The Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party was qualified for the first time as a “criminal organization” Wednesday by the Greek courts, in a historic verdict acclaimed by the crowd but briefly punctuated by incidents.
In front of the court, more than 15,000 demonstrators, according to the police, had gathered at the call of the anti-fascist movement, unions and left-wing parties, to demand that “the Nazis” go to prison.
After five and a half years of trial, the leader and founder of Golden Dawn Nikos Michaloliakos, denier and admirer of National Socialism, was found guilty of “leading” and “belonging to a criminal organization” as well as six other executives party, including MEP Yiannis Lagos, who left Golden Dawn last year, and former spokesman Ilias Kassidiaris, who formed a new far-right party.
A total of 43 people were convicted of “belonging” to such an organization, including the two murderers of a young Pakistani, Sahzat Luckman, in 2013.
Around ten of the 68 defendants were acquitted.
Screaming with joy at the verdict over the megaphone, protesters threw Molotov cocktails, to which riot forces in numbers responded with tear gas, stun grenades and the use of water cannons during a twenty minutes, noted an AFP journalist.
The verdict was welcomed by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. “Democracy won today,” he said, believing that the judgment ended a “traumatic” era in Greek public life.
The President of the Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou also welcomed a “historic” judgment which “confirms that democracy and its institutions can always prevail”.
The appealable verdict was rendered in the absence of the main defendants. They will know their sentence at a later hearing, but party officials face between 5 and 15 years in prison.
“My son, you have succeeded”
The Athens Criminal Court also found Yorgos Roupakias, a member of Golden Dawn, guilty of the murder of an anti-fascist rapper in 2013. He had admitted the murder and faces life imprisonment.
Left-wing activist Pavlos Fyssas, 34, was stabbed outside a cafe on the outskirts of Athens. It was this assassination that prompted the authorities to prosecute Golden Dawn, responsible for numerous violence since the 1990s, but which enjoyed near impunity.
“Pavlos my son, you have succeeded,” exclaimed the mother of the victim, Magda Fyssas, dressed in black, very moved.
When Golden Dawn was branded a “criminal organization” to a cheering ovation, Ms Fyssas stood up with clenched fists, banging frantically on the bar in front of her, before leaving the room to smoke.
“A great victory”
“It’s a great victory,” said Giorgios Papanikolaou, a left-wing activist, among the demonstrators. “It is very important that the party is qualified as a criminal organization” but “the fight against Nazi and racist ideas continues”, he added.
The court also convicted four Golden Dawn members of “attempted homicide” against Egyptian fishermen in 2012 and three others for “grievous bodily harm” against communist trade unionists.
On leaving the court, the lawyers for the civil parties hailed a “historic decision”. “Justice has been served,” Me Kostas Papadakis, lawyer for Egyptian fishermen, told AFP.
“It is a very great day for Greek justice (…) and for Europe”, also rejoiced Naïm Elgadour, who chairs the Greek union of Muslims.
Since April 2015, the president of the court Maria Lepenioti has witnessed 150 witnesses and some fifty lawyers in more than 400 hearings.
The socio-political debacle after the 2010 financial crisis benefited the neo-Nazi party, whose representatives entered parliament in 2012.
At the time, groups of men in black roamed the streets of Athens, beating their opponents with kicks or iron bars and chanting “Blood, honor, Golden Dawn”.
This trial gradually led to the decline of the formation, which did not obtain any deputy in the last legislative elections of July 2019.