The debate was about stopping an international committee deployed by the Greek Government from reviewing the university, the next day. The setting was one of the 3 Law schools in Greece. The participants? They weren’t professors, or administrators, or politicians; they were students.
As I walked in, I saw people smoking and chatting casually while the lecture hall was slowly filling up. It felt more like a relaxed coffee shop than an assembly of the political parties at play at the university. Because, in Greek higher education, parties are not societies. They are formal, certified political organizations, some of which are affiliated with those running for national elections. Their only difference is that they work within the schools.
On the relaxed atmosphere, I couldn’t have been more wrong. After an hour-long delay, the assembly secretary announced the beginning of the session.
The first speaker came from a liberal, right-wing party. His only point was that all such parties were to abstain from the assembly condemning what they saw as an “undemocratic process”, meaning that there weren’t enough people there to represent everyone. A problem which would’ve been easily solved had his side of the spectrum decided to show up.
The Right and Central parties’ attitude can be summarised in one sentence; they agree with everything the Government does. The Left parties on the other hand, are as militant as they could be. This meant that they initiate as many protests and shut-downs of the school as they have reason to. This creates a dead-end for students. Even for liberals, standing up against something the government is doing means joining the Left.
Things quickly heated up; people started shouting over other people and the whole thing sounded to me like a bundle of noises. I was looking forward to what I’d been told was a regular thing – a fist fight – but I was disappointed. The closest they got to this was a few slaps and grabs.
The conversation had devolved into a circular fight over whether a vote should be taken or not. The question of whether or not the committee to review the school was an orchestrated attempt by the Germans to underrate it and eventually cut its funding, was dropped. Some were saying that they had to vote and that the Right’s abstinence was an action in itself, others claimed that no vote would be legitimate without sufficient representation. To be honest, I wasn’t even able to hear the decision in the end.
All of this must sound quite Third-World and primitive, and it probably is. But I’m inclined to blame this on what is generally a tendency in Greece; a noisy parliament that is mainly concerned with political feuds and questions of ‘democratic-ness’ or populism.
Sadly, it is the Parliament that shows this image the students mirror, and the students that eventually join the Parliament.
What is more interesting to me though, is the passion that these 20-year-olds showed. They were talking about politics as if their life depended on it, probably because in some ways it is. In fact, many of them talk politics all day.
Not only did they talk, but they did. They translated their passion into actions, be it taking over the school for some days or trying to stop that committee. I may not agree with these moves per se, but I have to admit that it is impressive to see the determination with which they were committed.
It proved to me that they idea of “lazy, vain and uninterested youths” is nothing but fiction.
These students demand a say in serious matters portraying to their university. They demand it and they take it. This way they are actively involved in the workings of administration. Of course, in a public university, this is easier. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have to fight for those rights.
The right to change the institution that they are subjects of. The right to be heard and to be considered.