ATHENS - A convicted leader of Greece’s notorious neo-Nazi party has been extradited to Athens to serve out a 13-year prison sentence for helping run a violent, decade-long campaign that targeted ideological opponents — from immigrants to leftists and gays.
Ioannis Lagos was extradited from Brussels where he held a seat in the European Parliament since 2019, enjoying diplomatic immunity while drawing a MEP salary despite his conviction last year. The 48-year-old was sentenced to prison in absentia, convicted with five other senior leaders of the Golden Dawn party in the biggest hearing of a fascist organization in Europe since the Nuremburg Trials of Nazi leaders in the 1940s.
He fled to Brussels within hours of the conviction, eluding extradition for nearly eight months. The brazenness with which Lagos evaded justice, however, was a source of embarrassment in both Athens and Brussels.
Last month, however, Belgian police scrambled to seize Lagos amid widespread speculation that the far-right extremist was poised to flee the country, seeking political asylum in Norway. And in a landmark move soon after his arrest, European lawmakers voted to strip him of his immunity, paving the way for his extradition to serve out the lengthy sentence alongside other party members.
Still, appearing handcuffed and accompanied by five Greek police officers upon arrival in Athens on Saturday, Lagos remained defiant, blaring nationalist rhetoric as armed and masked agents whisked him into a special police van, transferring him to a maximum security prison in Domokos, central Greece.
"For Orthodoxy and Greece, every sacrifice is worth it," he shouted to reporters during his transfer.
Lagos’ extradition marks the end of an intense pursuit by a string of administrations here bent on stamping out the violent far-right grouping after party members confessed to knifing and killing Pavlos Fyssas, a young, leftist rapper known for his anti-fascist songs in 2013.
"Greek democracy fought and eliminated the poison of the Golden Dawn party. The rule of law stood firm against criminals," Greek government spokesperson Aristotelia Peloni said regarding the extradition.
Anti-fascist organizations and leftist opposition parties criticized the government for failing to arrest Christos Pappas, the party’s No. 2, who still remains at large, months after his conviction for his involvement in the group.
Like all other convicted members of Golden Dawn, Lagos has maintained that the case against him is politically motivated and that he is being persecuted for his controversial views, not his actions.
Priding a mangled swastika as its emblem and stiff-arm salutes in praise of Adolf Hitler, Golden Dawn was a neo-Nazi party that emerged from obscurity years ago, gaining prominence during Greece’s 2010-2018 economic crisis.
The party had gone from winning fewer than 20,000 votes in the country’s 2009 general election to more than 7% of the vote, and 21 parliamentary seats, within three years.
It retained that hold through 2019 with 18 lawmakers in the Greek parliament.
No outright fascist party in Europe managed to make such gains in general elections for years.
And yet, what made Golden Dawn more dangerous than all other far-right groupings in Europe was its veneer of respectable politics and community service that put Greeks first at a time of phenomenal financial hardship.
Many of its members helped escort young women, protecting them at night as crime rates surged across the nation at the height of the financial crisis here. They also aided senior citizens, bringing them food and clothes, helping sustain their families as unemployment soared, leaving one in five Greeks jobless.
But priding an admiration for Adolf Hitler and driven, also, by profound racism, they were also the kind of Nazis described in history books, recruiting young members and organizing violent hit squads that frequently roamed the streets of the country, targeting immigrants, communist trade unionists, anti-fascists, leftists and gay people.
With the exception of Pappas, all other convicted leaders of Golden Dawn are already in prison.