Milosevic sends in the thugs

September 15, 2000

Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, not content with stripping universities of their autonomy, has resorted to new, violent methods of dealing with his critics in academia.

A protest at Belgrade University's civil engineering faculty in May over the closure of the city's last independent TV station was violently broken up by 30 stick-wielding men. No one so far has admitted responsibility for the attack.

For years the faculty, along with law and philosophy, has been a target of the regime because many of its professors are active within the political opposition.

The attack, however, attracted little attention in Serbia and only the faculty of drama and arts made a public stand - all its 31 professors and lecturers signed an open letter to the dean refusing to lecture or hold exams until the culprits were found. "We do not want to pretend any more that the situation is normal, when it is not," they wrote.

With September's exams imminent, the attackers remain unknown, but state intimidation has reduced the protesting professors to three: Filip David, Biljana Srbljanovic and Nenad Prokic.

They have decided to keep going, but have no illusions about attracting much support. "There are no strong trade unions, no solidarity feelings and the level of fear is too high to expect anyone to join us," Professor David said.

"We have to continue this protest until we get the answers to our letter. If they sack us before that, they will just show once more the real nature of their regime."

Professor David, a writer, was fired from TV Serbia for his involvement in establishing independent associations of dissident journalists, writers and intellectuals. He thinks the universities are being targeted because of their role as centres of critical thinking. "To silence the autonomy of the universities means to silence the healthiest critical opinion and to prevent the possibility of rebellion against the worst of what this regime represents.

"That's why the new university law was introduced - to get total state and party control over the university. Universities are on their knees."

Professor David paints a bleak picture of the state of Serbian academia:

"Professors have been cleansed and new deans, loyal to the regime, have been introduced. Thugs with sticks are regularly visiting faculties, armed security guards control faculty entrances. What's worse, the quality of lecturing has dropped so much because the best professors have been fired that we can no longer talk about the European standards we used to have at this university."

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