Greece’s New Authoritarian and Undemocratic Rule

The recently elected right-wing New Democracy government is completely in the service of the ‘law and order’ doctrine.

During the last weeks in Greece, mainly in Athens, we have been facing a wave of police repression with numerous daily incidents that reveal one of the main strategic goals of the right-wing government of "New Democracy": authoritarianism, fear, and the muzzling of the left. One could say that the right wing traditionally has used police and state repression to control any progressive and radical social reaction as well as to challenge the organised activism of the political left. And it is true that the police in Greece has always been a deeply undemocratic, violent body penetrated by the most conservative, nationalist, and far-right political ideology of the modern Greek state. However, it is always necessary for the Left to be capable of analysing the political and ideological shifts, without making facile historical comparisons or frivolous predictions.

Within three weeks, a newly elected government decided to mount a frontal attack on the university students’ movement that has been on the streets for almost two months now because of a new reform promoted by the government that boosts the privatisation of Greece’s higher education system. Fear-stricken by the possible escalation of the movement on the eve of the anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic uprising, the University Council of the Athens University of Economics and Business (formerly the ASOEE) decided to lock out the university a few days before 17 November. The students resisted and tried to reoccupy the University when the government sent a fully armed and aggressive police force to the University. The police attacked 200 students while tossing tear gas in their midst, bashing their heads with batons. However, for the media – which are nothing but a propaganda machine of the right wing – this was a courageous decision of the government to put an end to the ‘delinquency’ within Greece’s academic institutes.

In parallel, and on a typical Saturday night, the police invaded a night club in the city centre, forcing 300 young people onto their knees with their hands behind their heads as if they were awaiting execution. The invasion was allegedly to enforce a drug law, but who can imagine citizens being treated this way while they are having drinks and dancing in a nightclub? A woman reported that the police forced her to undress herself in front of the crowd and while she was talking to them about her democratic rights, a policeman responded ‘Here we have no democracy, do you understand?

Alongside the attack on the students’ movement, the government is hellbent on settling its score with Exarcheia, the neighborhood in the centre of Athens that has for decades been a space of social and political resistance. The police has been roaming the streets of Exarcheia, assaulting and arresting people without a reason or warrant, mainly members of left or anarchist/autonomous political organisations and militant university students. The assaults reach the level of real torture of citizens by the police, with fake accusations to make leftists and anarchists appear guilty and part of terrorist groups.

The state violence of the last weeks peaked on the night of 17 November, after the huge popular demonstration for the 46th anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic uprising. The demonstration was massive (more than 25,000 people), vocal and peaceful, the people managed to safeguard it and many Mps of the Left were present. Alexis Tsipras was also there, marching with his Syriza comrades, being the first ex-Prime Minister in the history of Greece’s parliamentary democracy that participated in such a demonstration. Therefore, despite the hideous climate of fear the government had cultivated (more than 5,000 fully-armed policemen, two drones, 50 police motorcycles, etc.), the people were able to keep safe after they had demonstrated against the deeply unpopular and antidemocratic strategies of the Greek government. Nevertheless, after the demonstration a horrendous, mega police operation took place in Exarcheia with dozens of policemen attacking, beating, and arresting -under fake accusations -random citizens who were just passing by the neighborhood, going back home, walking on the streets. Numerous videos recorded by citizens’ cell phones that reveal the extent of police brutality that night have been shared through various media but mostly social media. It was the kind of law and order that could have been fantasized by a totalitarian regime of past epochs – images incompatible with a western, democratic state.     

Prime Minister Mitsotakis had declared ‘less state’ during his electoral campaign, and by that he meant the recruitment of 1,500 policemen and 1,200 border guards, while leaving public schools without teachers, especially those in our islands. This government requires a ferocious police force. It needs fear, terror, and silence. Its strategy of bringing about a complete neoliberal reform of the whole state structure, the economy, labour relations, etc. will not be peaceful. They already know what the social and political reaction will be. They must therefore be prepared to safeguard themselves. However, no matter how secure they think they are, people’s will, people’s power, and the struggle of the Left are -and have always been- the unknown quantity.