It was April 6, 1996. Ten members of Socialist Revolution were selling copies of the group’s newspaper and handing out fliers in Fokionos Negri Square in Kypseli, central Athens, ahead of an event called “Marxism ’96.” A passing motorcycle slowed down so the driver and passenger could check the group out. They returned an hour later with another 13 men, armed with bats. Some wore black jackets with the Golden Dawn insignia. “You commies are going to die,” they shouted as they attacked the left-wing activists.
The victims of that assault filed a lawsuit a month later demanding that Golden Dawn be prosecuted as a criminal gang under Article 187 of the Greek penal code. Their suit listed a string of similar attacks carried out by the neo-Nazi organization, including the vandalism of leftist Synaspismos party offices and another attack on four members of the Trotskyist Xekinima organization in March 1993. They claimed that these attacks were not random incidents, “or the initiative of a few hotheaded followers.” They were organized, planned and orchestrated by a distinct hierarchy, the plaintiffs argued.
“This is a gang organized into a group, in which there are political leaders, instigators and organizers of the attacks, that is leaders of the gang and their executive arm… The ‘iron hand’ that executes the plan, abuses, attacks and maims, may kill tomorrow,” they warned.
“The danger posed by this specific grouping is not so much a product of a mishmash of fascist-like ideas… but more of the deification of physical violence against every democratic and left-wing citizen. [The belief in] violence essentially is what binds this group together,” the plaintiffs noted.
Coming 17 years before the 2013 murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas, this lawsuit was the earliest attempt to deal with Golden Dawn through the criminal justice system. The prosecutor handling the case at the time, however, decided not to pursue criminal charges against the organization. As a result, its members, officials and supporters continued to bully, attack and even kill their presumed rivals – until October 7, 2020, when the Athens Criminal Court of Appeals ruled Golden Dawn a criminal organization under the exact same article of the law. For the victims of that attack in Fokionos Negri Square in 1996, the verdict was a vindication – albeit a delayed one.
“We knew even then that these were not isolated incidents, but that they stemmed from a structured criminal organization with a plan,” the lawyer for the victims of the 1996 attack and one of the lawyers for the prosecution in the recent trial, Dimitris Zotos, tells Kathimerini.
Spyros Staikos, 55, was one of the thousands of people who gathered outside the Athens Criminal Court of Appeals waiting to hear the verdict on October 7. “It is a vindication. The voice of the people was heard,” he says of the conviction of the party’s entire leadership of running a criminal organization. However, he warns, this should not lead to complacency toward the phenomenon of fascism, “which can re-emerge at any time.”
That April afternoon in 1996, he was jumped by at least three men from the group of Golden Dawn supporters. One kicked him in the chest, while the other two aimed for his head. It was the third time he had been attacked and he remembers that during one of those earlier incidents his assailants shouted “Raus” – the German word for “out” – as they whaled on him outside the Evelpidon court complex in downtown Athens.
“We came under criticism from left-wing groups,” he says, referring to the reactions sparked by the lawsuit he filed with the other victims of the Fokionos Negri attack. “Some of them believed that the justice system, like the police, was on [Golden Dawn’s] side and would give them an easy ride, that they were a part of the ‘long arm’ of the state and that nothing would be done. We responded that we needed to put pressure on the institutions.”
Staikos explains that the victims of that attack did not restrict their response to legal avenues, but also tried to mobilize society behind the cause of stopping Golden Dawn. To this end, they asked the prominent leftist activist and politician Manolis Glezos to testify as a witness in the trial against their attackers.
“We gathered signatures at public squares. We reached out to progressive circles. We believe that the condemnation of fascists is something fundamental for all of us and we must be in it together,” says Staikos.
Threats against Glezos
During one of the postponements of the trial against the Fokionos Negri attackers, on June 16, 1998, a group of Golden Dawn supporters led by prominent member Antonios Androutsopoulos (aka Periandros) that had gathered outside the court attacked another gathering of left-wing students who were voicing their opposition to GD. A man named Dimitris Kousouris was injured seriously, almost fatally, in the assault.
On April 26, 2002, the Fokionos Negri case went to a three-judge panel at the Athens Court of Misdemeanors. According to the ruling, which has been seen by Kathimerini, one of the victims and two witnesses – including Glezos – claimed to have been threatened after the 1998 postponement.
“They wrote [graffiti] on my house saying I was on ‘the list.’ It had the emblem of Golden Dawn,” one of the witnesses reported. “They painted a swastika on my house,” said another. Glezos said that the message to him was “Beware.” He viewed it as an incredible affront and reminded the court of his anti-fascist activism – Glezos was renowned for having taken down the Nazi flag from the Acropolis on May 30, 1941.
In its decision, the court acknowledged that several of the Fokionos Negri attackers had the Golden Dawn insignia on their clothes, while four of the six defendants admitted to having had ties with the neo-Nazi group at the time of the assault.
The testimony given at the trail revealed the sheer brutality of the attack. One of the victims recounted how he was hit repeatedly with metal chairs from a nearby fast-food restaurant as he lay prone on the ground, and how the last of the assailants tore up the Socialist Revolution fliers as they left the square.
According to one of the defendants, meanwhile, “Golden Dawn is not an organization or a gang, it is a political party,” he had said, citing voter support.
Golden Dawn ran as a political party for the first time in the 1994 European Parliament elections, garnering just 0.1% of the vote. The same argument that support among the electorate legitimized its activities was repeated years later by top-ranking party members to avoid prosecution.
In 2003, a second-instance court convicted two of the defendants to six and eight months in prison respectively, after finding them guilty of committing grievous bodily harm in the 1996 Fokionos Negri assault.
In a memo submitted to the Athens Criminal Court of Appeals in 2014, before the Golden Dawn trial began, lawyers for the prosecution included documents pointing to the case of the 1996 attack. The 223-page memo also listed dozens more criminal acts – including the murders of Pavlos Fyssas and Shehzad Luqman in 2013, and the 2011 murder of Alim Abdul Manan during an onslaught by GD party members and supporters against migrants in downtown Athens.
The material in the memo also included a quote from Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos from a speech given in Thermopyles in August 2012: “You are the assault squads. Let them try to crush us. We are not enjoying our time in Parliament at all, I’ll have you know. We feel uncomfortable, repulsed and disgusted. We are happy to leave at any moment if we have to and take to the streets again. Then they will see what Golden Dawn means […] What it means to see bayonets being sharpened on the sidewalks.”