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Greece: On recent student mobilisations 

Greece: On recent student mobilisations 

A report on the recent student movement against private universities at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Establishing private universities and higher education institutions has always been a strategic goal of the Greek state to serve the interests of capital. For decades, this debate has been ongoing, but the students in struggle have always known that this was a prospect that, combined with the chronic degradation and underfunding of public education, would inevitably lead to full privatisation, as is the case with any public good that is ‘released’ into the market. Thus, the traditionally robust and active student movement, in which anarchist, autonomist and leftist forces are deeply involved, has blocked this prospect over time while simultaneously fighting great battles, more or less successfully, against other instances of repression and the introduction of neo-liberal policies in public education. A great example is the battles fought by students during the Covid 19 pandemic and the quarantine period against introducing a ‘university police force’ to control the campus, which was abolished in practice by persistent student struggles. There were also large student mobilisations during the “Steki sto Biologico” squat eviction in December 2022. This was an anti-authoritarian space occupied for almost 34 years within the Biology department of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH), where mainly DIY music concerts were held.

The debate on passing a law that would essentially bypass Article 16 of the Greek Constitution, which explicitly prohibits the establishment of private universities in the country, began after the second consecutive electoral victory of the far-right and neoliberal New Democracy party last summer. This was an election where abstention, political or otherwise, was, in fact, the big winner, reaching 39% of registered voters. The new government now has an absolute majority in Parliament and doesn’t need the consent of any other party to pass this bill.

Immediately after this government proposal, a stir began in student circles, and when it became clear that the government would table a bill for passage in early 2024, a fierce student opposition movement erupted. Through mass general assemblies, students of dozens of university departments and faculties across Greece decided to occupy their faculty buildings, holding weekly central demonstrations in each city separately or all together in Athens, some of which ended up in minor clashes with the police. They also used all kinds of actions to propagate their struggle.

Despite this significant movement, the government was determined to exercise its majority in Parliament unhindered. Thus, it tabled the bill for consultation in late February to eventually proceed to its passage on March 8. On that day, tens of thousands of students demonstrated in the centre of Athens. This was met with repression and police violence, with several student demonstrators being injured by riot police attacks. The student movement did not manage to prevent the passage of the law. This was due to the government’s intransigence and the lack of political opposition from the already suffering Greek society. Relatively soon after the law passed, the student movement withdrew and demassified despite calls from radical minorities for the continuation of the struggle.

Repression in Thessaloniki 

The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH) is the largest in the country and is based on a huge campus in the centre of the second largest city in Greece. It has historically been a centre of struggle with many active anarchist, autonomist and leftist forces (both student and specifically political) operating within it. To this day, despite intense repression, there are still permanently occupied libertarian spaces. Regarding the student movement, AUTH has always been one of the most radical and militant spaces, with several faculties occupied by students during various struggles.

In recent years, especially since the pandemic period, the police presence around the campus of AUTH has been very strong, with frequent raids inside the campus. In fact, in September 2022, the police did not hesitate to fire tear gas at an open concert inside the campus held during an anarchist organisation’s festival, in a place where thousands of people were suffocatingly concentrated, with few exits. This year was also the first time we saw the police operate and evacuate a university faculty occupied by students through the legal procedures of their departmental student assembly, something that had never happened before and theoretically requires the consent of the rectorate authorities. The first “test” for this practice took place on February 19 at the Faculty of Law, Economics and Political Sciences, where various police forces broke into the building to end the student occupation but eventually left without any arrests. Then, the students simply returned to the occupied building as normal. However, about a month later, things would be very different.

On Saturday, March 16, a week after the law on private universities had passed, although a significant part of the movement had withdrawn, some departments at the AUTH Faculty of Sciences were still under occupation. Several anarchist and autonomous students are active in this faculty, and it has been considered one of the most militant in recent years. On that day, students of the department called for artistic action to re-appropriate the campus from police repression. 

The event was held at an open spot next to the Faculty of Biology, where the now evacuated “Steki sto Biologico” squat used to be located, but for several months now, there have been just metal sheets put up for the alleged construction of a library in the same place (which has not happened since December 2022 when the “Steki” squat was evacuated).

Under the pretext of some “damage” done to these metal sheets by the students during the artistic event, a raid by riot police and various other police forces was carried out on the premises, which led the students to take refuge inside the Faculty of Science. The police forces surrounded the building, even chasing away -sometimes with the use of force- other students gathered around in solidarity and journalists who were trying to report on the events. At around 15.30, the police forcibly stormed the building, even damaging the entrance to the faculty and vandalising spaces inside, eventually arresting 49 people. All of them students, contrary to the misinformation of mass media reporting “outsiders”.

The 49 arrested students were then detained in the General Police Directorate of Thessaloniki in miserable conditions until Monday March 18, so they could go through the initial legal procedures. They were accused of the charge of disruption of service – which is essentially a criminalisation of the student occupation itself, an occupation that had been decided through the mass student procedures, namely their General Assembly, and disobedience (they refused to give fingerprints). 

During their time inside the General Police Directorate, the arrested students issued a statement in which they declared that they would continue to fight for free public education despite state repression. They were eventually released, with the trial being postponed until March 29. On Monday, a massive solidarity rally with hundreds of people took place outside the courthouse, which turned into a protest in the city centre after the release of the arrested.

The student movement now needs to find new ways to fight against the passed law and the privatisation of higher education. It is clear to everyone that this law helps the interests of the higher classes and their offspring. It is a law that will affect not only today’s university students but more so those of the future, especially the ones coming from working class families, those that will have to compete with the ruling class in a further unequal environment. This law smashes the “meritocracy” lies promoted by this system as its set of highest values.

~ Giannis Voliatis-Ortus

Image: Police raid in the Faculty of Sciences /

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