Bread! Education! Freedom!

Bread, education, freedom: the three basic human rights according to students who started a rebellion on November 17th, 1973 in Athens against the dictator, and finally managed to initiate something that would bring dictatorship in my country to an end.

But how different is our government today, especially on the subject of education? My country has been severely damaged by the economic crisis, making it difficult for many to even have food on the table for their family, or even for themselves. Also, freedom of speech has been wiped out by the media that, instead of focusing on the peace demonstrations fighting for our rights or opinions, they prefer to focus on the minority that joined the group and that starts vandalizing the city of Athens, and using it as propaganda and spreading havoc to the rest of the world, eventually creating stereotypes about my country. Freedom of speech is coming to an end, but what about education? In my country, a war has just started last week between the Minister of Education, and professors and students of third level education. But let me start from the beginning and get you to understand this better.

I study Accounting at the Technical Educational Institution (TEI) of Patra. It is, if not the best, one of the best throughout my country when it comes to Accountancy. It is a department within the  Faculty of Management and Economics (FME), where there are three other departments. The TEI of Patra has three faculties, and is one of the oldest TEI in Greece, with at least 25000 students altogether. Throughout the year, I heard that many departments of TEI throughout the country would either be absorbed by other departments, or would be closed down. “This is ridiculous,” was my only thought on the subject, and did not dwell on it more, because it sounded as if people were underestimating the Minister of doing something so stupid and creating rumors.

Thursday, January 31st, 2013
As everyone knows, amidst exams all students  study and try to pass as many exams as possible, as I was doing as well. I logged on to Facebook to see if there might be anything on my departments group page that might help my studying (like notes), and I saw quite a few comments implying something I never believed I would see, but only telling us to catch the eight o’clock news.

So I did, and heard something unbelievable: out of the many TEI departments playing a dancing game on the map of my country, moving from one city to the other, absorbing into one department all departments throughout the country, was my department and all of FME moving. The TEI of Patra is threatened by the finally announced plans of the minister that it will lose one third of its students. The Accounting department would move to Mesologgi, and become one with the department there. “Has the minister gone nuts?” I was thinking, “Will the value of my diploma be downgraded just because a minister is taking me to Mesologgi in September 2013? Will the minister choose for me what to study, by broadening the subject of my studies in the new department, although I chose what to study myself? I must do something about it.” It seems that online were many students feeling the same, and a few implied that our professors are agreeing with us. We decided to have an FME meeting the next day.

Friday, February 1st, 2013
What a great way to start your month, by knowing you are a pawn on a chessboard for a minister! What next? Does he want me to tour my country from corner to corner? My exams today were cancelled, because we chose to occupy all FME departments and have the meeting at 1pm, so everyone would be present. After a three hour meeting, because a meeting of 7000 students is difficult to manage, we decided upon two routes for our peace demonstration in the city center, on two separate dates: Saturday and Monday.

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013
So our gathering today was at 12pm at Georgiou Square, in the center of Patra. Today our goal was to raise awareness of the people of Patra that they were losing 7000 students, and show them that this isn’t acceptable, even for their own community’s economy. Patra is a student city, and mainly depends on them. So by raising awareness of the population and permanent residents, we may be able to pressure the Minister himself! I mean, we are not the only city having students on the streets protesting! “You, staring at us walking on the street! Come and join our cause and help us stay in Patra!” was one of our cries while our peace demonstration on the streets. We walked for five kilometers, and by the time we finished our demonstration, all professors from FME had joined us! We were back at the square again, shouting for help and awareness of our cause.

Monday, February 4th, 2013
Our meeting today was at 10am, and started from the one end of Patra, all the way to the center, walking once again five kilometers, to reach the mayor this time. Our professors had a meeting today at the TEI figuring out other proposals to negotiate with the Minister. When we started blocking the road to start our demonstration, the police arrived, only to tell us that they support our cause and would like to accompany us of the minimal possibility of anyone getting hurt. Of course no one got hurt, but it was nice that the police did not stop us and showed people in the cars behind us that they supported us. Our cry out of the many today was “We want diplomas of value, not passports to unemployment!”

So we reached the mayor after two hours of walking, and we spoke to him. After speaking with him, he said that he was on our side, and to make it official he would, that very day, declare it in the press and on the local channel. The channels that were there, not only invited the mayor for a live interview during the lunch news, but also students to go and speak on television about their cause and problems.

At 6.30pm, we went to the Responsible of the Western Region of Greece. There, came all representatives of all TEI of Western Greece (Arta, Mesologgi, Nafpaktos, Agrinio, Patra, Amaliada, Aigio, Pirgos, Kefallonia, Zakinthos), since they were facing similar problems as well. In a nutshell, Mesologgi will lose many departments that will move to Agrinio. Arta, Nafpaktos, Amaliada, Aigio, Kefallonia, Zakinthos and Pirgos will seize to exist in September of 2013, and Patra will lose one of it’s three pillars which will move to Mesologgi. After the two hour meeting, the Responsible of Western Greece gave a chance to us students that were attend the meeting in the same room, to speak about our problems to him. Finally, the outcome was that on the 18th of February, another meeting would be scheduled to negotiate on proposals, and to send them to the Minister himself.

To be continued? Surely yes, but hoping the Minister of Greece takes back his future educational plan, and all of us would be able to say that this was only just a dream, but I may be dreaming myself for a day like this to come! I won’t leave Patra on their terms, especially for something like this, and for someone to downgrade my diploma!

Written by John Eikosidekas, AEGEE-Patra