The reaction of MASA to the increasingly frequent violence against educational workers in Serbia

The Network of Academic Solidarity and Engagement (MASA) calls on the institutions of the Republic of Serbia to react without delay in order to suppress the violence to which school teachers in Serbia have been increasingly exposed in recent months. The latest case, in which the mother of a fifth-grade elementary school student in New Belgrade brutally beat the biology teacher just because she was not satisfied with the grade at the end of the school year, shows that these are no longer isolated cases that happen in some remote places, but that we are facing an increasingly common pattern of violent behavior towards educators in Serbia. 

We remind you that only less than a month ago, teachers organized a large protest, also as a reaction to a case of violence against them, and that on that occasion the Government of the Republic of Serbia promised them that changes to the Criminal Code would be made as a matter of urgency in order to increase the criminal-legal protection of educational workers.

Despite the announcement without implementation, cases of violence against teachers are becoming more frequent and more brutal, and representatives of institutions seem to react only if there is pressure from the public. That is why we ask the authorities in Serbia what still needs to happen after the tragic events of a year ago and the spiral of violence in schools, which is increasingly turning towards those who should be the foundation of education in every normal country, so that finally took decisive measures in order to return not only the dignity of educational workers, but now also their basic safety?

Support for students of the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad in the fight for fair and democratic elections

MASA expresses its full support for the students of the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad and the informal organization STAV (Students against the Authoritarian Regime) who are fighting for fair and democratic elections in which every student of this faculty will be able to run for office and vote.

After three thwarted attempts to hold elections for the student parliament at the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad, students of the informal organization STAV on Thursday, June 13. blocked the building of the Rectorate of the University in Novi Sad, where repeated elections were to be held for the fourth time. This time, the students pointed out that the decision to hold the elections in the Rector's building is not in accordance with the rules adopted by the Student Parliament itself, according to which the elections are held in the faculty building. In the past, STAV members also blocked the holding of elections because, by setting impossible and unfulfillable conditions for candidacy, it was practically impossible for anyone except the student organization Student Union to run in the elections. Namely, the Student Union is the only registered student organization at the Faculty of Philosophy and all student representatives in the Student Parliament come from this organization. In order for an organization to be registered as a student organization, its registration must be approved by the representatives of the Student Parliament. An informal list of students can also run in the elections, with the condition that they collect signatures of support from over 500 students, all of whom must personally come to the premises of the Student Parliament for a list of support in a relatively short period of time. With this rulebook on the organization of elections, the Student Parliament has been preventing anyone else from running for years, and for a long time it has been the only list running for elections. Previous attempts by STAV to negotiate with representatives of the Student Parliament on the conditions for holding the elections failed. 

It should also be noted that there are unequivocal connections between representatives of the Student Union organization and the Serbian Progressive Party, while the current president of the student parliament was first on the list of the Russian Party in the local elections in Novi Sad. All this indicates that there is a strong political will of the ruling party to keep under control the Student Parliament of the Faculty of Philosophy and use it as a lever of influence on making important decisions at the faculty.

MASA opposes any politicization of student organizations, especially when its goal is to influence academic institutions and brutally violate academic freedom. There is also a trend of politicization of student organizations at other university faculties in Serbia, which is unacceptable and is becoming a concern for the entire academic community. We support the courage and persistence of students from the organization STAV to fight for elementary democratic principles to vote and be elected. When justice bends like tin under the hands of the mighty, justice must be steel in the hands of the brave.

A report from the round table on the crisis in education

Network of Academic Solidarity and Engagement (MASS) organized the Round Table on 13.5. In the Media Center under the title: "Crisis of the education system: shortage of freshmen and endangerment of the teaching profession".

The problem that affects the majority of state faculties is the sudden drop in interest in studying, where the lack of students is particularly pronounced in the courses and modules. Along with that, for a long time there has been a related problem of lack of teaching staff in secondary and primary schools, especially in smaller towns in Serbia. As a set of measures towards a solution, eight deans of the University of Belgrade decided to form a clear Platform, which was then supported by the University of Belgrade and professional associations. Negotiations with the Ministry of Education began a year ago. The specific topic of this round table is the aforementioned platform, its reception by the state and society as a whole.

