Head of philosophy led protest

December 10, 1999

Gillian Sandford reports from Belgrade on the suppression of democracy

Few professors can command as much respect from staff and students as Marija Bogdanovic, who resigned as dean of the faculty of philosophy at Belgrade University when the university law was introduced.

The 57-year-old sociologist struggled alongside students in opposition. In winter 1996-97, Professor Bogdanovic was among the the first deans to join students in the opening hours of a protest that lasted for months and brought tens of thousands of people on to the streets of the capital and in cities across the country.

The demonstrators were defying attempts by the regime of Slobodan Milosevic to annul local elections because opposition parties had won control of crucial local governments.

"The faculty of philosophy was the centre of protest in 1996-97," she said. "Last year, when the assembly was considering the university law, we announced a strike in the faculty. We didn't want to accept a law that was against university autonomy. Under the law we lost the power to choose university staff according to professional criteria. According to the law, staff would be appointed by the government, in secret, without consulting the scientific council of the faculties, or the university."

The university saw a haemorrhage of staff who refused to sign new contracts under the law. The faculties of law, philology and electrical engineering staged protest strikes, but Professor Bogdanovic pointed out that her faculty did not suffer a dismantling of its structures or pressure on staff to sign contracts.

"The government has always been afraid of the university and if students from the philosophy faculty mount a protest, then the rest of the university will follow."

Can academics outside of Serbia help their colleagues?

Professor Bogdanovic said: "I think academics from foreign countries could help us by giving interviews to say how much we are trying to change our condition of life and standard of teaching from elementary level to university level."

She also urged them to "make contact with people from universities throughout Serbia".

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