The rector of the National Technical University of Athens (also known as the Polytechnio, or Polytechnic, in Greece), Ioannis Golias, must be overjoyed that the squatters/rioters who had occupied a wing of the historic building departed of their own accord early on Friday and thus saved him from an unpleasant task. To be fair, he was in the uncomfortable and potentially dangerous position of having to decide whether or not to allow riot police to use force to evacuate the historic building – the seat of the 1973 student uprising against the military dictatorship and until recently protected by law from police intervention – even as it was being vandalized by protesters and self-styled anarchists marking the November 17 protest.
So, it must have been to the rector’s great relief that the squatters were gone on Friday (“It’s the weekend, you see,” a friend and journalist in the know remarked) and that the extent of the damage they left in their wake was “only limited” – a few smashed slabs of marble here and there to provide projectiles that were used against police and a traffic light torn down from Patission Street.
The big deal is that even though a prosecutor gave the green light on Thursday night for the police to storm the building if the situation got out of hand, the campus remained inviolate. Of course, dumpsters were burned, stones were thrown and the area around the Polytechnio experienced yet another night of “clashes between police and self-styled anarchists,” as so many headlines informed us. But the police did not cross the threshold – this is obviously a privilege reserved for anti-establishment activists, rabble-rousers and their mates.
This is hardly surprising given the political stakes of a police intervention and the retaliation that would almost certainly follow.
Now, though, the violence of Thursday night will be overshadowed by the next bout of rioting, the damage will be mended in some way or another, and everything will return to this city’s destructive and unbearable brand of normal. The “youths” will go back to the building whenever they feel like it, the professors will continue to despair – and the braver among them will even come out and say so in public – and the rector will continue his juggling act.
The onus of responsibility will gradually lift from everyone’s shoulders and evaporate, as the building will continue to be shut off from any educational or social use. After all, where are the youths supposed to set up camp for their next coordinated Molotov cocktail and rock assault?