Golden Dawn – Criminal Organization?
The courtroom of Korydallos women’s penitentiary in Athens, 2 October 2015. Magda Fyssa slowly and humbly walks through the audience and steps in front of the judges. She is wearing black, small and slim, a distant look on her face. Utter silence falls on the courtroom. “Pavlos said goodbye in the evening and said he would watch the football match with his friends. The telephone rang at two. His father approached me, bowing his head, and could not manage to tell me what had happened. We drove to the hospital. I felt stranded. I expected the worst.” This is how the mother of Pavlos Fyssas begins her testimony in front of the five judges, six months after her son’s murderer has been put on trial in Athens. There are at least two hundred of us in the courtroom and we all know the epilogue to this story. The first tears already gather in the corners of our eyes.
“I saw him lying there, in the morgue. I tried to keep him warm, so he could stand up, so we could walk away together. He was sleeping. He was like an angel,” she narrates her reaction to her son’s dead body. The musician Fyssas (Killah P) was murdered by a member of Golden Dawn, Giorgos Rupakias, who, according to the doctors, went through with the murder in a professional manner: “He pushed the knife into his heart and turned it. My son died in a few minutes.”
As a journalist, I have been observing most of over 450 hearings at the Appeal Court in the centre of Athens, as well as the Korydallos women’s penitentiary courtroom.
After five and a half years, a court procedure against 69 MPs, members and supporters of the Greek neo-Nazi political party Golden Dawn was finished on 7 October this year in Athens. The trial was depicted as one of the largest and most important court processes in Europe in the past decade, as well as the first such court process against a Nazi party after the Nuremberg Trials.
As a journalist, I have been observing most of over 450 hearings at the Appeal Court in the centre of Athens, as well as the Korydallos women’s penitentiary courtroom, ever since the beginning on 20 April 2015.
At the venue of the trial, to which the Athenian public was granted free access, I have witnessed several violent outbursts, in one case even calling for the intervention of special police units. Witnesses of criminal acts were threatened, some have fallen unconscious, we heard verbal abuse, hearings were adjourned due to microphone trouble, raindrops leaking into the courtroom and a series of other technical issues.
“Calm down, this is not a theatre venue!” the presiding judge Maria Lepenioti was trying to quiet the public in one of the hearings. Namely, the visitors who responded to one of the witnesses’ statements by loudly applauding and uttering cries of approval. I remember this specifically, because all these years, sitting among the journalists and listening to the two prosecutors, policemen, forensics, witnesses, judges and attorneys, this was exactly what I was wondering: Am I hearing this right? Am I watching a theatre performance?
In this period, up to eight regular local journalists were observing the trial, and among them very rarely a female journalist from the public broadcaster ERT and someone from Athens-Macedonian News Agency (AMNA). Thus, in spite of the trial being open, Greek society had limited access to the insights of the courtroom. In addition, the complexity of the process, its duration and political, economic and social trouble in Greece have overshadowed the historical relevance of this trial. Therefore, it attracted little interest.
Even though the trial was a well-directed theatre play, it provided us with a priceless insight into the incriminating documentation, hours of phone calls, videos, photographs, articles, e-mails and of course, testimonies by witnesses and former party members.
After the verdict, the revenge-thirsty audience succumbed to spontaneous euphoria, crying and hugging all over. Only rare individuals looked into the back room of the events: the sentences that the judges imposed to the defendants were as minimal as possible, only half of the 69 MPs are going to jail and the party leader will most probably be out already by the next parliamentary election in 2023. At the same time, 7 out of 18 MPs were accused of running a criminal organization, while the rest (11) were only accused of membership – and actually, only 11 are jailed today. Among others, Michaloliakos’s wife of many years, the “Greek Eva Braun” Eleni Zarulia has escaped a jail sentence, as has the second member by hierarchy, Christos Pappas, who has decided to flee and is wanted by the authorities, even via Interpol. The harshest sentences were not assigned to those at the top of the party, who led and organized criminal acts, but to the others, “the minnows”.
