Extremist elements are abusing the law to suit their own agendas and not the founding spirit of the law, which is to shelter and shield free thought
On November 17 of every year, the streets around the Polytechnic University become an urban battleground. Riot police emerge through clouds of tear gas and the smoke of flaming barricades. Masked youths dressed in black, with scarves and motorbike helmets hurl petrol bombs at the riot police who are there to calm the situation and protect citizens, public and private property. Nonetheless the youths torch and/or vandalize anything that gets in their way. They fling rocks and chunks of marble at police, (that they literally chop off the street) and keep replenishing their weaponry against authorities for hours on end. Although the police know that weapons and rocks are stockpiled in the university grounds, they dare not enter and make the relevant arrests before the situation becomes deadly. Total chaos.
As Greeks, such as myself, try to make sense of this mess, which is not only observed on November 17, but has become all too frequent, many here in Greece are beginning to ask whether the asylum law “or asylo” at Greek universities is protecting free speech or simply harbouring criminals and/or criminal acts.
What is “asylo”… you ask?
In November 1973, students barricaded themselves inside in rebellion against the country’s military dictatorship (otherwise known as the time of junta), which had been in power since 1967. Fearful that the revolt would spread, on Nov. 17 police authorities moved in with tanks, killing a still-disputed number of protesters. In light to these developments, the junta fell less than a year later and the nation’s Constitution gave special status to universities and other such academic institutions, forever barring the police from entering their grounds because of what had happened, while they cited that universities would from then on stand as a place for the liberal exchange of views and ideas.
All fine up till here right? Then what do petrol bombs, and flying rocks have to do with the exchange of ideas? A normal, well-rounded mind would say nothing…. and I would answer… damn right! Violence has nothing to do with the freedom of expression and exchange of ideas… but nonetheless no arrests have ever been made and the damages made to the universities, after the storm rolls over are usually paid by us the stupid taxpayers.
A useless law, that has no significance in the face of today’s Greece. Because of this law, thousands of officers and riot police stand idle in the face of all this chaos, and simply watch youths engage in total chaos. The destruction made on historical buildings is priceless. They also tear down the Greek flag set it ablaze and then hoist a black-and-red anarchist banner over the university’s rooftop as a symbol of victory… totally pitiful. I cannot even begin to explain what I feel every time I see this scene, as it is usually televised. It sends shock waves straight to my heart and I am sure all those souls who fought and/or have died in the respect to that flag.
That is why my personal view, and after being subjected to such violence when I worked in central Athens, is that this law should totally be scrapped. The free exchange of ideas is not under the slightest threat in a democratic country. Maintaining this law simply provides a safe house to vandals, criminals and criminal acts.
In fact, Greek universities enjoy far wider freedom than most other institutions in the West. They face no restrictions whatever either within or without the university and there is no legal framework, or set of rules from institutions, limiting their freedom of expression – apart from the usual provisions of libel and slander. Therefore the law of asylo is not necessary.
The situation with these hoodlums has certainly long since spun out of control. If they had it their way, then anyone – even common criminals – can seek refuge in universities and colleges. Once inside, these miscreants can inflict all sorts of damage and destruction to the university grounds and property, without having to face any of the consequences resulting from their behaviour. Police can only enter university grounds if rectors grant them permission – something that never happens, for political reasons (and political cost).
Up until now, these vandals, or extreme leftist defenders of anarchy, have argued that no one has ever died or been seriously injured from their protests, but I say, better not tempt fate. Law makers and politicians should immediately pass a new legislation to topple this law, clean up the riff raff from the universities and make these into institutions of education or higher learning once again, not dens for criminal activity.