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Society

Battle Lines Being Drawn on Greek Campuses Over Security Forces

ATHENS – Greek university campuses, long the scene of unrest and takeovers by students, anarchists and criminals, are set to become a battleground again over the New Democracy government’s posting of unarmed security forces outside.

That will be, for now, at the four major schools after the government ended a policy of sanctuary on school grounds when it ousted the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA in 2018.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he wanted to restore law and order at the campuses where drug dealers and criminals had been hiding and operating and even seen academics attacked.

But under pressure from students and some university staff who see in more security the spectre of the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967-74 in a policing presence, some 400 campus cops will be allowed to patrol only outside.

That hasn’t satisfied or mollified the critics, primarily ardent left-wing opponents of the Conservative government that is also under siege over ongoing work to put a Metro station under Exarchia Square in an anarchist-dominated neighborhood in Athens.

In a feature for The New York Times, Niki Kitsantonis wrote of the emerging struggle that seems set to create more havoc at universities ahead of the mid-year 2023 elections, the government determined to stay the course on security.

Battle lines were being drawn between riot police and hardened opponents who often fight them tooth-and-nail, using Molotov Cocktails and stones against tear gas and batons.

Students have already been able to block entry to the grounds of universities in Athens and the major port city of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest and a particular hotbed of trouble that saw parts of one college building taken over by outsiders and held for more than three decades before police pushed them out.

Demonstrations have turned violent, leading Greek artists at a concert in Thessaloniki standing in solidarity with students as police used tear gas on audience members after officers said they were attacked.

The university-based force appears to be the first of its kind in Europe, where problems on campuses are typically handled by the school authorities or by private security, the report said.

AGAINST THE WALL

Campus police are common in the United States, although they are employed by the schools, while the Greek officers are part of the larger police force but won’t be armed and could be overwhelmed.

“It’s coercive repression, basically it’s bullying,” Seraphim Seferiades, Professor of Politics and History at Panteion University in Athens told the paper of the move the government said is needed because schools refused to act.

“It’s also part of a slide toward authoritarianism,” he said, pointing to a phone tapping and spyware scandal that hit the government before it was buried in secrecy and journalists threatened with jail if reporting on it.

Ironically, armed police have been deployed to protect the unarmed campus forces, adding to a surreal almost comical scene at the school grounds when the new forces showed up and were immediately rebuffed.

The government’s defense for the heavy-handed move has been that campuses were even being used to hide weapons and professors intimidated or attacked, even in classrooms and offices, the universities dirty and graffiti-covered.

During a campus raid on Sept. 27, the police in Athens arrested 24 people suspected of being involved in a drugs and robbery ring, one of whom was shot after attacking an officer with a screwdriver, the paper noted.

Armed members of the ring were conducting inspections on people entering the campus, the police said, with fury also rising over having turnstiles set up and ID’s required to enter the grounds, raising questions of data privacy.

Public Order Minister Takis Theodorikakos, said that the operation proved that university premises “have been transformed into centers of lawlessness, delinquency, and launchpads for acts of violence and crime.”

Angelos Syrigos, the Deputy Education Minister who oversees Greek universities – and himself a victim of an attack while still teaching – said that, “for decades, a reality took shape in Greek universities where minority groups with no social impact gained privileges by acting as if they owned the place. Now they realize that this years- long grace period is over, and they are reacting.”

The major opposition SYRIZA, ousted in elections four years ago and filled with veterans of campus takeovers and anarchist and terrorist sympathizers, has seized the moment to step up pre-election attacks on the government.

“It’s a campaign hand-in-hand with the police aimed at winning far-right votes on a law and order platform,” said Nikos Filis, a former education minister and lawmaker with SYRIZA – and who said while in power that education wasn’t important.

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