Greek Neo-Nazi Party Leaders Appeal Convictions

The imprisoned leaders of Greece’s once-powerful neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party are seeking to overturn long prison terms in an appeals court trial that began this week in Athens.

Justice officials suggest it is unlikely that the court will show any leniency to the defendants. But while the neo-Nazi grouping, among the most dangerous in Europe, has been dismantled, far-right extremism still stains the birthplace of democracy.

The appeal comes 18 months after Golden Dawn leader Nikos Mihaloliakos and six other senior lawmakers from the party faced sweeping convictions for operating what the Greek Supreme Court then called a criminal organization masquerading as a political organization.

Mihaloliakos and the other convicted lawmakers are serving 13-year jail terms, but the appeals trial now gives them the chance to rechallenge the charges, potentially cutting years off their sentences or even overturning their convictions.

That prospect alone has activists here concerned.

Hundreds of anti-fascist demonstrators spilled onto the streets of Athens this week demanding judges hearing the Golden Dawn appeal to “keep the Nazis in jail,” as they chanted ….

Fascism must be eradicated once and for all from our society, says this demonstrator.

Mihaloliakos did not attend the opening of the appeal, citing health reasons. Several other defendants followed suit, a sign political commentators in Athens said showed Golden Dawn’s waning appeal on Greek society.

On the margins for decades, the group took Greece – and Europe — by storm as a debt crisis and brutal 10-year economic recession gripped the country, enabling it to emerge as a potent political force.

Analysts say that not since the restoration of democracy here, with the collapse of military rule in 1974, had a party as brazenly thuggish or ideologically extreme been catapulted into the country’s Parliament, becoming the third-strongest political grouping, threatening democracy in the birthplace of democracy.

A bloody reign of terror existed in Athens for nearly a decade, with Golden Dawn regularly targeting migrants, trade unionists and left-wing sympathizers.

It took the 2013 assassination of Pavlos Fyssas, an anti-fascist rapper, to trigger national outrage, setting in motion the group’s decline.  

On Wednesday, Fyssa’s grieving mother, Magda Fyssa, was the first to return to the courtroom.  

Conviction, she said, that is all that they deserve.

Since the conviction of Golden Dawn’s leaders, the extremist group has all but dismantled amid defections, feuds and infighting.

Far-right extremism, though, is far from finished here.

Kostas Papadakis, a leading lawyer of the prosecution explains.

He says the trial is important because it comes amid a rise in far-right extremism and soaring numbers of attacks reported against migrants and far-left sympathizers.

Activists and judicial officials expect Golden Dawn’s leaders to receive little if any leniency in their appeal.  

But with a new recession looming, an inflation rate hovering at over 10% and tensions with Turkey stoking nationalist sentiments, analysts fear the conditions are ripe for an extremist upsurge here.