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Human Rights in Serbia 2000


VI - Disciplining the University


The underlying objectives of the University Act were fully attained. Under the cover of the University Act a plan of political, moral and cultural destruction of the Serbian high school education was successfully implemented. Two years after the Act's enforcement the Serbian high schools, notably the elite Belgrade University, lost over 200 professors and assistants, of whom two thirds were young people with M.Sc. and PhD titles. That brain-drain helped achieve two basic goals: firstly any public criticism both on a broad social plane and on a narrow, university plane was neutralised, and secondly not only the current autonomy of university was lost, but the very future of all Serbian universities was indeed jeopardised.

Unfortunately one should not overlook the contribution of university proper to such a sorry development. Barring few brave attempts by some professors and management officials of Philosophical, Law, Philology and Electrical Engineering Faculties to counter the regime-orchestrated repression, responses of the rest of faculties and professors were not adequate. Without the backing of important institutions, for example of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and the Serbian Orthodox Church, and a genuine support of the political opposition parties, the university autonomy stood no chance of survival in the face of brutal repression campaign launched by the state bureaucracy and political oligarchy. Failing to find a genuine response to such massive stranglehold, university structures yielded to the regime's pressure and gradually bowed to imposed restrictions. Universities in Serbia faced a disastrous situation: their autonomy was suspended and they were no longer in the position to influence in any way the government's choice of rectors, deans and other high education professionals. In the aforementioned period the Serbian government appointed five new rectors and 67 deans (17 of them at the Belgrade University alone)

Swamped with people whose professional expertise and moral qualities were far below their functions and titles, the Serbian university was faced with a situation in which politics totally prevailed over quality of education/lectures and students' requirements. The task of high education is to produce experts in different fields and to teach them the basic ethical and moral standards for their future exercise of their profession. But the University Act had a contrary effect, as best attested to by the example of the Belgrade Law Faculty. From that faculty over 20 most perspective and qualified professors and assistants were removed in different way, but always on orders of the newly-appointed dean, Oliver Antic. They were replaced by greenhorns of dubious expertise. The most scandalous development was a recent appointment of Vojislav Seselj as one of the professors of the Belgrade Law faculty.

On the other hand most marked resistance at universities Serbia-wide was mounted by students bent on resolutely defending their academic freedoms. Frequent student demonstrations, rallies and other forms of protests, sometimes backed by some professors, were regularly punished or hampered by the university authorities, assisted by the police and private security teams. New "security teams" at faculties (notably at the Electrical Engineering Faculty, Faculty of Architecture and Civil Engineering Faculty) primarily engaged in protection of professors from-students.

The security team of the Belgrade Electrical Engineering Faculty literally threw out a full-time, but blacklisted professor, Milan S. Savic. Professor Savoljub Marjanovic told BETA agency that on Friday, 25 May 2000, he was banned from entering the faculty. A group of eight professors of the Electrical Engineering faculty, including some prominent names, like Milan S. Savic, Jovan Nehman and former dean Borivoje Lazic, was also banned from entering the faculty. "Savic begged them to let him come in to take some documents from his cabinet, but they denied him entry," said Marjanovic.

A group of thirty odd masked individuals on 23 May 2000 barged into the hall of Architectural Faculty and assaulted students gathered there. Attackers wore green surgical masks on their mouths and were armed with wooden rods. They indiscriminately beat up students. After the majority of students had fled the building, the gang locked the faculty doors and continued to beat the remaining students. Within minutes three white cars appeared in front of the building and several men in black clothes and without masks alighted from them and entered the faculty. (Danas, 24 May 2000)

Jevrem Janjic, the High Education Minister, on 24 May 2000 sent a memo to all deans and rectors ordering them to proclaim the end of the school-year by 26 May. He also stated that the decision was taken in line with "the current needs" and that by 26 May all students had to get signatures necessary for their admission to exams and endorsement of semesters, because after that date the faculty would be closed. The memo also stated that all gatherings and manifestations in the faculty premises were banned except those expressly greelighted by the dean. (Glas javnosti 26 May 2000.)

Association of Professors and Researchers of Yugoslavia and the University Committee for the Defence of Democracy demanded resignation of Jagos Puric, the rector, because students had been roughed up on his express orders: "After a series of beatings at the Faculty of Architecture, we, your colleagues, warn you, Jagos Puric, that this was the last time you trampled upon all norms of humanity and sensible conduct. You as a rector are responsible for everything that has been happening at the University, so it does not really matter whether you have given orders, paid the gang to beat up students or just tacitly agreed to their misdeeds." The letter furthermore read: "our people do not pay you to beat up their children. Have you tried to talk to student to see what they want, and what they find intolerant on your and the authorities part?" (Blic, 26 May 2000)

Several days after the bloodless revolution (5 October) deans of all faculties and high school institutions were dismissed. An interim body, University Council, was set up. Professor Dr. Marija Bogdanovic was appointed President of the University Council. Interim teaching-scientific councils were set up at all faculties. Dr. Jagos Puric, the Belgrade University Rector, was relieved of his duties at the 10 October session of the Interim Management Board of the Belgrade University. After several stormy sessions of the University Council, the official line that the interim management was given legitimacy by academic circles, prevailed. It was emphasised that the "academic circles mounted resistance to the lethal and usurping anti-Law (the University Act) which, to put it mildly, humiliated the University in Serbia." In justifying Puric's dismissal, Dr.Bogdanovic stressed that "Puric did not represent, let alone safeguard, the University interests, for during his mandate over 200 professors and assistants were fired, classes were irregular, and bodyguards were employed at some faculties." In his response to the dismissal, Puric sent a letter to President Kostunica, notifying him that " a group of unidentified persons headed by Dr. Bogdanovic, barged into the Rector's Offices and proclaimed themselves the new management. As you, the new president-elect, swore to preserve the constitutional order and honour all the laws, please try to do you utmost to avoid the repeat of the past mistakes, and ensure legitimate and legal introduction of changes in the country."

Gasa Knezevic, High Education Minister, on 28 December 2000 relieved professors Dr. Vojislav Seselj and Dr. Milisav Custovic of their duties at the Belgrade University.

Decisions on appointments of Seselj and Custovic, signed by the Law Faculty and Medical Faculty deans, were invalid, for the submitted documentation amply indicated that both Seselj and Custovic failed to meet requirements for such high titles under the University Act in place. High Education Minister Knezevic also said: "Two sessions of the Belgrade Law Faculty teaching-scientific councils urged taking of decision which would condemn the University Act and its upshots, including the appointment of Seselj as a full-time professor. I could have enforced the Act and dismissed Seselj immediately, but I thought it was wiser to give a chance to the Law Faculty to purge itself by taking the relevant decision. But when at the last session I saw Seselj's impudent intention to negotiate postponement of that decision, I knew that the time was up..."Gaso Knezevic also warned that "the two cases were only the first steps in a comprehensive campaign of de-politicisation and professionalisation of the University. But if the majority of the dismissed happen to belong to the ranks of the ruling coalition, it means that they have 'won' their university titles through political pressures and violations of legal provisions, and not that the High Education Ministry was bent on staging a political showdown with them."





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