The Neverending Trial of Golden Dawn in Limbo

FILE - The trial of Golden Dawn leaders and followers goes on for more than 3 years, Athens, Jan. 9, 2018. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Tatiana Bollari)

ATHENS – The trial of all the 15 lawmakers from the ultra-extreme right Golden Dawn Party and dozens of members on charges of running a criminal gang – and one for murder – shows no signs of ending as it’s in its fourth year, and of not really, really beginning again.

The trial began on April 15, 2015, three months after Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras took power but the defendants refuse to show up and aren’t being forced to attend infrequent sessions.

A dozen prosecution lawyers now have filed a petition requesting that the court expedite the process but cases in Greece can take years, even decades to be finished and there’s little incentive for anyone to show up.

The lawyers requested that more judges be assigned the case and for daily sessions. Thanasis Kampagiannis, a prosecution lawyer, explained that there are currently eight to 10 sessions a month. “We are asking for it to speed up because, in the phase we’re now in, lawyers for Golden Dawn are stalling the process by asking for lots of papers and documents from the parliament,” he told Al Jazeera.

Membership in a criminal organization carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years. But for some defendants accused of murder and conspiracy to murder, the sentences could be steeper, if convicted. The party could also lose its parliamentary seats.

The number of files meant to be examined throughout the course of the proceedings number around 30,000, while both the prosecution and the defense have hundreds of witnesses. The breadth of evidence, coupled with procedural delays and occasional public sector strikes, has drawn out the case.

The court has held more than 250 sessions and heard from nearly 250 prosecution witnesses. With an estimated 230 defense witnesses yet to take the stand, Kathimerini predicts that the trial could stretch into 2020.

Golden Dawn Watch, a web site devoted to tracking the misdoings and alleged criminal activities of a group who former members said is based on a Nazi ideology and command structure, with the intent of overthrowing the government in favor of a single-party dictatorship, has been keeping tabs even though the often-delayed trial has been out of the public eye despite the party’s long history of charged anti-Semitism, attacks against refugees and critics and the government even while it has 18 seats in Parliament.

“It’s very important not just for the media but for historians it’s the biggest Nazi trial,” perhaps since World War II, Kostis Papaioannou, former Chairman of Amnesty International’s Greek office and General Secretary for Transparency and Human Rights for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) told The National Herald.

With long interludes between the court meeting – and with the defendants, including Giorgos Roupakias, charged with murdering anti-Fascist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas four years ago released after being held for a maximum 18 months in pre-trial detention, the case is finally beginning to unwind in court.

That includes the recent testimony of a lawyer who quit the party in 2013 and who told the court that it “had as its aim the installation of a one-party state and the abolition of any form of parliamentary procedures,” according to Kathimerini.

Stavrou said party leader Nikos Michaloliakos had absolute authority and that he and top henchmen ordered attacks on migrants and critics, which the Golden Dawn chief and his associates have denied. Stavros said its top officials “tried to infiltrate the police and the army and to be close to the Church,” to spread their influence and control.

Golden Dawn, once so marginal it got only 0.3 percent of the vote in the country’s 2009 national elections, propelled to 6.97 percent in 2012 and won 18 seats in the 300-member Parliament, a body it ironically openly despises.

It was the murder of Fyssas that finally brought the leaders, including all the lawmakers as well as dozens of members, to trial before it ground almost to a halt, the sessions held at the high-security Korydallos prison stalling repeatedly.