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Greece: Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn leader released from jail

May 2, 2024

Nikos Michaloliakos, founder of the far-right party, was serving a 13-year term for running a criminal organization. Lawyers representing the family of a man killed by the group called his release an "insult to victims."

A man wearing a suit, tie and glasses (far-right Golden Dawn founder and leader Nikos Michaloliakos) sits behind a microphone during a 2018 press conference
Golden Dawn founder Nikos Michaloliakos was first jailed in the 1970s in connection with a series of far-right bombingsImage: Giannis Papanikos/Zuma Press/picture alliance

Nikos Michaloliakos, founder and leader of Greece's neo-Nazi political party Golden Dawn, has been released on parole after serving part of a 13-year sentence.

He was convicted and jailed in October 2020 alongside dozens of Golden Dawn members for running a criminal organization charged with, among other things, the 2013 murders of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas and Pakistani migrant Shehzad Luqman. 

During a widely covered five-year trial, Golden Dawn members were also found guilty of having beaten immigrant fishermen and communist trade unionists, as well as involvement in the disappearance of more than 100 migrants.

Police say Michaloliakos, who was temporarily hospitalized recently, has been at home in Athens since Wednesday.

People gather near a monument to murdered anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in the Greek city of Keratsini
The 2013 murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas was carried out by Golden Dawn members Image: Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto/picture alliance

Michaloliakos remained active in the party from prison

Under the terms of his parole, the 66-year-old is prohibited from traveling outside Athens, must report to a local police station once a month, and may not maintain contact with any of the individuals sentenced alongside him.

A holocaust denier and fan of former Greek dictator Georgios Papadopoulos, Michaloliakos was first jailed in the 1970s in connection to a series of far-right bomb attacks.

During his most recent stint behind bars, Michaloliakos wrote regular newsletters for Golden Dawn's website, decrying his conviction as "political persecution."

In early 2022, he was moved to a rehabilitation center in west Athens after falling ill with COVID-19.

Golden Dawn rose to power on a wave of dissatisfaction over austerity measures

A thoroughly xenophobic and antisemitic organization whose logo resembled a swastika and whose members were regularly seen making Nazi salutes, Golden Dawn rose to prominence in Greece by exploiting public anger over the country's 2010 sovereign debt crisis.

Despite having been a fringe organization for decades prior, Golden Dawn members won 18 seats in Greece's 2012 parliamentary elections and at one point grew to become the country's third-most powerful political party.

In 2019, however, after much media coverage of the trial, Golden Dawn failed to win seats in parliament. Prior to last year's elections, Greek lawmakers passed laws barring Golden Dawn from running for office.

A crowd of people waving Greek and and Golden Dawn flags outside parliament in Athens in 2014
Though Golden Dawn politicians have been barred from seeking office, other far-right parties have stepped in to represent those with xenophobic and antisemitic viewsImage: Robert Geiss/Robert Geiss/picture alliance

Neo-Nazi's release a 'maximum insult to all of Greek society'

Reacting to the news of Michaloliakos' release, lawyers representing the family of murdered musician Pavlos Fyssas said the decision to parole the neo-fascist "constitutes a maximum insult to Golden Dawn's victims and their families, and to all of Greek society."

Though largely defunct, the party still holds sway with Greek voters, as evidenced by the rise of other far-right parties such as the Spartans. They won 12 parliamentary seats and picked up more than 240,000 votes after Golden Dawn's former spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris endorsed the little known outfit with a tweet from jail ahead of last year's national elections.

The party's leader thanked Kasidiaris, himself a former MP, for "fueling" the party's rise, leading some observers to refer to the Spartans as Golden Dawn's "Trojan Horse."

A man with very short and wearing a black jacket and black sunglasses (Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris) yells into a microphone at an anti-immigrant rally as a Greek flag is seen behind him
Jailed Golden Dawn MP and former spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris has lent his support to new far-right parties like the Spartans, helping them to election victoryImage: Panayiotis Tzamaros/NurPhoto/picture alliance

js/nm (AFP, Reuters)