Even though the trial was a well-directed theatre play, it provided us with a priceless insight into the incriminating documentation, hours of phone calls, videos, photographs, articles, e-mails and of course, testimonies by witnesses and former party members. This enables us today to precisely analyse one of the best organized Nazi political parties in Europe.
For almost six years, the adherents of Golden Dawn stood on trial for murders, attempted murders, violent attacks, arson, possession and leadership and membership of a criminal organization under Article 187 of the Criminal Code.
For several years, the members and supporters had incited terror throughout Greece, both urban and rural. They organized attacks on migrants and political adversaries (members of left-wing political parties and anarchists). The authorities used to ignore their molesting (for 40 years, up to 2015, the political power in Greece was held exclusively by two parties: New Democracy and Pasok).
“It happened on a summer evening in 2011. The group and I had taken off to put up wall posters for a festival we organized and was about to be launched. Suddenly, a group of Nazis appeared, beat us up, kicked us and fled,” a member of “Sunday Migrant School” (KAR) told me in one of our talks. During the trial, he recognized the attack leader – namely, the now imprisoned Giorgos Tsakanikas, otherwise an Athenian kickboxer.
The legal prosecution of Golden Dawners had not begun until September 2013, after their member stabbed the Greek rapper Pavlos Fyssas to death. Meanwhile, another murder happened in January the same year, its perpetrators being Golden Dawn supporters who stabbed and killed the Pakistani migrant Shehzad Luqman. The authorities had not responded.
For several years, the police had been gathering information, monitoring and rarely intervening in the cases of around a hundred violent attacks, directly involving members of Golden Dawn since 2010. The prosecution responded in only around ten cases. Meanwhile, Golden Dawn’s tactics were: “Even if they vote for us, that doesn’t make them our members. We have nothing to do with the attacks.” The street terror went on unhindered.
The Greek legislation stands clear on what a terrorist organization is. According to Article 187A of the Penal Code:
“An imprisonment of 10 to 20 years shall be imposed on any individual who has perpetrated a criminal act, who poses a threat to public law and order, deliberately intimidates the population, damages or destroys the fundamental constitutional, political or economic structures of the state.” The act provides a list of such criminal acts, among them “murder, attempted murder, violent attack, infliction of severe body wounds, etc.”.
In Greece, the left-wing milieu in general has generated a theory that in 2013, the prosecution deliberately chose Article 187 to put the defendants on trial as a criminal organization. The latter cannot be proven, since during the long trial, the crucial turn of events actually came about in June 2019 – with the amendments to the Criminal Code. They were proposed and passed in parliament by the left-wing Syriza party. This bore a key impact on the punishment mitigation for the Greek Nazis in October 2020, however, one cannot see it as their intention (the background of the bill for the amendments of the law was the chaos causing long-term abuse and wrong interpretations of Article 187 – Criminal Organization). Politically, Siriza had no use whatsoever in mitigating Golden Dawners’ sentences. If in 2013, when the indictment was being written, the prosecution had at its disposal the suggested sentences from 10 to 20 years for leadership and membership of a criminal organization, the sentences have now significantly reduced.
The Greek attorney general’s office has spent a number of years prosecuting anarchist groups under Article 187A (Terrorist Organization), in spite of the fact that the anarchist groups (Revolutionary Struggle, Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, etc.) in their bombings of exclusively government facilities have never killed anyone.
Part of the political debate or social media discussions on both sides also consists of diverse conspiracy theories on why the prosecution had not immediately used Article 187A and on the deliberate trial prolongation in order to be able to administer the verdict with mitigated sentences.
The fact remains: since the trial was extended over the date in June 2019, the Greek extremists were tried in line with the new law in October 2020 and their sentences were substantially reduced (5–10 for membership, 10–15 for leadership of a criminal organization).