The participants of the round table were:
prof. Dr. Goran Roglić, dean of the Faculty of Chemistry, UB
prof. Dr. Iva Draškić Vićanović, Dean of the Faculty of Philology, UB
prof. Dr. Velimir Šećerov, Dean of the Faculty of Geography, UB
prof. Dr. Ivan Belča, dean of the Faculty of Physics, UB
prof. Dr. Ana Pešikan Avramović - Faculty of Philosophy, UB
Ana Dimitrijević - Forum of Belgrade High Schools
Introduction: prof. Dr. Dalibor Petrović – MASA
Moderator: prof. Dr. Nikola Cvetanović - MASA

The meeting was attended by interested members of the academic community from several faculties and institutes, as well as members of the media. Representatives of the Ministry of Education did not accept the invitation with the request to postpone the meeting.

The conversation was conducted through three thematic frameworks: insight into the problem and the proposed platform, current progress - the response of state authorities and the public, conclusion and proposal for further steps. After an introductory presentation on the motivation for the meeting and the seriousness of this crisis, the participants in the first round identified all aspects of the problem and commented on the offered solutions within the platform. It was concluded that the aspects are numerous and connected, starting from unadapted teaching programs and the absence of reliable statistics to financial problems. However, the degraded status of school teachers was singled out as a key generator of the whole process, both from a financial point of view and from the position of the population in society. The teacher is deprived of dignity, burdened by administration, exposed to various pressures and unprotected. Such a bad position entails the necessary negative selection, politicization and decline in the quality of teaching. In the second round, impressions were presented about the current acceptance of the ideas of the Platform by the executive power and the public. It was concluded that the progress is minimal, partly due to changes in the ministries in the recent period, but above all due to the lack of motivation to solve the crisis in education. In the third round, it was concluded that it is necessary to continue exerting pressure, not only on the line ministry, but on the entire state administration, through the synergy of the academic community, professional associations and education unions. One of the key conditions for the recovery of education is the depoliticization of education, which was made possible by the 2017 law.

The goal of this round table was to draw attention to the dangerous trend of collapsing the education system to the point that its basic functioning is now threatened. This problem calls for broad social action because its failure to solve it brings far-reaching and profound consequences for the whole society. That is why, with this meeting and other activities, MASA strives to influence decision-makers in order to see the necessity of an urgent response.

Announcement regarding the new Ruler of REM

The network of academic solidarity and engagement strongly reacts and criticizes the Rulebook on conditions and criteria for issuing a license to provide a media service, which was recently adopted at a session of the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM). Namely, within the Rulebook, there was no part in Article 29, which states the types of programs and to what extent a certain type of program will be represented, and which in the previous Rulebook also spoke about what is considered a quality program: "A quality program is considered a program in which scientific-educational, cultural-artistic, documentary or children's programs, i.e. programs for minors, together or individually make up more than 20% of the total annual published program". 

During the allocation of the national frequency to the broadcasters who applied for that position in 2023, numerous irregularities were observed, including non-compliance with the criteria of profession, professionalism and program quality. All the televisions that received national coverage could not clearly and precisely prove that they met the program quality criteria. For some future allocations of national frequencies to broadcasters, obviously, this will no longer be necessary.

MASA advertises itself in this way, because it wants to emphasize that omitting quality means giving up development priority, top performance, standards of excellence, moving away from the "characteristics of the entity that relate to the possibility of it meeting established and expressed needs". This approach of REM shows that quality, as a criterion, is not so important, as the previous broadcasters carrying the national frequency have shown many times. Unfortunately, there is a lack of concern about the mentioned program areas at other levels as well. Education is being ruined, the state's relationship with culture is disastrous, science is facing the challenge of dogmatic indoctrination of young people, who are becoming more and more conservative, tending towards anti-intellectualism and are more and more subject to stereotypes and prejudices. 

MASA insists on reviewing the new Rulebook of REM, involving the professional public in an open, high-quality exchange of arguments and facts, which will emphasize the importance of nurturing the quality of the media program of broadcasters with a national frequency, especially in the areas of scientific-educational, cultural-artistic, documentary or children's programs.

MASA organizes a round table - The crisis of the education system: the shortage of freshmen and the threat to the teaching profession

Network of Academic Solidarity and Engagement (MASS) organizes a round table called The crisis of the education system: the shortage of freshmen and vulnerability 
teaching profession.

