It is almost half a century since the great Greek paradox began: immunity from violence and harassment at Greek universities. At first, it was accepted as a natural reaction to the suffocating oppression of the dictatorship. Gradually, however, it developed into a real malignancy, another type of fascism, which legitimized thuggish behavior and targeted anyone who disagreed with the perpetrators’ “gospel.”
It became dangerous to have a different point of view. Fear became a policy tool for small groups that became institutions, recruiting generations of students and outsiders who often came to trash the place.
We lost many good minds with these phenomena. I was reading, for example, what Yannis Ioannides, a distinguished economics professor at Tufts University in the US, who took on important administrative positions, wrote the other day: “I don’t need to mention the list of insults suffered as a new teacher by student leaders and others. It was impossible for me to continue as a professor at the Athens University of Economics and Business in 1983-86, I returned to the United States. Excellent scientists are literally drowning.”
I remember another Greek professor who showed a petrol bomb during a speech and said, “Where I do research, the only flame you will see is from an experiment.” There are great university professors here too, but they are heroes. They fight for self-evident things in conditions of misery and at the risk of someone uploading a “wanted” poster with their photo on it. Rectors who resist the violence have seen their car tires slashed and received threatening messages during the night.
The truth is that there is a part of the political and academic establishment that is comfortable with this whole situation. Why open the doors and windows for other competent Greeks to come from abroad and spoil their comfort?
This is where we’re at in 2022 – in 2022! The world is moving ahead, countries are investing in education and we are losing talent, which goes where it finds the environment it deserves. Society has changed, of course, and wants universities like those in Europe. But it is important that both the center-left and the left express this.
It is not easy, because many of their top officials are products of these universities and feel an intense denial. But this is crucial. This does not mean that we should have to wait another 50 years for some people to mature so that great Greek minds and students can have the universities they deserve.