An insider’s view of a university sit-in

They live in a time of great insecurity and harsh competition; fears for their professional survival force them to concentrate on No. 1, but amid the latest sit-ins, general assemblies and protests, they have discovered a collective consciousness, and in so doing have forced the government and society to listen to them. Irrespective of whether one agrees with their methods or their arguments, the students who have been hitting the headlines throughout June have presented another image of what is usually seen as an «apolitical cafe generation.» Early in the day, Athens University’s School of Philosophy is almost deserted, apart from a group of young people around a little table at a side entrance. One youth is playing a guitar. The conversation ranges from the education system, major political issues in history, music and holidays to the World Cup. «Sit-ins have their fun aspect,» said Katerina. Nearby a television is on with the sound turned down. «We watch the news and a football game or two,» said one of the group. Also on hand is a backgammon set, a coffee maker, a cassette player and a megaphone; all the required elements of a sit-in, which in its own way is a means of socialization, with talking, parties and people getting together. In this particular department, the students say there haven’t been such gatherings for around eight years. They want an education system to meet their needs and their struggle has brought together students who had been politically inactive for some time. «In any case, we don’t like the university the way it is, we want a number of changes, which applied even before the latest draft law,» they said. At the National Technical University, the legendary Polytechneio, the buzz lasts around the clock. In a basement hall at the Athens University of Economics (ASOEE), a group is engrossed in a game of Trivial Pursuit, among piles of sleeping bags, banners, posters and fliers. «We don’t aspire to become company directors, as they used to say about us. We simply have realized what is happening and want our own terms,» one of them said. Statistics, marketing, business management: The ASOEE crowd has produced one of the best organized, mass sit-ins in Athens, with a daily agenda of debates, events, film screenings and World Cup viewings; even a blockade of Patission Avenue. Thanassis says that the situation has led many students to join political groups. «It’s the realization that our working future is at stake,» he said. «Our families are backing us and it helps us to know that people following events are with us,» said Giorgos. There is the view that students don’t take their studies seriously. That’s not true, we want to finish quickly and go out to work, but on our own terms.» So what this generation leaves for the next will not only be the euro and Eurovision, at least that is what they hope. That who takes their place will talk about the mobilization of 2006 with passion and respect. «When we began there were just 200 of us, but every meeting drew more and more. People realize what is going on, we are not a group of kids who want to go on holiday earlier,» said Petros. «I have learned that from now on I determine how my life will go on and tomorrow, when I start work, I’ll do the same,» said Giorgos. «Are we proud? Personally no, I’m not, but I am proud of my generation.» Eleni, a law student, said she was proud to have held a banner during a protest in Solonos Street. «I would have felt that history was passing me by if I had not taken part,» said Angeliki, of the National Technical University. «See you in September» is the slogan of the «apolitical» generation of students spending their summer holidays in lecture halls and doing their sunbathing in street demonstrations. This article appeared in the June 25 issue of K, Kathimerini’s color supplement. Ilias and Argyro, philology students: ‘No one can stay on the sidelines’ «What’s good about this is that independents like myself have entered the fray; it isn’t something organized by the political parties,» said Ilias, 22. «I don’t see this as something romantic; I just don’t want the law to go through. As for our generation, yes, we are apolitical. What can you do, the events aren’t politicizing the students, it is just teaching them to react,» he added. For him, the sense of being part of a united force is important. «The sense of solidarity is a bit like in the 1970s.» Twenty-one-year-old Argyro also believes that her generation is starting to find its identity. «On the one hand I feel optimistic when I see all my fellow students out on the streets protesting; on the other hand, however, I feel disappointed because I am not sure that everyone really knows what they want out of this.» Argyro will soon complete her degree but her interest is undiminished. «For so many years I was indifferent and looked on but now I am more involved. No one can stay on the sidelines,» she added, although she said union politics has no appeal for her. «If I was a first-year student my impression would be one of chaos. But when I went to the last assembly at my faculty and saw over 1,000 people there, I can’t deny it felt very good.»

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