One of the first pre-election pledges of New Democracy leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was the abolition of the academic asylum in Greek universities, a controversial issue that plagues several campuses across Greece.
The university asylum as a concept was established after the fall of the seven-year military junta in 1974. After the uprising of Greek students and the occupation of the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) in November 1973 and the violent evacuation by the dictators’ army and police forces, the campus of NTUA became a sort of sacred ground, a monument of students’ resistance against oppression.
After the restoration of democracy in July 1974, the police never entered university campuses again. Student gatherings, extracurricular activities on campus, or student events were never interrupted by police. Only the university rector had the right to call the police and that only in cases where serious criminal activities were taking place.
The thinking behind the academic asylum was the free flow of ideas and knowledge. Once one was inside a campus, they could express themselves freely.
However, through the years, the university asylum was abused by anarchists, extreme leftists and criminals. Anarchist groups could interrupt classes, occupy campuses and overall disrupt their regular operation. The stealing of computers, vandalism, student beatings, bullying, even beatings of professors became the norm.
During the economic crisis, the academic asylum gave the opportunity for criminals to act freely inside a campus. Drug trafficking, selling of contraband, violent assaults and rape appeared often in police reports, but the police was never able to intervene.
Previously, conservative governments had amended the university asylum, but the SYRIZA government brought it back to its original form. Crimes inside campuses became the norm, with rectors and professors terrorized by non-students who moved freely inside campuses.
The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki campus, for instance, is known for rampant drug trade and several reports of rape. Two summers ago it was occupied by anarchists from all over the world who wanted to have an anarchist convention there. Meanwhile, the NTUA administration building is the base and hideout of anarchists for their weekly attacks with firebombs against police that are posted at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens that is nearby.
Earlier this month, five distinguished academics, among them two former education ministers, a former Greek and European ombudsman and two prominent historians, signed an open letter calling for the abolition of academic asylum in Greek universities.
The academics called for an end to tolerance of violence on campuses and described academic asylum as a “very dangerous enemy”, obstructing the creation and dissemination of university-generated knowledge and free flow of ideas.
Now, the new Greek government is about to abolish the asylum, amidst fierce reactions from leftist groups and the previous government. It is a thorny issue that needs to be resolved, even though its solution will certainly be accompanied by violent clashes between police and those who oppose the end of the asylum.