Golden Dawn trial: Nervous Greeks fear court case

Anti-racist groups and unions protest outside the high security prison in Korydallos near Athens, on April 20, 2015 Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Anti-racist groups and unions protested outside a previous hearing for Golden Dawn members

The trial of the far-right Golden Dawn party resumed at a high security jail in Athens on Thursday, but it was quickly adjourned as the local authority tried to have it moved to another court.

Local schools have had to close for the occasion and Nicholas Thanos will not be bringing his three-year-old grand-daughter Irene to the playground nearby.

The angry messages scrawled on the sides of the climbing frames and slides explain why.

The streets around the high concrete walls and barbed wire fences of Athens' Korydallos prison have been the scene of protests.

And the high-security compound is now where 69 people - among them the leaders of the Golden Dawn political party - are being tried for various charges, including murder and being in a criminal group.

Some scuffles broke out outside the prison when the trial first opened last month, between anti-fascists and supporters of Golden Dawn - accused by some of being neo-Nazis.

Image caption Angry graffiti marks a park near where the Golden Dawn trial is taking place
Image caption The trial will take place in Korydallos prison - the scene of another high-profile court case in 2003

"People come here to protest - some old, some young, some crazy," says Nicholas, as he pushes little Irene on a swing.

"Sometimes it's difficult."

The case has been described as the biggest in Greece for more than a decade.

But is not the first time in Nicholas' 40 years of living in Korydallos that the prison has hosted a case of this magnitude.

Members of the far-left extremist group November 17 (17N) were convicted here in 2003 over a string of attacks that left 23 people dead.

The difference is that Golden Dawn is a legitimate political party with members of parliament and supporters all over the country.

"It is worse this time," says Vikki Kavvadias, a teacher who was also working in the area during the 17N hearings.

"The Golden Dawn trial shouldn't take place in Korydallos.

"There are many schools around here - and everybody will be affected."

Golden Dawn polled third in January's general election, retaining 17 of its 18 seats in parliament.

All 18 former and current MPs, including the party's leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, are among the defendants.

They were arrested following the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Pavlos Fyssas died after an attack in a district of Athens in 2013
Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Fyssas' death became "a symbol" for Greece's fight against the far right , one friend says

The man held for stabbing the 34-year-old has allegedly confessed to being a member of Golden Dawn, although the party denies involvement.

Nikitas Klint, a friend of Pavlos and a fellow musician, hopes the trial will bring the truth.

"Justice needs to be served," he says when we meet in a cafe in Kerameikos, an area closer to Athens' centre.

"Pavlos' friends and family are fighting hard for the Golden Dawn members to be convicted."

He says Fyssas' death has become a "symbol" that forced the Greek government take action against an organisation that had already been accused of multiple attacks - mainly on immigrants.

But despite his efforts to be optimistic, it is clear that Mr Klint, too, fears that the trial might bring unrest.

"People are worried," he says.

'Witch hunt'

Leonidas Oikonomakis, another hip-hop artist who knew Fyssas, has less faith in the trial, referring to past claims of police collusion with Golden Dawn.

"I do not believe in the defenders of justice," he says.

And, like Nikitas, he says the whole party must be punished, not just the one man accused of the stabbing.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Nikos Michaloliakos, the leader of Golden Dawn, finished third in Greece's election this year

Mr Michaloliakos has said his party is a victim of a "witch hunt".

Dimitrios Sotiropoulos, associate professor at the University of Athens, says it is a broader attempt by the Greek government to stop the party.

However, he says that rather than ending Golden Dawn, the trial could bolster their support. Party members could be seen as "political martyrs" by some, and attract the support in future of disaffected voters.

It seems Greece will have a long time to wait to find out the real outcome, since the trial is expected to last for some 18 months.

Many will be watching nervously - both inside the courtroom and out.

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