Serbia returns to the fold

November 3, 2000

The post-Milosevic administration at the University of Belgrade has called for the reinstatement of all teaching staff who lost their jobs under the 1998 university law introduced to eliminate or intimidate the former Yugoslav president's political opponents.

The first meeting of the university's new assembly also called on the new Serbian provisional government to review all promotions and appointments made under the 1998 law.

Rather than accept new contracts under the law, many academics resigned or were fired for refusing to comply. They were replaced with academics who were closely aligned with Mr Milosevic or were regarded as compliant.

The assembly endorsed the efforts spearheaded by acting rector Marija Bogdanovic to bring the university back into the international academic fold.

Professor Bogdanovic attended last week's European Rectors' Conference (CRE) in Cracow, Poland, and representatives from Belgrade have already met Austrian university rectors in Vienna.

The CRE agreed to lift the suspension of Serbian universities imposed in response to the 1998 law. CRE programme manager Lewis Purser said: "There are now new rectors or acting rectors in all universities. The 1998 law is still de jure, but in practice it has been abandoned. A commission of academics has started writing a new law that it would like to see introduced."

The university's interim executive board held informal talks with Gaso Knezevic, the new minister of higher education in the provisional government of Serbia, just a couple hours before he was formally appointed.

Their discussions were predictably positive: Mr Knezevic is a former professor of international law at the University of Belgrade who resigned in February in protest at the appointment of Vojislav Seselj as dean of the law faculty. Mr Seselj is a former Serbian vice-prime minister and leader of the Serbian Radical Party, which supported Mr Milosevic.

Goran Milicevic, chair of the Coordinating Committee for the Defence of Universities in Serbia, said the talks demonstrated that the new minister was ready to support initiatives towards reintegrating Serbian universities into the international community.

A reconnaissance mission of experts from the Austrian Rectors' Conference is to visit Belgrade in the first week of December.

The assembly also called for the destruction of all police records of students and activists associated with Otpor (Resistance), which kept the flame of democratic protest burning when other democratic forces were faltering after the retreat from Kosovo.

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