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Greece: “University protection groups” clash with protesters

In September 2022, police forces entered Greek university campuses for the first time since 1982, when the country’s higher education institutions (AEI) obtained the right for “academic asylum”. According to the July presidential decree (in Greek), the University Institutions Protection Groups (OPPI) are to ensure “the safety and protection of the people and the infrastructures located on the sites of AEI from criminal actions of persons and emergency events”. To carry out this mission, OPPI can exercise unarmed “planned or unannounced checks and searches of vehicles, persons, installations and premises” on campus. The total budget to be allocated for this task is EUR 50 million.

The academic community across the country has met the new legislation with vehement opposition and multiple demonstrations took place in Thessaloniki and Athens, amongst other university cities.

Given the symbolic nature of academic institutions as bastions of democracy, freedom and inclusion, as well as the country’s historic context (most notably the 17 November 1973 student uprising at the Athens Polytechnic University and its deadly suppression), the recent launch of OPPI has sparked a debate on topics of democracy, academic freedom and inclusion promoted by higher education institutions. It has also contributed to the resurfacing of deeper questions on the role of the police as an institution and the status of academic and personal freedom today, especially in view of the lessons learnt from the COVID pandemic.

In response to these developments, the Greek government has clarified that OPPI will surveil the University premises outside four major universities in Athens and Thessaloniki on a pilot basis; however, the protection groups will not be withdrawn altogether.

Read more here.