In Greek language, Golden Dawn is more often referred to as “Fascists” (οι φασίστες) than »Nazis« (οι ναζιστές). In public, the party Golden Dawn fiercely denies being a Nazi party, however, its leader Nikos Michaloliakos admitted in 2012: “We are the seed of the side that was defeated in 1945. Nationalists, National Socialists, Fascists!” But in another, later video, he stated: “Yes, we are Nazis, however, we are not nation traitors.”
Therefore, when Michaloliakos identifies as a “Fascist”, the use of this term is not literal. He himself is very much aware that he established Golden Dawn in 1985 on the basis of the ideological principles of Hitler’s National Socialism.
“For instance, Golden Dawn does not follow the ideology of the Italian Fascist leader Mussolini, but instead, strictly Hitler’s Nazism and his political doctrine of National Socialism. Thus, Golden Dawn is not a Fascist, but a Nazi party,” explains investigative journalist Dimitris Psarras, who has been reporting on Golden Dawn for three decades now and has testified against it at the trial, as well.
Although Golden Dawn is an extremely Anti-Semitic party, it has adapted to the current conditions and has therefore “updated” itself to become, besides being Anti-Semitic, also Islamophobic and racist.
The trial as a court process has shed an exceptionally precise and clear light on the dark rooms of operations by Greek Nazis. There are no more secrets.
Golden Dawn followed a strict “Führer principle”. Its founder and leader Michaloliakos is at the very top of its well-structured hierarchy, followed by the MPs, under them leaders of the local units, then several other individuals, such as the coaches of paramilitary units, heads of security department, office heads, heads of cafeterias etc., then members, then supporters and completely at the bottom, the voters. “Nothing happens without Michaloliakos’s authorization,” comments Psarras.
Although Golden Dawn is an extremely Anti-Semitic party, it has adapted to the current conditions (only six thousand Jews live in Greece) and has therefore “updated” itself to become, besides being Anti-Semitic, also Islamophobic and racist.
In order to gain public acceptance, the Greek Nazis have answered to the terms “patriots”, “Spartan soldiers”, “nationalists”, “patrioteers”. Furthermore, they delved into history books, and due to larger recognizability, they pulled out Metaxas (Greek dictator during the period 1936–41), Greek Antique philosophers, and looked for partners among the saints of the Greek Orthodox Church.
During the trial, we could discover that all of these were just stock phrases to create a public image.
“Oh, come on, Metaxas and Aristotle? Please. Goebbels, Hess and Hitler were the only ones that Golden Dawn follows,” testified attorney, skinhead and once a prominent member of Golden Dawn Ilias Stavros, adding: “If Golden Dawn weren’t a National Socialist party, I would never have joined it.” Stavros was but one of the many former Golden Dawn members who testified against the party at the trial, thus avoiding the prison sentence.
Among other things, the former members mention that the socializing events of Golden Dawn showcased German military songs from the 1930s, such as “Erika”, which were then a consistent part of Hitler’s Third Reich image. The policemen found portraits and literature of Hitler and Rudolf Hess in the offices and on Michaloliakos’s hard disk, the members were regularly seen wearing Nazi symbols (flags of swastikas, the SS, Wermacht) and they used the Nazi greeting “Sieg Heil!”.
Moreover, Golden Dawn in its offices implemented seminars featuring its own interpretation of history. They mostly contained coverage of the Nazi Germany period, Holocaust denial, teachings on the danger of Zionism and the migrant “invasion”, etc. Simultaneously, Golden Dawn printed its own books, published a newspaper, pamphlets, printed posters, etc. They also attempted to implement their propaganda through music (black metal) and practising martial arts (krav maga, kickboxing).
Their view on women is also interesting. In one of the telephone conversations we have heard among prosecution’s documentation, Sotiris Develekos, a long-term Golden Dawn member said: “I am a National Socialist, for me, it is unacceptable that a woman dictates me and that I listen to her. We have women to fuck, we do not want them for anything other.”
The purpose of the Golden Dawn leadership was to build a mini Nazi project and to use ideological structure to penetrate all the pores of individuals’ lives. Thus, Nazism is no longer simply a political conviction, but becomes a lifestyle.
