The unknown Polytechneion rebellion

On Sunday, November 10, police forces raided on the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB) and seized wooden sticks, helmets and empty beer bottles, claiming that they could be used for criminal activity such as the manufacturing of molotov cocktails. Police forces entered the courtyard of the AUEB again on the next day, resulting in clashes with students, many of whom reported police brutality.

This was the first time that the Order Restoration Units (MAT) entered a university since November 1995, when the National Technical University of Athens (Polytechneion) was occupied by anarchist groups. The occupation of universities — and especially of the Polytechneion — takes place often this time of the year, as students prepare for the commemoration of the November 1973 student uprising that largely contributed to the fall of the military junta in Greece a few months later.

Throwback to these days of November 1995…

November 1995 was heated since its beginning. The Korydallos prison was facing an inmate rebellion demanding better treatment of the convicts in the penitentiary institution. Meanwhile, students had occupied the Theological School of Thessaloniki and the hunger strike of anarchist prisoners Christoforos Marinos and Kostas Kalaremas, held in custody without having gone through a trial. These reasons were more than enough for anarchist movements to make the 22nd anniversary of the Polytechneion rebellion worth remembering.

Around a thousand people were in the Polytechneion and its surroundings on the evening of November 17. The student youths of PASOK and the Communist Party were evicted from the building after clashes with anarchists, who blamed them for using the 1973 rebellion for political gains. By the early hours of November 18, around 500 of them still occupied the building while security forces demanded its evacuation. The occupiers decided to stay and prolong the occupation, singing revolutionary chants in support of the hunger strikers and the Korydallos inmates.

At night, long clashes took place at the university’s surroundings between the occupiers and the police, supported by right-wing activists and Golden Dawn members. At 6 AM, the rector of the Polytechneion Nikos Markatos gave his permission for the police forces to break the asylum — in legal force from 1982 until a few months ago, when the Mitsotakis government withdrew it — and enter the building to evict the protesters. It was the first time the academic asylum was violated since the military junta. The fact this violation took place at the same emblematic building that showcased the importance of the free movement of ideas in academic institutions made the symbolism even greater.

The police entered the Polytechneion after the Council of Academic Asylum considered that the protesters had caused a lot of damage to the building. The burning of a Greek flag by the anarchists was a move that enraged many. The early morning had the anarchists fighting against the security forces, who used excessive force to get the occupiers out of the building. Serious injuries took place, leading dozens to the nearby Evangelismos hospital. By the end of the clashes, the occupiers walked out of the Polytechneion accompanied by the MAT.

In an interview he gave in 2007, then-Minister of public order Sifis Valyrakis was satisfied with the state’s response in 1995. “I had made it clear that the police will not leave the Polytechneion and that everyone inside will be arrested in one way or another,” he said. In total, 479 were arrested. Among them, 85 minors who were quickly released. The 394 adult protesters were interrogated by the police who collected their information meticulously, profiling each of them. The arrested occupiers were later tried after being split into smaller groups depending on their age or profession, and not on their actions during the occupation of the Polytechneion. Those over 25 were tried as “main offenders” while the other groups faced minor charges. Amnesty International officially criticised and condemned the Greek state for the methods it employed during the Polytechneion rebellion of 1995.

Those arrested in the police round-up were stigmatized from then on, with media and politicians often using their mere participation in the clashes of 1995 as an index of criminal activity. Indeed, there were people who have been involved in criminal offenses among the arrested. Nikos Maziotis and his companion Pola Roupa, founding members of the anarchist and terrorist organization Epanastatikos Agonas (Revolutionary Struggle), are the most significant example. According to the statement of an anonymous police officer in newspaper “To Vima” in 2010, “our [the police’s] biggest mistake was that we never examined analytically what happened to some of the 394 arrested when the MAT entered the Polytechneion in 1995.”

Back to November 2019…

As the New Democracy government elected last July is adopting a strong “law and order” policy, we can expect clashes between police forces and left-wing groups in the following days. The government has already withdrawn the academic asylum and seems decided to not take a step back in what it calls “the return to normality”. As squats are being closed down and minor offenders are being chased, the next months will be crucial for New Democracy’s battle against unlawfulness — except for when it concerns white-collar criminality…

Written by

Journalist from Athens, Greece. Deep faith in democracy.

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