December riots in Thessaloniki, Greece, 2011. Photo: Nikolas Giakoumidis

Syriza tramples anarchist prisoner’s right to study

  • October 11, 2016

Education & Emancipation

It’s been nearly two years since Nikos Romanos ended his iconic hunger strike to claim his legal right to educational leave, but little has changed since.

This article first appeared in Greek at

Towards the end of 2014, Greece’s pro-austerity government is in its death throes. The entire country is holding its breath. A specter is haunting the country: the specter of a fresh round of December riots. 21-year-old anarchist prisoner Nikos Romanos has started a hunger strike after being denied his legal right to educational leave. Thousands of his comrades have already taken to the streets in a major show of solidarity and support.

Romanos has had a long reckoning with the state. When he was 15, he witnessed the killing of his best friend and peer Alexandros Grigoropoulos at the hands of the police. The killing of Alexandros triggered the infamous December 2008 riots, a milestone for Greek society. Not much was heard of Romanos until 2013, when the Greek police published snapshots of its latest victims; three young men who had attempted to rob a bank. The photos had been photoshopped in an attempt to cover up the physical abuse the young anarchists had suffered at the hands of the police.

As with previous cases, the Ministry of Citizen Protection tried to cover up the incident by suggesting that the injuries were inflicted during a scuffle with the police. But the Greek public suspected that the youngsters had been tortured by the police.

Solidarity wins

Faced with Nikos Romanos’ hunger strike, the Nea Demokratia-PASOK coalition government exhibited its trademark obstinacy. Romanos refused to relent, even as his life was hanging by a thread. Tens of thousands marched in demonstrations across the country, many of which culminatied in clashes with the police. Political parties and groups condemned the state’s attitude and Syriza released a statement supporting the hunger strikers’ cause:

N. Romanos is entitled to educational leaves and the government must put an end to this outrageous state of exception and discrimination.

Syriza’s youth organization also joined the fray, stating:

We call upon the government to immediately satisfy Nikos Romanos’ demand and do the only thing it can do to serve the country’s youngest generations: step down. If they do not, we will topple it.

Romanos had made it clear at the beginning of his hunger strike that he would go on until victory or death. Everything indicated that there was going to be a showdown, until suddenly the government that had refused to buckle down in almost every other case was forced to back off. Solidarity had won. Numerous comrades had been arrested or injured, but the struggle was vindicated. It was an undisputed victory; after so much suffering — even being tortured in the process — Romanos would be granted his educational leave and he would have a chance to study at the university.

Or, that’s what we believed at that point.

Less than a month later, the government resigned paving the way for new elections in which the Syriza coalition would claim an overwhelming victory. Riding a wave of national euphoria Syriza was faced with a Herculean task in which it could do little but disappoint. Bowing to the Troika’s pressure, Syriza soon shed its cloak of progressiveness and picked up where it’s predecessor left off.

Special treatment of political prisoners

Almost two years later, Romanos hasn’t left prison even once. His hunger strike forced the right-wing Samaras government into supporting a legislative change, but the Syriza-ANEL government has yet to grant Romanos the right to study. How have we reached this point? We got in touch with Nikos Romanos, who shared his thoughts on the process from within his prison cell.

“Nothing has been put into effect from the voted act. I will give you a brief overview of what has happened until now.

“Since the act that stipulated that students must pass one third of their courses was ratified, I passed one third, as required by law. This was in February, just two months after my hunger strike. After that, an application of request was submitted to the prison board; the same request was sent again to the special appeals court judge.

“The contradiction here is that the hunger strike took place specifically in order to circumvent the special appeals court judge. And although the law had been passed, the application was sent back there. The request was obviously denied and then summer intervened. In September, a new request was submitted to the prison board. At that time, some comrades occupied the Athens Technological Education Institute (TEI) demanding that the educational leave be granted to me.

“It was then that Minister of Justice Mr. Paraskevopoulos stated publicly that he would pass an amendment that essentially allows this to happen. We are effectively talking about the same amendment that had been passed during the hunger strike. The TEI occupation ended, but the amendment was never passed. The application was once again denied, again by the special appeals judge on the pretext that I was respondent.

“Since then, my last trial ended. I have once more applied to the prison board, and this time there are no other legal impediments anyone could invent, and the decision is expected next week.”

When asked if there are political responsibilities for the delay in the issuing of the Joint Ministerial Decree, he told us the following:

“Obviously there are political responsibilities and even when the decree was published, such was its content that educational leaves could not be authorized. And beyond that, it is worth mentioning that the rationale of the special appeals judge in rejecting my request was due to political reasons. This means that the reason why it was rejected was politics. Political texts issued through jail were employed and the judge’s rejection was based on political texts written in prison, which in his view are the reason for not authorizing the leave.”

Curiously, the reason Nikos Romanos’ request was denied despite the Joint Ministerial Decree being issues is that, according to the legal status that was in effect prior to the hunger strike, because of the ongoing trial he was still respondent. In other words, there is a paradox, in which the respondent is judged more harshly than a convict — and this is in spite of the fact that the law provides for recognition of the right to education in both cases.

We contacted the Ministry of Justice, which declined to comment on the matter.

“They [Syriza, eds.] walked over Nikos at that time to gain votes, as the elections were approaching. And afterwards, they did the opposite thing,” says Virginia, Nikos Romanos’ partner. “He managed to cause the passing of a law which encourages everyone, both young and old, to get a breath of freedom, no matter what has happened. And this thing is right and must be done. Now, look at how it turned out for Nikos. To have pursued a tremendous hunger strike, to have risked his own life, and to not have achieved anything in the end, this is an issue.”

What does the future hold for Nikos Romanos? Will he be granted the permission to study at the Athens TEI? Or will the “special treatment of political prisoners,” as he has called it, continue? The “bourgeois rule of law” and its notorious “continuity” are to decide. But judging from the way Nikos Romanos has been treated in the past, the modern Leviathan state calls even that self-evident democratic right into question.

Chris Avramidis

Chris Avramidis is a journalist and political scientist based in Thessaloniki, Greece.

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