Greece braces for historic verdict on far-right Golden Dawn group

After a years-long trial, an Athens court will decide the future of a notorious neo-Nazi group founded in the 1980s.

The leader of Golden Dawn Party, Nikos Michaloliakos, gestures during a session at the Plenum of the Greek Parliament in Athens on April 15, 2016 [File: Nick Paleologos/Al Jazeera]
The leader of Golden Dawn Party, Nikos Michaloliakos, gestures during a session at the Plenum of the Greek Parliament in Athens on April 15, 2016 [File: Nick Paleologos/Al Jazeera]

Athens, Greece – Pavlos Fyssas, a 34-year-old rapper and anti-racism campaigner known as “Killah P”, was stabbed to death just after midnight on September 18, 2013, in Athens.

More than seven years later, only one day now remains until the conclusion of a five-year trial, which has seen Giorgos Roupakias, a member of far-right party Golden Dawn, accused of Fyssas’s murder.

The verdict is expected to be announced after 11am local time (08:00 GMT) at the Court of Appeals in Athens on Wednesday. Thousands of anti-racism protesters are planning to march in the Greek capital from 9am, calling for a guilty verdict.

Golden Dawn’s leadership, considered complicit in Fyssas’s murder, is also charged with heading up a criminal organisation and carrying out a spate of violent attacks largely against political opponents and immigrants.

It will be a decisive day for Greek politics and society; Golden Dawn headed up by Nikos Michaloliakos, who founded the neo-Nazi group in the 1980s, held seats in the parliament before losing them all in the 2019 election.

The charges against the party, individual members and associates range from murder, money laundering and possession of weapons. Some charges stem back as far as 2008 and the 68 defendants include Golden Dawn’s entire leadership and all of its former MPs.

The trial, which began on April 20, 2015, was expected to last about 18 months.

As well as a prosecution from the state, the case also features civil suits against Golden Dawn on behalf of victims of its violence. This includes not only the family of Pavlos Fyssas but also a team representing a group of Egyptian fishermen who were beaten to within an inch of their life in their home in Athens in 2012 as well as trade union members who were attacked by Golden Dawn members.

Members of Golden Dawn stand around a stage during a gathering in Athens on February 2, 2013; thousands of supporters gathered to pay tribute to three Greek naval officers who were killed when their helicopter crashed during a crisis with Turkey over the eastern Aegean isle of Imia in 1996 [File: Yorgos Karahalis/Reuters]
Violence, considered by many as a linchpin of Golden Dawn’s ideology, has continued throughout the course of the trial with a number of attacks on lawyers, students and immigrants from Golden Dawn members.

Now, after years of waiting, the group’s future hangs in the balance.

Kostas Skarmeas, one of the lawyers representing the Egyptian fisherman, said the significance of a guilty verdict could not be underestimated.

“It will mean that Golden Dawn will be a criminal organisation with the stamp of Greek justice. It will also be a very strong message to the Greek society,” he said noting that racism and xenophobia were on the rise in the country.

“It will be a decisive moment in history not only Greece but also for Europe because we must remember that the party was in the Greek Parliament for seven years,” he said. “The last time that a trial such as this happened was the trials of Nuremberg and this party was this National Socialist Party of Hitler. We hope that on Wednesday we will have the same result as those trials.”

Georgia Nakou, a writer on Greek politics and current affairs, said she did not believe a guilty verdict would not be enough to slow the far-right momentum the group set in motion.

“Elements of the Golden Dawn ideology and rhetoric have a strong resonance in mainstream Greek society and have been further legitimised by being aired in and around parliament. Anti-immigrant sentiment has only become stronger in the five years that Golden Dawn has awaited trial and many of the present government’s policies on migration are shaped by it, either from within the ostensibly centre-right New Democracy party or through outside pressure, particularly from local interest groups,” she said.

A Golden Dawn supporter raises his hand in a Nazi-style salute during a rally in Athens in 2014 [File: Yannis Kolesidis/AP Photo]
There are still reminders that Greek society is still struggling with hardline elements.

In February and March, there were a spate of attacks on refugees, journalists and NGO workers on Lesbos and a group of people were arrested on suspicion of being connected to a Golden Dawn-affiliated group.

Last week, Eleni Zaroulia, the wife of Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos, was given a temporary appointment in the Greek Parliament – a move which sparked outrage and was quickly backtracked pending the verdict.

Petros Konstantinou, from the Greek anti-racist group KEERFA, said it was important to keep monitoring the far right, even if important members of Golden Dawn are jailed.

“The final fact that they are now outside the parliament does not mean that the fascist threat is over,” he said, noting how refugees have been treated in Greece in recent months as an example.

He said he could not predict the outcome of the verdict, but one which found Golden Dawn innocent would provoke a strong reaction. “It would open a period of intense anti-fascist struggle for us.”

Maik Fielitz, an expert on the far right in Greece, based at the Institute for Democracy and Civil society in Jena, Germany said Golden Dawn ideology had cast a long shadow across Europe.

“For several years, Golden Dawn has been the kind of flagship for the European extreme right, showing what has been possible or what could be possible and there have been followers from all over Europe who found inspiration in what happened in Greece. There have been multiple demonstrations on European streets in support of Golden Dawn and a very strong transnational flow of ideas, strategies and also resources. It was profiting a lot from international solidarity, but they also set the tone for like-minded organisations to copy their model of politics.”

Fielitz warned that the threat of the far right was not over in Greece or beyond.

“The far right will still come back in a different shape but probably not in the same violent and criminal way that Golden Dawn has operated.”

Nikos Michaloliakos once said that “Greece is only the beginning”, in a 2012 news conference, but now it remains to be seen whether Greece will be the first country in more than 70 years to jail an entire parliamentary group of self-professed fascists.

At the core of the trial is years worth of evidence and testimony which demonstrate the human cost of the group’s campaign of hate and violence.

Pavlos Fyssas is just one of Golden Dawn’s victims and there are suggestions that there are more unaccounted for.

“The victims have been waiting for justice for many years now. The mother and father of Pavlos Fyssas can never see their son again,” said Kostas Skarmeas. “The only thing we can hope is for justice to be served.”

This file photo, taken on June 25, 2012, shows Greek musician Pavlos Fyssas [File: Alexandros Theodoridis/AFP]
Source : Al Jazeera

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