On Monday 20th April 2015, the long-awaited trial of Golden Dawn finally gets underway.
In a country where so many other things have gone wrong, this one has spent the last year and a half simmering away in the background as we waited for a trial date to be announced.
But it goes back much further than that. Tackling how Golden Dawn went from a political joke to Greece’s third most popular political party is a sad tale of racism, poverty and Europe’s crisis-induced swing to the far right.
Here’s everything you need to know about the trial, but were afraid to ask:
Who are Golden Dawn?
Golden Dawn in Greek are called Chrisi Avgi. The party was founded in 1980 by Nikolaos Michaliolakos. Throughout their history they have come to the forefront for scapegoating one group or the other. In the 1990s it was known for opposing the minority Turkish-speaking community of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace as well as Bulgarian speaking minorities.
In 00’s they were still a fractured and splintered, more of a protest group than a political party. They ceased operation in 2005. In March 2007, they announced they were resuming political activities and made opposing immigrants, more specifically ethnic minority and Muslim immigrants, their cause, citing their presence in Greece as the root of pretty much any problem you can think of.
This is where the story might have ended, a small-time political party that gained 0.3% of the public vote in 2009 had it not been for the economic crisis that hammered Greece in the following years.
The economic crisis and Golden Dawn:
In 2009, Golden Dawn gained 0.3% of the popular vote and no seats in parliament. In 2012, they gained 7%, and since then they have remained the third most popular political party in Greece. Initially, this success was treated as a fluke – much like voting for a party you didn’t actually think would come into power instead of spoiling your ballot.
When the success was repeated in June 2012 and the 2015 elections, it became clear that rather than an anomaly, Golden Dawn had captured the voting public’s imagination.
Golden Dawn is reflective of the wave of right wing sentiment that has swept across Europe since the start of the economic crisis. More about that topic than I could possibly write about has been written by many other sources. Suffice to say that when the crunch really hit Greece, an angry public looking for someone to blame turned to Golden Dawn in droves.
Dressed in black T shirts with the white meander symbol and grey army camouflage combats, they made sure they stood out and appealed to the common man (though some of those T shirts were made in Turkey, whoops). With crowd-pleasing gimmicks such as Greek-only blood banks and Greek-only food drives, Golden Dawn put on a front of serving the people, something which many Greeks felt mainstream politicians were not doing.
With their new status as a political party, Golden Dawn took their bullying, thuggish actions to new heights, attacking immigrants at will. In high crime areas, residents were handed out the number of their local Golden Dawn party and told to call it rather than the police when there was trouble. This is something the public in those areas did. They’d call a number, Golden Dawn beefcakes would turn up and beat up whoever they thought was causing trouble.
They escorted grannies to ATMs and generally made their presence felt in areas that were otherwise lawless. The lack of legitimate crime fighting was a substantial failure on the government’s part and allowed Golden Dawn to gain a firm foothold. Although, over 50% of the police were reported to have voted Golden Dawn, and combined with secretly filmed footage of the police regularly beating up immigrants and protestors, the two factions can almost be interchangeable.
The crimes of Golden Dawn are extensive, but the one that finally led to a crackdown by the authorities and the arrests of Golden Dawn members was the murder of left-wing rapper Pavlos Fyssas.
On 17th September 2013, a large group gathered outside a bar in Piraeus where Fyssas had gone to watch a football match. The police were called at 23:57 and responders to the scene found Fyssas with several stab wounds. Before losing consciousness he named Golden Dawn party member George Roupaki as the perpetrator. Shortly after, in the early hours of 18th September, he was pronounced dead.
The reaction in Greece and across Europe was swift, with raids on Golden Dawn offices across Greece. In an apparently retaliatory attack, two Golden Dawn members, Manolis Kapelonis and Giorgos Fountoulis were murdered outside the party’s Neo Iraklio offices in Athens. Investigations into these two murders are still ongoing.
On 28 September 2013, Michaliolakos and several other Golden Dawn members were arrested and placed in police custody. No bail was posted for Michaliolakos. A total of 69 members are going to be on trial.
Golden Dawn deny all charges and claim this is all a conspiracy against them by the media and mainstream politicians.
At the time, much celebration went on with many in the media, politics and the public considering this to be the beginning of the end of Golden Dawn. But fast forward to 2015, and they’re still here and still solidly the third most popular party in Greece. Michaliolakos conducted his election campaign from a prison payphone.
The charges against him and 69 Golden Dawn party members, including all 18 Golden Dawn members of parliament from the 2012 elections (including the two who since defected), include running a criminal organisation, murder, extortion, possession of unlicensed weapons and being involved in the disappearance (possibly murder) of up to 100 immigrants.
The charge sheet against Ilias Kasidiaris alone contains extremely serious counts including forgery, counterfeiting, homicide, GBH, rape, abduction of minors, trafficking, child pornography, aggravated theft, embezzlement and fraud. Note that at this stage, these are still only charges. The trial will prove whether there is any truth to them.
Korydallos Prison. Source: ekathimerini.com
It took 18 months to get to the trial date, and the trial is expected to last another 18 months (which considering the charges and the number of people being tried is quite fast for Greece).
The case file against Golden Dawn is reported to run to 30,000 pages. Some 150 lawyers are involved and Greek and international media will be covering it closely. No internet or telephone use is allowed in the courtroom.
The court where the trial will take place is a special venue at Korydallos prison in Piraeus, which has upset many residents.
Not all members will be present on 20th April. Those who will be are:
Nikos Michaloliakos, Christos Pappas, Ilias Kasidiaris, Yiannis Lagos, Elias Panayiotaros Konstantinos Baramparousis, Eleni Zaroulia, Georgos Germenis, Panagiotis Iliopoulos, Nikos Michos, George Germenis, Anthonis Gregos, Chrysovalantis Alexopoulos, Michael Arvantitis- Avrami, Eustathioss Boukouras, Polyvius Zisimopoulos, Nikos Kouzilos, Artemis Mathaiopoulos and Dimitris Koukoutsis.
How to follow:
On Twitter, follow the hashtag #GDtrial and @GoldenDawnWatch.