Nationalists unwelcome

August 1, 2003

The University of Belgrade has taken steps to counter lingering Serb nationalism among a minority of its academics who supported former president Slobodan Milosevic.

Revelations of the clampdown came after Sonja Biserko, chairwoman of the Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, claimed at a seminar in Belgrade that "influential" academics were promulgating "a kind of reinterpretation of the recent past" among students, particularly in three faculties - law, philosophy and political science.

But Ljubinka Trgovycevi+c, deputy dean of political sciences, responding on behalf of rector Marija Bogdanovic, dismissed the claim as "insufficiently precise". She said that Professor Bogdanovic had been elected because she had opposed the Milosevic regime. "The same can be said for the heads of the faculties of philosophy, political sciences and partly also of law," Professor Trgovycevi+c said.

Because the Serb parliament has only recently passed a political screening law, some academics do hold strong nationalist views. Two months ago, however, the university instigated a Court of Honour, which assumed the function of "moral judgement and warning professors who were breaking human rights rules". Such people, Professor Trgovycevi+c stressed, formed only a noisy minority of staff.

Since the fall of the Milosevic regime, academics who had lost their posts for opposing his views have been reinstated, and a number of young scholars from prestigious foreign universities have been recruited. Ms Biserko's allegations could have been based on the past presence in the philosophy and law faculties of several nationalist student organisations, but these groups were countered by "strong resistance of other student associations, deans and vice-deans of the faculties themselves and the broader public".

Academic freedom demanded that some faculty members might well continue to hold and promulgate a nationalist interpretation of the recent past, but Professor Trgovycevi+c said: "I am certain that (nationalism) will never again be a mark of either the entire university or any of its faculties."

The most outspoken nationalist connected with the university is engaged elsewhere. Vojislav Syesyelj, a former lecturer in the law faculty and the founder of the extreme nationalist Radical Party, surrendered earlier this year to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague.

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