Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis appears to be determined to continue his campaign of law and order for Greece, which was one of his political pledges before the July elections.
He has fared well so far in this mission, but he is about to face one of his largest challenges this coming weekend.
On Saturday and Sunday, Greece will celebrate the 46th anniversary of the student-led Polytechneio uprising. The traditional demonstration and march to the US Embassy is usually marred by vandalism, riots and the inevitable clashes of demonstrators with the police.
Thousands of police officers will be deployed in central Athens to prevent the ugly scenes which take place almost every year. The skirmishes with the police usually end up in the area around the administration building of the National Technical University of Athens (Polytechneio) and the surrounding streets of the Exarcheia neighborhood.
The challenge for the conservative party is to curb the destructive acts of anarchist and leftist groups without resorting to police violence. Greece’s leftist opposition SYRIZA party has already accused the government of trying to establish a right-wing police state.
Polls show that overall, Greek citizens, and especially those who live in Athens, applaud the Prime Minister’s efforts to put an end to the anomie and lawlessness that has become prevalent in certain sectors, including universities and workers unions. This trend has also shown itself in actions such as soccer hooliganism and vandalism.
The recent operation of Greek police in the main building of the Athens University of Economics and Business (ASOEE) was applauded by many Greek citizens.
The building and the surrounding streets has been known to be full of drug traffickers and users, migrants selling contraband bags and shoes and anarchists who launched frequent attacks against police.
When riot police entered the ASOEE building after complaints from its rector, students protested. However, when the police discovered large amounts of empty glass bottles – most likely to be used to make petrol bombs – as well as crowbars, knives, helmets and other suspicious objects at the university’s basement, it was no surprise to many.
It was well-known that the building had been used as a hideout and contraband storage area for criminals and troublemakers. It was just that students and campus workers — and even University faculty — had been afraid to talk.
The abolition of the famous (or, better said, infamous) “university asylum law” by the New Democracy government was aimed at doing just that: taking university buildings away from the hands of drug dealers, violent anarchists, and contraband goods sellers and returning them to their students and faculty.
Yet somehow there was a fierce reaction from main opposition SYRIZA and leftist student unions after these normal, rightful police actions. Government opponents accused Mitsotakis of policies that would bring Greece back to the days of dictatorship.
Furthermore, they accused the police of using excessive violence during the operation.
The same groups also reacted to the recent penal code amendment which makes the possession of a Molotov cocktail a crime.
SYRIZA lawmaker Spyros Lappas maintained that there is nothing wrong with someone carrying a petrol bomb, while fellow party member and former education minister Nikos Filis said those who throw Molotov cocktails should not be grouped with terrorists.
The SYRIZA lawmakers’ reactions also delineates a wider problem in Greek society. Since when have the notions of “law” and “order” — together or separately — been considered a bad thing? Why do politicians use these words to demonize an opponent?
Has Greek society reached such a point of decline that lawlessness and disorder are normative, and even preferable to law and order?
The general anomie which has prevailed in the past two decades, and much more so during the years of economic crisis, unfortunately resulted in a general disrespect for the law. Furthermore, it has made Greeks insensitive to acts and behaviors which in a normal democratic country would be punishable, or even unthinkable, in some cases.
For instance, Athens residents no longer blink an eye when they see a person shooting heroin in broad daylight in public. Throwing Molotov cocktails at police every weekend night in Exarcheia has become seen as a normal pastime for young people.
Vandalizing public and private property has in turn become widely acceptable. Defacing public buildings such as universities and ministries is seen as OK — as long no one gets hurt. Serving alcohol to minors is allowed. And the list goes on and on.
The Greek Prime Minister has pledged to tackle many of these issues and has begun with “cleaning up” universities after abolishing the university asylum law. Mitsotakis also started actually implementing the laws contained in the national anti-smoking bill.
He also encouraged the clearing out of several buildings occupied by anarchists. And only four months later, he has been stigmatized by a part of Greek society for bringing the iron rule of “law and order.”
Admittedly, the phrase “law and order” had been used by the dictators in the dark years between 1967-1974. But it’s been 45 years since democracy was restored in Greece. Is it not about time that Greek society should rid itself of such phobias?
It is obvious that the Greek Left cultivates this phobia as a way to try to gain political advantage. Why do only leftist student groups fight for university asylum? Why did only a mere hundred people — many of them clearly too old to be students — protest the police intervention at ASOEE?
The four-month-old Greek government has a difficult task ahead. Kicking the troublemakers and drug dealers out of ASOEE is the easy part.
The more difficult one is to make the majority of Greek citizens understand that laws should be respected, that citizens have not only rights but obligations as well, and not every kind of behavior is permitted in a civilized society.