ATHENS - While law-and-order advocates are welcoming new Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ plan to end asylum on college campuses he said was being used to harbor criminals and anarchists, students, unions and political rivals are going to protest.
A demonstration was scheduled for early evening on July 23 outside the historic building of Athens University on Panepistimiou Street and then heading to Parliament, the rally expected to jam up traffic and affect bus routes.
The event is being timed to coincide with the tabling in Parliament of new regulations that would allow police to go onto college grounds to stop criminal activity which the protesters want to bar, demanding absolute asylum for universities.
The ban was discussed earlier by Education Minister Niki Kerameus and Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, and would allow students and faculty members to call in the police if they witness or fall victim to any form of crime or delinquent behavior.
A number of university professors have been assaulted and college grounds have been turned in some areas to drug dealing havens and hideouts for anarchists who ran back there after clashing with riot police in the capital.
New Democracy wants to end that after the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA of then-Premier Alexis Tsipras, which had reinstated the asylum, was accused of condoning criminal behavior and protecting anarchists who have sympathizers in the party.
The law was passed in 1982, five years after the fall of the country’s military dictatorship, which had violently suppressed a student rebellion and was designed to guarantee students rights and freedom of speech on campuses, but Greece is the only country that has such a law.
Critics said anarchists use college grounds – where they've been accused of intimidating students, faculty and staff – to make Molotov Cocktails and store them to use against police, making the college grounds an ammunition dump for them.
“Universities will be purged of firebombs, troublemakers and drug dealers and will return to students, professors and employees,” Mitsotakis, told Parliament, saying he will also put heavily armed police officers around the capital after anarchists rampaged at will under SYRIZA.
But abolishing the law preventing the police from entering universities threatens to ignite a potentially violent backlash, some say, The New York Times indicated in a report on the plan and potential for protests.
“Asylum was established in a different era of authoritarian regimes to protect the free movement of ideas,” said Stavros Lygeros, who was inside the Polytechnic — now the National Technical University of Athens — the night of Nov. 17, 1973, when tanks rolled and killed at least 23 people as soldiers and the police ended a sit-in that he and fellow students had started.
Since then, many campuses have come to be in the grip of what Lygeros, now a journalist, referred to as “a culture of violence,” which authorities will have a tough time rolling back, he said, the Times' Niki Kitsantonis wrote.
“If they want to end it, there will be an internal war,’’ he said. ‘‘They have to be prepared as this could result in deaths. There will be resistance.”
Kerameus, a graduate of Harvard Law School and member of the New York Bar Association, thought differently and said ending asylum will restore law.
“We can’t continue passively watching the debasement of our country’s higher education sector, pretending nothing is happening, fearing the reactions of the few that this distorted state of affairs benefits,” she told the paper in an emailed statement.
Some campuses had become “lairs of violence and lawlessness,” she added, saying the government “will enforce the law scrupulously.”
Under the asylum law, top university officials must invite the police onto the grounds in the event of a crime. But universities, fearing protests by students, have been reluctant to call the cops.
Colleges were used by anarchists as a sanctuary in between often violent protests against austerity during a 9 1/2-year-long economic crisis and while the trouble has eased, the grounds are now more often being used by other types of criminals, particularly drug dealers.
Konstantinos Tokmakidis, a professor at the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, said he was assaulted by around 30 students who, he said, had threatened to push him out of his seventh-floor office window during a June altercation.
Students, who want access to university senate meetings, say he attacked them, posting a video online showing him lashing out at one while he was being threatened with violence and death, and no reports of anyone being prosecuted or arrested.
In June, Maria Efthimiou, a history professor, was warned by members of an anarchist sit-in at the offices of the philosophy faculty at Athens University to stop criticizing them “or come face to face with us,” the paper also reported.
That occupation was started last year by the anarchist group Rouvikonas, known for vandalizing government buildings and foreign embassies and led to a counter-demonstration by the far-right Greek Socialist Resistance which sprayed swastikas on the walls. Police weren't called.
WE DIDN'T START THE FIRE
Lygeros said the real problem was that the law has been abused by “organized groups numbering thousands of people” seeking to impose their views. “It’s the culture of post-dictatorship Greece in decay,” he said.
Mary Bosi, an internationally-known Professor of International Security, was splashed with red paint by self-styled anarchists while giving a lecture at the University of Piraeus in March of last year but she still backs the asylum law she told the paper “is an important symbol of free speech.”
She said there were ties between some campus perpeterators and armed terrorist groups, saying her attackers were connected to the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire, which sent letter bombs to European leaders at the peak of Greece’s debt crisis.
Bosi said she feared “an uptick in violence,” though not on university grounds, pointing to a spike in threats on social media. Anarchists are warning of “war” amid rumors of a police sweep in Exarchia, an anarchist stronghold next to the old polytechnic.
“We have to set limits,” Ms. Bosi said. “Political and social forces should rally together to isolate these elements.”
University asylum is “a democratic conquest of the student movement and society,” according to a statement from the national student union, PASP, which is affiliated to the Socialist PASOK party. That party was behind the passage of the original law.
“Even the Colonels’ junta did not feel it had the political legitimacy to invade occupied universities,” it said in a statement, the paper's report added.
Rouvikonas members passed out fliers in four languages at tourist spots in Athens warning of an escalation and clash with New Democracy after they were allowed to run free under SYRIZA and Tsipras, who was accused of molly-coddling them in an attempt to re-establish Leftist credentials after surrendering to the country's creditors.
“The caldron is simmering in Greece, and all the new measures taken to stifle it will work for a while and then the cauldron will burst,” the leaflet said.