ATHENS, 7 October—Today is a day that will go down in history. The judges declared that the Greek neo-Nazi group Golden Dawn is a criminal organisation, in what has been described as one of the most important trials against a fascist organisation since World War Two.
Golden Dawn, a paramilitary gang engaged in violent criminal activities since the 1980s, rose disturbingly after 2010, entered the Greek parliament and tried to terrorise immigrants, leftists, anarchists, LGBTQ people and more. Amid the global rise of far-right parties and right-wing populists who (pretend to) “play by the rules” of liberal regimes, the world witnessed in Greece the rise of a group that enjoyed parliamentary representation and a mass following combined with an openly fascist ideology and violent militias in the streets.
This is no longer the case. In the elections of June 2019, the party was finally kicked out of parliament (failing to pass the 3 percent threshold to gain representation). During the trial’s five years, Golden Dawn has endured a series of splits, political crises and organisational disintegration. The court ruling delivered the final blow, crippling any prospects of a “rebirth”. It delivered justice and vindication.
Justice and vindication for Pavlos Fyssas, aka Killah-P, an anti-fascist rapper who stood defiantly against a Nazi “battalion” to protect his friends and was brutally murdered on 18 September 2013. Back then, Golden Dawn was growing; his sacrifice paved the way for the organisation’s subsequent fall. A lyric from one of his songs, which roughly translates as “There is no way I will be afraid”, became a slogan, a sticker, a hashtag. “Pavlos lives!” became a battle cry for the anti-fascist movement and thousands of (not only) young people.
Justice and vindication for his mother, Magda Fyssa, a tragic figure turned unique heroine and inspiring anti-fascist symbol through her persistence, resilience and combativeness in pursuit of justice in the seven years since the murder of her son. The mother who once declared: “I lost a child, but I found thousands more”. The beloved woman who is known as “the mother of all of us”.
Justice and vindication for Sahzat Luckman, the previous victim of deadly Nazi violence. He was riding his bike to work on 17 January 2013 when he was brutally murdered by two Golden Dawn members. He was dark skinned and not Greek, so, tragically, his murder didn’t provoke the same widespread condemnation.
Justice and vindication for Hadim Hussein, Sahzat Luckman’s father. He travelled from Pakistan to Greece to seek justice for his son. An imposing and highly respectable figure during the trial, always present in the court (even though his son’s case had been tried separately in the past), on the side of Magda, at anti-fascist protests, with a deafening silence until he whispered, “We have won” on 7 October.
Justice and vindication for all the victims of neo-Nazi violence during the past 30 years.
Justice and vindication for all of us who participated in the struggle against fascism all these years: “veterans” who have spent their time and energy confronting Golden Dawn since the early 1990s; subsequent generations of activists, people who made the choice not to tolerate fascism and stood against it in the streets, in their schools, in their neighbourhoods, in their workplaces. Each and every one of them putting a small stone in the wall that stopped the Nazis today.
We should also note the role of the activist lawyers who jointly formed the “Civil Action” during the trial. They waged a hard legal battle over the past five years. The brave witnesses who defied open threats or friendly advice to “mind their business” and willingly presented themselves to testify. We should mention the voluntary journalist networks that covered the trial while the mass media remained silent. Their commitment and efforts were amazing.
The result was not a given. The prosecutor suggested that Golden Dawn leaders and members be acquitted of all charges—a last-ditch attempt by sectors of the so-called deep state to save their thugs and a final reminder that no trust can be placed in the hand of the “justice system” to do the work on its own. As Nazi defendants admitted in court, “Without the Civil Action lawyers, you would not have a case”.
They all did their part in the courtrooms while the rest of us did ours on the streets. We shall never forget the massive anti-fascist revolt, when thousands (not just the “usual suspects” of anti-fascist activity) protested outside Golden Dawn headquarters all around Greece as news spread that Pavlos had been murdered. This mobilisation played a big part in “forcing the hand” of the state to press charges against the Nazis, after years and years of protecting them. But on 7 October, the judiciary acknowledged officially what the anti-fascist movement has been crying out for years: they are criminals!
