On the 7th of October, the Athens Appeals Court announced its verdict for 68 defendants, along with ruling Golden Dawn, a nazi alligned party, a criminal organisation. The declaration was met with a cheering crowd of over ten thousand people, politicians, activists, antifascists and civilians. Verdicts included running a criminal organisation, murder and violent attack.
The trial has taken 5 years, triggered by the murder of anti-fascist rapper and songwriter Pavlos Fyssas in 2013. The result of the trial is seen as a landmark for anti-fascism and democracy in Greece and the European Union. The party, previously having been elected in parliament between 2012 and 2019, has long been known for its anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-globalist ideals, oftentimes perpetuated through violence.
Golden Dawn critics praised the decision. Most notably, the Greek president stated: “Today’s decision is a confirmation of the fact that democracy and its institutions are always capable of fending off any attempt to undermine them.”. As a former judge herself, she is familiar with the corruption and frequent interference imposed on the courts and police. In a similar vein, prime minister Mitsotakis declared that “democracy won”. Fyssas’ mother, who was present when the verdicts were announced, was captured shouting “we did it son” towards the crowd. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mr Micholaliakos, the leader of the party / organisation, told the court “I never urged anyone to carry out acts of violence, there was no criminal organisation. It’s all a pack of lies,”.
The courts’ decision came as a surprise for many Greeks, disillusioned by the political and judicial systems in recent years. This was shown when amid cheers of glee, the crowd gathered outside the court was attacked with water cannons, seconds after the verdicts were announced. The police force has often been accused of prejudice and of having fascists in their ranks. Such issues have been brought up since at least 1998 and by the media from one end of the political spectrum to the other. Despite the hardships and the danger of gathering amid the pandemic, people expressed a great urgency towards the landmark decision, signifying invisible societal change. As a result, pressure is being applied on institutions to evolve. Overall, this was an absolutely necessary step in cleansing Greek society and government from extremist elements. At the same time, the battle is far from over, given the amount of former Golden Dawn voters and members.
Although issues arising from violence perpetuated by Golden Dawn and its leadership have dated back to 200 at the very least, the particular case and subsequent conviction of the party leaders stems from one specific incident. This refers to the aforementioned murder, in 2013, a period where the organisation acquired wealth, power and recognition. It also brought to public attention several other hate crimes, primarily against migrant workers, undoubtedly aided in the formation of a negative public opinion. Ultimately, thanks to the events of those critical few years, many Golden Dawn voters became disillusioned with their values and methods, ultimately contributing to the current state of the organisation.
The result of this case is extremely important, even though populist sentiment has died down in recent years. In spite of the general turn of events regarding political affiliation in Europe since 2015, there is still a large populist and anti democratic presence in media and represented in parliament, across the region. Because of this, the first case to be brought against those with immunity and political capital is in and of itself a major milestone. The fact that justice overwhelmingly prevailed, gives hope to those facing similar situations across the union.