 July 1993, when thousands of people, including vast numbers of members of the Grey Wolves attacked and burned down a building hosting an Alevi cultural event. Thirty-seven people were killed, all while the police stood by and watched; the massacre was broadcast on national television.


The Grey Wolf salute

On Thursday, 26 June, there was another march by anti-fascists in protest of the events of the night before. During the demonstration there were multiple provocations by the Turkish fascists in smaller groups that appeared again and again in side streets, to the point where one activist was actually threatened with a large knife. After the demonstration was over and many of the activists were on the way home, the Grey Wolves began to organize more heavily, and around 10 pm that night the EKH was attacked by 200-300 fascists first trying to break into the house and then throwing rocks, bottles and incendiaries at the building. After about an hour, leftist activists were able to mobilise a number of people and a spontaneous demonstration marched through the streets of Favoriten chasing the fascists away.

The next day saw another demo in solidarity. At 6 pm activists from all over the city began to meet in front of EKH. The police had the entire area locked off and essentially kept the anti-fascist activists surrounded at all times. There were speeches from various organisations, and Kurdish and internationalist music had people dancing in the street. Yet the atmosphere was far from calm. After about an hour the demonstration began to move, which was the beginning of a long night in Favoriten. After the activists had marched all of 30 metres, Turkish fascists appeared in a side street and started provoking the demonstration. Although they were quickly chased away, the police began to kettle the anti-fascist demonstration and prevented anyone from leaving or marching on. For over an hour the demonstration was held in place, without justification by the police, and in the knowledge that the fascists were currently allowed to roam free in the district.

During this time the activists were informed that a train had just arrived at the main station in Vienna from Munich carrying large numbers of Grey Wolves and Nazi hooligans, some of whom spoke with a German accent. Not only does this show that the Grey Wolves are highly capable of mobilising within a very short time in their own cities, but also that their reach extends far beyond national borders, and certainly extends beyond Turkish nationalists. The bourgeois media has been framing these events as being an imported conflict between Turks and Kurds, but at the very latest now it must become more than apparent that this is not a conflict between Turks and Kurds. This is a conflict between fascists and anti-fascists, between reactionary, imperialist forces and progressive revolutionaries. And this is not a conflict to be taken lightly.

After over an hour the demonstration was allowed to move again, but not along the intended route, and the march continued on. It was, however, stopped repeatedly by the police. After arriving at the endpoint, the demonstration was dissolved. However, the police insisted people leave in small groups of ten. This had exactly the effect that could have been expected. The Grey Wolves were waiting and there were multiple attacks on activists in the train station on their way home from the demo. Additionally, there were accounts of sightings of the Grey Wolves once again gathering in a park near the EKH. Fortunately, that night nothing happened.

Once more there was a call for a solidarity demonstration the next day. This time the meeting place was not at EKH but at a large square around the corner. What began as a group of no more than 30 people quickly developed into a large crowd with groups of hundreds of people arriving in unison at the square chanting Turkish, Kurdish, German, and internationalist slogans, “Siamo tutti antifascisti”. For the first time in four days the demonstration was not actively hindered by the police or provoked by Turkish fascists. Also, for the first time in four days the police actually reacted to the fascists, and anyone seen to be throwing up the Grey Wolves salute was quickly escorted away and charged for showing the illegal hand gesture. The demonstration was loud and the atmosphere was much calmer than the days before. It arrived close to the Turkish embassy without any major incidents. It would seem that things have calmed down. Yet the tensions remain high.

These people are not young thugs; this is not an imported conflict. The Grey Wolves recruit mostly young Turkish men who were born in Austria by telling them that no matter how long they have been here, the Austrians will always look down on them, while at the same time telling the police to shut down any Kurdish presence, because “they are terrorists”. Their reach goes far beyond national borders, and often even ideological ones. In Turkey the Grey Wolves are responsible for the murder of thousands of left-wing and Kurdish activists, yet it is so important to keep in mind that this conflict was not brought here by the immigrants; this conflict simply shows another face here. These people are the vanguard of Erdoğan’s offensive war on Kurdistan.

As important as this is to keep in mind, a lot of the presence of the Grey Wolves, particularly in Austria, comes down to the fact that they have been very successfully recruiting people through youth centres and cultural organisations. This results in many of the people who are seen shouting slogans and showing the Grey Wolves salute on the streets of Vienna being often marginalized youths themselves who have been recruited by ideologues, thus perpetuating the image of the “young unorganized thug”. It must be very clearly stated at this point that the fight against fascism must be equally determined to fight against a status quo that drives people into situations of such marginalisation and acts as a breeding ground for the ideological conflict. Anti-fascist action must be anti-capitalist in order to be successful in the long run. Especially considering that, although the fascists provoking the demos may not be all ideologically driven per se, the acts themselves are fascist nonetheless. The overarching idea and its breeding ground are very real and very dangerous[2].

It is painful to see that in a city like Vienna- a city declared to be a guarantor of human rights and the most liveable city in the world for five years in a row, a city that has such a long and dark history of fascism- the antifascist fight is still not something that can be safely consigned to the past. That fight reared its ugly head again these past few days, and it was a fight between flagpoles and knives, slogans and guns. This is a fight between those who respond to repression with more repression and those who want to end it.

The political reaction here is that the right-wing populists have started once again claiming that Austria must deport all of these foreign hooligans. The claims that “extremism is always bad no matter what it is” have become loud once again. The only tactic the police in Vienna seem to have is to kettle anti-fascists no matter the situation. And all of this in the face of a violent fascist organisation establishing itself more and more firmly within the city. The bourgeois media likes to perpetuate the image of the apolitical immigrant. If political aspects were taken into consideration, it would prove to be much harder to put migrants in a box and keep them there. But nothing is apolitical, especially not immigration, and this fight did not arrive with the Turkish workers of the 1990s. It simply expanded. It was grown here, and it is currently on the cusp of blossoming.

This is a fight that goes far beyond national borders. We want a life free from fear for all. Siamo tutti antifascisti. Kurdistan is everywhere.

[1] In Austria it is illegal to publicly use the Nazi salute, or any imagery or actions that could be construed as referring to National Socialism in a positive way, and the salute of the Grey Wolves falls under this same law. In reality, this law is very rarely enforced, and the Grey Wolves have no inhibitions about showing the salute in any setting, to the point where the sitting chancellor of Austria (Sebastian Kurz) was photographed with three men holding up the salute of the Grey Wolves at a nightclub.

[2] More extensive and in-depth information on the history and activities of the Grey Wolves can be found (in German) on the website of the independent Austrian journalist Michael Bonvalot: https://www.bonvalot.net/braune-woelfeim-schafspelz-743/

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This entry was posted on Friday, July 3rd, 2020 at 11:34 am and is filed under Anti-Fascist.