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September 15, 2017

In Greece, the Golden Dawn Trial Resumes as Charlottesville Reverberates

By Teresa Eder

Four years ago, the murder of Greek rapper Pavlos Fyssas prompted the government to prosecute the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn. The trial is in its third year. Its resumption last week after a summer break went largely unnoticed, although it has been called “the biggest trial of fascist criminality since Nuremberg.” This effort to dismantle the organization has turned into a long, winding process largely ignored by the media. Victims are still waiting to see justice as Golden Dawn’s racist ideology and violence continue to threaten minority groups in Greece.  

Members of Golden Dawn, perhaps the most notorious neo-Nazi group in Europe, were voted into the Greek parliament in 2012 by capitalizing on public anger amid the worst economic crisis in post-war history. No other party of prominence in Europe is as stridently racist, nativist, and violent, no other is so unapologetically antisemitic, and no other so openly calls for the overthrow of the state. Its members and supporters have violently targeted migrants, the LGBT community, and even health workers and artists.

As the trial grinds on, Golden Dawn continues its sordid business. The election of Donald Trump is perceived to have reinvigorated the group. Repeated attacks by its members on refugee shelters have not prevented politicians from engaging with the group, which holds 18 out of 300 seats the national parliament and 3 of Greece’s 21 seats in the E.U. parliament. Last week the Cypriot House Speaker Demetris Syllouris invited all Greek members of the E.U. parliament, including Golden Dawn members, to a dinner. Most Greek and Cypriot MEP’s declined to attend in protest.

Golden Dawn also drew from the widespread attention on the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The party praised it as a “dynamic demonstration against illegal immigration,” and blamed Heather Heyer’s death on counter-protestors: “The legal gathering of the patriots was banned and the anti-fascists continued their violent acts with a tragic conclusion: a citizen hit participants of the counter-rally with his car, causing a death and many injuries.” The response obscures what happened and inverts the blame—no word about the white supremacist perpetrator.

In Greece, Golden Dawn’s response to the violence in Charlottesville has revived memories of Pavlos Fyssas’s death and sparked a visible response: The face of Heather Heyer is placarded all over Athens anarchist neighborhood Exarcheia. A protest in front of the American Embassy and Golden Dawn’s political headquarters by anti-fascist groups is set to be held on September 16th to “crush the Neo-Nazis. From Greece to America.”

What makes the trial of Golden Dawn unique is prosecutors seek to show that the fascist political party is actually a criminal organization. The group’s future may hinge on whether they can prove that its political leadership directed the battalions that committed various crimes, including deadly attacks on immigrants. One hundred twelve out of 131 witnesses have been heard, but the trial is not projected to be concluded before the end of 2018. The Golden Dawn lawyers have used various delaying tactics to push a verdict further back. The outcome could shape the future of other neo-Nazi parties and groups in Europe.

The result will also be momentous for victims, their families, and their communities. Yet to date, the Golden Dawn trial has received little coverage. Right now only Golden Dawn Watch is documenting the court proceedings on a regular basis.

Because of its significance, the U.S. government should continue to monitor the trial and support the fair administration of justice. The Greek judiciary should continue to ensure a fair trial conducted in accordance with human rights standards. The European Union and Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe should monitor the trial and shine a spotlight on it.

A political party responsible for hate crimes, including murder, is unacceptable. Without meaningful accountability for Golden Dawn’s violent crimes, we can’t effectively combat the odious ideology that fueled them.