What just happened?
October 7th was a great day not only for Greece but for anti-fascists all over the world. Concluding a five and a half year long trial, compared by many commentators with the Nürnberg trials, the court ruled unanimously that Golden Dawn (GD) is a Nazi criminal organization, which has for years disguised as a legitimate political party. Its entire executive committee was found guilty for administrating a criminal organization; and the rest of the leadership – including the former MPs – were found guilty for participating in a criminal organization, plus several specific crimes.
A week of discussion of pleading ‘mitigating circumstances’ ensued, where the defense lawyers, used lies, timid statements, even a ridiculous and fruitless attempt to replace the court members. Finally the sentences were announced on October 14th – Six of the 7 members of the executive committee, including the “führer” Michaloliakos received 15 years imprisonment (2 years short of the maximum) for directing a criminal organization. Other sentences include five to seven years for those convicted principally for membership in a criminal organization, and life imprisonment for the murderer of Pavlos Fyssas. His co-perpetrators got seven to 10 years. The perpetrators of the assault on Egyptian fishermen received seven to 10 years and those guilty of the attack on trade unionists of the KKE, two years (they were convicted for assault and not attempted murder). Thanassis Kampagiannis, lawyer of Abouzid Embarak commented “The sentences for the leaders are stiff, but not the strictest. The penalties for those involved in the criminal organization and for the perpetrators of individual crimes are lower than what is appropriate”.
The court will next consider applications to suspend the sentences of the 57 Golden Dawn convicts pending appeals, or instead to issue arrest warrants and put them to jail. Lawyers for Golden Dawn’s victims insist that vindication for their clients and for democratic public opinion in Greece depends on the neo-nazis being jailed.
A historic victory
No matter what finally happens with procedures and despite the fact that the sentences ought to have been higher – the verdict of finding GD guilty is a great victory and is absolutely consistent with the popular demand. The day of the announcement saw tens of thousands of people gathered outside the Court of Appeals from early in the morning (there was a half day work stoppage called by ADEDY –the public sector confederation- and many trade unions). They wished to send their message that the court decision should acknowledge what the majority of the Greek society has known for years: That Golden Dawn is a Nazi formation of criminals. It was one of the biggest demonstrations in a city with a proud record of mass protests. It looks like everyone was there.
The banners and flags of ADEDY (public sector) and EKA (Labor Center of Athens), OLME (secondary school teachers) and DOE (primary education teachers), were standing along political parties of the left like: KKE, ANTARSYA, LAE, MERA 25 and SYRIZA; and
hundreds of rank and file unions, students’ unions, occupied schools, women’s and LGBTQI+ organizations, immigrants and refugees, cultural associations, local initiatives – and of course thousands of other everyday people.
As analyzed previously in ‘Berlin-Left’ , the trial brought together three cases (the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, the attempted murder against PAME trade unionists and the assault against the Egyptian fishermen, plus an overall case of GD acting as a criminal organization). It was an un-equal legal case, because a small group of resolute prosecution lawyers had to face the mechanism of an organized nazi formation and the catastrophic proposal of the public prosecutor. That public prosecutor denied in her proposal any connection between the party GD and the actions of its members . The prosecution lawyers managed to bring to the surface the existential bond between the parliamentary window of GD and the battalion squads it had formed modeled on Hitler’s “Sturmabteilung”.
Of course the lawyers were not alone. Thanks to the vital support of the anti-fascist movement inside and outside the court room, crucial evidence was collected. This exposed the facts that GD was not being charged for its ideology (as its defendants claimed) – but for its actions, which followed Nazi instructions. By the end of the hearings, the evidence indicated that criminal activity was not accidental, but coordinated from the leadership of GD, with proved support from inside the state apparatus and the police forces.
The mainstream media tried to ignore the findings of the trial. But thousands of people across the country and overseas exchanged this information. They built public events to discuss what’s at stake, how to apply political pressure for a fair judgment and – most important – how the Nazis can be stopped. Trade unions were at the heart of this process. They called for work stoppages to facilitate anti-fascist mobilizations, drafted resolutions demanding the sentence of GD, and trade-unionists served as witnesses for the prosecution. As the verdict day approached, the trial gained publicity and importance inside Greek society, this is how we arrived at the fantastic mobilization outside the court.
