GREECE: Rioting youths put rector in hospital

Athens University Rector Christos Krittas was attacked and injured by a group of rampaging youths who invaded the central administration building of the institution during widespread demonstrations.

Kittas, a morphology and physiology professor in the university's medical school, was taken to hospital with head injuries and was placed in the intensive care unit after also suffering a mild heart attack. He will remain in hospital for a few days although his doctors stated he was out of danger. The attack was condemned by the entire academic community.

Although the police had expected demonstrations and marches as an expression of grief and solidarity with the dead boy's family, the protests were excessive as usual and proved once again to be ineffective.

More than 6,000 riot police, one for every demonstrator, were employed in the capital and 800 people were arrested before the protests and taken to police stations as a preventive measure. That action raised serious questions as regards human rights violation.

Michael Chrysochoidis, newly-elected 'socialist' head of the Citizens Protection Ministry, the renamed former Public Order Ministry, appeared on television provocative and arrogant stating that "he would not hesitate to arrest two and three thousand people if necessary in order to prevent the fascist/anarchist youths from destroying public and private property".

The escalating violence in education institutions and particularly in the universities is causing considerable concern to the academic community. Academics have been attacked and physically injured inside university premises, others have been prevented from delivering their lectures and fighting has broken out between ideologically opposed groups of students.

The Federation of University Teachers Associations expressed its deep concern "at the phenomenon of violence in academic institutions which tends to become uncontrolled". The federation called on rectors, the presidium of the rector's conference, all university teachers, the leadership of the Ministry of Education and political parties in the Greek parliament to help eradicate it.

The Rector's Conference, to be held later this month, will be addressed by new Education Minister Anna Diamandopoulou . She has said she would like to hear the views and proposals of the participating rectors.

The subject of the escalating violence is connected with the university sanctuary, and expresses on the one hand the intention of the authorities to abolish it and on the other of the academic community to retain at all costs, as well as the inability of both sides to manage it effectively.

The academic sanctuary was established after the military junta in order to protect freedom of speech and academic freedom inside the institutions from the worst excesses of totalitarian regimes. It does not provide immunity from criminal acts.

Successive laws have failed to establish the extent of the sanctuary and where the final responsibility for its operation rests; as a result it has become practically unworkable. Police and university authorities often accuse each other of not carrying out their duties properly.

The situation is exploited by sundry fascist/anarchist and anti-authority groups who use university premises as a headquarters and springboard for rioting, looting and destroying public and private property and subsequently claiming sanctuary although their actions have nothing to do with academic matters and their activities are subject to common criminal law.

The police refuse to enter university premises without the express permission of the university authorities and the latter are reluctant to give it lest they are accused of being reactionary.

Ultimately, the escalation of violence helps government propaganda and its plans to abolish the sanctuary as a first step towards a more repressive and supervising role inside the institutions which they regard as left-wing, anti-authority revolutionary nurseries. Other tougher measures will no doubt follow with unforeseen consequences for fundamental academic freedoms and human rights.

Attacks on university teachers, students and even members of the public, looting and plundering of university property and marauding behaviour have prepared public opinion for the abolition of the sanctuary which they have come to regard as the root of all evil.

Government and opposition are now agreed that the time has come for a debate on the academic sanctuary prior to its abolition. Sadly there are some academics who would not oppose the abolition although the vast majority is completely against it.

Although, if and when what has been achieved after a great deal of struggle and sacrifice is eventually abolished, teachers and academic premises will be protected more effectively, the academic community will find that it has lost a very valuable resource, and in exchange for safety it will have acquired an iron-clad praetorian sharing the academic podium.