The leadership of Greece’s nationalist Golden Dawn party went to court Monday for the first day of what is expected to be a long trial of unprecedented scope for the nation. Golden Dawn’s leadership, who have exhibited Neo-Nazi sympathies, are being accused of running a criminal organization masked as a political party.
The trial against 69 members of Golden Dawn, including founder and party head Nikos Mihaloliakos, began officially Monday, though the trial was almost immediately postponed to May 7 after one defendant protested that he did not have a lawyer. Greece’s Ta Nea reports that “key defendants were absent,” though represented by their attorneys, and that the atmosphere in the courtroom was especially tense as both Golden Dawn supporters and victims of Golden Dawn violence were present.
Opponents of Golden Dawn, hoping to see the party shut down as an illegal violent organization, crowded the streets outside of the Korydallos Prison that is serving as a venue for the trial. Ta Nea notes that two pro-and anti-Golden Dawn groups convened on opposite sides of the street, holding signs against each other. “About 100” people appeared in support of Golden Dawn. Kathimerini adds that the pro-Golden Dawn group appeared to be led by Urania Michaloliakos, daughter of the party leader.
Also in attendance were the parents of Pavlos Fyssas, a left-wing rapper killed by a Golden Dawn member in 2013 whose homicide triggered the investigations that led to this trial.
Ta Nea reports that the first day of trial was not only marred by procedural difficulties, but by an attack on student protesters that left some hospitalized. Some of those attacked were listed as witnesses against Golden Dawn at the trial. Greek leftists appear to have prepared for such a scenario, however. “Golden Dawn members usually cram (into) the courtroom from dawn. We do not want this to happen, and will take all necessary measures to prevent it,” said Takis Giannopoulos, who helped organized the anti-Golden Dawn protests.
The mayor of Korydallos, where the trial is taking place, also told Agence France-Presse that they were preparing for a large crowd, given the magnitude of the occasion: “This is Greece’s biggest trial in 40 years. It will last at least 18 months. There will be gatherings by anti-fascist groups and Golden Dawn supporters.”
Golden Dawn appears to be steadfastly proclaiming its innocence. The party’s website currently features a photo of Mihaloliakos with the caption “Nationalism is not a Crime.”
The AFP notes that the list of crimes for which the 69 defendants are being charged vary widely, from participation in a criminal organization to murder and “racist violence.” No party has been charged with organized crime violations in Greece since after World War II. Golden Dawn has been a presence in the Greek Parliament since 2012, capitalizing on the economic downturn and diminishing popularity of then-ruling party PASOK, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement. It currently has 17 seats in Parliament and three members in the European Parliament.
During sweeping arrests of party leadership in 2013, authorities found extensive Nazi and other fascist paraphernalia at the home of Christos Pappas, Golden Dawn’s parliamentary spokesman.