GREECE: Unlimited freedom – for now

There are no restrictions, institutional or constitutional, on the freedom of academic expression in Greece. But efforts to undermine this freedom exist, mainly in the private sector but also to be found in the public domain.

Greek academics enjoy perhaps far wider freedom than most of their colleagues 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

Indeed, they are completely free to organise their lessons and the content of their lectures without fear of possible censorship – either from the government or the management of the institution to which they are attached.

Greek academics are also free, in fact morally obliged and encouraged, to participate in the management and the direction of their university through general assemblies, departmental meetings and trade union activity.

Moreover, they are entirely free to participate in protests, marches, demonstrations and any other kind of mobilisation in pursuit of their legitimate rights as teachers and citizens, without suffering loss of pay or having any other kind of punitive measures taken against them.

Theoretically, and to some extent in practice, they are entirely free to pursue any kind of research they choose. But where funding is involved, particularly from private sources, the normal rules of the market apply and in such cases it is possible that pressure is brought to bear for favourable results.

When research findings are not in accordance with a government's or a ministry's policies, it is understandable that either the findings will be quashed, or the particular academic will find it difficult to receive future grants or both. The same is true in the private sector, where companies will not finance research seen to be detrimental to their policies and profits.

Greek universities are sanctuaries in the way holy temples were in antiquity. The word asylum – etymologically an inviolable place – characterises the freedom that exists within the university. This is the case not only for lecturers and students but also certain groups of dissidents who, for one reason or another, are not on good terms with the authorities.

As long as the matricide Orestes kept within the temple of Athene in the Parthenon, the avenging Furies could not touch him. Likewise, the long arm of the authorities cannot be laid on those who claim sanctuary within the precincts of the university.

Professor Gerasimos Spathis is vice-chancellor of the Technological University of Athens, Greece's most successful higher education institution. It was established almost at the same time as the modern Greek state and this year is celebrating its 170th anniversary. Spathis is categorical that today there are no restrictions of academic freedom in the country.

"Greek academics," he says, "enjoy a freedom which is probably unprecedented among their colleagues in other democratic countries. There is no direct censorship or restrictions either in teaching or research; however, as in any other walk of life where project funding is involved, there may be some indirect interference.

"University asylum is an achievement which the academic community is very proud of and would do all it can to resist any attempts to restrict it."

Political sciences professor Alkis Rigos, the first president of the Greek Academics Federation, confirms that almost 40 years after the military dictatorship there is complete freedom of expression in Greece; and that only indirect censorship may exist.

Rigos regrets what he sees as the tendency to teach only applied subjects in order to satisfy the labour market at the expense of promoting critical thinking. This will inevitably result in what he calls “educated idiots” and lead to a far greater indirect influence on universities.

Associate professor Nikos Belavilas puts it succinctly when he says: "There are neither legislation nor set rules which forbid academic freedom, apart from the laws of the market which occasionally could prove far stronger than censorship."

A concerted effort to restrict academic freedom during the period of the colonels' military junta in 1967-1973 not only failed but also contributed effectively to its demise by focusing combined lecturers' and students' opposition against it.

On the spurious pretext that university asylum was consistently abused by anarchists and marginal political elements, the last conservative government tried to abolish it but was forced to abandon the attempt in the face of fierce student opposition.

Its successor, the present government under the same prime minister, is committed to the same policies and it may well make a renewed effort to impose academic restrictions in the near future – in conjunction with the reform of article 16 of the Greek Constitution.

This is perhaps one of the main reasons why the majority of academics readily identify with students in opposing the framework legislation the government brought in last summer.