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NO 135-136

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 135-136 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 135-136

January - February 2010

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By Slobodanka Ast

General Vladimir Trifunovic's golghota - his wartime and post-war suffering that associates a Greek tragedy - was coped with by courts of law and the media: for some, he was a hero who saved 220 young recruits and 37 officers from the "Thermpolis cliff" of the Varazdin barracks; for others, he was a traitor rightfully sentenced by a military court. YPA General Zivota Panic said at the time, "You were of no use to us alive but dead."

The Supreme Court of Serbia has recently overruled the sentence by which the former YPA general was punished to 7-year imprisonment fourteen years ago. The Court ordered a retrial. In the meantime Gen. Trifunovic has lost his family, a place to live in and his health. Awaiting justice to be done, he has been living in a room of some ten square meters in the "Bristol" hotel in Belgrade.

WHO ARE PATRIOTS: Not long ago, the Danas daily run a story about Jasmina Boric, civil education teacher at the Secondary School of Economics in Sombor, who has been discussing, for several years now, "the Trifunovic case" with her students over her "list of values" course.

The debate on "the list of values" always includes the term "patriotism." Back in 2003 when she begun teaching civil education, Prof. Boric noted that her 16-year-old students were rather confused over the term patriotism. She tried to explain it to them. At her question "Who are the patriots in our society?" she got, as she put it, disappointing answers. Her students quoted Mladic, Karadzic, Arkan, Seselj, Draza Mihajovic.Karadjordje, Milos Obrenovic or Vuk Karadzic fitted in the same "club," according to some. And in 2004, the Professor saw that yet another name dominated the list - Legija.

"I though that 16-year old, second grade students should be presented some other examples of patriotism as well. So I asked them if they wanted to hear the story about a general who thought he was serving his country but was proclaimed a traitor," explains Prof. Boric in an interview with the Danas.

After this major lesson in history and life, students replied as one that Gen. Trufunovic was a hero and a patriot.

Some even wrote to General Trifunovic to tell him he was their hero.

But Prof. Boric's colleagues reacted quite differently: some were shocked by the very topic of her lectures and in 2007 her unconventional approach was even brought before the Teacher Council. Professor says, "Many colleagues and the management of the school criticized me." Only three professors out of seventy stood by her and tried to justify her choice. The rest just looked forward to the end of the meeding. Later, when the official ritual was over, some colleagues came to congratulate her on her courage.

Vladimir Trifunovic - a general who didn't want his soldiers to be cannon fodder - is nowadays considered a hero by many young people. They consider him a hero despite all political messages coming from the regime and the opposition, and the mainstream interpretation of the recent history, which denies the Srebrenica genocide, Vukovar, Dubrovnik and other crimes "our people" committed against other peoples of the former Yugoslavia. The General is also a hero for a part of the Facebook generation.

RELIGIOUS TRAINING - A STATE SECRET: The story about Prof. Boric raises the question of how much we are aware of what's going on in our schools at civil education classes and, even more, at religious training classes. These major changes, added offhandedly to the rigid curricula after the ouster of October 5, seem not to concern anyone from educational structure, let alone the general public.

Reformers have been silenced in this matter too in the meantime, while the pompously announced National Educational Council seems to operate like an underground movement. The general public, preoccupied either with everyday problems of with "high politics," looks at everything in the domain of education with wide closed eyes. True, from time to time there is some short-lived hue and cry about big scandals: when, say, students of a Belgrade-seated gymnasium beat to death their fellow, Nikola Kovacevic, in a school yard, when secondary school students engage in a bloody knife fight or when a student slaps in the face his elderly teacher because he didn't like the grade she have him.The "Kovacevic case" has been on trial for four years now. Though it's been almost nine years since religious training was introduced offhandedly and out of the blue in the educational system of our at least formally secular state, this new course seems to enjoy the status of the "top state secret." The word has it that the highest dignitaries of the Serb Orthodox Church have not even allowed publication of statistical data about this educational novelty, which may testify of the percentage of children attending courses of religious training. Expert circles have not seriously discussed this major novelty. As if the Ministry of Education as a whole had been outdoing itself for years not to interfere in its own domain!

WHAT "OURS" DO TO US: People were shocked when they learned from some media that religious instructor Ivan Ivanovic was the leader of the rights organization "Ours" /Nasi/ in Arandjelovac. Some unaware of what "Ours" (a copy of the namesake Russian rightist organization) are doing to us must have grasped the "profile" of both the organization and the religious instructor when the latter brought infamous criminal Kristijan Golubovic to his class. Golubovic is a person with a long criminal record, specialized in drug trafficking from Novi Pazar to Belgrade.

This notorious criminal is again behind the bars. He was apprehended while drug dealing - what a coincidence - in front of St. Marc Church in Belgrade. Religious instructor Ivanovic said in front of TV cameras that he had brought Golubovic to his religious training class to present him as a model of a reborn man, "a person who, having served his time, turned to healthy life, sports and martial art."

When the press learned that religious instructor Ivanovic was the president of the local branch of "Ours" and was teaching religious training at several elementary schools in Arandjelovac, the Blic daily wanted to dig deeper into the story and conducted an interview with Ivanovic. The latter claimed he was "shocked" by the fact that Kristijan Golubovic was suspected of drug dealing in a church.

