Belgrade University Rebels Silenced By 'Dictatorship Of The Deans'

For weeks a 'dictatorship' of state-appointed deans and chancellors ensured that Serbia's universities failed to live up to their rebellious reputation and stayed out of the opposition's current anti-regime protest campaign.

Belgrade University Rebels Silenced By 'Dictatorship Of The Deans'

For weeks a 'dictatorship' of state-appointed deans and chancellors ensured that Serbia's universities failed to live up to their rebellious reputation and stayed out of the opposition's current anti-regime protest campaign.

Tuesday, 17 May, 2005

It took several weeks, but last Tuesday, Belgrade's students finally turned out behind the Serbian opposition's faltering campaign of protests against the regime. But why did it take so long for the students - bulwark of protests agains Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic since 1991 - to join the team?

The answer may be found in an unprecedented state camapign against the University faculties that have singled out critics of the regime for dismissal or isolation. Nearly a quarter of the staff from just one of Belgrade University's top faculties have been 'retired', transferred to non-existent 'research centres' or simply fired by the government.

It is all part of a strategy to replace truculent tutors with state loyalists - and mute the student body's rebellious voice. Students and many of their porofessors gave key upport to opposition party protests when Milosevic tried to annul their victory in local elections in 1996. Milosevic eventually backed down and recognised the opposition's victories.

Some of the targeted staff, such as recently 'retired' Electrical Engineering Faculty (ETF) professor Branko Popovic, are going elsewhere. Popovic is likely to end up teaching in the United States, where he is held in high esteem. Professor Srbijanka Turajlic, fired from her post, will now divide her time between two 'foreign' universities, in Banja Luka in Bosnia and Podgorica in Montenegro.

Turajlic has not been replaced and none of her colleagues can take over her classes so her courses have simply been dropped. Of some 200 lecturers and their assistants at the ETF, 44 have left. Some were fired. Others were stopped from teaching and reassigned to non-existent research centres, created only for them, and set up with desks and chairs, but no equipment.

It was a measure of the government's grip on Belgrade University that it took so long to join the current nationwide round of nightly protests across Serbia that began in September, organised by the opposition Alliance for Changes.

A new Law on Serbian Universities, adopted in May 1998, reinforced the authority of the state-appointed senior deans and university chancellors, and forced the faculty beneath them to sign new contracts. These contracts - described by staff as an effective 'loyalty pledge' to the state - has substantially cut into their rights.

The new powers have turned the universities into 'dictatorships of the deans' and have resulted in Yugoslavia being suspended for a year from the international body for university leaders, the Chancellors' Conference of Europe. Serbian president Milan Milutinovic was informed in May, but news of the suspension was kept out of the state media.

The ETF's troubles began with the arrival of Dean Vlada Teodosic, appointed in mid-1998 by the Serbian government immediately after the adoption of the new law. Though the university is starved of funds for books and equipment, Teodosic quickly spent more than 100,000 German marks was spent on new security guards, some of whom were then ordered to physically remove faculty from their offices.

"The Faculty has been decimated," Turajlic told Balkans Crisis Reports this week. "Several new lecturers have been hired but they don't have the qualifications for the jobs." Young and talented staff are gone and only the older generation of staff remain in what used to be one of the most advanced and most highly respected engineering faculties in Europe.

"The ETF used to be highly regarded but now looks like an old age pensioners club," she said. "The young tutors who were supposed to start teaching in the upcoming years are leaving." Staff shortages force those who remain to spread themselves thinly. "Some colleagues teach five, six courses at the moment. No serious teaching can be done in such circumstances."

Teodosic's hardline has been challenged all along the line by the faculty, but he famously obdurate - despite losing nearly 50 law suits brought by unfairly dismissed staff.

This strategy proved less successful at Belgrade University's faculty of Philology. There the government-appointed dean Radmilo Marojevic finally dismissed after six months of protest by students and lecturers despite his best efforts to fire staff and merge departments.

As Marojevic closed departments he would open others - including a department of Sanskrit studies - even if there was no one in Serbia able to teach them. This only fuelled resistance of students and professors. Marojevic was encouraged to resign and take a job in Russia, and the more popular Rade Bozovic, who annulled all his predecessor's decisions, replaced him.

The Law Faculty was regarded as a particular tough nut for the regime. To tackle it, Milosevic sent in his deputy, radical nationalist leader of the Serbian Radical Party Vojislav Seselj as president of the Managing Board of the Law Faculty. He also appointed a new dean, Oliver Antic.

Antic forced the retirement of the renowned international law expert Vojin Dimitrijevic after dismissing some of Serbia's leading legal experts: Vladimir Vodinelic, Drago Hiber, Vesna Rakic-Vodinelic and targeted the famous dissident from the days of Josip Broz Tito, Professor Kosta Cavoski.

The regime had the easiest ride in the Faculty of Economics and Faculty of Political Sciences, where support for Milosevic's regime was already strong. Even there some staff balked at signing the new draconian contracts, but the dean of the economics faculty, Vlajko Petkovic, set the tone by firing 'foreigners' Refik Secibovic, a Muslim, and Andrija Anandarenko, a Croat.

A dismissal notice is reportedly being prepared for Mladjan Dinkic, one of the members of the Group of 17 independent economists who have proposed a way out of the political crisis if Milosevic steps down.

The Dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences, Vladimir Stambuk, a party colleague of Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic, is also cleansing the faculty of the 'disloyal'. "The University's standards are being destroyed, and replaced by the standards of open dictatorship instead," says professor Milan Podunavac.

But despite the depressing scenario, Podunavac sees some sign of resistance. Only 3,000 students protested in Belgrade Thursday, though more are expected at more demostartions in the future, say student leaders. "The University is currently not playing the role it should be," says Podunavac, "but, it will play it in the future as the changes, inevitable here, run their course."

Milenko Vasovic is a regular IWPR contributor from Belgrade.

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