Grey Wolves: How Turkish ultra-nationalism reaches the social centre of Europe
Racial superiority, the dream of an ethnically pure empire, a strongly developed cult of leadership and their own greeting formula. What is very much reminiscent of the National Socialists is also part of the profile of the ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves and the MHP party. They also call themselves “idealists” and dream of the Turan, a great empire that encompasses all Turkic peoples from the Bosporus to Central Asia. The targets of their hatred are primarily Jews, Armenians, Greeks or Kurds. What sounds like a small fringe group unites over 10% of the people behind them in Turkish elections. Authoritarian leadership and antipluralism are the foundation of their thinking. Political opponents are not only denounced as enemies of the people, but also physically attacked. The Grey Wolves and the MHP Party are not a marginal phenomenon – they have arrived in European society today. Although observed by the domestic security agencies and classified as extreme right-wing, the Grey Wolves are hardly considered relevant in Europe, specifically in Austria and Germany. Because they have arrived in the middle of society and because it is unpopular to call right-wing extremist groups from abroad as such.
The (Grey) Wolf in sheep’s clothing: Neo-fascism operation under the cloak of associations
In Germany, the security agency assumes about 20,000 members and about the same number of supporters of the Grey Wolves. In Austria it is assumed that there are several thousand members and supporters. Measured against the approximately three million citizens of Turkish origin in Germany and about 400,000 to 500,000 in Austria, this is only a small part. However, what makes these groups dangerous, apart from their ideology, is the active appearance of these movements in the guise of cultural associations, religious institutions or representative organizations. A (grey) wolf in sheep’s clothing’ . The infiltration or control of numerous associations or political parties makes the organization a national, if not European, problem. People who openly admit to neo-fascist ideas are also members of parties represented in parliament or act as integration advisories somewhere in a large German city. It is unpopular to ban cultural associations or restrict the activity of religious institutions. This is exactly what the Grey Wolves make use of.
To this day, however, representatives of the Grey Wolves are invited to anti-racist discussions or integration forums.
Although they are politically, ideologically and above all rhetorically closer to right-wing populist parties, Grey Wolves are often members of more moderate or left-wing parties. This is due to reasons of opportunism, and partly because these parties are more socially accepted. Some cases of the Linz (Austrian city) Social Democrats on the Grey Wolves have become known, but there are also members within the German CDU and the German Greens. Of course, it must be mentioned that in all cases – sometimes consistently, sometimes half-heartedly – the parties have excluded the respective members. To this day, however, representatives of the Grey Wolves are invited to anti-racist discussions or integration forums. When those people, who stand up against xenophobia, play down MHP or AKP-related associations as regular youth organizations, it is either naive or hypocritical. Usually both.
The Grey Wolves, the MHP and Erdogan: A community of convenience in foreign countries
Nevertheless, the Grey Wolves, who play a politically active role, especially among young people, serve as a good vote attracter within the Turkish community. They are recognized far beyond the MHP borders. Moreover, many of the European Grey Wolves voted for Erdogan’s AKP party during the election in 2018. Last but not least, during Erdogan’s election events in foreign countries, three crescent moons (the symbol of the MHP party) or the wolves salute were seen many times. What the Hitler salute is to neo-Nazis, the wolf salute is to Turkish ultra-nationalists. After the wolves salute was banned in Austria, Vienna became not only the target of Grey Wolf, but also Turkish government.
Both supporters sympathize with authoritarian systems, perceive integration as a betrayal of Turkishness, deny the Armenian Genocide, and are anti-pluralist and anti-democratic.
It would be wrong to claim that within Turkey the MHP and AKP maintain friendly relations with each other (nevertheless, they managed to create an alliance during 2018 elections). On the contrary, there are enough differences between both parties. However, something that unites both parties – especially abroad – is their common enemy: everything and everyone that/who is non-Turkish. That is why there are vague transitions between Grey Wolves and AKP supporters within the Austrian-Turkish and German-Turkish communities. Both supporters sympathize with authoritarian systems, perceive integration as a betrayal of Turkishness, deny the Armenian Genocide, and are anti-pluralist and anti-democratic. The question between an MHP and an AKP is a question of intensity, an intensity in Pan-Turkism. Moreover, according to court documents, the Grey Wolves were partly funded by the Turkish service intelligence in order to take action against Armenian and Kurdish groups. It is almost absurd that nationalist foreign Turks are greyer than the wolf in Turkey. While the opposition tended to win in Turkish cities, the AKP won over 70% of the vote in Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium, and over 60% in Germany (excluding the MHP).
They managed to reach the mainstream through harmless, youth-oriented offers ranging from sports and folklore concerts to religious events. Many organizations, which for decades were considered partners in the field of integration, are accused of being close to the AKP, MHP or the Grey Wolves. The spectrum ranges from prominent associations such as ATIB and DITIB, UID (Union of International Democrats) to the Turkish Federation, numerous cultural associations and even some mosques.
The political extreme does not belong to the centre
Western and Central European politics has inhibitions against foreign right-wing extremism, for fear of being accused of xenophobia. The expulsions of some imams, the closure of some Turkish nationalist mosques, the condemnation of some organizations, the ban on wolf greetings and Erdogan elections are important rays of hope. Such associations harm the society as a whole and those citizens of Turkish origin who distance themselves from Turkish ultra-nationalism. For reasons of opportunism and image, left-wing parties in particular should not make themselves the accomplices of Turkish nationalism. Anyone who neglects the Grey Wolves, neglects right-wing extremism and runs the risk of rewarding fascism and segregation. Turkish ultranationalist forces do not belong in the middle of society, but on the political fringes.
For reasons of opportunism and image, left-wing parties in particular should not make themselves the accomplices of Turkish nationalism.