The leaders of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Party, once the third-largest political force in the country, were found guilty of running a criminal organisation Wednesday, following a landmark trial that has been ongoing for more than five years.
In verdicts handed down by a panel of three judges at the Athens Appeals Court, the group’s leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, and six other senior members – including former MPs Ilias Kasidiaris, Christos Pappas, Giorgos Germenis and Ioannis Lagos, a current Member of the European Parliament – were convicted of leading a criminal organisation. The move effectively bans the fascist movement that for years held 18 seats in the Greek parliament.
The senior figures, none of whom were present in court, face sentences of five to 15 years in jail. Nineteen others were found guilty of being members of a criminal organisation.
The court also handed down guilty verdicts Wednesday for violent attacks on Golden Dawn’s political opponents and minorities. Golden Dawn supporter Giorgos Roupakias was convicted of murdering Pavlos Fyssas, a 34-year-old anti-racist rapper known as “Killah P”, while 15 others were convicted of conspiracy in the case.
Five people were convicted of the attempted murder of an Egyptian immigrant fisherman, and four of grievous bodily harm for an attack on Communist trade unionists.
The stabbing of Fyssas in 2013 triggered the criminal inquiry into the party, which eventually led to more than 60 people – including 18 former Golden Dawn lawmakers – being charged with being members of a criminal group.
The conclusion of the landmark case – one of the most significant trials of a fascist group in Europe, and the first time elected politicians have been jailed in Greece since a 1967 coup – drew tens of thousands of people to rally outside the court, holding banners with slogans such as “Fascism, never again” and "Nazis in prison”.
The guilty verdicts drew a jubilant response from the crowds. Magda Fyssas, the mother of the slain rapper, emerged from the courthouse with her arms in the air, shouting: “You did it, my son.”
Police fired tear gas and water cannons on the crowd as clashes broke out during the celebrations to mark the end of a dark chapter in Greek politics. Experts welcomed the verdicts as a significant blow against the far-right in Greece and internationally, saying it would hurt the electability of fascist parties.
“For all of us Greeks, this is a historic day,” Manos Moschopoulos, senior program officer at the Open Society Initiative for Europe, said in a statement. “Today’s verdict should be a rallying cry for everyone who believes in democracy and human dignity, to stand up against the politics of hate that poison our societies and threaten our lives. We cannot afford to let down our guard.”
In a statement to VICE News, Hans-Jakob Schindler, the senior director of the Counter Extremism Project, said that the finding that Golden Dawn was a crime group, rather than a legitimate political party, sent a message to the violent international far-right scene “that their actions will have consequences and will not go unpunished”.
“Today’s verdict is a testimony that Golden Dawn does not only espouse extremist views, but that its members were directly involved in the perpetration of violence, including murder,” he said.
The self-proclaimed fascist movement sent shockwaves through Greek politics when it won 7 percent of the vote in the 2012 elections, with Golden Dawn becoming the country’s third largest party by harnessing public anger during the height of Greece’s economic crisis.
But its support has since waned drastically as its image was tarnished in the public eye, and the party failed to win a single seat in last year’s parliamentary elections.
Schindler said the group had played “an outsized role” in the transnational violent far-right scene that had emerged over the past decade, with the American white supremacist Matthew Heimbach hailing them as “the vanguard of nationalist organising in the world”. He said members of the group regularly attended right-wing extremist festivals in Europe and beyond, which were important financing and networking events for the scene.