Greek lawmakers approve contentious campus police legislation

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Greek Parliament passed contentious legislation on Thursday allowing for the creation of a campus police force and disciplinary council to end the tradition of violence at Greek universities. The decision, passed 166–132 in a parliament of 300, was opposed by many students and professors, who claim it would stifle freedom of expression.

Changes proposed included establishment of a campus police division, restriction of entry into university grounds, and formation of a "disciplinary council" empowered to suspend or expel students.

A Ministry for Citizen Protection spokesperson called university campus violence "timeless"; and said "[t]he police will drive out extremist political groups and guard the infrastructure, finally making the university a safe place".

Prior to the vote, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the centre-right New Democracy political party which first introduced the legislation, told lawmakers "[n]owhere in the world do we see images [...] of historical buildings being vandalised".

Many incidents of unrest have occurred at Greek universities, including a 1973 student revolt at Athens Polytechnic against the 1967–1974 military junta. The government forcefully repressed the uprising, resulting in the death of at least 26. Due to another protest in 1990–91 against high school reform pushed by Mitsotakis' father Konstantinos, one teacher died. In October, a rector was taken hostage by hooded anarchists.

In 2019, the government repealed a restriction in place since 1982 that had effectively prevented police from entering university grounds. Opponents of the introduction of police at universities have described it as stifling freedom of expression, which the government claimed is "ridiculous". At recent demonstrations, protestors have chanted "Bread, education and freedom", a common anti-junta slogan of the 1973 uprising. In January, Athenian police used tear gas to break up a protest which was defying lockdown restrictions.

Many Greek professors have also opposed the idea, with Professor of State Theory and Law at Panteion University Dimitris Kaltsonis claiming, in remarks to Euronews, "there is no need for special police to control the campuses". Oxford University's University and College Union (UCU) stated on Twitter "its solidarity to Greek colleagues [...] opposing the creation of such a special university police force, which is unlikely to respond to the most pertinent problems of Greek higher education institutions", and that the then-proposal was "alarming and not in line with best practice."

Some recent demonstrators have called for "more doctors, fewer police". Eurostat data from 2016–2018, which a spokesperson for the Ministry for Citizen Protection called "inaccurate", showed Greece had the second most police officers per capita of any country in the European Union. The spokesperson said the government is "investing in the quality of education as well", but emphasised "[p]olice on campuses is not a choice, but a necessary move".

23 million was recently budgeted for Greek law enforcement to better "face contemporary challenges, such as COVID-19 and external threats".

Left-wing opposition party Syriza has criticised the legislation as an attempt to make universities "sterile and unfree".