Nothing is the same as before
The verdict has sparked a political earthquake inside the Greek society and the political parties. It is to no surprise that the right-wing government of ‘New Democracy’ rushed to celebrate it, disavow ‘Golden Dawn’ and present itself as the guard of democracy in the country. Everybody knows that this is pure hypocrisy. New Democracy is the party which had oscillated between collaborating with Golden Dawn to form a government in the days of political instability in 2013 and indicting its leadership. It finally did the latter, after the murder of Pavlos Fyssas and the political turmoil caused by the massive anti-fascist protests that followed. New Democracy is the party which hosts ‘regretted’ (or not so regretted) extreme right-wingers like Makis Voridis and Adonis Georgiadis, political personas with a disgraceful history of anti- communism, nationalism and bullying. Last but not least, it’s the government which is organizing the worst policies against immigrants and refugees like the shame of Moria and other camps.
Last Sunday Syriza’s official newspaper, ‘Avgi’, responded with a front page of the current right wing prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his New Democracy predecessor Antonis Samaras, who had led a hard right and racist government between 2012-2015. It had the headline “They are not Innocent”, which was the popular slogan that developed over the last couple of weeks against Golden Dawn in the run up to the verdicts. It was a justified thought, nevertheless it went too far, as it tried to equate all forms of right-wing politics with Nazism. In addition, it comes from a party which led a government that imposed the anti-refugee agreement between the E.U. and Turkey; and which failed to purge the police and state apparatuses which provided such a support mechanism for the neo-Nazis.
But in any case this reveals the crisis and polarization inside Greek society. On the one hand everyday people feel confident that their voice put finally pressure to the establishment and the hated Nazis are defeated. Immigrants and refugees have greeted the verdict with relief and hope. But on the other hand right-wingers and their media talk about the “danger of the two extremes” and accuse openly the left. The front page of a disgraceful tabloid (‘Proto thema’) claims that “the upper section of the squares movement  is going to jail”, implying that the other (left-wing) section should go to jail as well.
The idea that Golden Dawn rose out of the Indignados movement of 2011 is a big lie. GD denounced those protests officially in its newspaper. GD’s leader Michaloliakos, called it a mixture of chaotic elements, where “Greeks of various ideologies were demonstrating together with immigrants”! As a matter of fact GD rose out of the discontent and despair caused by Greece’s financial crisis and by the political crisis that ripped the mainstream right-wing parties. It thrived from nationalism and racism orchestrated by governments and speculated on defeat and disappointment and not on the hope that rose from the mass movement.
Kyriakos Velopoulos, is the leader of “Greek solution”, the nationalist right-wing formation created to replace GD inside parliament. He did not miss a chance to accuse the anti-capitalist left ‘Antarsya‘, and specifically Athens councilor Petros Constantinou as “a far left extremist, who has to be prosecuted as well”! In addition to being a libel, such accusations show the frustration inside the establishment, not just for the demise of GD, but for the role played by the mass movement. They realize that this has shifted the balance of forces to the left and they are mad about it. GD defense lawyers were complaining for the crowd of “barefoot tramps” protesting outside the court and one of them said that the entire atmosphere reminded him the French revolution!”. These are signs of lack of confidence.
On October 12th, “Kathimerini”, a respected right-wing daily, which had for long ignored the trial, published an article under the title “A court which took place 17 years later”. This reminded readers that back in 1996 Dimitris Zotos, a member of the Egyptian fishermen prosecution – had brought a suit to have Golden Dawn declared a criminal gang, acting on behalf of socialist activists assaulted by the neo-Nazis in the neighborhood of Kypseli. His legal action was denied by the authorities and didn’t reach the court, until 2014, when it was included in the file of this trial. This is a vindication for the prosecution.
Acknowledging that the court decision is an achievement for anti-fascists, the stakes are high for the movement and the left to build on this success. Immediate goals are of course the imprisonment of all the convicted (no suspension for the execution of their penalties), the closing of their remaining headquarters in the country and the expulsion of nazi councilors from local councils, including the notorious thug Kasidiaris, who has been elected in Athens.
At a political level there are (at least) two tasks: Firstly to develop the anti-racist struggle, which in Greece means to support immigrants and refugees, who are trapped between Turkey and their way to the E.U., residing in the most horrendous camps like Moria and Kara Tepe. And secondly to oppose nationalism and the cries for a harder antagonism with Turkey, which plays in the hands of the Greek government in order to upgrade itself in the east Mediterranean. In the past both issues have bread the beast of Nazism and GD particularly.
But times are changing, since we halted the Nazis there is a good chance to fight their roots and the policies which made them such a menace. This is a challenge. The struggle continues.
3 The anti austerity protests of 2011, which followed the uprising of Plaza del Sol in Spain