Written by: EV
Protesters filled the streets of Athens Monday the 17th to commemorate the anniversary of the 1973 Athens Polytechnic anti-junta uprising. 35,000 people, including an additional 10,000 who were part of a rally being held at the same time in the city of Thessalonica, were met by more than 7,000 police who were deployed to “safeguard and monitor” the streets. By evening, police began to clash with students, passers-by, and demonstrators in the district of Exarcheia. This isn’t the first confrontation between protesters and police in recent days, and tensions appear to be on the rise.
On Monday the 10th, nearly six hundred high schools throughout Greece were occupied in protest of the New Lyceum legislation which was voted into Greece’s parliament last year, and has radically overhauled the process of school and university entrance examinations. Additional factors to the occupations were chronic underfunding—public spending on education in Greece makes up 2.5 percent of GDP, which is well below the European Union (EU) average of 5 percent—and lack of teaching staff.
In response to the occupations, Supreme Court Prosecutor, Efterpi Koutzamani, sent out a circular on the following Tuesday to all local prosecutors in Greece requesting they step in to restore order in the schools. She sighted another circular that had been sent out in 2009 that stated in case of “extreme criminal” behavior during the occupations, the parents of perpetrators should be investigated to establish grounds for prosecution based on negligent supervision.
Although November is the traditional month of student mobilization in Greece, in recent years it has seldom gone beyond the symbolic level. This year, however, with the problems the schools and universities are now facing, the situation has escalated. On the morning of Thursday the 13th, Athens Law School students arrived at their University in an attempt to apply their Assembly decision. This included the symbolic occupation of the University until Monday the 17th—the commemoration day of the 1973 student revolt. When they arrived, they found the school occupied by riot police.
The Athenian Universities’ rectors decided to apply a “lock out”. Neither students nor teachers were permitted to enter the building, apparently for “security reasons”. The government helped by providing police in riot gear. After an assault by the officers, a couple students were injured, and the rest dispersed. Student protests broke out by lunchtime after word spread, and other protests worked their way around the Universities, confronting a police blockade in the city center.
The student protests eventually arrived at the Polytechnic University of Athens in Exarchia, the location of the original 1973 uprising. They forced open the doors, and entered with the intention of creating another assembly, however they were immediately attacked by police. According to eye-witnesses, several protesters were injured, and hundreds were barricaded inside the Polytechnic. During a demonstration the day before, two students were injured when they were hit on the head by riot police batons.
By the evening of Monday the 17th, “Gangs of riot police soared through the narrow streets of Exarcheia on their bikes, batons in their fists, terrorizing local residents and protesters,” reported VICE Greece’s News Editor, Antonis Diniakos.
After the march on the 17th, reports were received that riot police made excessive use of teargas. Amnesty International has noted before that this is commonly used by police in Greece during demonstrations, and it is in clear violation of international standards. Things at the time had quickly spun out of control when reports started to pour in of police violence against pedestrians and journalists, including a German Erasmus student whose bloodied face is now circulating the internet.
The use of excessive force by police is normal in Greece, however the violence aimed towards journalists seems to have the special purpose of censoring the press. The decision to use police as a form of suppression is a political one. In fact, Vassilis Kikilias, the Minister of Public Order, stopped to visit the Athens police headquarters to congratulate them for a job well done.
Revolution News. Nov 13, 2014. (http://revolution-news.com/greece-student-protests-against-education-reform-face-police-brutality/)
Turner, Vania. VICE Media. Nov 19, 2014. (http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/vice-reporters-attacked-by-greek-police-199)
Vassilopulos, John. World Socialist Web Site. Nov 11, 2014. (http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/11/gree-n11.html)