The new proposed reform bill for Greek universities, calling for campuses to be guarded by the police — as they are elsewhere in the world — has generated an uproar from a segment of higher education faculty and students.
According to the Greek government, the decision to have campus security has been made in order to put an end to the anomie prevailing in higher education institutions. Since the ruling was made, after Greece returned to democracy after the rule of the colonels was brought to an end, there has been no police presence whatsoever on Greek campuses. This has led to anarchy, in which professors’ offices are routinely invaded, graffiti painted on walls, equipment vandalized, and in one famous case last October, a professor was assaulted and forced to wear a placard around his neck saying that he approved of the anarchists’ behavior.
The shock over the humiliation and lawlessness involved in that incident has only given more ground to a campaign promise on the part of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis that he would again introduce a police presence on university campuses.
However, a more vocal group of university professors and students, and a large part of society complain that the concept of university asylum should be protected.
University asylum, a term that became law in Greece in 1982, does not allow for any officials from any law enforcement agency to enter the premises of an institution of higher education.
The 1982 law — which was amended by the current government — stems from the 1973 Polytechneio Uprising, when students had a bloody standoff with the junta police, which helped bring an end to the 1967-1974 dictatorship.
Greek universities from 1974 onward
After the fall of the military dictatorship, universities were perceived as sacred ground, places of freedom and communication of new ideas, where democratic ideas were in full bloom.
Yet, it was not long before Greek university campuses became fertile ground for political parties to recruit new members, and often battlegrounds in the war between the youth of the parties.
The free communication of ideas soon became a free flow of propaganda by all sides of the political spectrum on campus, soon to be followed by clashes between ideologies, culminating in actual fights between students.
Incidents of violence between students became common, while vandalism of university premises and property, shaming and humiliation of faculty — and even beatings of professors — became the norm.
Universities were also the starting points for demonstrations which often ended in violent clashes with police, the hurling of Molotov cocktails, vandalism and other criminal acts.
In the new millennium, things got even worse. The university asylum law gave drug traffickers places to do their business without any fear of police intervention whatsoever.
In the 2010s the economic crisis brought with it great social unrest, with students often marching in the front line in demonstrations and fights against the police, then seeking legal haven in university premises — along with other troublemakers.
When authorities and people said ‘enough is enough’
Last October, an incident at the Athens University of Economics and Business outraged Greeks and authorities alike, with the government saying “enough is enough.”
A group of about 15 anarchists invaded the office of rector Dimitris Bourantonis, and after destroying computers and furniture and spray painting anarchist symbols, committed an abominable act.
They forced the rector to sit down and wear a placard reading “Solidarity with Squats” around his neck, bringing to mind the vile methods of humiliation the Nazis used against the Jews.
The pictures of the humiliating act against the university rector and the video the assailants posted on an anarchist website shocked Greek society. It was literally the final straw.
It was then that Citizen Protection Minister Mihalis Chrysohoidis proposed that Greek institutions of higher learning should be protected by police.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Education Minister Niki Kerameus agreed that it is time for Greek universities to finally rid of such activities and the proposed bill is now before parliament for discussion.
Leftist parties, groups are vehemently against the legislation
Main opposition SYRIZA lambasted the new article in the bill by issuing an official statement saying that police presence will bring universities “back to dark times.”
The statement further says that police presence on campus is “deeply anti-democratic” and “will only bring unrest and division.”
Finally, the main opposition says that the government fantasizes about a “university being a hybrid of a company and bootcamp” and calls on university faculty and students to react.
Similar statements were issued by the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and other leftist non-parliamentary parties and groups.
On Thursday, students demonstrated against the new bill in downtown Athens and clashed with riot police.