The Greek government wants permanent police presence and admission controls at universities. This annoys students, teachers and the police union.
ATHENS taz | Last Thursday: Thousands of students demonstrated in downtown Athens against the conservative government’s upcoming university reform. Despite the strict lockdown in the country. They hold posters that read, “Students are not criminals!” And shout: “History is made through disobedience!”
The Greek government wants to ensure law and order at universities with a permanent police presence, around-the-clock video surveillance and admission controls. Parliament is due to vote on the bill on Wednesday.
22-year-old medical student Dimitra Papanikolaou is among the demonstrators. She’s been with us for weeks. Every Thursday. Papanikolaou fears that a university police force, combined with the strict disciplinary procedure that the government intends to introduce, and which even criminalizes “noise nuisance” and “pollution of universities” through posters, would nip any protest against politics in the bud.
Together with other students, she has launched an online petition – with around 10,000 signatures so far. The demand: “Money for education and not for the university police”. After years of tough austerity policies, the universities could use the 30 million euros that the government wants to spend on the university police for new laboratory equipment, building renovations and more staff, says the student.
Many university professors join the protest
Many university professors join the student protest against the police at the universities and even the Greek Rectors’ Conference is against the controversial bill. She also expresses constitutional concerns: both the police units at the universities and a government-imposed disciplinary procedure for students would violate the self-government principle provided for by the Greek constitution, according to which the government is not allowed to interfere in university matters.
But the Greek education minister Niki Kerameos is sticking to her plan. After all, the police officers are not present at every university, but only at those where a certain level of criminality can be observed. In fact, the 1,000 police officers would initially be deployed at three universities in Athens and one in Thessaloniki.
But the examples that Kerameos cites have less to do with general crime than with the behavior of some left-wing extremist groups: For example, certain conferences could not take place because other-minded students would storm them, says the minister. And in October of last year, autonomists had devastated the office of the rector of the Athens business school.
“Such events are clearly to be condemned”, says the Athens university professor Alexandra Androusou, “but they are really very rare” and they by no means justify such a tough crackdown. “We must not forget that a military dictatorship ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974, which bloodily suppressed student protests.” There is still a trauma from this time. Therefore, for a long time, police officers were not allowed to enter Greek universities as part of the so-called university asylum. In 2019, the current government overturned this ban. Now it goes one step further with its own university police.
Support comes from the police union
Instead of bringing police officers to universities, the government could allow universities to employ more of their own security staff, says Professor Androusou. The university lecturers also collect signatures under “NoUniPolice”: More than 1,000 lecturers at the universities have already signed. There are also around 700 teachers from abroad.
The opponents of the higher education law even get support from the police officers’ unions. The presence of police at the universities would unnecessarily heat up the mood at the universities and put the police there in danger, says the umbrella organization of police officers, for example. Because they know for sure: The Greek students will not welcome the police at their universities at all.