The university asylum law and the meaning of progress
Keeping a balance in Greece’s political center can be tricky. On one hand, there are voters who dread the prospect of an unstable government. For them, the center-left Movement for Change (KINAL) alliance needs to provide assurances that it will help form a government if necessary after Sunday’s general election. On the other hand, there are voters who remain skeptical about the prospect of KINAL working with a right-wing party. Meanwhile, there are voters who, if they saw no differences between New Democracy and KINAL, would most probably pick what they viewed as the most authentic political package at the ballot box. After all, an outright majority would also mean a more stable government.
This is the tightrope that KINAL chief Fofi Gennimata has to walk. And she is doing a very bad job of it. She sometimes risks falling off the right side of the rope; at other times, she risks slipping to the left.
Her recent statement regarding so-called university asylum legislation (which bans police from entering campuses) had the sound of a typical nebulous SYRIZA rant. “We say yes to academic asylum, to uncensored teaching, research, movement of ideas. [We say] No to the conservative logic of New Democracy which vows to abolish [the asylum law]. [We say] No to any policies that identify it with violence and lawlessness,” Gennimata said. “These phenomena must instantly, now, be tackled with political will and cooperation between the institutions and the responsible state authorities,” she added.
Statements of this nature have hardly any effect on the usual troublemakers lurking on Greek campuses. After all, it does not require any special political will to enforce the laws of the state across the country, including at university institutions. And there can hardly be cooperation with the competent authorities when the institutions are being held to ransom by troublemakers.
A truly progressive position for KINAL (which would at the same time allow it to differentiate itself from ND) would be to propose the abolition of asylum legislation as well as the abolition of regulations which curb free speech in Greek legislation. The reason is that there’s serious risk of witnessing tragicomic situations – like the cases of German historian Heinz Richter, who was taken to court over a book recounting the 1941 Battle of Crete, or Greek author Soti Triantafyllou, who was charged with violating anti-racism laws in her writing – at universities. We should keep in mind that when it comes to freedom of speech, Greek legislation is full of absurdities. Until recently, alleged offenses by media professionals generally led to immediate detention as legal suits were used to intimidate them.
As a result, the absurdity that is the asylum law, a law that is of use only to troublemakers, needs to be abolished; but at the same time we need to safeguard freedom of speech. Because it is certain that in this country we live in, the scrapping of asylum legislation will be subjected to slander as soon as a lawsuit is launched against some free-thinking academic and the prosecutor decides to take it to court instead of shelving it.