Josephine Grahl on an historic victory against Greek neo-Nazis
On Wednesday 7th October, the five-and-a-half-year trial of the Greek neo-Nazi organisation Golden Dawn finally concluded with guilty verdicts for all defendants.
After the verdicts were read out, Magda Fyssas, the mother of murdered anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas, made her way to the steps of the courtroom. Raising her hands to the sky, she addressed her lost son, calling out: “You’ve done it my son – do you hear me? You did it.” Magda Fyssas has been a mainstay of the trial, inspiring in her dedication to have her son’s killers brought to justice, and in her solidarity with the other victims, their families, and those struggling against fascism and the far-right in Greece and across Europe.
The 68 Golden Dawn defendants, including the leadership and former MPs of the neo-fascist group, were on trial for multiple charges, including the murder of Greek musician Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013, the attempted murder of Communist trade unionists, the attempted murder of Egyptian immigrant Abouzid Embarak in his home in June 2012, and finally the charge of running a criminal organisation.
The final charge, crucially, was based on evidence showing that Golden Dawn is a neo-fascist organisation, operating under hierarchical, mafia-style discipline, and that members carried out the violent crimes under orders and with knowledge of the leadership.
Unlike the slick, pseudo-respectable European far-right parties we have seen over the last few decades – dangerous as those are – Golden Dawn is distinct from the French Front National, Alternativ für Deutschland in Germany, or the British National Party. During the 21st century it rose to become the most effective and well-funded neo-Nazi party in Europe, with its own militia, a hierarchical, mafia-style discipline, and a slick propaganda machine, promoting an openly pro-Hitlerite programme and stirring up hatred and violence against refugees, migrants, trades unions and the left in Greece.
Although the organisation was first constituted in the 1980s, it was after the 2008 global financial crisis that it rose in prominence, exploiting and manipulating the anger of Greek people at the austerity measures inflicted on Greece by the European Union. After the May 2012 election, in which Golden Dawn won 21 seats in the Greek parliament, its rise seemed unstoppable.
In 2013 the murder of Pavlos Fyssas finally prompted even the tame Greek judiciary into action. A huge array of indictments were bundled together into a single, over-arching trial, ranging from individual acts of murder and violence to the leadership and organisation of Golden Dawn itself. This complexity enabled a huge number of delaying tactics on legal grounds, and a widespread fear among anti-fascist campaigners that the trial would result in a whitewash and a ‘not proven guilty’ verdict. Golden Dawn members and leadership, as well as informants from within the organisation, took to the witness stand to give contradictory and often false testimony, and to claim ignorance of the operations of the organisation.
Golden Dawn were also known to have deeply infiltrated the Greek justice and security institutions. So confident were members of the organisation of their support among the police that, as officers arrested Giorgios Roupakias for the murder of Fyssas, he appealed to them: “I’m one of you – I’m a member of Golden Dawn.”
In December 2019, the public prosecutor advised the court to dismiss the charge of ‘operation as a criminal organisation’, controversially arguing that Golden Dawn members were acting alone in committing the other crimes. Lawyers for the victims presented huge volumes of evidence to demonstrate that in carrying out violent attacks and murder, individual members operated under orders and that the Golden Dawn leadership should share criminal responsibility with their organised cadres. Supported by the anti-fascist coalition KEERFA and Pavlos Fyssas’s family, the lawyers also exploited a clause in the criminal justice code to allow those representing the victims to have a formal role in the proceedings.
Finally, last week justice was served. In addition to the heavy custodial sentences handed down to Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos and other former MPs, as well as life sentences for those found guilty of violent crimes, the finding of the court that Golden Dawn was a criminal organisation guarantees that it will be outlawed from civic and political activity in Greece.
What some have described as ‘the largest trial of Nazis since Nuremberg’ has ended in a victory which will be welcomed by antifascists across the world – including the trade unionists, activists and politicians in this country who over the duration of the trial have stood in solidarity with our comrades in Greece.