ATHENS – After a bitter debate with leftist lawmakers, including from the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA who reinstated a law banning police from going onto college grounds in almost any case, the Greek Parliament approved a measure by the new New Democracy administration ending asylum there.
That ended a decades-old effective ban imposed in the name of academic freedom, the new law backed by the Conservatives 158 members in the 300-member Parliament and a small right-wing party over the objections of other opposition parties.
Several hundred left-wing demonstrators marched through Athens after the vote on the night of Aug. 8 to protest the law they said could curtail freedom of expression but which Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said had been abused by anarchists and criminals and drug dealers using college grounds as a sanctuary to avoid police and hide weapons and drugs.
Previously, police could only access universities if academic officials invited them, unless a serious felony was committed, which rarely happened as university officials hesitated to antagonize powerful student activists, even ignoring the beatings of professors and takeovers.
Now officers can enter college campuses if summoned by any member of the public, university staff or students and go after anarchists who regularly attacked them with Molotov Cocktails before running back to their college havens.
The reform was a key pledge by Mitsotakis’ month-old government, which argued it was needed to fight violence, vandalism and drug-trafficking in many universities by criminals emboldened by the inability of police to intervene.
“University grounds are public spaces, just like streets and squares, where when danger looms we all seek police assistance,” Mitsotakis said debate in the Parliament and Education Minister Niki Kerameos said academic freedoms won’t suffer.
“We don’t want police in university. We do want though to get rid of the hoodies who police the lives of students,” Mitsotakis said, referring to self-styled anarchists, said the news agency Reuters in a report on the friction between the lawmakers.
“During a typical student’s life, he will see faculties controlled by a manner of different groups, drugs, and basements full of petrol bombs and hoods,” Mitsotakis said.
Former Premier Alexis Tsipras, now the main opposition leader as SYRIZA’s chief despite being bounced from office by Mitsotakis and New Democracy in July 7 snap elections, said the move was an attempt to undermine Greece’s public universities. “You are obsessed with it,” Tsipras told Mitsotakis. SYRIZA opposes private universities with Greece the only country in the European Union doing that.
“New Democracy has always followed that line; to gradually privatize universities, undermine welfare and research,” said Tsipras, whose party wanted to dumb down standards and whose previous education chief said excellence in education wasn’t a virtue.
The restrictions on police entering university grounds dated to 1982, nine years after a bloody crackdown by Greece’s 1967-1974 military rulers on pro-democracy student protests.
The November 1973 student uprising centered on a central Athens university, and was crushed when the army stormed the complex using a tank to flatten the gates. The protests were credited with accelerating the fall of the dictatorship, and cemented a tradition of strong left-wing influence in Greek state universities.
But over the years political activism came to hamper academic activities, with universities routinely used for sometimes violent political protests by left-wingers and anarchists, many from outside the academic community.
The site of the 1973 uprising was thoroughly vandalized in a 1995 anarchist sit-in. During Greece’s recent years of financial crisis, it was a stronghold for petrol-bomb wielding anarchists in their regular street battles with police, who were powerless to enter the colleges.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)