The leadership of Greece’s Nazi Golden Dawn party is behind bars, with leader Nikos Michaloliakos and six other former MPs sentenced to 13 years’ jail and another 11 former MPs to between five and seven years.
A Golden Dawn member was sentenced to life for the 2013 murder of the anti-fascist campaigner and hip-hop artist, Pavlos Fyssas.
The sentencing follows a trial of 68 Golden Dawn members in which the court determined that the party was an organised crime group.
The outcome is a blow to Nazis everywhere. Tens of thousands of anti-fascists celebrated the verdict in the streets of Athens.
The news came as the Austrian fascist Freedom Party also suffered a setback, its vote in regional elections in the capital Vienna collapsing from 31 to 7 per cent. It went from being the second biggest party in the region to fifth.
Golden Dawn became Greece’s third most popular party in 2012, entering parliament with half a million votes and 21 MPs.
Like all Nazi parties it had a dual strategy.
Alongside its “respectable” parliamentary presence it set out to build an army of thugs which could dominate the streets and strike terror into workers and the left.
Its parliamentary success helped it establish a network of offices where weapons could be stored and from which attacks could be launched.
From the early 1990s, Golden Dawn groups attacked migrants and left wingers on many occasions. Economic crisis in 2009 gave them the opportunity to grow.
Among the instances heard by the court was the attempted murder of Abuzid Embarak and three other Egyptian fishermen during a raid on the migrant workers’ home in 2012.
Golden Dawn members were also found guilty of a brutal assault on members of the Communist Party of Greece and its PAME trade union.
Other attacks included an anti-migrant pogrom in the centre of Athens in 2011 and the murder of 28-year-old Pakistani Sakhzat Lukman.
The Nazis set out to terrorise migrant and refugee communities, trying to eject migrants who were selling in markets and checking how many children of refugees there were in kindergartens.
For a long while Golden Dawn got away with it, given cover by Greece’s conservative New Democracy government and its own racist anti-migrant agenda.
But anti-fascists were determined to build a movement that could stop them.
Petros Constantinou from the anti-racist and anti-fascist movement KEERFA said: “Whenever even one refugee was attacked, we organised mass mobilisations with support from local authorities, trade unions, communities and the left, to get them out of the streets and also defend the migrants against police.
“In 2013 around 100,000 people mobilised locally city by city. There were Saturdays when there were seven demonstrations at the same time.
“Finally, in September 2013 they murdered [anti-racist rapper] Pavlos Fyssas, in the same area where they attacked trade unionists from the Communist Party.
“We managed to turn terror into a powerful movement.
“The same day he was murdered, 20,000 demonstrated. We campaigned for the trade unions to have a general strike against the fascists. They had already called a general strike around austerity.
“They decided to hold a concert. We didn’t really agree with the concert, but we organised a demo of 60,000 that marched on the headquarters of the Nazis.”
The court case was not an alternative to mass mobilisations—in fact it was the movement on the streets that forced the government to act against Golden Dawn.
As Constantinou said: “Two days after the demonstration we woke up to see all 19 Golden Dawn MPs in handcuffs.”
The case dragged on for more than five years. It took more rallies and protests to push it through to its conclusion.
The evidence in court helped undermine Golden Dawn’s support and it lost all its seats in the 2019 election.
The jailing of the leadership marks the end of Golden Dawn.
But the threat of the far right will linger so long as there is economic misery and racism from the top of society.
Many Golden Dawn supporters switched their votes to New Democracy, which sheltered the far right after the Second World War and again following the collapse of a military junta in 1974.
As Greek journalist Yannis-Orestis Papadimitriou writes: “Golden Dawn’s connections to both the political system and organised crime, the embrace of its agenda by the governing party, and its deep influence in the army and the police cannot be uprooted easily.”
For now the Greek anti-fascist movement can celebrate. But there is still work to be done.
By David Glanz