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Politics

These Undaunted Women Put Golden Dawn’s Leaders Behind Bars

ATHENS – With all but one of the former leadership of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn behind bars – second-in-command Christos Pappas is a fugitive – the party's legacy has ended in Greece, thanks mostly to a crew of women who put them there.

In a feature, The Guardian's Helena Smith outlined how Supreme Court Justice Maria Lepenioti, prosecutor Efterpi Koutzamani and her investigators Ioanna Klappa built an overwhelming case against Golden Dawn as a criminal gang.

It began days after the 2013 murder of ant-Fascist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas, stabbed outside a Piraeus tavern, the man convicted of doing it, party member Giorgos Roupakias getting a life sentence.

The prosecutor and investigators compiled thousands of pages of evidence and lined up eyewitnesses and kept pressing during a broken trial that went into its fifth year, almost always without the defendants being present as they were not required to be in court under Greek law – nor for their conviction or sentencing.

The leadership, including the head of the party, Nikos Michaloliakos, got sentences up to 13 ½ years although it remains to be seen how long they will serve as it's not unusual in Greece for high-profile criminals to get early release.

Lepenioti kept a firm and steady hand on the proceedings to make sure they were not disrupted while Klappa made the case in court, based on the findings of Klappa and Dimitropoulou. 

The judge was unflappable even through hearings over mitigating circumstances and as throngs crowded outside the court on judgment day, emotions running high, Fyssas' mother jubilantly raising her hands in her son's memory. 

Lepenioti was, wrote Smith, “both laconic and low-key” in dealing with perhaps the most sensational case in Greece in decades, the attention of the public and some of the world fixed on the end.

She prevented any outbursts or inflammatory rhetoric that had been the party's hallmark as it surged into Parliament in 2012 and was ousted narrowly in July 7, 2019 snap elections, the convictions the last nail. 

“Day after day, session after session, she …managed to keep the harmony,” Giota Tessi, a reporter with the center-left Syntaktwn paper who covered the case from its beginning told The Guardian.

“Her knowledge of the case file is incredible. She has been a model of restraint but she has also been very aware of the weight of the moment,” she added, in what was indeed a historic event for the country.

While the judge presided, the prosecutor and investigators went after Golden Dawn's lawmakers and dozens of members relentlessly despite constant breaks in the trial that seemed to go on forever.

“With the last chapter in the story of Europe’s most violent political force finally written, it will not be lost on the protagonists that punishment, in the end, was meted out by a woman,” wrote Smith.

“It’s undeniable that in this case justice was female,” Maria Stratigaki, Professor of Gender Studies at Panteion University, told the paper, referring to the heavily-female makeup of the judiciary and prosecution.

“For a party whose ideology is based on male supremacy, whose worldview is so militaristic, it’s humiliating and will hurt,” she said.

Golden Dawn members were marauders, convicted of attacking immigrants, gays and leftists and other perceived enemies of an anti-Semitic, fascist party bent on taking down the government while its lawmakers served it, Fyssas' murder the flashpoint for its end to begin, 68 convicted in all, including 18 who served in Parliament, which they often interrupted proceedings.

“Justice stepped in where others should have stepped before,” Stratigaki told the Guardian. “And our justice system is full of female judges because it is they who do better at exams and rise to the top.”

The prosecutor and investigators kept their eyes on the evidence and the case in the face of otherwise wilting pressure, harassment and intimidation, needing armed guards to protect them while they pored over records and computer files.

“The best defence of any liberal democracy is the rule of law and the courage and bravery of individuals like these women,” said Aristides Hatzis, a Professor of  Law at Athens University.

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