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Greece Cracks Down On Violent Golden Dawn Party

The Greek lawmaker who leads the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party is behind bars, awaiting trial for running a criminal organization. Many are happy to see him punished: His views are racist and anti-Semitic, and he's been blamed for inciting violence, especially against immigrants.

He says he's not a criminal and is being persecuted for his beliefs.

But will shutting down the party shut down its support?

When Nikolaos Michaloliakos arrived in court late Tuesday night, escorted by police in balaclavas, hundreds of his supporters were waiting for him, chanting: "Blood! Honor! Golden Dawn!"

The motto comes from Nazi Germany's Hitler Youth, but these true believers waved Greek flags.

This crowd helped the once-marginal party win nearly 7 percent of the vote last year — when Michaloliakos compared himself to Julius Caesar after the polls closed.

"I came, I saw, I conquered," he said at the time. "You slung mud at me. You defamed me. You silenced me. I defeated you."

And Michaloliakos says he will keep fighting, even though he's now in jail at high-security prison near the port of Piraeus.

He is accused of running Golden Dawn like a Nazi-style gang — training hit squads and ordering violent attacks. A date for his trial has not been set.

Political scientist Nikos Marantzidis says the more than 400,000 people who voted for Golden Dawn will now see what the party really does.

"The majority of the voters of Golden Dawn, until now they didn't believe that the leadership of the organization were some criminal persons," Marantzidis says. "For them, they were some people with strong nationalist or other ideas, and of course, first of all, with anti-systemic behaviors."

But their anti-establishment ideas are often combined with anti-immigrant hatred.

Egyptian fisherman Abu Hamed Dahi has been afraid of Greeks since a gang of men broke into his home last year and nearly beat one of his housemates to death.

"Now if anyone passes me and stares, the truth is I am afraid," he says. "When a car full of people slows down behind me, I am afraid."

Golden Dawn members say immigrants are subhuman and that Greece should be cleaned of them.

But this kind of language could be punished if hate crime legislation in parliament becomes law, says criminal lawyer Tania Dionyssopoulou.

"And these law proposals refer to punishing publicly instigating hatred or violent acts against persons or groups of persons because of their race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or sex," she says.

But no such law would have protected Greek rapper Pavlos Fyssas — who was allegedly killed by a Golden Dawn member last month.

His death sparked the crackdown on the party.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.