A court in Greece ruled Wednesday that Golden Dawn – a political party whose leaders have expressed sympathy for Adolf Hitler and violently assaulted political opponents – is a criminal organization not eligible for the legal protections afforded to legitimate political parties.
Golden Dawn rose to prominence at the height of Greece’s debt crisis in 2014, attracting record-high votes and gaining seats in the Hellenic Parliament in 2015. Golden Dawn leaders led campaigns against accepting migrants from Africa and the Middle East as the country, struggling with its debt, faced the task of affording humane care to thousands of migrants. They also campaigned during a time in which Greek voters had already chosen a political extreme, placing the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party in power to replace the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK).
At its peak, Golden Dawn grew to become Greece’s third-largest party. At the time the trial began, the party boasted 17 members of parliament and three in the continental European Parliament. It is the first political party in the modern history of Greece to receive the legal title of a criminal organization.
The Golden Dawn trial began in 2015. At the time, the mayor of the city hosting it, Korydallos, estimated that the trial would “last at least 18 months.” A verdict came down on Wednesday.
“Delivering landmark verdicts, the court ruled that seven of the party’s 18 former lawmakers, including party leader Nikos Michaloliakos, were guilty of leading a criminal organization, while the others were guilty of participating in a criminal organization,” the Greek newspaper E Kathimerini explained. “Those convicted of leading a criminal organization face between five and 15 years in prison, while the others face sentences of up to 10 years.”
The court must now complete the sentencing process for each individual involved.
Golden Dawn leaders did not face criminal syndicate charges for their speech against those of other ethnicities living in Greece, but for violent crimes, including homicide, committed in the name of the party’s belief system. The most high-profile of the crimes examined in the trial was the killing of Pavlos Fyssas, a rapper known as “Killah P.” Fyssas had developed a following for his left-wing song lyrics.
Fyssas reportedly identified a Golden Dawn member as his killer shortly before his death. Early evidence suggested multiple Golden Dawn members had targeted Fyssas, following him out of a cafe where witnesses said he had engaged in an altercation about sports. The court found Golden Dawn member Giorgos Roupakias guilty of killing Fyssas on Wednesday; 15 others received guilty verdicts for helping Roupakias corner and kill Fyssas.
Michaloliakos had assumed “political responsibility” for Fyssas’ killing in 2015, contending that the belief system that Golden Dawn promoted drove the assailants to kill the rapper. He rejected legal responsibility, however, arguing, “is it possible to accuse an entire political party because a fan, a friend of the party, committed a condemnable act?”
In other select statements from Michaloliakos throughout the years, the Golden Dawn leader had praised Adolf Hitler for putting Roma people in concentration camps, referring to them as “parasitic,” and called for all foreigners to “return to their homelands.” Other evidence suggesting that Golden Dawn leaders were not simply nationalist, but Nazis, surfaced in the police sweep of the hope of Golden Dawn spokesman Christos Pappas in 2013, which revealed his home to be a private “Nazi museum,” as the left-leaning Ta Nea newspaper described it.
Fyssas’ parents, Magda and Panagiotis Fyssas, joined a crowd of over 15,000 people outside the courthouse Wednesday to await the verdict – a far cry from the crowd of about 100 Golden Dawn supporters that appeared for the trial’s first hearing in 2015. In a dramatic moment on Wednesday, Magda Fyssas reportedly broke down in tears, shouting, “Pavlo, you did it, my son!”
The crowd surrounding the courthouse supporting the conviction of Golden Dawn leaders reportedly chanted similar slogans like, “Fyssas lives, crush the Nazis” and “the people demand the Nazis in jail.” E Kathimerini noted that the crowd was not only left-wing activists: “Representatives of parties across the political spectrum, from the governing conservative New Democracy party to Greece’s Communist Party and the former governing left-wing SYRIZA party, were outside the courthouse.”
Some left-wing agitators did reportedly attack police officers at the rally, but the newspaper described them as an aberration in an otherwise peaceful assembly.
According to E Kathimerini, several other violent assaults by Golden Dawn members in 2013 were also part of the trial as evidence that the political party engaged in criminal activity as a routine part of its existence. Some of the violence occurred in public; at least one Golden Dawn parliament member physically assaulted two women on national television. Ta Nea added the detail that the court fiercely attacked Golden Dawn’s behavior in its ruling, calling the group responsible for a “black page” in the nation’s history and, in the newspaper’s words, “an organization of knife-wielding thugs, fascists who killed people, [and] caused disasters.”