Large protests erupted across Greece on Thursday as activists demonstrated against the government’s latest education bill, which calls for police on university campuses.
Additionally, the protesters demanded that all levels of schools reopen with all necessary safety measures.
Currently, primary and middle schools are open for in-person classes across the country, including daycare facilities, except in “red” zones, where transmission of the virus is particularly concerning, and high schools are also closed in these zones. High schools outside the red zone are currently open across the country.
All universities across the country are currently operating online.
The extremely controversial education bill has lead to multiple, wide-scale protests across Greece.
Protesters Clash with Police in Athens, Thessaloniki
In many of the country’s cities, including Athens and Thessaloniki, hundreds of activists, including students and members of teachers’ unions, marched to express their dissent against the proposed education bill and school closures.
In Athens, what started as a relatively peaceful protest soon led to an ugly conflict between demonstrators and Greek riot police.
After a small group of protesters separated from the crowd and began to throw rocks and paint at the police officers, the riot police responded by throwing flash-bang grenades and flares to disperse the crowd.
Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, also witnessed clashes between protesters and riot police Thursday.
A few agitators launched Molotov cocktails and threw rocks into the line of riot police as they made their way to the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki campus.
Spraying pepper spray, riot police managed to prevent the group from reaching the campus, and even detained some protesters.
Protests against 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.