It took more than five-and-a-half years and 497 court sessions to complete the largest trial in Modern Greek history against the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn (GD). The trial ended on October 22, 2020 with the conviction of the entire leadership of the party, and amongst them, many MPs of the Hellenic Parliament. Concretely, of the 68 accused GD members, 57 were convicted and sentenced from 6 to 25 years of prison. Nevertheless, 10 accused were absolved and one (Nikos Papavasileiou) passed away a year after his release. Currently, 49 defendants have the right to appeal and are currently sitting on the First Five-Member Court of Appeal of Athens, including those who were convicted for misdemeanors. The current prosecutor has called 148 witnesses. This process will be a long one given the example of the first round of GD trials, which lasted 5 years. Even if the trials proceed apace, the process is not expected to be completed for the next two or three years.
The appeal was postponed until October 24 due to the absence of judges and prosecutors for health reasons. The case includes most high-ranking members of GD, such as its leader Nikos Michaloliakos, who has been absent; as well as the most popular member of the criminal organization and current leader of another far-right party, Greeks For the Fatherland (Ellines Gia Thn Patrida), Ilias Kasidiaris. The latter has been writing books in prison and has a podcast—with the shocking permission of the authorities—and has more than 100,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel. Moreover, his new party has been attracting a lot of new members and recent polls suggest he may already have already have 2.5%–3% of the vote. Another important former member of GD and independent Member of the European Parliament (MEP) is Giannis Lagos, who has been convicted for organizing a criminal attack against the Communist Trade Union PAME (Panergatiko Agōnistiko Μétōpo) in which many of its members were seriously injured. Currently, many convicted neo-Nazis have left GD and followed other far-right organizations such as ELASYN (Ethnikē Laikē Syneidēsē: Greek national conscience), a far-right fringe party led by Konstantinos Plevris and Giannis Lagos until 2020. Plevris is one of the founders of Greek neo-Fascism and also the defense attorney for Giannis Lagos.
During the appeal, Ilias Kasidiaris appeared in court accompanied by more than 30 supporters in the courtroom. Interestingly, Magda Fyssa, mother of a murdered anti-fascist rapper, was present, although the court had allowed more supporters of Kasidiaris in the room than anti-fascists. Consequently, the trial has been revolving around the three most prominent defendants: GD leader Nikos Michaloliakos; Ilias Kasidiaris, leader of the Greeks For the Fatherland party; and Giannis Lagos, independent MEP and also high-ranking member of ELASYN under Konstantinos Plevris until 2020. Interestingly, his son Thanos Plevris is currently Health Minister and a former member of Popular Orthodox Rally (Laikos Orthodozos Synagermos: LAOS) a defunct far-right party. It is important to note that Thanos Plevris, while condemning his father for his neo-fascist ideology, was nonetheless also very close to GD, albeit not a member himself. In fact, he had been present at various demonstrations with GD in 1995–’96.
Golden Dawn has now split into three factions, with their leaders currently in jail, pending their appeal, and each leader is pursuing different appeals strategies. Nikos Michaloliakos, who has been fingered by the others as the one most guilty and is not seeking additional publicity, has been trying, without success, to separate his appeal from those of the others, and he even tried to stall the appeal by claiming he needed time for recovery from long-term covid. MEP Lagos has turned to Plevris’ ELASYN, which hopes to gain support from the Orthodox fundamentalist segment of Greek society. The last but most recognizable former high-ranking member of GD, and also a former MP, Ilias Kasidiaris, has turned to the armed forces and the police, where far-right sympathies have traditionally been very high, for support.
Konstantinos Plevris, after the recent successes of the European far right in Sweden, France, and above all Italy, has attempted to politicize the trials by claiming that his client and other convicted members are all “political prisoners,” thereby turning the process into a political circus. In addition, he has been challenging the judges by making Nazi salutes on three occasions already in October. Instead of his expulsion from the trial, it was Magda Fyssa, the mother of the murdered anti-fascist, who was expelled from the courtroom for complaining about Plevris’ behavior.
Moreover, Plevris has been openly proclaiming his own fascist ideology to the court, attempting to normalize it. As such, he has requested that the trial be televised, a petition which was denied to the other convicted members, including Ilias Kasidiaris and Nikos Michaloliakos.
Nevertheless, the appellate hearings have a long road ahead of them and the normalization of neo-Nazi ideology still poses a threat to Greek society. The current division among the three main defendants reflects their own political ambitions. Whatever their differences today, they all still share the same core ideology: hatred of the left, trade unions, and Islam, as well as refugees and immigrants. Meanwhile, the important anti-fascist movement condemning GD and its offshoots during the last decade continues, as evidenced by the presence of the families of the GD victims in court, accompanied by many demonstrations in the street against the former and current members of GD.