ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek lawmakers on Thursday approved legislation easing police access to university grounds to investigate complaints, ending a decades-old effective ban imposed in the name of academic freedom.
The draft law was backed by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ center-right majority and a small right-wing party, and rejected by left-wing opposition parties.
Several hundred left-wing protesters marched through Athens later Thursday to protest the new law, which they say could curtail freedom of expression.
Previously, police could only access universities if academic officials invited them, unless a serious felony was committed. In practice, such invitations were very rarely issued as university officials hesitated to antagonize powerful student activists. Now officers can enter if summoned by any member of the public.
The reform was a key pledge by Mitsotakis’ month-old government, which argued it was needed to fight violence, vandalism and drug-trafficking in many universities by criminals emboldened by the inability of police to intervene.
“University grounds are public spaces, just like streets and squares, where when danger looms we all seek police assistance,” Mitsotakis said during Thursday’s debate in parliament.
Education Minister Niki Kerameos said academic freedoms won’t suffer.
The restrictions on police entering university grounds dated to 1982, nine years after a bloody crackdown by Greece’s 1967-1974 military rulers on pro-democracy student protests.
The November 1973 student uprising centered on a central Athens university, and was crushed when the army stormed the complex using a tank to flatten the gates. The protests were credited with accelerating the fall of the dictatorship, and cemented a tradition of strong left-wing influence in Greek state universities.
But over the years political activism came to hamper academic activities, with universities routinely used for sometimes violent political protests by left-wingers and anarchists, many from outside the academic community.
The site of the 1973 uprising was thoroughly vandalized in a 1995 anarchist sit-in. During Greece’s recent years of financial crisis, it was a stronghold for petrol-bomb wielding anarchists in their regular street battles with police, who were powerless to enter.