Greece’s neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn was branded a criminal organisation on Wednesday (7 October) in a landmark court ruling hailed as a victory of democracy.
Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos, and former lawmakers Elias Kasidiaris, Giannis Lagos, Panagiotis Germenis, Elias Panagiotaros and Nikos Papas were found guilty of directing a criminal organisation.
Another 17 members were convicted of being members of a criminal organisation.
Branding Golden Dawn as a criminal organisation basically means that there was a political plan by the party leadership behind the crimes its members committed.
It is not known yet how many years in prison each of them will get as sentences are is expected later in the day. Michaloliakos and fellow senior members face jail sentences from five to 15 years.
The judgement was passed to a background of clashes between police and anti-fascist demonstrators on the sidelines of a large protest of some 15,000 people.
“Golden Dawn belongs to the garbage can of history,” commented the main opposition leader, leftist former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, while socialist leader Fofi Gennimata said: “Τhere is no room for fascism in our lives and only together, we will get rid of neo-Nazis”.
Reading out the verdict in a trial that lasted over five years, presiding judge Maria Lepenioti said Golden Dawn founder and leader Nikos Michaloliakos and other senior members were guilty of running a criminal organisation.
None of the party’s senior members were present in court.
The crowd had started gathering outside the court two hours before the verdicts were handed down in response to a call from the anti-fascist movement, trade unions and parties on the left.
“The people want the Nazis in jail”, read the placards.
Hundreds of police were also deployed at the courthouse, a few kilometres from the historic centre of the capital.
The prosecutions were sparked by the late-night murder of 34-year-old anti-fascist rapper called Pavlos Fyssas, who was chased down by a mob of Golden Dawn thugs and stabbed to death in front of a cafe in the western Athens suburb of Keratsini in September 2013.
His mother Magda was seen entering the court ahead of the hearing.
“Pavlos won.. my son!”, she told reporters after the announcement of the court ruling.
The killer, former truck driver Yiorgos Roupakias, confessed but the attack sparked outrage and charges that Golden Dawn was a paramilitary-style organisation that uses beatings, intimidation and murder as tactics — all with the knowledge of senior party members.
Also convicted on Wednesday, Roupakias faces a life sentence.
There was uproar last year when chief prosecutor Adamantia Economou called for the acquittal of the party leaders on the basis that the existence of a criminal organisation had not been proven.
In total, 68 members of the party have been on trial, including Michaloliakos and more than a dozen other former MPs like him who were elected in 2012, as the openly xenophobic group capitalised on discontent over joblessness and migration and won 18 seats in the 300-seat parliament.
The investigation already took its toll on the party, causing a number of senior members to defect. In the last election in 2019, the party failed to win a single seat.
As well as delivering a verdict in the murder trial for Fyssas and the trial of senior leaders of Golden Dawn, the court was also to hand down judgements for two other assault cases allegedly involving Golden Dawn members.
An Egyptian fisherman was left with broken teeth and head injuries after being beaten with clubs and metal bars in June 2012 as he slept.
Just over a year later, Communists putting up posters were attacked with nail-studded clubs.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos/Zoran Radosavljevic]