GREECE: Militant students prevent democratic process

University students are determined to prevent the implementation of higher education legislation introduced last summer by the Greek government against strong and bitter opposition.

Two separate incidents in two different universities signposted the way a rather small but extremely active student contingent was prepared to go to render the law inoperative – as they claimed they would during last summer’s student mobilisation against the reform of article 16 of the constitution. (Revolting students attack education cuts, 18 November 2007)

At the Pandio University of Athens and the Economic University of Athens, groups of militant left-wing students invaded university areas and violently disrupted procedures taking place at the time.

Election of a vice-chancellor was under way at Pandio in accordance with the new system when militant students grabbed the ballot box, the ballot papers and other relevant election material and burned it ritualistically in the forecourt of the university.

At the same time, another group of militants prevented lecturers, students and administrative staff who were proceeding to a designed election area to cast their votes.

Under the new legislation, election of chancellors and vice-chancellors involves the participation of all lecturers, students and administrative staff of the university. A weighting factor of 0.50, 0.40 and 0.10 respectively is used, irrespective of the number who vote from each bloc. Previously, students’ votes were cast by representatives, a system which often led to a great deal of abuse.

At the Economic University of Athens militant students invaded an area where an interdepartmental science and technology committee was meeting to discuss further initiatives. The students held the members hostage and incommunicado for more than three quarters of an hour, demanding they reverse a previously taken decision to implement an assessment system under the new legislation.

The Athens District Attorney has ordered an inquiry into the incidents to determine whether criminal actions were committed by the students. Pandio’s Senate Committee will meet to decide what further action will be taken regarding the postponed election of the vice-chancellor.

Condemning the two incidents, a Greek government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros said all citizens were duty bound to respect the laws of the country. Antonaros claimed the students’ behaviour undermined their right to participate in the democratic process of an independent autonomous university.

He said the government had approved the election process after a prolonged and “fertile dialogue”.

“The new legislation has been voted by the Greek Parliament with a specific and indisputable majority,” Antonaros said.

Chairman of the Education Council Thanos Veremis claimed the incidents were caused by so-called ‘eternal students’.

“They are not students,” he said, “because they are not at the university in order to study. They stay for 20 years or more and then they come out as candidates for a seat in parliament. They are eternal politicians masquerading as eternal students.”