Text by Kiriakos Spirou
The Greek police has forcefully evacuated and temporarily sealed off the architecture school building of the National Technical University (NTUA) in downtown Athens on Friday, as part of the government's action plan to cancel the annual 17 November anti-authoritarian march.
In a violent operation of military proportions, the police cordoned the entire area around the architecture school and arrested 68 people who were inside. The operation then extended to surrounding streets, with police arresting, chasing and beating people at random, including passers-by walking their dogs or people walking home from their work.
The architecture school of the NTUA is housed in the Averof Building, a magnificent example of neoclassical architecture built in 1878. The building was the site of the 1973 Athens Polytechnic Uprising against the Greek military dictatorship, which left several people dead and led to the eventual fall of the regime. A sculpture in the school's front yard by Greek sculptor Memos Makris (1913-1993) commemorates this event.
Every year, an anti-authoritarian march starts from the Averof Building and snakes through the city centre to conclude at the American Embassy. This year, and with the pretext of Covid-19 safety measures, the Greek government has announced days ago that the march will not take place.
In a statement, the Greek Minister of Citizen Protection said that there will be no march on 17 November, just as there was no military parades on the two national holidays this year and no Easter celebrations due to Covid-19.
Critics point out that conflating nationalist and religious holidays with a working-class, anti-capitalist demonstration is unacceptable, and that holding the march on Tuesday as planned is crucial. Certain members of parliament have spoken in support of the march taking place and are planning to attend.
On Saturday, just before midnight and in a blatantly authoritarian move, the Greek police announced that all gatherings of four or more people are prohibited from 15-18 November all across the country. This was met with an immediate response from civil society: the Greek Union of Judges and Prosecutors has countered the prohibition as unconstitutional and expect the Council of State, the supreme administrative court of Greece, to nullify the decision today.
The opposition has condemned this prohibition with a joint statement issued yesterday. Meanwhile, social media users are calling out those in power for escalating authoritarianism, with lawyer Thanasis Kampagiannis accusing the government of running a "police state".
Social media users are commenting that "the government is using the pandemic, not trying to deal with it". Greece has been systematically using the pandemic as an excuse to limit people's liberties and pass neoliberal legislation through parliament, while at the same time doing almost nothing to prevent the swelling second wave of Covid-19 cases.
The European Parliament has issued a warning to all member states to "not abuse emergency powers to pass legislation unrelated to the COVID-19 health emergency", and pointed out that indeed "governments are using the pandemic as an excuse to attack EU values".
The Hellenic League for Human Rights has also condemned the prohibition within the context of an escalating "authoritarian paternalism" in Greece that is "completely removed from the principles of a democratic rule of law."
Amnesty International is also concerned about the impact emergency measures taken in the name of public health have on human rights in Greece, especially policies affecting immigrants, minorities and the poor.
At time of writing there has been no official statement whether the march will take place tomorrow and under what conditions. The article will be updated accordingly during the day.