One of the most organized structures within Golden Dawn were the so-called paramilitary units (τα τάγματα εφόδου) variants of the Nazi »Sturmabteilung«. These were trained groups of men, who according to dozens of witnesses wore “military trousers and black T-shirts with Golden Dawn signs”. We could also often see them wearing helmets, shields and flags on strengthened wood poles that could quickly turn into weapons for violent confrontation.
“Boys in black, the soul of Golden Dawn,” Michaloliakos dubbed them, very proud of them. In the prologue to the book Boys in Black, he described them as follows: “We have always lived among you. Some of you did not take us seriously, some were sitting comfortably in your bourgeois dream. Our time has come. We are not calm birds of tranquil times, but instead, birds of storm and thunder. And the storm has come, and with it, we have come, ‘the boys in black’.”
The training for these units was offered by the specially skilled members, coming from the world of martial arts. For their public appearances, Golden Dawn chose physically impressive men, for instance upon the anniversary of the killings of Nazi collaborators in the town of Meligalas on the Peloponnese peninsula in 2013.
The tactics changed when the lights went off. “Most is done in the dark of the night,” suggested Michaloliakos in one of his speeches. Then, no rules applied any more, even cold weapons and trained assassins turned up. Such a group intercepted the Antifascist hip-hopper Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013, when it murdered him.
Golden Dawn paramilitary groups had an incredible psychological effect on the individuals. The bodywork preparations, precisely picked military uniform and psychological empowerment gave birth to a special sentiment of belonging and self-worth.
“They were marching like a military unit. I can hardly imagine that a random group of men who weren’t trained before could gather in such a way,” one of the witnesses stated at the trial.
In Greece, it is said that the gyms where a person can train in kickboxing or the Israeli martial art Krav Maga are full of Nazis or policemen. This is by no means a coincidence, and it is hard to imagine such a small political party managing to train so many paramilitary units so well. Albeit, we found out at the trial that the Nazis also gathered at summer camps, where they were taught martial arts and survival in nature.
Golden Dawn paramilitary groups had an incredible psychological effect on the individuals. The bodywork preparations, precisely picked military uniform and psychological empowerment gave birth to a special sentiment of belonging and self-worth. It seems as if those enabled Golden Dawn leadership to target young men between ages 18 and 38, who were disillusioned by the Greek economic and social crisis. The training has helped them to build a new identity through a strengthened feeling of collective belonging, only to become “Spartan soldiers”.
Membership in Golden Dawn and its paramilitary unit gave them a feeling of importance. Suddenly, they were transformed from losers into someone who matters, they were applauded, congratulated, women looked up to them.
The parallel world of Golden Dawn Nazis took place in the Athens and Piraeus underground. Phone calls have disclosed that Golden Dawn members took part in a series of transactions by organised criminal gangs. This part of Golden Dawn’s double life was almost utterly ignored during the trial, for it, in fact, calls for a new criminal investigation and an entirely new indictment to be drafted.
Among other things, they were “selling security” in line with the system: pay us, otherwise we shatter your bar. A visible Golden Dawn member, Nikolas Apostolou, thus explained his nocturnal operations to his friend: “If anyone bothers you, call me and we’ll eliminate him.”
Mafia business, including human trafficking and prostitution, also involved Golden Dawn MPs. Among them, the main role was played by Ioannis Lagos, MEP from 2019, to whom the court assigned imprisonment for 13 years and 8 months. Today, Lagos is still hiding in Brussels, where he is waiting for the EU parliament session that is to determine his immunity.
For years, the Michaloliakos family was getting rich through diverse illegal businesses, among others, MP and Michaloliakos’s wife Zarulia is a co-owner of the New Dream hotel in the centre of Athens, owing over 36,000 euros to the state, as Greek media report.
Not only local criminal groups are active in Greece, but also a series of international ones, unscrupulous in their operations. And we can read about the victims every month.
