The leaders of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party have been found guilty of running a criminal organization, bringing to an end a trial that lasted more than five years.
Judges ruled Wednesday that seven of the party’s former lawmakers, including leader Nikos Michaloliakos, were guilty of heading a criminal group, while others were found guilty of the lesser charge of participating in a criminal organization.
“Democracy won today. It is up to all of us for it to win every day,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Twitter after the verdict.
“Today’s historic decision to rule Golden Dawn is a criminal organization is a victory of the democracy. A shield for our democratic state, but also a strong pan-European message to those who question the strong foundations of the rule of law, our common principles and values,” said European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas.
The case has been referred to as the biggest Nazi trial since Nuremberg.
The trial involved several elements: the fatal stabbing of Greek musician Pavlos Fyssas, attacks on migrant fishermen, attacks on left-wing activists, and whether Golden Dawn was operating as a criminal organization.
Some 68 party members, including the entire top leadership, faced charges ranging from murder, attempted murder, possessing illegal weapons, racist violence and money laundering to running a criminal organization. The party vehemently denied the allegations and any link to the attacks, claiming they were victims of a political witch-hunt.
As the verdict was announced, a large crowd of people gathered outside the court cheered while inside the courtroom, victims and their families applauded and burst into tears.
Thanassis Kambayiannis, one of the lawyers representing the fishermen said, “The court ruling sealed today what the anti-fascist movement has been saying for years, that this is just a gang of knife-wielding thugs, who took their orders from the top.” He further added, “It has been proved that the bees can beat the wolves. Solidarity and humanity, the thousands of people that took to the streets won today.”
According to Greek police estimates, more than 20,000 people gathered outside the appeals court, including representatives of political parties from across the spectrum and the leader of the main opposition Syriza party, Alexis Tsipras. More than 5,000 people held an anti-fascist rally in Thessaloniki, while similar rallies took place in other Greek cities.
“They were never innocent. They knew it, we knew it,” Tsipras said. “Today, Greek justice sealed this with a decision that will go down in history.”
There were violent clashes shortly after the announcement, with petrol bombs thrown at officers who responded with teargas and water cannon, police said. Eyewitnesses said police overreacted to what was a generally peaceful demonstration.