Slovaks hold funeral rite

November 22, 1996

Slovak students have held a candle-lit "funeral for academic freedom" in Freedom Square in Bratislava in protest at legislation that threatens university decision-making powers.

Anger at the new law has spread from the academic community to the students, who like most of their fellows in post-communist Central and Eastern Europe, had been politically apathetic.

But they have now formed a special protest group, the Initiative of Slovak Students, against the law, the passage of which has pitted Slovakian president Michel Kovac against parliament.

Besides the constraints on academic freedom, an amendment to the law in September gave the go-ahead for the controversial split-up of the Safarik University in Kosice.

President Kovac refused to accept the amendment, arguing that it did not follow the formal procedures. He also said it did not conform to the democratic principles on which Slovakia is based.

Parliament responded by rushing through a special bill dividing the university. The bill, according to Juraj Svec, rector of Bratislava's Comenius University and an MP for the opposition Democratic Union, was drafted in 24 hours.

Once again, President Kovac rejected the bill. He said that before a bill is submitted to parliament its budgetary consequences must be discussed with the finance ministry and "set out and justified" in the preamble to the bill.

The bill should also be sent to the cabinet and discussed by the relevant professional body - the accreditation commission.

None of these legal requirements were met, nor was the Higher Education Council, an elected body of representatives of all higher education institutions in the country, given its statutory opportunity to express its opinion on the bills.

President Kovac also said that parliament had breached a basic tenet of democracy - that decision-making processes should involve those who will be affected by the decision - in this case, the students and staff of the Safarik University.

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