This week, as an athens court prepared to announce verdicts on dozens of activists linked to the neo-nazi golden dawn movement, more than 10,000 people gathered outside waving banners and chanting anti-fascist slogans.

The proceedings that concluded on wednesday viewed as greeces most important criminal trial in decades resulted in the conviction of nikos michaloliakos, golden dawn leader, and six associates for running a criminal organisation disguised as a political party. a further 11 former lawmakers and more than 30 party members and supporters were also found guilty.

It was an enormous feeling of relief and satisfaction when the guilty verdicts came in, said alexia georgiou, a social worker who joined the anti-fascist protest.

The convictions spell the end for a party that went from the political fringes to the third-largest group in the greek parliament but failed to rein in its activist wing.

[the court case] was the culmination of a considerable amount of social mobilisation and pressure on the state to do what it hadnt done in a decade and crack down on golden dawn, said antonis ellinas, a politics professor at university of cyprus and author of a book on the party.

Founded in 1985 by mr michaloliakos, a youth leader of a pro-junta party during greeces military dictatorship in the 1970s, golden dawn built a reputation for extreme violence in street fights with young leftwingers.

It emerged as an alternative to traditional rightwing parties as greeces economic crisis gathered pace and unemployment soared to 28 per cent in 2012. the partys social welfare branch made regular food distributions and offered free medical consultations. but underlining its nativism, these were only for greek citizens.

Foteini vassilopoulou, a retired teacher, used to rely on a member of the partys youth wing to accompany her to the bank when she went to withdraw her pension.

Purse-snatching was a problem, the neighbourhood was filling up with immigrants and older residents felt insecure, the 82-year-old said. a neighbour told me about golden dawn. i didnt grasp at the time that they had a violent side.

The party entered parliament in 2012 at the height of greeces economic crisis. it won 6.9 per cent of the vote and 18 seats. in 2015, with a similar percentage of the vote, it became the third-largest party in parliament.

Golden dawns youth wing, wearing their trademark black t-shirts with a swastika-like symbol and holding flaming torches, would stand guard at party rallies as mr michaloliakos ranted against the countrys harsh bailout deal and migrants stealing jobs.

Later, the same young people, armed with knives and clubs, would attack leftwing activists and immigrants, claiming they were keeping residents of low-income districts safe from criminals and communists. few arrests were made and ex-party members admitted they co-operated informally with police.

As their influence grew, aides to the then centre-right prime minister antonis samaras courted some of its mps, seeing golden dawn as a potential counterweight to the surging popularity of the leftwing syriza party.

Dimitris kousouris, a professor at vienna university and former student activist who testified at the trial, said he spent a week in intensive care in 1998 after being attacked by a group from golden dawn. they were protected by the police...seven years passed before my attacker was arrested after a chance identification, he said. his assailant was among the defendants in the trial.

The events that led to this weeks mass convictions can be traced back to the fatal stabbing of a popular rapper in a street fight in 2013. the death of pavlos fyssas, known as killah p, prompted the arrest of golden dawns parliamentary group and an investigation that resulted in a trial that lasted more than five years.

The prosecutor examined scores of incidents involving golden dawn to build a case that traced them back to a chain of command linked to the partys central organisation.

I never urged anyone to carry out acts of violence, there was no criminal organisation. its all a pack of lies, mr micholaliakos told the court.

Following their convictions, the seven leaders of golden dawn face prison terms of 10-15 years for running a criminal organisation, while the remaining defendants face 5-10 years for belonging to the gang. sentencing is due to take place on monday.

Golden dawn lost all of its mps in 2019 after failing to reach the 3 per cent of the vote threshold to enter parliament. aris hatzis, a law professor at athens university, said the partys failure to adapt to normal parliamentary politics brought about its demise.

But prof hatzis also predicted that a successor would emerge. theres still plenty of demand for rightwing populist parties across europe. a revised greek version, non-violent, not openly racist, and less stridently nationalist, could well capitalise on the golden dawn experience, he said.

In an opinion poll published on friday, 76 per cent of respondents believed that fascism was still a threat in greece and 43 per cent that a new far-right party would contest the next election.