Students demand more power

四月 19, 1996

Students at the University of Zagreb in Croatia have protested against legislation on student unions due to go before parliament later this month.

The government, they say, drew up the bill without consultating those most affected - the students themselves. In particular they object to what they see as vagueness in the bill - not enough, they say, is specified; too much is left to individual universities to implement.

In February, immediately after the first signs of students discontent, the government dropped a plan to deprive students' services organisations of the right to act as employment agents for students seeking casual work.

Ivica Kostovic, the new minister of science, promised that the law on students would promptly be adopted and that students' representatives would take part in formulating the wording.

The text of the law was formulated swiftly and the students were given 24 hours to react before the text was sent to the assembly for adoption. The new title - the law on students' association - clearly implied a narrower scope for the law than the one the students' representatives agreed with Dr Kostovic, who is also deputy prime minister. The new draft resolves only one, though exceptionally important, problem - election of students into faculty and university bodies, which is delayed for more than a year.

The government tried to defend its narrowed version of what the students wished to see in the law by saying that there were several students' associations with widespread policy differences, that students' organisation was regulated by other laws, but said nothing about demands for introduction of money to finance students' media.

Students rejected the draft law which offered them crumbs, announcing that they would draw up their own version modelled on other countries.

Croatian students are generally apathetic and not interested in politics. Vesna Svetkovic-Kuvelec, professor of modern Greek at Zagreb University said: "These are the young people who went to the war and are sick of it."

The new wave of unrest seems to be associated with the internal problems of the university - in particular the personality of the rector, Marijan Sunci. He, the students say, interprets the university autonomy specified in Croatian law as "university autocracy", with himself as the autocrat.

This viewpoint is confirmed but with greater restraint, by Hrvoje Krajevic, dean of the faculty of mathematics. Dr Sunic, he said, tries to avoid the students, and in particular, has failed to implement the new regulations which stipulate student representation on the university senate and faculty councils.

"The students are unhappy", he says, "because they have had a bad experience with a rector who is not willing to let them have any decision-making power. They are dissatisfied with the new bill because many things are not legislated for, and left to the university to decide. They want more things in the law about students' life."

Dr Krajevic said faculty members too, are unhappy with the rector, "but he was elected - and will be in power for another two years". This, in fact, is his second term of office. He was first elected in 1991, under a law inherited from the communist era.

When the new, more liberal, law on the universities came into force at the beginning of 1994, new elections were held and it was generally expected in the university that he would be replaced.

However, the academic council re-elected him by 34 votes to 20. Shortly before the election Sunic became one of the vice presidents of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union - and many of the academics thought that his new political clout would benefit the university. This has not proved to be the case.

One of the reasons why the students feel under attack is the information blackout that they have been subjected to. Some of the student associations are manipulated by the ruling HDZ party which is afraid of too much student independence.

It was no surprise that right after protests outside the national assembly, a rival Croat Council of Students' Associations made a public statement marking the protest as "premature", and that a well-attended discussion on student demonstrations held a few days ago was completely ignored by the media.



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