It’s been some time since we last heard from the Greek movement. But, thanks to the Greek government and its riot police, today became a day of large student demonstrations, clashes with the cops, injuries and rising tension. First, let’s see what happened. Early in the morning, the Athens Law School students arrived at their university in order to carry out their assembly decision, which included a symbolic occupation of their university until the 17th of November — commemoration day of the 1973 student revolt against the military dictatorship.
The problem was that the school was already occupied by the riot police. The Athenian Universities’ rectors had decided to apply a peculiar “lock out” of the students and employees, supposedly for “security reasons”. The government gave a helping hand by sending in hundreds of cops, in riot gear, to carry out the decision. The cops assaulted the students, seriously injuring a couple of them and dispersing the rest. The news circulated, public outrage was expressed about the police blockades and violence, hundreds of students demonstrated in the center of Athens during lunchtime, and another protest — involving thousands — took place in the evening around the universities, confronting a total police blockade of the city center.
A question I guess the international reader would pose is why this mess, and why now? November is the traditional month of student mobilization in Greece. Yet, in the last years, the protests seldom — if ever — went beyond the symbolic level, as the movement was too preoccupied with the country’s current problems to seriously devote itself to commemorations. This school year, though, started with incredible problems for both schools and universities due to underfunding and lack of teaching and administrative personnel. Hundreds of schools were occupied in the previous weeks and soon enough the universities joined the struggle.
The mobilization, if we want to be sincere, seemed quite weak until now. In a collapsed country, where everyone appears to be waiting for the government to collapse as well and for the elections that will bring the left-wing SYRIZA to power, a few hundred occupied schools do not make a real difference. It is also noteworthy that the student population of Greece, which was traditionally at the vanguard of the movements and had led all major mobilizations since the 1990s and up to 2008, was largely absent from the large anti-austerity protests of 2010-’12.
But, as it seems, our surrealist government is doing its best to reverse the situation. As I am concluding these lines, the student protest arrived at the Polytechnic University of Athens in Exarchia (where it all started back in 1973), the students forced open the doors and entered with the purpose of holding yet another assembly. The police immediately attacked. Eye-witnesses report several injuries among protesters; hundreds are barricaded inside the Polytechnic. The burning smell of tear gas is spreading, once again, in Athens.