GREECE: Alternative network under threat

Criminal action brought against the rector and the two vice-rectors of the Athens Technological University, on the very day of the 36th anniversary of the student uprising against the colonel's military junta which started in the grounds of the institution, has shocked and dismayed the Greek academic community.

The criminal action was brought by the Public Prosecutor's Office against Rector Konstantinos Moutzouris, and Vice-Rectors Giannis Polyzos and Makis Spathis on the grounds of dereliction of duty for allowing Athens Indymedia, an alternative internet network, to operate from the institution's server.

This is the second time pressure has been brought to bear on the Technological University to discontinue operation of the Indymedia. Last summer, the management of the Telecommunications Organisation which provides the institution with some optical fibre lines brought an action against it on the basis that it was contravening the provisions of the agreement between them by allowing Indymedia to operate from its server.

It is thought the initiative to silence the alternative network emanated from the extreme right-wing party in the Greek parliament.

Athens Indymedia was established in November 2001 by activists from the radical left and anti-authority groups. It has operated out of the Technological University's server for many years and played an important role in providing a stream of information during last December's riots in Athens when a 15 year-old boy was shot dead by a police officer.

But it has also publicised the press releases of terrorist groups who had targeted university rectors for their attitude towards terrorism for which it was severely criticised.

The date 17 November is indissolubly connected with the Technological University. The tanks that rolled into the grounds of the institution on that day to crush the student uprising were soundly repulsed by the indomitable spirit of the students who signed with their own blood the end of the military junta and restored democracy in Greece.

The anniversary has been declared a public holiday and is celebrated every year with particular respect to the dead and the wounded, always culminating with a march to the American Embassy, perceived at the time as the patron of the dictators.

In his speech during the ceremony at the university, Moutzouris linked the struggle of 1973 with the current economic situation, the shrinking of social rights and the curtailment of workers' achievements.

Referring to higher education in particular, he said its detractors were increasing and used as an example the legalisation of the private colleges: "European directives and court decisions are attempting to change education into a commercial commodity but the best justification of those who lost their lives in the struggle is the continuous improvement of the state university."

He concluded that the Technological University would "defend unwaveringly the free dissemination of ideas and the university sanctuary".

The rector and his two deputies received news of the criminal action against them during the march to the American embassy. All three expressed complete surprise as to what had prompted the Public Prosecutor's Office and threatened to resign as a protest.

After the march the majority of their colleagues expressed their complete support and offered their own resignations.

Athens University Rector Professor Christos Kittas was bitter at the situation: "We have spent our entire lives trying to safeguard the reputation of the institutions and we are now targeted not only by terrorists but also by the Public Prosecutor."

Technological University Vice-rector Spathis said the institution would resist any kind of intervention by political parties, judicial authorities and representatives of the public sector industries who were attempting to curtail or censor ideas and views.

"We will defend the principles of this institution against all those who are attempting to attack the values which have been achieved with such great effort over the years," he said.

Education Secretary Anna Diamandopoulou defended the right of free speech and the dissemination of ideas. She said that although she did not wish to criticise the judiciary, she felt the university management had placed the problem in its proper dimensions. "We are living in a free society and we should not be afraid to express our thoughts."

The three senior academics have asked for a meeting with the Justice Minister and declared: "Athens Indymedia has been operating from the university's technical facilities over a long period of time and during successive administrations. The annoyance from its operation cannot in any way be a form of pressure on the institution in order to abandon its autonomy and freedom which is constitutionally established and which allows it to identify itself completely with Voltaire's universally accepted position: 'I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it'."

Indymedia's management states on the network's site that "the real intention of the detractors is the abolition of the university sanctuary, censorship and the restriction of the freedom of speech. Indymedia is ours and will remain alive for as long as we need it in our progress towards changing the world".

Computer experts claimed the action against the three academics was in fact useless. The network could operate from a distance and without the physical presence of people in the institution's premises. The university could stop the operation of Athens Indymedia but the alternative network would not find it difficult to operate form a different server.