The connection of Golden Dawn with the Greek underground is also alluded to by a murder of two of its members on 1 November 2013 in Athens. The murder was accomplished by following a typical mafia formula (the attackers come, shoot with minimal fuss, burn the vehicle and quickly disappear into the night), and is said to be directly linked to a prominent local criminal, Panagiotis Vlastos.
The Golden Dawn leader’s brother, Takis Michalolias, who along with his sons defended some Golden Dawn MPs and the “Führer” himself as a defence attorney, was connected to the Greek mafia world for years, among others to Vlastos. The murder of those two extremists is officially still not investigated, but according to some Greek media reports, at least two persons were killed in connection with this murder, with the perpetrators never found.
Otherwise, the Greek underground and Golden Dawn’s connection to it constitute a shady area which no one wants to deal with, so to speak. Not only local criminal groups are active in Greece, but also a series of international ones, unscrupulous in their operations. And we can read about the victims every month.
Extension of the Police Machinery
For years and years, Greek police units were faithful Golden Dawn voters. According to the 2012 data, every second policeman voted for the extremists, and they also managed to secure the policemen’s votes at the election three years later.
Tight connections of Golden Dawn with the policemen were documented several times: in front of the police, Golden Dawn paramilitary units had attacked migrants and leftists, to no response. This also occurred in the case of Pavlos Fyssas’ murder. The Dias unit with eight policemen was called to the scene of the murder. As a video recorded by British forensics subsequently showed, the policemen observed the murder, not responding or even arresting the murderer, Rupakias.
This was also attested by the witnesses at the murder scene: “Fyssas’s girlfriend ran to the policemen, asking them to intervene. They did not so much as move.”
The most incriminating evidence against the policemen was given by Rupakias himself, who stated in the police van, after being arrested by a random policeman driving by: “I did it, but don’t tell anyone. I’m one of yours.” The policeman who finally arrested Rupakias was exposed to severe threats and molestation by some of his colleagues later on.
After the leaders and visible members were arrested in autumn 2013, the ministry simply moved the “suspicious” policemen to less visible jobs, and only one policewoman was arrested.
At the trial, we heard numerous policemen revealing their experience with Golden Dawn. Some completely distanced themselves from the group, stating they do not even know what Golden Dawn is. Others had phone calls with the Golden Dawners, informing them how many left-wing supporters gathered at the protests, from which side they could strike them, etc. The judges completely ignored the evidence in relation to that.
For now, the abundant evidence on police involvement in the violent Golden Dawn acts have not led the prosecution to the point where it would step into court action. After the leaders and visible members were arrested in autumn 2013, the ministry simply moved the “suspicious” policemen to less visible jobs, and only one policewoman was arrested, namely Veneti Popori.
The policewoman, now 49 years old, notified the party leaders that the policemen would raid Golden Dawn’s offices, so that the members could quickly get rid of the incriminating evidence. At her home, serving as a sort of warehouse, the police found a knife collection, revolvers, pistols, an electric paralyzer, iron bars and a Golden Dawn membership card. The policewoman was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment for membership in a criminal organisation.
In their golden years 2008–2013, Golden Dawn MPs were portrayed by most of the private TV broadcasters as “bad boys from the street”. Thus, the media have had a fatal impact on the normalisation of the Golden Dawners in Greek society, as well as their high level of support.
“We sought you out and are hosting you to get to know you up close,” Nikos Vagelatos said in the introduction to one of the TV interviews at a private TV channel SKAI, where he hosted skinheads Ilias Panagiotaris and Ilias Kasidiaris. The extremists also used to often guest appear on the very popular TV channels Star, Mega, Alfa and Antena. “This is a young man of our generation,” the Star morning programme reported.
For years, most of the popular media did not investigate the violent attacks involving Golden Dawn members, although it might significantly shed a light on their violent practices.
Kasidiaris has always been seen as an extremely popular Golden Dawn member. The media portrayed him as a “playboy”, the audience wanted to know who he was dating and how many hours a day he was training. Moreover, Kasidiaris gained more votes than the party leader Mihaloliakos at the last parliamentary election, which is due to his high popularity among the Greeks. He is also an eloquent speaker, he realises his influence on the young generation, as well as the female part of the audience. In the background is an extremely dangerous Nazi, who had trained the paramilitary Golden Dawn groupings for violent attacks in the streets. He himself is linked to a series of violent incidents, among others the physical attack on a female Communist Party member on television.
