Policing. The use of the word alone makes understanding difficult. At best, it makes one grimace; at worst, it triggers the mental “repository” of the civil war, rich in unclassified material, and its post-war continuation under an authoritarian state: In short, the word “policing” stirs up passions and brings back to mind the uniform of the tyrannical gendarme in the countryside, merciless pursuer of the citizens that did not belong to the then “accursed” right.
What happens, though, when a government tries to contain the chaos that some, self-servingly, continue to preserve? What happens when the government, in its intent at least, tries to provide a framework for public assembly or to propose changes for universities? Especially when this government is a right-wing one, despite the fact that its leader, the prime minister, is trying to push it towards the center, knowing full well that he has a flammable and delicate issue in his hands?
The answer can be expressed in one word: mayhem. Student marchers shouting “Police out of schools,” rectors saying “no” to every clause of the draft bill (while a month ago it recognized a need for security at universities); heated reactions to Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis’ announcement on public assembly, calling it a show of authoritarianism that aims to curtail democratic rights and individual and even press freedoms.
In the year 2021, when public debate should have reached a decisive crossroads where decisions on reforms must be made, it is instead regressing into decades-old fissures and wounds. Some see self-serving motives in the rectors’ stance. Others live under the specter of a corrupt police force as a hothouse of extreme right-wing sympathies and a looming, dangerous and out-of-control police state. The government lives under the fear of social rejection and the main opposition sees in government designs the rhetoric and the intentions of the alt-right.
How will we take the next, organized step towards finally adopting, in a democratically acceptable way, practices that are considered self-evident elsewhere, if there is no emerging political consensus over the basics?
The digital era is sweeping up all old-fashioned notions of party politics and moving forward, ignoring ideological hang-ups. Saying “no” to everything does not strengthen democracy, nor does it protect institutions. It only helps strengthen extreme voices that feed on absolutism and dreams of dictatorships, of all stripes.