Location Croatia Croatia

Struggle for secular education in Croatia

This autumn a public scandal has shaken the University of Zagreb, Croatia. It has broken out on the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. New elected dean of faculty decided to integrate its curriculum with the Catholic Faculty of Theology. The dean was dismissed after public protest, but his proposal had deeper roots. Political cleanings developed in the university. Violating existing regulations and laws, the President of the University of Zagreb and the University Senate installed a new dean and dismissed the democratically elected student representatives in the Faculty Council hoping to achieve the majority necessary to command the Faculty. A majority of professors in the Council vehemently opposed these moves but to no avail. The Faculty has been taken over by the new management that continually, with the support of the President of the University, dismisses the professors’ attempts to return to lawful procedures, legitimate student representation and normal functioning of the Faculty Council.

As Zagreb academicians wrote, numerous political and social pressures and attacks in the public sphere were added to this institutional pressure. “The Archbishop of Zagreb Mr Josip Bozanić openly labeled the students’ and professors’ rejection of the merger with the Catholic Faculty of Theology as guided by ‘the spirit of communist dictatorship’. A member of Parliament denounced those who opposed the merger as ‘anarchists and Bolshevik satanists’ who should be beaten up by the police. The President of the University Mr Damir Boras, who also serves as the head of the Old Catholic Church in Croatia, has openly questioned the secular nature of the university, announcing his primary task as the President of the University to be ‘a return to biblical values’. Mr Boras is a close ally of the new Minister of Education Mr Pavo Barišić. After the departure of the former Minister of Culture Mr Zlatko Hasanbegović, notorious for his neo-fascist sympathies and explicit historical revisionism, Mr Barišić seems no less prone to revisionist attempts at rewriting Croatian history. In the 1990s, he published articles praising Julije Makanec, who was one of the leading Ustasha ideologues and the education minister during the Nazi regime in Croatia”.

Professors and students answered by public solidarity campaign and launched on-line petition for secular education. They state: We, the undersigned, want to express our support for the struggle of the professors and students of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb. We stand in solidarity with their attempts to defend the secular character of the university that should know no religious or ideological restrictions to scientific research and intellectual curiosity. The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences is a bastion of progressive thought and democratic innovation. The Plenum movement was launched at this Faculty when its students occupied it in 2009 and established the plenum (general assembly) as a direct democratic body of students, professors and all citizens fighting against commercialization of higher education. Because of its wider intellectual, social and political role and influence, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences obviously has to be punished and its progressive and iconoclastic nature radically altered. One pernicious way to achieve this is to undermine its secular character as the basis of free and rational thought. It is our task to prevent this from happening. Our letter of solidarity is thus a call to action: free, secular and democratic university is the fundamental precondition for free, secular and democratic society.”

Currently four hundred scientists, students, public activists, journalists and other no indifferent people have signed this call.

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