(The Guardian) Accused of masquerading as a political force to pursue a criminal agenda of murder and assault, the entire leadership of the far-right party Golden Dawn, Europe’s most violent neo-Nazi political party, will be among the 69 defendants in the dock. The trial, adjourned on technical grounds after a tumultuous beginning on 20 April, resumes on Friday in Athens’ high-security Korydallos prison.
“A full and fair Golden Dawn trial is crucial for Greece, and important for all of Europe,” Tad Stahnke, who heads the Washington-based organisation Human Rights First, told the Guardian. “It is a chance for Greece to use democratic means and the rule of law to hold powerful individuals accountable for a wave of violence targeting the most vulnerable in society.”
Acting with seeming impunity and military precision, the extremists oversaw an organised campaign that targeted dark-skinned immigrants, leftist opponents and gay people, according to state prosecutors, who spent 15 months investigating the openly xenophobic, antisemitic and homophobic group.
Attacks peaked after the neo-fascists, riding a wave of anti-austerity fury, were catapulted into Athens’ 300-seat parliament at the height of the country’s financial crisis in May 2012.
Senior figures, including Golden Dawn’s enigmatic leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, who is accused of masterminding the criminal operation, have spent 18 months in pre-trial custody after the murder of a leftwing musician, Pavlos Fyssas, prompted Greek authorities to launch a criminal investigation into the party.
An ardent admirer of Hitler and known to his sympathisers as the Führer, Michaloliakos (and 12 other indicted MPs) stayed away from the trial in April and are likely to do so again in what is seen as a deliberate attempt to undermine proceedings. With passions running high, several people were injured when violence erupted between neo-Nazi sympathisers and anti-fascists outside the courthouse.
Dimitris Christopoulos, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights, said: “Golden Dawn’s strategy is aimed clearly at disassociating the leadership from the violent underclass who were part of the hit squads and committed the crimes.”
Despite the allegations, the neo-fascists emerged as Greece’s third-biggest political force – behind Syriza of the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, and the centre-right New Democracy party – when elections were held in January. Seventeen MPs in total represent Golden Dawn.
As the Tsipras government conducts fraught negotiations with creditors at the EU and IMF, and is increasingly compelled to roll back on pre-election pledges, Golden Dawn has cast itself as the force that can bring an end to the punishing austerity demanded of Greece in return for bailout funds.
On the eve of the trial, Golden Dawn’s weekly newspaper railed: “We believe our homeland and people deserve a better future and we won’t stop to fight for this in and outside parliament despite the terrorism and persecution [waged against us].”
Amid widespread fears that the extremists will try to consolidate their position and are now lying in wait, politicians and human rights defenders have cautioned that it is important they are not tried for their Nazi ideology, but for violent crimes.
Stahnke said: “A credible trial will send a powerful signal throughout Europe that notwithstanding the pressure of economic and migration crises, there will be no impunity for organised racist and political violence intended to corrode respect for democratic values and human rights.”