Golden Dawn trial. Before the verdict
By Dimitra Kyrillou
The trial of Gold Dawn is coming close to its end. While this text was being written, the civil prosecution lawyers were at the end of their concluding speeches. All of them did their best to bind together the rich material collected1, which is more than efficient to prove that the crimes committed by Golden Dawn members were not mere personal accidental actions, but part of a two-fold political plan of the Nazi organization: To use street gang activity (towards immigrants, leftists, LGBT+s etc.) to dominate in the streets and, in parallel gain political prestige as a far-right parliamentary party.
However, the district prosecutor’s proposal on December 18 2019 plainly throws everything into the dustbin. Causing utter shock in the court and to anti-fascists all over the country, D.Attorney Adamantia Economou proposed acquittals for all GD leaders. She claimed it could not be established that Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos or more than a dozen other senior party figures had ordered the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in 2013. Only Giorgos Roupakias, the perpetrator of the killing of Pavlos Fyssas is proposed to be convicted of a felony.
The attackers of the Egyptian fishermen and of left trade unionists are suggested either to be convicted only of misdemeanors or acquitted. So instead of getting 5 to 20 year imprisonment, the leaders of Golden Dawn are to be acquitted entirely of all charges of running a criminal organization! To reach such conclusion the DA shamelessly ignored the evidence which had been collected and even fell into contradictions in her arbitrary and selective use of sections of the testimonies.
This is so an outrageous proposal that one legal commentator said it “could have come from Golden Dawn itself"... Pavlos’s mother, Magda Fyssa, who during the 5 years hardly missed any of the more than 400 daily court sessions reacted angrily when, in a statement read to the chamber, Economou said Fyssas's fatal stabbing by Golden Dawn member Roupakias, had not been premeditated. "Have they seen nothing all this time? They are acquitting the criminals. How much more can we take?" said Magda Fyssas.
So how did we arrive here?
A short chronicle of the trial
The trial kicked off on the 20th of April 2015 and brought together three cases carried out by GD2: The murder of rap antifascist singer Pavlos Fyssas , the attack on Egyptian fishermen and the attack on Communist party members and trade-unionists at the Perama shipyard area. Most important is that for the first time ever the leadership of GD, including the “Führer” Michaloliakos and several MPs was charged for instigating the crimes as part of their political agenda and organizational structure-“Modus operandi”.
With the meticulous work of the prosecution and the constant support of the movement inside and outside the courtroom, the trial became a field of political confrontation, gave voice to witnesses of racist and fascist assaults and exposed the entire phenomenon of GD, forcing it to withdraw its gangs from the streets and contributing to its isolation and fall. It was not an easy task. Many people, even inside the left had initially underestimated the trial, considering that it had nothing to do with the movement and real justice, or suggesting either that it has to do with a battle inside the establishment between its democratic wing (government) and the Nazis.
It proved to be otherwise. Despite the low pace of the trial (the state and governments bear responsibility for this) and despite the huge mobilization of the Nazis in terms of the number of defending attorneys, the criminal organization was exposed to a record of controversies, shameless lying, hate speech, Nazis refuting each other’s sayings, nazi cadres fainting in the courtroom etc.
At the same time the antifascist movement in Greece made significant steps in combining antiracist activity and solidarity with the refugees (as the refugee crises burst out in 2015) with the political struggle against the Nazis. The court disclosures provided useful arguments against the "legitimate” face that GD was showing and helped to isolate the party’s “hard core” (the leadership, thugs and members) from the mass rightwing audience that it had demagogically managed to reach and temporarily win in circumstances of political crises of the dominant parties.
Internal confrontation ripped the party and made it suffer serious setbacks. In the last elections in July 2019 Golden Dawn lost the bulk of its voters, dropping from 7% to 2.9% which let the party out of the parliament, and caused multiple splits and drop-outs, resulting to the closing its offices around the country.
In September 2019 the party central headquarters in Athens were officially evacuated. That is good news! The headquarters were inaugurated in a multi-storey building at a time when GD entered the Greek parliament and wanted on the one hand to show its ambitions to become the major nationalist party, while, on the other hand, they were operating as a nest of criminal nazi groups and had repeatedly attacked immigrants and leftists3.
Antifascists have demonstrated repeatedly demanding that this nest is shut down, often facing police forces defending the headquarters and intimidation from the mainstream press. Finally their efforts were deserved.
What kind of party is Golden Dawn?
At the time of the murdering of Fyssas, GD was presenting itself as a nationalist party critical of the establishment but operating within the legal bourgeois system: They stood in the elections and elected representatives, benefiting from the crises and collapse of the right wing parties who had participated in austerity governments after Greece was put under “stabilization” programmes. They even reached 13% of the vote in the parliamentary elections of 2012. Hate speech and scapegoating of immigrants was their everyday doctrine. They also organized “charity” events such as donating blood and distributing food but “only to Greek citizens”4.
Of course this was only a glass front. GD had always been a Nazi organization with military structure, a covered agenda and an evermore unelected leader (Michaloliakos). They formed and trained militias who tried to control violently the neighborhoods of Athens, in some cases hand in hand with thugs and drug-dealers –a fact denied by their leadership and with the open tolerance of the police. In a confiscated video, Michaloliakos is heard to say to its cadres: “The best job is carried out at night”.