The academic and general public has been focusing on the problem of the sudden drop in interest in studying at most faculties of state universities in Serbia for some time now.
The lack of students is particularly pronounced in the courses and modules. Along with that, for a long time there has been a related problem of lack of teaching staff in secondary and primary schools, especially in smaller cities of Serbia. Accordingly, the Platform of Eight Deans was launched, which received the support of the Senate of the University of Belgrade.

The round table will be held in Monday 13.5.2024. from the 1:30 p.mMedia center, small hall (Terazije 3, Belgrade).

At the event he will speak: 

prof. Dr. Goran Roglić, dean of the Faculty of Chemistry, UB 
prof. Dr. Iva Draškić Vićanović, dean of the Faculty of Philology, UB 

prof. Dr. Velimir Šečerov, dean of the Faculty of Geography, UB 
prof. Dr. Ivan Belča, dean of the Faculty of Physics, UB 
prof. Dr. Ana Pešikan Avramović - Faculty of Philosophy, UB 
Ana Dimitrijevic - Forum of Belgrade high schools 
Introduction: prof. Dr. Dalibor Petrović - MASS
Moderator: prof. Dr. Nikola Cvetanović - MASS

The lawsuit of the mayor of Bor as another form of intimidation of university professors

The Network of Academic Solidarity and Engagement (MASA) strongly condemns yet another attempt to repress the current government due to a publicly expressed opinion by university professors in Serbia. This time, the target of local authorities is prof. Dr. Snezana Šerbul from the Technical Faculty in Bor, which is part of the University of Belgrade. Her colleague Šerbula was sued by the mayor of Bor, Aleksandar Milikić for allegedly causing panic and riots, all because of the statement in TV Nova's "Awake" program about the potential construction of a mini-nuclear power plant in Bor and the dangers of a possible accident. What is the most absurd of all, colleague Šerbula made this statement from the position of the Head of the Department for Environmental Protection, but also as a resident of Bor, that is, as an indisputably professional person and a citizen directly interested in the consequences of a potentially dangerous and very likely illegal act. 

After the mayor of Bora sued her, professor Šerbula was forced to give a statement to the police, as well as to hire a lawyer at her own expense in an attempt to get the lawsuit dismissed as unfounded. It is hard to imagine that any court, no matter how sympathetic to the regime, will actually confirm a lawsuit against a professor for a publicly presented scientific opinion in her area of expertise, but this was probably not the main goal for the applicant. As in the case of other persecuted university professors who dared to express critical judgments, the main goal of this lawsuit is to provide another example of how those who dare to warn of the dangers and reasonedly criticize the decisions of the authorities, even from narrowly specialized positions, will fare.

MASA believes that with this act the field for professional, critical and free public debate in Serbia has been further narrowed and that if the academic community does not resolutely stand on the side of its colleagues, who have the courage to point out the dramatic problems facing our society from a professional position faces, then her right to defend the profession, as such, will lose any legitimacy. 

The fourth annual Assembly of MASA was held

The regular annual assembly of MASA was held on March 21, 2023. in a hybrid model, where part of the members were physically gathered in the premises of the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, while the other part of the members attended the Assembly via the Zoom platform.

The program and financial reports for 2023 were unanimously adopted.

In the working part of the Assembly, after a short discussion, the formation of two working groups was unanimously adopted:

  • Monitoring of quality standards - accreditation and adherence to the standards of academic institutions, as well as ethical issues;
  • Promotion of professional authority - strengthening the importance of the word profession in the public and towards decision makers. More than twenty active members applied to participate in the work of working groups.

As part of the fourth item on the agenda, the chairman invited all members of the Assembly present to give their opinion and suggestions for activities in the coming period. Those present reflected on the activities of MASE in the previous period and presented their proposals for more efficient operation of MASE in the coming year.

Those present agreed that it is necessary for MASA to focus all available resources on preserving the integrity of the academic community and the university in the coming period. It was pointed out that the value of MASE's previous work is constantly confirmed, and that members of the academic community and the wider public recognize MASE as an important actor in preserving the integrity of the academic community.

