Over a few days in March, the island once nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize became the epicentre of far-right violence.
Athens, Greece – A five-and-a-half-year trial of the far-right Golden Dawn group draws to a close on Wednesday, with a panel of three judges at the court of appeals in Athens preparing to issue its verdict.
Sixty-eight members of the self-professed fascist entity, including all its leaders, are on trial, accused of involvement in four crimes.
The most well-known case involves Golden Dawn’s Giorgos Roupakias who has confessed to murdering anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyass, or “Killah P”, stabbing the 34-year-old to death just after midnight on September 18, 2013, in Athens.
The verdict is expected to be announced after 11am local time (08:00 GMT) at the Court of Appeals in Athens.
Golden Dawn members are also accused of attempted murder of Communist trade unionists and their leader Sotiris Poulikogiannis the same month, the attempted murder of Egyptian immigrant fisherman Abouzid Embarak in his home in June 2012, and the broad charge of running a criminal organisation.
The atmosphere outside the courthouse is anxious – thousands have joined a rally against the neo-Nazi group pending the verdict.
“Pavlos Fyssas,” they chanted.
There is a complete police barricade of buses in front of the courthouse.
They are hoping for a guilty verdict, and among the crowd is a show of unity – there are activists, trade unionists and simply concerned citizens.
“It’s a very big trial of Nazis I think in Europe,” said protester Sophia, 50, who was born and raised in Athens.
“All over the world I think it’s very important to show resistance and demand the biggest punishment for all these years. Many people fight against fascists and racism so we must be here to support [them] but also support immigrants and all people who have been threatened by Nazis and government politics.”
Greek police have deployed approximately 2,000 extra officers in the capital in anticipation of Wednesday’s rallies.
Zisis Sourlas, 19, said he wanted the group to be designated as a criminal organisation and be accountable for their many crimes.
“It’s important because it’s the biggest trial of Nazis since Nuremberg,” he told Al Jazeera.
Electra Alexandropoulou, from Golden Dawn Watch, said they were still monitoring the trial: “We keep on until the last sentence of justice, as we have done for five and a half years now.”
Much lies at stake for Greek and European society.
“It is significant to send a message inside Greece and also to other countries such as Hungry and Poland that are becoming very authoritarian towards all vulnerable people, but especially refugees and migrants,” said Epaminondas Farmakis, the founder of Human Rights 360.
“I think that the main leaders [of Golden Dawn] and those that committed the criminal acts have to be condemned today and charged, but it’s also important for Golden Dawn to be characterised as a criminal organisation,” said Farmakis, pointing out that if the group are found innocent, they will be able to claim around 8 million euros in state funding from their parliamentary term, which had been withheld pending the verdict.
“A clear decision will send a message to these other far-right parties, as well,” he added.
Golden Dawn, known for attacking political and ideological opponents have also targeted people from immigrant and refugee backgrounds, as well as those who spoke up against them.
Lia Gougou, Greece researcher for Amnesty International, said that the outcome of the trial had to condemn the hate and violence that Golden Dawn sowed for years in the country.
“We hope that today’s verdict in this landmark case will deliver effective access to justice and reparations to victims, survivors and their families, and address the threat posed by a group that has used and advocated violence and discrimination,” she said. “It must send a clear and unequivocal message that hate crimes will no longer be tolerated.”
While much has been made of the Golden Dawn’s decline, observers fear a guilty verdict does not necessarily mean that the group’s ideology, which captured significant parts of Greek society, would fully disappear.
Thanasis Kampagia, a lawyer in Athens representing the Egyptian fishermen in the Golden Dawn trial, said in an editorial last month: “Nothing less than conviction on all counts and the jailing of the defendants will suffice.”
Farmakis said he was “optimistic” that Golden Dawn would be found guilty of operating as a criminal organisation but warned, “a lot of my colleagues are not.”