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10 Years of Student Protests in Serbia

When can one say that a country is in crisis? The answer is clear: when students start street protests. This winter was the tenth anniversary of famous Serbian student protests 1996/97. It was famous by its energy and uncompromising decisiveness of hundreds of thousands of young people who swore to win the fight for justice and political responsibility, in time of overall regression of Serbian society.

That was a struggle against Milosevic’s regime, but also against the system which made the decadent political regime possible. Students protested every single day for three months until they achieved their goal – the official recognition of the opposition’s victory on local elections, and the resignations of the pro-regime Rector and Student Vice-Rector of the University of Belgrade. That was a dangerous action of rooting out the state’s corruption, media manipulation, election fraud and suppression of freedom. The following years weren’t to be any easier: in 1998 youth were protesting against oppressive laws which annulled the autonomy of the university; during the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 they were sending a message to the world saying that a whole people mustn’t be punished for the deeds of a couple of autocrats; and in the year 2000 students triggered mass protests which led to a final breakdown of the infamous government.

During 2006, the dissatisfaction of students escalated again! The old-fashioned teaching methods, inapplicable content, poor library funds, non-transparent and slow administration, rocketing tuition fees, numerous taxes, etc, were just some of the existing problems.

How far Serbia really got considering the implementation of the Bologna process was apparent after the Bergen summit of Ministers of education of the  European countries, in May 2005. Ministers assessed the Serbian progress in reforms very poor, setting Serbia on the very bottom on the scale of countries, participating in the Bologna process.

The escalation of dissatisfaction occurred on October 2006. At the same time, KONUS (The Conference of Universities in Serbia) was discussing degree equivalences from the old educational system (graduate, masters and doctoral studies), with degrees introduced by Law on higher education from 2005 (BA, MA, PhD). So, initially, rectors of all the Universities in Serbia adopted a proposal made by student organizations (SUS in the first place). This proposal was equal to the solutions which were adopted years ago in the  Netherlands, Estonia, Slovenia, Croatia, and many other countries.  But just a few days after, during the second session of KONUS, deans of faculties in Serbia stood up against these proposals and opposed the previous decision made by rectors. Thus, the decision on equivalence was postponed.

It was quite clear that this ongoing situation was an attempt of the faculties (read: deans) to manipulate students, to avoid the only rational decision (which is the recognition of equivalence of old and new titles), and to try to use this transitional situation in a field of education in Serbia in order to maximize their profit.

Revolted by this situation, students stormed to the streets again! During the next two months, SUS, in partnership with two other student and youth organizations, organised three large protests on the plateau in front of the Rectorate of Belgrade University. Due to this pressure, coming from a mass, and due to active lobbying, the legislation committee in the Serbian Parliament eventually supported the student proposal. Now, in order to make the rectors decision fully legitimate, it was up to the Serbian Parliament to adopt the recommendation made by legislation committee.

Unfortunately, prior to January 2007, the Serbian president called a Parlamentary election to take place on 21st January 2007. This clearly means that students will have to wait for the constitution of new Parlament to eventually, potentially ratify the decision of the legislative committee.

Although only small progress was made, it was quite ’touching’ to bring back the old memories from 1996/97.
Srecko Sekeljic
Marko Stojanovic
Student union of Serbia


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