Under the pretext of fighting the pandemic, Greece slides into authoritarianism

This year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the government’s decision to ban not only the mass demonstration but also any symbolic march by a few MPs to commemorate the anniversary (as had been planned by MeRA25), was met with harsh criticism in Parliament from, besides MeRA25, the Communist Party of Greece and SYRIZA.

In the early hours of 17 November 1973, a tank crashed through the main gate of the occupied Athens University, putting a bloody end to a mass student uprising against the brutal military junta that had ruled Greece since 1967. The anniversary of the Polytechnic uprising against the US-instigated dictatorship in Greece is a national holiday in the country, commemorated ever since by a demonstration that begins at the Polytechnic campus and ends at the US Embassy.

In a sign of unity rarely seen in local politics, MeRA25, the Communist Party and SYRIZA signed a common statement.

They called on the government to revoke the undemocratic, unconstitutional ban which cannot be justified on the grounds of protecting public health. Today a common delegation comprised of one MP from each party visited the Speaker of Parliament and the President of the Republic to declare their parties’ common stance.

To support this historic initiative, and especially if you are Greek or live in Greece, sign the petition here.

Several days before the occasion, the University building is hidden behind a wall of Police forces and armoured vehicles, eerily echoing the dark day that is commemorated.

On 13 November, dozens of youngsters who entered the Polytechnic and another university campus ahead of the anniversary were forcefully evacuated and 92 were arrested. In cities around Greece, citizens were officially called in for questioning, regarding posts on their social media where they simply announced their will to attend the march.

On 15 November, a police announcement caused further unease amongst progressives:

By decision of the Chief of the Hellenic Police Force Lieutenant General Michail Karamalakis, all public gatherings of more than 3 people throughout Greece are prohibited from the morning of the 15 until the evening of the 18 of November.

MeRA25 called the decision an attack on all fronts against democracy and civil rights, accusing the government of consciously sliding, under the pretext of the pandemic, into anti-democratic practices that foreshadow a permanent restriction on civil rights (not to mention discouraging citizens from trusting the government’s rules regarding the deadly pandemic).

MeRA25 has decided to disobey the decision of the government and the Chief of the Police.

Tomorrow, on the anniversary of the Uprising, a symbolic representation of the party made-up of its MPs including Yanis Varoufakis, will march to the Embassy, wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, to commemorate the historic event that so clearly upsets the current government

Today MeRA25 lawyers also filed applications for cancellation and suspension against the decision with the Council of State, Greece’s Supreme Administrative Court, for violation of the principle of proportionality (based on a European Parliament resolution and the relevant decision of the German Constitutional Court) and for lack of specific and informed reasoning in curtailing the right of assembly.

The climate of intimidation cultivated ahead of tomorrow’s anniversary is exemplified in a remarkable column by the flagship daily of the conservative Press, “Kathimerini”. The columnist asks the police to hit parliamentary party leader Yanis Varoufakis, but to be careful to do it not at the start of the march, but rather when he reaches the US Embassy, so as “not to dispense with the comical element” and afford maximum pleasure to onlookers.

With stakes that high, tomorrow is a day that will one way or another shape the future of Democracy, in its birthplace and beyond. DiEM25 and MeRA25 couldn’t possibly be anywhere else but in the heart of the battlefield.

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