All the leaders of Golden Dawn were found guilty of being members of a criminal organisation. Nikolaos Michaloliakos, the long-time “Führer” of the group, and all his senior henchmen were found guilty of directing a criminal organisation. Almost all Golden Dawn “battalion” members from Nikaia, south-west Athens, were found guilty of the murder of Pavlos Fyssas. The bastards who attacked Egyptian fishermen were all found guilty of attempted murder. The thugs who attacked Communist Party unionists while they were putting up posters in a “disputed” area were found guilty (though only for inflicting serious injuries, not attempted murder). The verdict cripples not only Golden Dawn and its “Führer” but also the political prospects of its various splits, all of them recently founded by Michaloliakos’ former senior henchmen when each tried to jump from the sinking ship like the rats that they are. All guilty!
Outside the courtroom, from early in the morning, those who believe in solidarity, those who believe in anti-fascism, had made more than clear that the people had already decided before the judges. They demonstrated their verdict: “The people demand to put the Nazis in jail!” It was the biggest anti-fascist demonstration that most of us had seen in our lifetimes. It was one of the biggest protests in recent years. For once, all forces of the left rallied together, and stood shoulder to shoulder. Trade unions, schools, universities, radical left organisations, anarchist groups, feminist collectives, artists, football fans—everyone called for the protest and tens of thousands responded.
The police say there were 20,000 protesters. That’s a gross underestimate: A human anti-fascist river filled Alexandras Avenue and spilled into surrounding streets and alleys. It was hard to take a single step because of the density of the crowd! The size, the passion and the vitality of the protest evoked memories of the most inspiring and uplifting moments of the recent history of social resistance in Greece. The mighty thunder of celebrations and cheers when the verdict was announced via megaphones was electrifying. This was our collective cry of vindication and joy.
Meanwhile, the government decided to implement in practice its discourse about the “existence of two extremes, which are equally dangerous”. This discourse was promoted by members of the governing party as the trial was coming to a close, to equate Nazi terror with left-wing militancy. So, while the judiciary was condemning the fascist criminals, the police unleashed an unprovoked assault against the tens of thousands of anti-fascists demanding the condemnation of fascist criminals. The sheer size of the protest reminded those who rule that there is a force to be reckoned with. It also reminded those who are ruled that we are powerful when we mobilise. So the government tried to banish this demon—to terrorise the people who took to the streets and felt self-confident. The goal was to send the message: “Don’t get any ideas”.
A few seconds after the verdict was announced, while the cheers and celebrations were erupting, water cannons started spraying the crowd, and police started throwing tear gas. Riot police were deployed in Alexandras Avenue in full gear. They attacked the protesters and—having the support of four(!) armoured vehicles with water cannons—chased them hundreds of metres from the courtroom and into surrounding streets. It was obvious that there was a plan and a command from above to clear the streets.
But it was also obvious that police agents were more than ready to follow these commands, displaying excessive zeal in their tasks. The cops were obviously disappointed by the court ruling against their Nazi friends and frustrated by watching anti-fascist celebrations in front of them. The police operation against protesters seemed more like revenge. But the tears caused by pepper spray pale in comparison with our tears of joy today.
Let the mainstream media keep circulating over and over photos of a couple of bins in the middle of the street and a few burned remains here and there after some Molotov cocktails were thrown during the retreat of the demonstration, in order to scream “Violent protesters!” The photos that capture the meaning of 7 October show the amazing sea of people protesting against the Nazis. And the pictures of Mrs Magda, finally redeemed, finally vindicated, raising her fists outside the courthouse, shouting: “Pavlos, you did it! You did it my son!” No matter how hard they tried to cancel our day of protest, to refuse us the right to celebrate our victory, thousands and thousands of protesters regrouped and marched from outside the courtroom to Syntagma Square, downtown Athens, outside the Greek parliament.
There are a few more acts to play in this trial. The Nazis’ legal defence will present “mitigating factors”, and a decision has yet to be made on the penalties. We must demand and push for the highest penalties possible and the exemplary punishment of all those found guilty.
The struggle against fascism, racism, intolerance and bigotry of course does not end here. We have many fights to come, as long as the system that produces and benefits from these vices remains in place. But the people with whom we can wage this struggle showed up today and declared that they are present. With the verdict, we took a big breath: “Victory!” circulating in the mouths of thousands of people is something precious and invaluable in the hard times through which we are living. We savour the images of the streets outside the courtroom, and on the streets of many cities and towns all around Greece filled with protesters—a display of our collective strength. We will need to deploy this social force again and again in the coming struggles. We know that we have many fights against all kinds of injustice ahead of us. But just for today, we can sit back and smile happily for a change.
Pavlos Fyssas: Présenté! We did our part, brother. And they did not pass.