‘We’re afraid’: Greek plan to police universities panics college students | Greece Information
Athens, Greece – – University students in Greece are preparing to fight an education law that they believe is supposed to affect freedom of expression on campus.
The conservative government of the New Democracy wants to create a new police force for universities with the power to arrest and prosecute those who are regarded as “troublemakers”.
Although campus police would not carry firearms, they could call in riot police and other reinforcements.
The government also wants to put in place disciplinary boards with the power to suspend or exclude students.
Perhaps most controversially, however, students could be tested to put up posters or banners and to create “noise nuisance”.
“We fear the disciplinary measures in the bill, which are essentially vigilant on campus, and all forms of political expression are interpreted as an offense,” said Hara Mantadaki, a political science student at Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences.
She spoke to Al Jazeera during a student protest against the measures of playing loud music and drawing banners – routine events on Greek campuses.
“Even what we’re doing here wouldn’t be allowed,” she said.
Later on Thursday, the students plan to protest the law, which will be debated in parliament next week.
When it came to power in 2019, New Democracy lifted the campus’ immunity from police entry known as asylum from the 1980s.
“People who tried to evade police forces were preparing to enter [university] Building because the police did not have the right to enter, ”said Angelos Syrigos, former professor of international law and now deputy minister of education responsible for adopting the new measures.
“The main problem is outside people, not students,” Syrigos told Al Jazeera. “I firmly believe that 90 percent of the problem will be solved by introducing controls on people entering university buildings. Police officers are required for the remaining 10 percent. “
The riot police blocked the entrance to the University of Economics in central Athens on December 3, 2009 [Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP]Many of the measures proposed by the government – such as better lighting, surveillance cameras, gates with card readers, and security guards on campus – are widely accepted by the academic community.
“Security is not what it should be … [It] has been cut back sharply in recent years for financial reasons, ”Evangelos Sapountzakis, deputy rector at the Athens Polytechnic, told Al Jazeera. “The result is acts of violence, theft and so on. We need state money to increase security. “
Last year, intruders stole $ 200,000 worth of equipment from the Polytechnic. Sapountzakis says these are typical annual losses.
But the police have made a bad impression since gaining the power to venture onto campus at will.
“There have been many times when riot police have surrounded students and held them hostage on campus. There have been cases where tear gas was used outside the building preventing us from entering, ”said Alexandra Vatopoulou, an accounting student at Athens University of Economics, who spoke out against the measures.
Last February, students filmed a police officer with a gun drawn outside the AUEB.
“The policeman came in plain clothes,” said Thanos Golomazos, a third-year management student present. “He got noticed here and started to terrorize and frighten people. When the students looked at him, he pulled out a gun … it was he who caused the incident. “
The government insists that campus violence warrants constant police presence.
Last October, eight masked and gloved attackers entered the office of the AUEB rector. They grabbed his neck, threatened him, smashed his computer, destroyed his office and posted a picture of him online with a sign around his neck with an anarchist slogan.
In the past, faculty members have been attacked or bricked into their offices.
Syrigos, the deputy minister of education, was attacked himself in 2017 for asking three people to use posters instead of painting slogans on a university wall.
“My students and I stopped one of these people and handed him over to the police. It was the first time a person from these groups went to court and was tried for these activities,” said Syrigos. He wants such measures to be institutional and not personal.
But the faculty and administrators who supported Syrigos at the time are now on the side of the students.
“External security that does not conform to university authorities calls into question the freedom of the academic environment,” said Sapountzakis, the deputy rector.
The government has isolated itself politically.
“The only thing the government can achieve is to irritate an angry society and student body who are concerned about their future,” said Hara Kefalidou, shadow education minister for the socialist Kinima Allagis.
An iconic clash
The immunity of the Greek university campuses from the police goes back to November 1973, when the then ruling military leadership in Greece with army and police crushed a student protest at the Athens Polytechnic, only 274 meters away from the AUEB.
Although no one was injured on campus, an estimated three dozen people were killed on the night of the operation and in the days that followed.
The incident sparked a popular reaction to the ruling colonels, whose regimes collapsed the following year. The students who began to untangle the supreme regime were revered as the conscience of the nation, and many of the socialist politicians who came to power in 1981 were from the legendary “Polytechnic Generation.”
Once installed, they passed a law prohibiting police from entering the campus.
The clashes of November 17, 1973 have since become an annual pageant, with students and anarchists raining Molotov cocktails on the police and erecting roadblocks around the polytechnic.
In November 2019, the Rector of AUEB tried to prevent a student assembly that was supposed to plan this year’s anniversary by closing the campus for a week. The students broke the padlocks and held their meeting anyway.
“When we were about to start, we saw riot police, usually parked at the back of the building, attacking students,” said Golomazos, the management student.
Although the police intervention was intended to prevent the 1973 events from happening again, it became a sinister re-enactment. The police took possession of the campus, but it was a Pyrrhic victory.
“In the days that followed, people came here to support us,” said Golomazos, who perhaps didn’t know that the 1973 students had also received public support through the closed gates of the Polytechnic.
But anarchists and people who had been released from prison used the campus to avoid arrest in clashes with police.
In 2011 it was a socialist government that partially lifted asylum on campus and enabled the rector to invite the police on his own responsibility. The left Syriza party restored it in 2017.
This bill gives Syriza an opportunity to improve its approval ratings, said socialist politician Kefalidou.
“There are extremists the kiss of life, especially the one [leftwing] Syriza Opposition to start a game of cat and mouse on the campus. We don’t need that tension. “
Syrigos is certain, however. “[Syriza’s] The reaction is against what Greek society thinks, ”he told Al Jazeera. “So this will be a very good opportunity for the government to show how different it is from the opposition parties on an issue supported by the vast majority of Greek society.”