On November 11, 2019, police reportedly clashed violently with Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB) students and others protesting the closing of campus following a police investigation. Several injuries resulted from the clashes.
On November 10, police reportedly carried out a search of AUEB’s campus and confiscated fire extinguishers, helmets, face masks, materials for molotov cocktails, and other items in a university building’s basement they allege have been used in recent violent protests in Athens. The search came just days after significant acts of vandalism were reported on campus. Some sources allege that “anarchist” groups had been using the basement and other parts of campus as a staging area for protest activities. It is unclear whether university or state authorities ordered the police search.
In response to the police findings, the AUEB senate voted to shut down campus until November 17, the anniversary of the student 1973 protest, a day that often coincides with major protests by students and other young people in Athens.
At the November 11 protest, roughly two hundred students and other demonstrators gathered outside of AUEB’s front gates to protest the temporary shutdown and police entry onto campus. At least a dozen students reportedly broke through a police cordon and the university gates. Riot police guarding the campus clashed with students and other protesters that broke through, and deployed tear gas and firecrackers in an apparent effort to disperse them. Some protesters reportedly threw stones at and scuffled with police.
The campus closure and protest came just months after Greece’s Parliament approved legislation that overturned a decades-old academic sanctuary law, which had restricted police access to university campuses with the exception of certain emergency conditions. The law, adopted in 1982, was a response to a violent military incursion on Athens Polytechnic campus, on November 17, 1973, which resulted in at least twenty-four deaths. The new, more conservative majority in Greece’s Parliament has claimed that the law protected lawless activities on the country’s campuses.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during a campus protest. While state authorities have a responsibility to maintain security and order, they also have an obligation to ensure that their actions are proportionate, do not harm members of the higher education community, and are not undertaken to restrict or retaliate against peaceful expressive activity. Likewise, while students and others have a right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, they also have a responsibility to exercise those rights peacefully and responsibly. Such incidents undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.