GREECE: Politics or culture?

Two major events monopolise the interest of large sections of the Greek academic community, politicians and the wider public this time of the year, each for their own particular reasons. They are student elections throughout the country's higher education institutions and the Students Week at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Student elections in Greece are a highly politicised process given that the parties in the Greek parliament have their own student sections in the universities. This year, the elections assume a particular poignancy coming as they are only weeks from the European elections and, as some still expect, a general election in Greece. In this sense the student elections will provide a strong indication for their parent parties of the likely outcome of the forthcoming single or double polls.

Thousands of students will cast their vote to elect their representatives for the student management council in each institution and also in the National Students Union Council. The latter, oddly enough, has not been convened for the last several years because the various students groups have not been able to agree on the results of the elections.

The absence of a central creditable mechanism for the calculation of the results acceptable by everyone creates deep divisions among the various student union groups. At the end of the election, each group counts the votes cast and announces the result which, naturally, is disputed by the other groups. So the student movement remains broken in small groups and appears weak, isolated and ineffective without an overall and united national representation.

In the last few years the elections have lost their dynamism and most of their credibility, mainly as a result of the patronage they receive from the political parties that guide and advise the groups for their own ends.

University politics are often regarded as an ante-room for a career in the major political arenas such as the Greek and the European parliaments. Groups and participants promote party politics instead of a clear agenda with student issues and, as a result, many students appear disillusioned and turn their back on the whole process.

Foreign students, following courses in this country by and large find the Greek student election process fascinating and exciting. But they also point out that in comparison with corresponding events in their own country it is highly politicised, extremely partisan and polarising of the electorate instead of promoting unity.

This year, the prevailing political climate may boost student election participation. There are expectations an agreement on the results might open the way for reconvening the National Student Union Council but so far no individual group has tabled a relevant motion.

Education Secretary Aris Spiliotopoulos is certaint this year's elections will be a huge democratic festivity for the higher education institutions. "The results will contribute towards re-establishing the united statutory student representation on the basis of democratic values and pluralism as well as promote their wider aims and vision," Spiliotopoulos said.

By complete contrast, the Student Week at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, although not entirely devoid of political significance, is nothing if not a cultural event, full of joy and fun for students and the general public, as well as an excellent and worthwhile example for other universities to follow.

The programme includes drama, music, presentations, discussions, exhibitions, competitions, seminars and public debates, cinema, athletics, photography and many more activities mounted by students not only from Greece but also from foreign students and universities.

Indicative of the offerings is an Erasmus Day, where Greek and foreign students meet and discuss the details of the exchange programme. The German Department's presentation 'Glotzt nicht so romantisch: Brecht Intensiv' is in German while there is a musical festival, with the participation of Russian-speaking groups from all the universities in Greece, Germany, France and Lithuania.

Other activities include bird-watching, a visit to the Macedonian Modern Art Museum, a badminton tournament, and a festival Rockemon with such groups as Pathetic Project, Mandrake, Livas, Pile O' Junk Not Aloud, Lucky 13, John Johnson and the Choco Starz, Stevie's Combo, Party Animals and many more.

Thessaloniki, the northern capital of Greece, is without doubt a very interesting city architecturally and socially. It combines successfully a wonderful mixture of ancient history and a modern orientation.

The inhabitants comprise a multinational mosaic which contributes enormously to the city's personality, character and beauty. The large and dynamic student population contributes more than its fair share to the profile of the city and the Student Week is, perhaps, one of its more important highlights.

Politics or culture? The choice of course is yours but undoubtedly the Greek university students certainly know how to make the most of both.