Riot police attacked protesters trying to enter university buildings in the run up to the commemoration of the 1973 student uprising.
Riot police guarded university buildings in Athens and clashed with protesting students throughout the day yesterday. Police had been called into universities around the city early on Thursday morning to stop an attempt at a symbolic occupation by protesting student groups. The following clashes resulted in at least two injuries and a series of protests throughout the day with the police again attacking protesters at the Polytechnic university in the evening.
The rectors of a number of universities called for police support in order to block any possible occupations of university premises in the run up to the November 17th anniversary of the 1973 student uprising. After the attempted occupation of the Law School was repulsed with tear gas and batons in the morning riot police and motorcycle units stood guard outside locked university buildings all day. Each year from November 14th-17th, universities are often closed to commemorate the 1973 uprising but this year the rectors have decided to lock the buildings tight with police protection for 'security reasons'. Actions continued on Friday morning when students occupied an administrative building in the northern city of Thessaloniki and further protests are planned for central Athens.
With police at every entrance to university buildings in central Athens students carried out a number of demonstrations in response to the police violence seen in the morning. The evening demonstration ended outside the locked gates of the Polytechnic University, the site of the 1973 uprising, and as people gathered outside a side door the police attacked again.
These protests stem from both symbolic and practical causes. Every year the 1973 student uprising against a right-wing Junta is commemorated with occupations and a large demonstration on the 17th. Whilst once a significant day of struggle, which also serves to remember the protester murdered at the demonstration by police in 1985, in recent years November 17th has been more of a symbolic event as contemporary struggles are on going. On the practical side the university students have much to protest about. After several years of cuts to the education budget and reforms both primary and higher education facilities are said to be on the edge of collapse. Recent weeks have seen attempts to kick out the so called 'eternal students', long term students, in an attempt to save money and a large number of administration staff stand to lose their jobs as a part of austerity measures.
In this atmosphere of decay the rectors have increasingly turned to the police to keep the universities functioning. Until recently the police were not allowed to enter university grounds which were meant to be an asylum for free thought and action. In austerity Greece however, we see a reversal of the situation as the police are the only people allowed in to locked universities.
The situation in the universities is mirrored in the high schools of Greece. Hundreds of schools were occupied by their students last week in protest at similar austerity reforms. During these years of crisis schools have often had to operate with no textbooks, unpaid teachers and malnourished students.
These rising tensions in the schools and universities will likely peak at the annual November 17th demonstration. As I said above these demonstrations are largely symbolic but the memory of the '73 uprising is still a powerful one. Last year the police completely sealed off the Polytechnic campus on the afternoon of the 17th in order to stop any occupations and with a full force of 7,000 to be deployed in the next days will likely do the same this year. All this comes at a time of political paralysis in Greece as many people, tired after several years of constant struggle, wait the expected fall of the government to move things along. An increasingly listless and weakening government will be hoping to avoid creating a situation on the street which could give it a final nudge over the edge.