This year the anniversary of the 1973 uprising at the Polytechnic University in Athens, which the junta of the colonels drowned in blood by sending tanks to suppress it, is more topical than ever before. This is because the right-wing New Democracy (ND) government has made yet another effort to put an end to this anniversary and advance its authoritarian agenda.
The Polytechnic Uprising was Greece’s May ’68. In the days preceding the bloody night of 17 November, 1973, students occupied their universities, organized horizontally via public assemblies and sent delegates to coordinational assembly. In parallel, worker assemblies and councils were formed outside the universities. They all demanded the end of the US-backed military junta in the country. This was the birth of the Greek autonomous movement, which rejected bureaucracy in all its forms and embraced direct democracy. It is no wonder that the conservative forces in the country want so much to put an end to every living memory of this people’s anniversary. ND has already made efforts in the past to stop the demonstrations on this day: in 1974 it had conducted national elections on 17 of November, while in 1980 it banned gatherings on that day with the result of fierce clashes between police and protesters resulting in 2 deaths and tens of serious injuries.
This year once again the ND forbade the demonstrations in memory of the Polytechnic Uprising, banning the gatherings of more than 4 people together – a ban that strongly reminds the one enforced by the military junta. Many organizations, like Amnesty International, expressed their concerns regarding the government’s decision. The Greek Union of Judges and Prosecutors even denounced the measure as anti-constitutional.
The reason for this curfew, according to the ND government, is the Covid-19’s rapid spread in the country. But an increasing amount of people begin to see that this is nothing but a cheap excuse for authoritarian measures to be passed.
- If the government was so interested in public health it had to, before any ban on public gatherings, strengthen the healthcare system. Something it did not, despite the protests and demands of the medical unions (to which the ND responded with riot police).
- It had to strengthen the public transport, which it clearly did not, resulting in overcrowded buses and metro wagons, where the masks people wear can do little to prevent the spread of the virus among the passengers, who are literally “the one over the other”.
- It could hire more educational staff and turn unused buildings into temporary make-shift schools to avoid packed classes. But it did not do so, forcing many students to occupy their schools and demand serious measures against the pandemic, to which the government responded by allowing far-right thugs, disguised as “concenred parents” to attack such occupations.
- Finally, it could have followed WHO’s advice for mass testing from the beginning of the pandemic, but instead ND made the head of Greece’s pandemic task force Sotiris Tsiodras to comment at a public briefing that mass testing is a “waste of resources”. It was not the first time that Tsiodras sounded more like a neoliberal economist, than an expert in infectious diseases: at another briefing, he claimed that the government cannot invest in public transport.
It is the neoliberal dogmatism of the current ND government that has led to the current spread of the coronavirus in the country. Even if they have to sacrifice everything – even their holy economic growth – they will never invest in public services. That’s why the only measures they have taken so far was the compulsory mask-wearing (as a neoliberal means of transferring the whole responsibility for the pandemic to the individual) and a huge militarization of public spaces, with police thugs gaining the right to issue fines for hundreds of Euros against citizens whom they deem to be outside of their home for no “appropriate” reason (even if the citizen has made all the necessary legal steps to go outside).
6000 strong police presence for a couple of days now has made of Athen’s city centre a fortress in order to prevent people from gathering on 17 of November. From the morning all the central metro stations were closed, tens of people were arrested for attempting to reach the gathering points, much more were fined for “being outside without reason”, while officers from State Security went to the homes of doctors from the Federation of Greek Hospital Doctors’ Associations, which have also called on people to participate in today’s gatherings, to charge them with accusations of “provocation to disobedience”. But the increasing police frivolity and the harsh economic fines did not stop people from trying to gathered and protest against the crawling authoritarianism of the current government. They were met with lots of police globs, tear gas and water cannons.
The meaning of the 1973 Polytechnic Uprising was the ability of society to self-institute itself beyond state and capital. This meaning is today more topical than ever before and people seem determined, despite the harsh state repressions, to fight for it, which only fill us with hope.
Yavor Tarinski is a political activist and author, currently residing in Athens.
Image via alerta.gr