However, only a month before, Ivanovic was fiercly defending Golubovic in the "Insider" TV show. "We presented Kristijan Golubovic in a new light, as a man calling upon people to give up crime.That was a clear message: it you want to live dangerously, you should better go for boxing, karate or ultimate fight. That was one of public debates attracting the biggest audience over the past five years," said Ivanovic.

Members of "Ours" organization almost regularly attend the meetings ending up in incidents. Participants in such meetings usually chant, "Kill, cut the throat of a Shiptar, eliminate them all!"

They were also present at the ceremony marking the Statehood Day in the "Maric Jaruga" not long ago. Most broacasters "failed" to cover the slogans and messages they were shouting on the occassion.

In late 2009 the media were told that the "state would investigate the work of extreme rightist religious instructors." What triggered off this late step was the "Ivan Ivanovic case." The Ministry of Education said it would communicate with the Serb Orthodox Church, through the Ministry of Religions, to ask it to investigate into Ivanovic's work and take adequate measures if necessary. The Ministry of Education released that - under the Education Law enacted on September 11, 2009 - it was authorized to select religious instructors from the lists religious communities submit to it via the Ministry of Religions. The Law provides that religious instructors, like all other teachers, shall be selected in open competitive job announcements, shall undergo psycho-physical tests before recruitment and shall submit evidence that they have not been prosecuted. Besides, the Law provides that educational inspectors shall control their work.

"Until the Law came into force, the Ministry was had nothing to do with the selection of religious instructors," said a source from the Ministry of Education. Why was it that it took almost one decade before the Ministry of Education was given the opportunity to have an insight into the profiles of religious instructors and verify whether they were qualified for working with children and what they were teaching them after all? For the time being, there is no telling about Minister of Religions Bogoljub Sijakovic's views: as usual, he refrained from commenting on these major issues related to his authority.

Will the Ministry of Education try indeed to peek into the classes of religious training? Or the Church - that way back in Milosevic's era knew its time was coming - will pursue its practice? The Church has learned how to make politicians pay for its services. And frequent elections are ideal opportunities to make them pay.

The post-October attempt to reform the educational system was radically aborted when Vojislav Kostunica appointed Prof. Ljiljana Colic minister of education. Anyway, the Kostunica cabinet was exclusively focused on annuling, hindering and blocking everything the Djindjic cabinet (and Zivkovic's for a while) had done or set in motion. The effect of Ljiljana Colic's ministerial mandate (true, curtailed) was disastrous and could be summed up in the slogan "trading new things for old ones." Like the most bigoted creationists, this minister tried to ban Darwin from shools, along with foreign language classes from the first grade and computers, which spookishly "deprive a child of childhood and a human being of humanhood" - all of which aims at "Eurpeanization of Serbian education to the detriment of our traditional school." After initial chaos the educational system made a U-turn to traditionalism seasoned with inevitable transitional fears. Ms. Colic's successor and yet another trustworthy adherent of the Democratic Party of Serbia, Zoran Loncar, will be remembered as a man who tried not to interfere in his own duty but instead parroted the slogans about "spreading of the truth about Kosovo."

Dr. Zoran Loncar will be remembered as a "minister of education and Metohija," but also as someone making a fortune on "settlement of the Kosovo question:" according to the press, his property multiplied fifty times during his mandate, including a huge duplex apartment looking onto the Belgrade City Hall. No wonder his name appeared on the list of eleven ministers charged with misconduct. The incument Minister of Education is in the same club. The said minister, Zarko Obradovic, was in the focus of public attention when the media reported that with a sizeable entourage he paid a visit to the faraway Cuba. When reporters asked him about the purpose of that visit, he retorted, "I could tell you that, but I will not."

As it seems, the "Kosovo" code is used to justify all sorts of failures taking place under our noses.

Serbia's key problem in the past decades - and even centuries - is its unattained modernization. Today's situation at all levels of education is yet another proof for the well-known thesis about Serbian intellectuals being poor reformers.



Secondary school students in Serbia score extremeny badly at OECD traditional PISA tests. The last time they took this unique test measuring reading, mathematical and scientific literacy of 15-year-old students from 57 countries, Serbia's youngsters found themselves at the bottom of the list, at 41st place. According to the testing, students from Slovenia ranked high, at the 12th place, whereas their peers from Croatia won the "golden mean" - 26th place.

According to OECD experts, our students demonstrate considerable reproducative skills but are at loss when it comes to everyday implementation of the things they learned. A team formed by the ex-minister of education, Prof. Gaso Knezevic, launched educational reform with much enthusiasm. But his successor, Ljiljana Colic, and her incredible and capritious moves put an end to everything. Everything was stalled, including in-service courses of training for teachers and necessary international cooperation.

"Students from Finland always score highest at PISA tests. In 2003, the Ministry of Education invited experts from Finland who were willing to help Serbia to carry out educational reform. And then Minister Colic's team put an end to everything. Needless to say that the effects of educational reforms can be visible in ten-odd years and that such a reform is an investment in the future. Our politicians and the so-called intellectual elite seem to have an eye on elections only. Many talk big about patriotism, dignity and the safeguard of integrity, but their attitude towards education actually reveal that they couldn't care less about the future of this country," said Prof. Srbijanka Turajlic, former deputy minister of education.

Our intellectuals are not only poor reformers but also bad students: they have learned nothing from the hard lessons of the past.


NO 135-136

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