Don's Diary

January 3, 1997

SATURDAY

I have not been to Belgrade for 40 years and now the demonstrations against the declared outcome of municipal elections in Serbia are all over the news. I was expecting to be met at the airport, but nobody is waiting. Eventually find a colleague from the Institute of Pedagogy, full of apologies: it was hard to get to the airport because roads were closed for the demonstrations. He takes me to a stereotypical Eastern Bloc hotel, gives me the week's timetable and introduces me to a German colleague, there, like me, to address the conference.

SUNDAY

First to the faculty of philosophy at the University of Belgrade where the conference is being held. The windows of the faculty, which is also being used as headquarters for the student demonstrations, are decorated with cartoons and slogans in Serbian and English which change daily. Our colleague from the faculty takes us in through doors guarded by students where we have to leave our cameras. Visit the press office, a small seminar room, where I am given the latest protest leaflet. See the institute where the conference preparations are being finalised. Entering a large lecture theatre, we find a student asleep on the back seats. He had been there all night.

After lunch, we are taken to the daily opposition demonstration. The roads are filled with demonstrators, chanting and blowing their whistles. Yet it is almost festive - people are standing at the roadside waving, whistling and signalling their support and old people are doing the same from their windows. Demonstrators carefully walk around parked cars and even stop to let cars cross the main road from the side roads that have not been closed. Eventually the crowds move into a square to hear speeches. BBC World Service reports 150,000 in attendance.

MONDAY

Visit the British Council library and talk to the librarian about the University of Surrey. Leave some leaflets about our distance learning masters course in education and training and our doctoral programmes. Go on to the faculty of philosophy. Good to meet colleagues whom I have met in different circumstances. There are visitors from universities in Serbia, Macedonia and the Serbian part of Bosnia. After the normal conference opening speeches, a statement is read about faculty support for the students. Immediately a middle-aged professor walks out. Nobody follows. Give my address just before the noise begins from the square below: the students are assembling for the midday demonstration. Afternoon workshops are followed by a plenary session. we cannot use the planned lecture theatre because of the students' presence and so we meet elsewhere. Dinner and evening drinks follow. It is 1.30am when we return to the hotel, only to see another demonstration. A large number of students are setting off to meet compatriots walking the 240km from Nis, Serbia's second-largest city.

TUESDAY Meet the director of the British Council in the eastern Adriatic. He tells me about the council's work and of the interest in British education. He will send the information about Surrey's distance learning courses to Macedonia.The second day of the conference proceeds normally, the same noise starting at about midday. Returning to our hotel, we see two groups of students converging - those arriving from Nis and the main student demonstration. President Milosevic meets students from Nis - the first time he has met any demonstrators - and assures them that the elections were fair and that any wrongs will be investigated.Later, have to talk with the fourth-year students from the department. Meet in the Belgrade Free School because doing so in the university would be strike breaking. I ask a taxi driver the fare. An astronomical amount is quoted since he will have to avoid the opposition demonstration. Decide to walk.

WEDNESDAY

Meet the academic staff in the morning to exchange ideas for future cooperation. Times are difficult: sanctions are hurting ordinary people but making black marketeers rich. A quiet afternoon is followed by a farewell dinner.

THURSDAY

Met early at the hotel and am taken to the airport, the only place I know where passengers' baggage is X-rayed twice and passports checked five times. Arrive home early afternoon, phone the department to hear that we have done well in the research assessment exercise. I have been head of department for most of that time.

FRIDAY

Into the university early. Higher degree ceremonies today. Daughter, a part-time MSc student in radiation physics, receives her degree in morning. Own students receive theirs in afternoon. Among our students is an Italian distance learning masters degree student. Has done all her work in English - her fifth language. Evening, family celebration dinner.

Peter Jarvis, Professor of continuing education, University of Surrey.

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