Support to assistant professor PBF Vukašin Milićević

The Network of Academic Solidarity and Engagement (MASA) strongly condemns yet another in a series of removals or silencing of free-thinking teachers employed at the University of Belgrade. We are once again witnessing the dismissal of the teachers of the Orthodox Theological Faculty (PBF) who in 2017 signed "a public appeal that the theory of evolution is the only currently scientifically accepted theory that explains the development of life on Earth", and among them was assistant professor Vukašin Milićević. Despite the positive report signed by all the members of the committee for his election to the position of assistant professor, the members of the election council at PBF, University of Belgrade (UB) rejected that report. This indicates the danger, as in the case of other teachers who were dismissed in the same way in the previous period from this Faculty of UB, that PBF functions more and more as a dogmatic institution that destroys the reputation of UB. 

For this reason, we appeal to UB to finally break its silence and oppose the persecution of teachers and associates employed at the faculties within its composition. We remind the public that the amendments to the Law on Higher Education passed in 2021 enabled the Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), as a non-university body, to influence the selection of PBF teachers. Although MASA warned of the fact that this is in conflict with the university's autonomy and fought against its inclusion in the Law, UB accepted such a change without any support. We believe that the responsibility now lies with the management bodies of UB, and therefore we expect them to raise their voices and condemn the non-academic and immoral act of PBF towards assistant professor Vukašin Milićević, and prevent his dismissal. 

We remind you that the persecution of enlightened intellectuals unfettered by dogma is an integral part of the long-term neglect of education and expertise. In the case of PBF, this attitude of political elites towards higher education, as well as opportunistically encouraged condescension towards certain church dignitaries, sealed the fate of the mentioned group of professors, docents and assistants who were publicly branded and then slowly removed from PBF. Professor Maksim Vasiljević was fired in 2020 after the SPC Synod did not give him a blessing for a teaching position. In the same way, professor Rodoljub Kubat was dismissed, and assistant professor Marko Vilotić was denied teaching, while in 2022, assistant professor Andrej Jeftić was also dismissed. Previous dean bishop prof. Dr. Ignatije Midić was forced to resign because the SPC Synod demanded his dismissal. The raid continued now during the election of assistant professor Vukašin Milićević, who, despite the positive report of the competent commission, is now about to be fired.

Spinning threats and jeopardizing Professor Gruhonjić's safety

The Network of Academic Solidarity and Engagement (MASA) condemns the threats directed at journalist and associate professor of the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad Dink Gruhonjić. With incomplete and manipulatively selected excerpts from a public meeting and further tendentious interpretations, an organized campaign directed at colleague Gruhonjić is being carried out.

Statements made at an informal meeting, outside the framework of academic institutions, cannot be the reason for a kind of persecution within the faculty. Without going into what was said, and understanding the sensitivity of the public, we believe that freedom of speech is the inviolable right of intellectuals everywhere. In a premeditated calculation, edited recordings from the depths of the Internet are transmitted as news in tabloid newspapers, and according to the model we have already witnessed several times, these news are followed by a barrage of threats to the life of the individual and his family, as well as calls to prof. Gruhonjic to resign. Freedom of speech carries responsibility for what is said, but it must not mean public lynching.

We express collegial solidarity because we witness how, through various forms of pressure, public name-calling and spin through the media and social networks, public intimidation is practiced, the integrity of critical voices in the academic community is hindered and the personal safety of its members is threatened.

Announcement regarding the situation at the State University in Novi Pazar

On the occasion of the announcement that the UGPS Nezavisnost State University in Novi Pazar (DUNP) sent to the general public, the Network of Academic Solidarity and Engagement (MASA) expresses concern about the escalation of accumulated problems in higher education that lead to the further collapse of the credibility of state universities in the Republic of Serbia. In the announcement, the claims about the violation of the right to advancement in the academic and professional career, as well as the labor rights of employees at DUNP by the rector prof. Dr. Zane Dolicanin confirms that the authoritarian model of state management is reflected in other institutions, including state universities in the Republic of Serbia. This case is one more in a series of evidence that the processes that invalidate the academic integrity of university teachers in Serbia continue and with increased intensity. The number of university administrations that apply repressive measures in order to further intimidate the academic community and turn its members into followers is growing. Such actions generally lead to further humiliation of the university and denial of its role as an institution of the highest national importance, guardian of democracy and driver of socio-economic progress.

MASA provides support to colleagues from DUNP in their efforts to defend the credibility of their institution. At the same time, we call on all members of the academic community to persevere in the fight for the preservation of academic and civil rights and freedoms, including the rights to work, association and social dialogue guaranteed by the Constitution and the Labor Law as significant achievements of modern European states.