Protesters across Greece filled the streets on Thursday, defying the country’s recent restriction on demonstrations, to protest the government’s latest education bill which calls for police on university campuses.
Incredible images of massive demonstrations in the Greek cities of Athens, Thessaloniki, and Heraklion in the time when Covid-19 is still raging have circulated across social media.
Just two days before, on Tuesday, Greece imposed a ban on gatherings and demonstrations of over 100 people, claiming that the move was “not related to any planned rally,” but made in the interest of public health due to Covid-19.
Opposition parties and activists claimed that the decision was “anti-democratic” and specifically aimed at curbing similar, anti-government protests.
Those found breaking the restriction by attending the protest could be hit with a fine of 300 euros, and organizers of the demonstration could face penalties amounting to a whopping 3,000 euros.
— EFSYN (@EFSYNTAKTON) January 28, 2021
Education bill and police on campus
Notably, the controversial bill calls for the presence of 1,000 uniformed, unarmed guards on Greece’s university campuses. These guards will answer to the Greek Police Force, and have similar policing duties.
This move is incredibly controversial in a country where the presence of police in universities has been banned since the 1980s.
Police were barred from university campuses in Greece in 1982, in response to the Polytechnic uprising years earlier. In 1973, students protesting the country’s right-wing military dictatorship were brutally murdered by police and military forces at the Athens Polytechnic University.
Activists saw the recent move as a move back toward a dark period in the country’s history, while the government argued that the decision was necessary after many instances of drug dealing, violence and looting by hooligans were reported on Greek campuses.
Additionally, the bill proposes limits on the time spent on campus of an additional two years for those completing four-year degrees, and three extra years for those attending programs that last for over four years.
Since higher education at public universities in Greece is free, a large portion of the population seeks out higher education. Often, however, students in Greece are known to extend their studies for many years, a practice that lawmakers are hoping to stop with the new draft bill.
Protesters in Athens, Thessaloniki, and Crete
Although cases of Covid-19 have surged in Athens and the fast-spreading UK variant has been recorded in the city, protesters demonstrated against the new education bill en masse there today.
Videos and photos from the streets of Greece’s capital city show thousands of demonstrators, most of whom are wearing masks, linking arms and expressing their fervent disapproval of the bill — with absolutely no social distancing in sight.
The city has closed the metro station “Panepistimio” and the streets Panepistimiou, Amalias, and Stadiou have all been blocked off due to the massive crowds.
Students defy police ban of gatherings and hold massive protest in Athens against the government’s draft bill for education, which includes the introduction of police in universities, among other changes. #Greece pic.twitter.com/adfVtkZkEX
— Savvas Karmaniolas (@savvaskarma) January 28, 2021
Similarly, Thessaloniki’s streets were packed with activists shouting slogans and holding up banners rejecting the presence of police on campus, along with the academic term limits proposed in the bill.
— Chris Avramidis (@chris_avramidis) January 28, 2021
Protests even took place on Crete, Greece’s largest island. In the island’s largest city, Heraklion, activists voiced their dissent against the government’s proposed changes to the university system.