For years, most of the popular media did not investigate the violent attacks involving Golden Dawn members, although it might significantly shed a light on their violent practices. Often, we even saw the Greek media summarizing foreign reports, because they had none of their own.
The active media campaign against Golden Dawn only started when the MPs and some visible members were already arrested, after Fyssas’s death in October 2013. Access to the mainstream media was more and more closed to Golden Dawn leadership. However, when they were convicted as a criminal organization in October this year, a media lynching was launched against them like never before.
The Authorities’ Right Hand
While the media took care of the polished public image of Golden Dawn and the police of their untouchability, all the strings of this puppet theatre were actually pulled by the largest and most influential party in the country: namely, New Democracy.
After making it to parliament in 2012, the support for Golden Dawn soon began to grow and fatally acquire a power base, the voters of New Democracy. No one had seen this happening. The New Democracy leaders had realised something had to be done.
“I wish to address the comrades, even if they are in Golden Dawn now, to vote for us,” ideologist and New Democracy founder Konstantinos Mitsotakis incited the voters.
If we look closely into the political past of some New Democracy members, we can see that the years in question are dark and full of right-wing extremism.
Among those members, the notable ones are: current Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias, Minister of Agriculture Makis Voridis, Minister of Development Adonis Georgiadis and former Prime Minister, Adonis Samaras. These are all extremely influential party members, who have been occupying MP and ministerial positions for decades.
The New Democracy conventions sometimes scarily evoke the image of military processions and worshipping of the personality cult. However, the New Democracy leaders are resourceful, educated and politically skilled. They appear well groomed in public, they go to church regularly, they like to display their families, partners and children. They are well aware that public image is everything.
The biggest enemies of Golden Dawn are not the left-wingers, with which they sometimes fight in the streets, but the conservative New Democracy.
“They wanted to stop you because you were taking their voters. The main role in those endeavours was played by Dendias,” Takis Baltakos, premier Samaras’s former right-hand man confessed to Kasidiaris in a hidden camera recording half a year after the arrest of the visible members in April 2014.
Therefore, the biggest enemies of Golden Dawn are not the left-wingers, with which they sometimes fight in the streets, but the conservative New Democracy.
Today, the leading New Democracy party has changed their manner of public communication and usurped the court process for its own promotion. “The New Democracy government is responsible for bringing Golden Dawn into court, and under our governance, the judiciary has finished its task of bringing the criminals to jail,” their premier Kiriakos Mitsotakis praises their achievement.
New Democracy no longer had any need for Golden Dawn, therefore it pushed it off the political scene.
Golden Dawn is not a Criminal Organization
Therefore, Golden Dawn is not simply a criminal organization, it is a construct of well-organized Nazis, criminals and opportunists who took advantage of the momentum to politically rise during the economic and social crisis. Golden Dawn is an identity, a lifestyle and a tool for well-off, influential authority holders.
The complexity of its rise and its operation point towards the observation that they are but another extremist political formation, the likes of which have existed in the past and will always be present in the future, in a new form, as political agents.
Therefore, the October court ruling is but an epilogue of a single legal battle:
“Golden Dawn was found to be a criminal organization!” a voice narrated to several thousand people who have gathered in front of the Appeal Court in Athens. The central Alexandras avenue shook. People started to hug and scream. Tears of joy, laughter and relief were spreading among the crowd. History was being written: never before has Greece labelled such radical right-wing extremists with such a mark – criminal organization. The crowd naively believed that the implications will be fatal, this time.
In the courtroom, Magda Fyssas, mother of the murdered hip-hopper, raised her hands high into the air, shouting:
“You did it, Pavlos! You’ve made it!” People were hugging her, sharing her joy.
Pavlos did not hear her.