Appeal trial for imprisoned Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party leaders to start

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The imprisoned ministers of Greece’s once-powerful neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party will, this week, seek to overturn prolonged prison terms in an appeals court in Athens.

Eighteen months after members were convicted of operating a criminal organisation masked as a political party, appellate judges will start hearing the case afresh.

“The outcome is going to be hugely significant,” said Petros Constantinou, who coordinates Keerfa, the country’s highly active anti-fascist front.

“At a time when the war in Ukraine has emboldened fascists Europe over, the message has to be one of zero tolerance,” he added. 

Thousands of unionists and leftist protesters are expected to demonstrate outside the appellate court when the trial begins, just as they did when a lower tribunal of all-female judges announced its landmark decision in October 2020.

Presiding judge Maria Lepenioti, right, speaks as Prosecutor Adamantia Economou listen during a Golden Dawn trial, in Athens, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

READ MORE: Greek court imprisons far-right Golden Dawn party leadership

“Since early May there has been a surge of violent incidents against migrants in central Athens,” Constantinou said. 

“People have been knifed and shot at by hit squads employing tactics that have been similar to those we’ve seen in the past. Greek justice has already found Golden Dawn to be what it is, a criminal organisation. We want its leaders to be given harsher sentences than the 13-year [terms] they’ve already received.”

The rise of the Golden Dawn party 

The group took Europe by storm as Greece’s debt crisis unfolded. 

As put by The Guardian’s Helena Smith: “Not since the restoration of democracy with the collapse of military rule in 1974 had a party as brazenly thuggish or ideologically extreme – its emblem bore an uncanny resemblance to the swastika – been catapulted into Athens’ parliament.”

Supporters of the Golden Dawn gather in front of the Greek parliament in 2014. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty

In 2012, the anti-immigration and ultra-nationalist party won 7% of the vote, becoming Greece’s third-largest political force. 

Athen’s poorer neighbourhoods became blood-soaked as the party sent hit squads commandeered by specially trained party members to target migrants, trade unionists and leftwing sympathisers.

The fall of the Golden Dawn party

It took the 2013 assassination of Pavlos Fyssas, an anti-fascist rapper, to trigger the outrage that would gradually set in motion the group’s downfall.

When finally arrested, MPs were discovered to be in possession of Third Reich memorabilia. 

Magda Fyssas next of the monument in honour of her son, Pavlos, in 2013. Photo: Orestis Panagiotou/EPA

The five-year trial 

In what was been described as “a marathon trial”, the party was exposed as a criminal gang using the guise of being a political party to terrorise its way into public consciousness. 

More than 50 party members, including almost all of its lawmakers, were found guilty of charges ranging from murder to illegal possession of weapons.  

In reply, almost all asserted they were victims of political persecution. 

A view of the court during the sentencing announcement of the Golden Dawn trial, in Athens, Wednesday, October 14, 2020. Source: AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris.

Three years ago, the group failed to earn seats in the country’s last general election and had all but dismantled amid defections, feuds and infighting. 

The party’s leader and ardent anti-vaxxer, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, was hospitalised with Covid earlier this year and recently moved from the ICU to a rehab centre due to mobility problems. It is reported that he will not be attending the appeal hearing.

Photo taken on September 28, 2013 the leader of Greek neo-nazi party Golden Dawn Nikos Michaloliakos is escorted by masked police officers to the prosecutor’s office from the police headquarters in Athens. Photo: Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP.

Far-Right in Greece 

Although the initial verdict was hailed as a pivotal point in Greece’s political history and is unlikely to be overturned, the race is on to fill the gap left by Golden Dawn.

The conspiratorial Greek Solution party has already helped soak up some of Golden Dawn’s lost votes. Analysts fear the looming recession, an inflation rate of over 10% and soaring tensions with Turkey could further help the extremists.

SOURCE: The Guardian

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