By CJ LAPOINTE
Students are mobilizing across Greece in opposition to authoritarian measures that look to turn back the clock on university “asylum” laws that protect students from government repression and police brutality while on campus. The asylum laws were largely a concession to the student movement that was massacred during the 1973 Polytechnic uprising, which eventually helped topple the Greek military junta.
The sacrifice of those who died fighting in opposition to the junta in 1973 is commemorated each year with a mass march. While the memory of the uprising remains strong, the Keramean-Crysokoidis law aims to smash the militancy of a student movement rooted in left-wing revolutionary traditions and to privatize the university. These traditions are clearly reflected in leftist graffiti and banners that saturate campuses; building hallways are adorned with posters from every political tendency imaginable.
Today Greek politicians hope to dampen the movement by shifting the campus away from the idea that universities are an open and democratic public space for organizing and politics. Instead, they want tightly controlled institutes of higher education with newly formed police squads utilizing cameras with facial recognition on their patrols. Previously, it was illegal for police to step foot on campus, but now politicians have used the perception of lawlessness to win support for their repressive initiatives.
The government, led by the right-wing party, New Democracy, is building on policies that Socialist Resurgence correspondents first reported on after visiting Athens in 2019 and experiencing a new wave of students occupying campuses. The students clearly looked to the examples of previous generations, especially the uprising against austerity that erupted in 2008 following the police murder of 15-year-old Alex Grigoropoulos in the Exarcheia “autonomous” neighborhood of Athens.
The current situation was, of course, made possible by the past pro-austerity policies of the government led by the social democratic party, PASOK. The most recent austerity drive in Greece can best be understood in the context of what many saw as a betrayal by the former Syriza-led government. Syriza came to power building left-wing illusions and promising to fight austerity. But it quickly capitulated to the troika forces of the European commission, European Bank, and IMF. How does austerity play today?
The goal of the legislation isn’t simply to demobilize the combative student left; it also serves the purpose of pushing a privatization agenda on the universities. The regulations implement a tighter admissions process and academic standards that fail to consider the needs of working-class students who help fund their studies by holding down a job. It is estimated that in total nearly 25,000 students will lose access to higher education each year.
The current assault is a continuation of the policies that have decimated the lives of Greek workers for more than a decade since the 2007 economic crash. Heavy unemployment has been a hallmark of the economic crisis, and now coupled with the COVID pandemic, the crisis has led to the erosion of democratic rights. The New Democracy government, bolstered by the fascist Golden Dawn party, is using the cover of the pandemic in an attempt to criminalize and stop mass demonstrations. This has included shutting down leftist Facebook pages and also centers on repressing the movement to demand justice for hunger striker Dimitris Koufontinas.
Koufantinas was a leader of N17, a now dissolved Maoist group targeted by the Greek government. He has been on hunger strike for more than 56 days and a thirst strike for more than 11 days. He is demanding his legal right to transfer from the Domokos prison to one in Athens and has been consistently denied.
The fight for the rights of political prisoners like Koufontinas is central to the defense of leftist and worker organizations across Greece. Socialist Resurgence’s Greek comrades in OKDE Spartakos point out in a recent article, “He [Koufontinas] fights against an authoritarian government that is not only obsessed with killing him. In this case, the government shows with its authoritarian descent the need to suppress the movement, its fighters and its resistance, with all the legal and repressive means it has in its hands, but also by violating its own laws.”
OKDE’s statement continues, “It [the government] reproduces the horrible slanders against Koufontinas and his solidarity movement to justify repression and authoritarianism, and to pave the way for a new round of struggles against its policies.”
The ongoing fight in Greece represents the determination of one of the most exploited and combative sectors of the working class in Europe. Socialist Resurgence sends our solidarity in the struggle of workers and students for democratic rights against state repression.
Illustration by General Strike Graphics