Who does the Polytechnic belong to anyway?


Is it true that “the Polytechnic is owned by nobody,” as ruling SYRIZA’s press office said in a statement? And is it true that “thuggery taints the Polytechnic,” as a Euro MP from the same party said? 

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nikos Voutsis said that “the Polytechnic cannot shut its doors to those who wish to honor [its legacy]. Closed doors show closed ears and closed horizons.” However, the fact is that the sight of thugs and closed doors at the historic Athens building is not exclusive to the anniversary of the November 17, 1973 student uprising, as the situation is pretty much the same year-round. 

The people behind the annual violent ritual are essentially anything but “extremist minorities driven by a totalitarian worldview,” as described by SYRIZA. Hypocrisy is key here for it magnifies the distance between a historical event and its symbolism – a symbolism unraveled by the free for all. 

All governments have milked the 1973 student uprising. The incumbents share most of the blame for one more reason: Before 2015 they were keen to interpret verbal attacks and violent incidents as “people’s justified indignation.” This fueled the rejectionist posturing which they now condemn. 

So let’s see what this year’s commemoration is shaping up to be: Strengthened police patrols in the capital, beefed-up security at police stations, embassies and ministries, reduced opening hours at the Archaeological Museum, 5,000 police officers on duty, pre-emptive inspections at sewer drains to sniff out explosive devices, police drones, metro stations out of operation, and a locked-down city center. 

In the days before and after the commemoration the heart of the city comes to a halt, it turns into a war zone, it smells of tear gas, destructive mania and fear. How can one talk about respect and memory?

It’s hard to avoid the cliche that the National Technical University is a hub of illegality and lawlessness, that it has become a no-go area, a stronghold for all sorts of troublemakers, self-styled anarchists and anti-establishment groups, crazy people, drug addicts, dangerous underworld figures.

Daily life at the Polytechnic, 365 days a year, bears the characteristics of an uncontrolled state within a state. And yet, every year on November 17 Greek politicians express their surprise or protest.

It’s a vicious cycle of self-delusion, hypocrisy and cowardice. It is the vociferous humiliation of a historic anniversary.