Nevertheless, they attempted to demonstrate to the ruling class that they can do both: On the one hand, to smash the movement in the streets, on the other, to work inside the institutions. Back in 2013, at a time of profound crises of the right wing government of Antonis Samaras, several media personalities looked to a “serious” Golden Dawn as a possible partner of the weak government, which would ensure that austerity policies would continue to be imposed and popular discontent smashed.
September 2013 saw an escalation of GD terrorizing activities culminating in the murder of Pavlos Fyssas. Initially the right wing government’s intention was to disassociate the murder from any political objective. However massive demonstrations and public outrage forced them to change their mind and finally prosecute the leadership of GD for murder, attempted murder, organizing a criminal conspiracy to commit them, and several other crimes.
This led to a domino effect, as it was made possible to connect and re-open several cases of violent assault perpetrated by GD members. And this is where the trial of GD contributed to its political and organizational crisis.
In the above context and considering the bulk of evidence testified to the court, the proposal of public prosecutor Economou is an mean provocation, a whitewash of GD and a threat that the (unpunished) nazi organization can mobilize again its gangs to the streets. They can even reclaim the money that they were due to received as parliamentary party, which has been denied to them when they were brought to trial.
The speeches of the civil prosecution lawyers, namely Chryssa Papadopoulou representing the family of Pavlos Fyssas, Kostas Skarmeas, Thanassis Kampagiannis and Kostas Papadakis representing the Egyptian fishermen and Haris Stratis and Manos Malagaris representing the communist trade-unionist were all to the point: Extended, accurate and at times touching, they patiently brought together and connected the data that the D.A refused to see, as well as explained about the political consequences of a possible “fiasco” of the trial.
Kostas Papadakis even asked the prosecutor openly to revise her proposal. He dedicated his speech to Hans Litten, the German antifascist lawyer who brought Adolf Hitler to court in 1931, paying for that with his life (he was killed in Dachau in 1938). Thanassis Kampagiannis asked the court “Which side are you on? The bees or the wolves?”.
Antifascists were showing solidarity during all the time of the trial inside and outside the court. I attended a couple of sessions in the beginning of January and the picture was a lot different from what it had been two years ago. Then, the Nazi organization was mobilizing its members, resulting in tens of thugs occupying the right wing of the court (allocated to the defendants) and harassing prosecution witnesses and antifascists.
This time the left banks (of the antifascists) were full and the numerous defending lawyers of GD did not bother be present. Last week a delegation of the World Trade Union Federation, composed of fellow lawyers from Italy, Cyprus and Turkey attended the trial of Golden Dawn today. It was an example of internationalist solidarity.
Still a huge amount hangs on the court decision to say no to right wing terror or finally exonerate the Nazis. But in any case this is not and never has been the central focus of the anti-fascist movement. That has been in the neighborhoods, the schools and workplaces - and pursuing the legal action in a way that supports this struggle.
The case and trial of Golden Dawn takes place in Greece but it’s not unique. It is connected to the rise of the far-right in all its forms all over Europe. The experiences and conclusions from the political struggle against racism and fascism deserve to be discussed and provide antifascist activists with knowledge, arguments and solidarity. Civil prosecution lawyer Thanassis Kampagiannis will be in Berlin on March 7th 2020. He will join anti-nazi activists from the case against NSU and rightwing terror in Berlin.
Ladies and gentlemen of the court - which side are you on?
A part of Thanassis Kampagiannis closing speech on January 20 touched on two teenage women who became chance eyewitnesses to Pavlos Fyssas's murder on 18 September 2013:
"Two young girls who were accidentally found on a bench minding their own business ended up being eyewitnesses to the most important political assassination of our generation, at least in recent decades.
"They were not afraid to give their names... they took this step and we are grateful for that.”
"The mother of one of the two teenagers contacted her daughter who told her she was in a police vehicle, that she had been an eyewitness to a murder and that she was going to testify. Then her mother said, 'Get out of the car now, wherever you are, take a taxi and drive home!'
"And the eyewitness replied: 'If it was my brother who had fallen, would you say the same?'
"And the mother said she would not. What a terrible episode in a person's life. To have made a child, a girl, to grow up, to grow into adulthood, to have time to wean, and to defy you. And to ring the phone after midnight, to hear your child tell you that blood has been shed, that she is involved in this story and that she is going to testify. And defy you like that. In such a case. What a fear this mother must have felt that night. But what pride also!
"We don't know about you, Madam President, but for us these two young women are the reason we can sleep at night. In a gloomy landscape for society, for the world, these two young women performed their political duties, in the true sense of the term 'politically'.
"Because that frightful night, it was not just the situation of the wolf, the pack of wolves such as the one who stubbed. But it was also [the world of the bees,] the world of solidarity, of humanity, the world that looks down upon a fallen man and does not say 'he is a stranger' but says 'yes, he is my brother'. And this world acted.
"That is why, more than any other witness, in the case of these two young women, you are not only called upon to judge their credibility, but you are called upon, ladies and gentlemen, to ask of yourself: Madam President [of the court], who are you? With the [collective] bees or with the [pack of] wolves?"
1 216 witnesses, 438 prosecution documents –many including digital material hard-discs, thousands of videos, photographs, sound evidence from confiscated mobile phones etc.
2 Three of the many other criminal offences where members of GD have been involved.
3 Most notorious case was the beating of passer-by student Alexis Lazaris in 2016, who ended up in hospital after being attacked by GD central committee cadre Christos Zervas.
4 D.Attorney Economou had once publicly commented that “at least they offer to the Greeks a portion of food”