Police made over 30 arrests in Thessaloniki on Monday after they clashed with protesters who were demonstrating against a new education bill that calls for the presence of police on university campuses.
The protesters had occupied a building on the campus of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki for several hours on Monday, voicing their dissent against the controversial bill, which recently passed in Parliament.
Clashes between Greek riot police and protesters ensued after the police entered the building and began to remove the activists.
The Dean of Aristotle University, Nikos Papaioannou, notified the police of the presence of activists on campus after he received notice that they had occupied one of the university’s main buildings early Monday morning.
Employees of university, which is currently closed to students due to Covid-19, were barred from entering the building by the demonstrators.
In an attempt to block others from being detained, protesters were seen gathering around police vehicles and preventing arrests.
Greek riot police utilized airborne chemicals and other crowd dispersal methods to keep the protesters from reentering the building.
After the clashes on the Aristotle University campus ended, protesters made their way down Aristotelous street, one of the city’s most central roads, carrying banners in opposition to the education bill.
Accusations of excessive force by police
Social media users shared images and videos from the protest, decrying what they considered to be excessive shows of force by the police.
SYRIZA, Greece’s left-wing opposition party, denounced what they considered “police violence” at the protests in Thessaloniki on a statement Monday:
“The police forces used chemicals and proceeded to arrest students. We denounce police violence, which constitutes the expression of the current government’s antidemocratic deviation from and flagrant violation of university asylum and democratic freedoms.”
The protest comes in a long line of similar such demonstrations against the education bill.
The education bill and university asylum
Notably, the controversial bill allows 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.
Unlike in almost all other countries around the world, where having police on campus is the norm, the move is incredibly controversial in a nation where the presence of police in universities has been banned since the 1980s.
Police were barred from Greek university campuses in 1982, in a move called university asylum. The decision was made 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 Athens Polytechnic University.
Since then, university asylum has been held as sacrosanct in the country, especially by the Greek left, who consider the latest education bill to be an antidemocratic attempt at curbing student freedoms.
Greece’s current center-right government has moved away from this tradition, contending that nearly all top universities around the world are patrolled by police officers or security forces.