Protesting students and police at Aristotle University Thessaloniki Protesting students and police at Aristotle University Thessaloniki. Photo: Εναλλακτική Παρέμβαση - Δικηγορική Ανατροπή / Facebook

Kevin Ovenden reports on student protests in Thessaloniki against police violence

A renewed student movement seems to be erupting in Greece with a major demonstration in the second city of Thessaloniki on Thursday night. It took place as outrage spread across the country at police brutality against students on their own campuses.

The trigger was a gross assault by MAT riot police on students who had gathered to protest against the police presence inside the university itself. One fired a stun grenade at short range and head-height directly at a peaceful protest.

It wounded student Giannis Dousakis, who had previously been injured in protests that have been going for four weeks against the presence of repressive police on the campus of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Dousakis was taken to hospital. We can only hope that his injuries are not permanent or life-changing.

Many other students have been injured or mistreated by the police in Thessaloniki in recent weeks.

The right-wing New Democracy government used the lockdown and height of the Covid crisis to push through a measure permanently to place a special police force in the university campuses. The prevention of the presence of the police in favour of acknowledgement of the autonomy of the universities was a major gain of the struggle that overthrew the military dictatorship in Greece in 1974.

It does not mean, as the right claim, lawlessness in the universities. It means a vital democratic safeguard against the literal policing of ideas, the production of ideas and the place of the production of ideas.

It is not even as if the left has been in recent decades dominant in that process – contrary to right-wing myth that states that the public universities are awash with leftism and the answer is privatisation and a more anglo-american model drowning students in debt.

The student grouping of the right-wing, essentially Tory, New Democracy party used to top the polls for student union elections. This month it lost first place. It was taken by the students affiliated to the Communist Party. Those of the main anti-capitalist and revolutionary left formation gathered 15 percent. And so today the minister of education has announced the abolition of political slates for student elections. If the election does not produce the right result, change the method of election. 

The assault on the autonomy of the universities and upon academic freedom was already underway before this. Covid was the transparent excuse. But in what way does putting riot police in the corridors of universities help stop a public health emergency?

Students protested at the time. And so did people in working-class neighbourhoods when they came up against unreasonable and authoritarian policing used against them, falsely justified as to do with public health measures.

Three things are fused. The authoritarian clampdown of a government which was hailed in much of the European media as modernising liberal when it came in. The rush to privatisation and commercialisation of the Greek higher education system that has so far been less affected than most and thus less scarred by the market. And the aim to throw back the growing radical left by direct, violent means having lost the battle of ideas when it came to democratic student elections.

There will be mobilisations by students, lecturers and others in the coming week around the universities. One slogan is to place a democratic cordon around the universities as the state aims to fulfil its aim of forcing squads of police into all of them next Friday.

The issues raised in Greece will resonate with students in other places. We are in a time of making links, having discussions, and finding higher levels of coordination. 

In the meantime, more power to the students defending themselves against police brutality and authoritarianism in Greece. They speak for many more. Greek workers may make that clear in coming weeks.

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Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.