Milosevic imposes 'communist' management on university

June 26, 1998

Belgrade University, the oldest and the most prestigious academic institution in Serbia, is facing a law which will stifle all management rights and freedoms.

Academics and students believe the new university law, recently adopted by the Serbian government, will destroy university autonomy.

The government will nominate rectors and deans with direct influence on personnel policy and promotion, turning professors into government officials.

Serbia's centre of PEN, the international writers' organisation, and the Serbian Academy of Science and Art lodged protests and a petition was signed by 16,000 students and academics but the government has remained adamant.

Vojin Dimitrijevic, a professor at the university law school and former vice-chairman of the UN Human Rights Committee, said: "Autonomy at the university is definitely over. They say we want to keep so-called self-management at the university when it is finished everywhere else."

Filip David, a lecturer at the drama school in Belgrade who was fired from the state television service for refusing to take part in pro-war propaganda, added: "Under the new law, professors are becoming civil servants hired and fired by the rector, himself hired and fired by the government. We'll be put under state control the way media have been for years."

Vukasin Pavlovic, dean of the political science faculty, who resigned a week ago, said: "Instead of introducing desperately needed reforms, Yugoslav society is caught between criminal activities of the mafia and greediness of the regime."

Ratka Maric, a senior lecturer in the same faculty, believes the regime is nervous because of the threat of defeat in Kosovo, and "needs to prove its power somewhere else".

Lazar Nikolic, a philosophy student, is disappointed that recent demonstrations against the legislation failed. "It's not that we were afraid of the police. Only this time students and teachers have not been capable of repeating the protest we had in 1996-97."

The government has brought in concessions for students, such as wider exam options, to make them more reluctant to join their professors in possible protests. "But I believe my colleagues will still express solidarity with our professors in case they get fired," Mr Nikolic said.

Nebojsa Popov, of the philosophy institute, sees the law as a means of rewarding the loyal and punishing the disobedient. "This is revenge for earlier protests against the policies of a regime which is stubbornly refusing any control over its activities. Our leaders get angry each time they are accused of lack of responsibility."

During the last protest, when students asked for his resignation, Slobodan Milosevic accused the university of trying to achieve a privileged status instead of acting like "any other company".

"These words became a self-fulfilling prophecy: the university really wound up as 'any other company'," Dr Popov says. "It's not like anything in the west, however, because there you have various built-in control mechanisms and watchdog institutions. Here the regime has absolute power, with no control whatsoever."

In the early 1970s, Dr Popov was fired from the philosophy faculty as one of the leaders of the 1968 students' protest in Belgrade. He is very critical of the role the university has played in Serbia's political life.

"For years people at the university have been abandoning any discussion on autonomy. There has been no critical thought because the university has been under government control for decades. Lack of democracy during communism helped the critical approach to be eliminated from the university. Disobedient people were cleared out and a basis for nationalist revolution was prepared. It might sound paradoxical, but this same university helped Milosevic and the whole bunch of other nationalists to get into power.

"The regime is cheating, as usual. We can pursue politics out of the university but we are not allowed to discuss a crucial issue at the university. What kind of state are we living in when it controls the university? Unfortunately, this is not a regime that can stand a critical observation."

He sees similarities between the Milosevic regime and the former communist state. "Both of them are one-party states", he says.

"But the previous one wanted to be respected both internally and internationally, whereas this one is proud of having the whole world against itself."

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