“I urge the state to solve the problem using whatever means necessary – through agreement, peacefully or forcefully, that’s not my business”, said Kovacevic at a news conference held at the Belgrade University Rectorate, adding that his business is to teach. According to him, “universities are state property and thus the state should make sure that order is maintained within its premises.”

Rector Kovacevic has called the police to enter the University and restore order. He did this publicly, at a news conference. To urge the state to impose order, if necessary even by force, means to call on to the police to enter the University, because police is one of state’s instruments of force. This state in particular. (I immagine that inviting the army would be, even by Rector Kovacevic’s standards, considered too excessive of a measure.) Force, as interpreted by the Rector, should be applied based on “ownership”, ie. ownership rights – not just over property, but individuals as well. Furthermore, the rector tells us – he is a person of limited legal capacity (my business is to teach). Hence, only ownership provides unlimited capacity (the state needs to use whatever means necessary to solve the problem).

“After urging the state to resolve the lockdown of the Belgrade Faculty of Philology “peacefully or forcefully”, Rector Branko Kovacevic told the daily newspaper Blic that he wasn’t calling for a violent end to the protest or for the police. The Rector of the Belgrade University Branko Kovacevic told Blic that his calls were misinterpreted and points out that he had called upon the state to prevent the violence against the University. “This can only be done by my owner, that is, the state. How it will decide to do this, I do not know. State bodies of law and order are not violent institutions. Their job is to prevent violence and I have urged them to do their job”, Kovacevic said.

What can be learned from this statement of the Rector, in addition to the appeal made to the state to administer force, despite the subsequent, politely said at the least, unconvincing interpretation? First: the University, that is I (the state is my owner). Second: I am not the subject but rather an object (the state is my owner). Third: the matter of the autonomy of the University is a matter of ownership (the state is my owner). Finally: law enforcement bodies are not violent institutions – what about the state’s monopoly over force, our dear Rector? That the message resonates well, at least with some of the Belgrade University deans, was clear the same day:

“Miodrag Popovic, the Dean of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering in Belgrade, said that the University is autonomous and that it makes its own decisions, and that the deans or faculty councils have the right to call upon the police if there is a justified reason … This can last forever, because the requests of the students are constantly changing. The blockade more resembles a union strike. It is the same situation as with the road construction workers in front of the Government. ”

What can be learned from this statement of the Dean? The autonomy of the University is the subjective right of the Rector, the Dean … that they alone, without the influence from anyone, can decide to summon the police to the University. Furthermore: the autonomy of the street is the same as the autonomy of the University (road construction workers in the street = students in the University buildings, perhaps multiplied by two).

And what can be learned from history – despite being our worst teacher?

In Serbian history, the only Belgrade University Rector who called the police to intervene in the University was Vladimir Corovic. The reason for the student strike of 1936 was a political one, having nothing to do with education, with communist oriented students protesting against the government of Stojadinovic – Korosec and its pro-fascist politics, as well as against the organization ORJUNA (organization of Yugoslav nationalists), more specifically its branch ORNAS (organization of nationalistic students). In order to prevent the student protests, the government of the time established a so-called “student police” which comprised mostly of the ORNAS students. As the result of the regular and student police entering the University, riots broke out during which a student by the name of Zarko Marinovic was killed on April 4th 1936. The fourth day of April was declared the day of the students, and it is unfairly attributed exclusively to communism. Rector Corovic, after the end of the student protest, was fired, and the student police was abolished. Organizing the rememberence of April 4 1936 was most recently attempted on April 4 2011 through Facebook, but was attended by only 250 people.

Subsequent student protests have never incited any of the Belgrade University Rectors to openly invite the police to enter the University. Neither in 1968 or later during the Milosevic era – 1992, 1996/97. However, in 1998/99, professors had been expelled from the University of Belgrade buildings – but even then, not by the police, but by private security guards of the then Deans. Since its establishment, police has never entered the Faculty of Philology, although this was achieved by the vanguard of modern ORNAS – the skinheads.

Outside Serbia, the second bloody university police intervention in recent history also took place in April, however this happened in 1968, in the United States: “After the outburst in the park, campus buildings were stormed, occupied and held for a week. I wound up in Mathematics Hall and stayed for the duration of the sit-in. The students of Columbia were on strike. As we calmly held our meetings indoors, the campus was roiling with belligerent shouting matches and slugfests as those for and against the strike went at one another with abandon. By the night of April 30, the Columbia administration had had enough, and the police were called in. A bloody riot ensued. Along with more than 700 other people, I was arrested — pulled by my hair to the police van by one officer as another officer stomped on my hand with his boot. But no regrets. I was proud to have done my bit for the cause. Both crazy and proud.” (Paul Auster, The Accidental Rebel, The New York Times, 23.04.2008)

A movie was made about this event – The Strawberry Statement.

With his, historically almost unique call to police violence, Rector Branko Kovacevic proved to be a socially dangerous person. If the Belgrade University Council still, at least formally, cares about the autonomy of the University, Kovacevic must be fired. He should also be provided with a sanction in the form of community service. For example – watching movie The Strawberry Statement at least three times, followed by Youtube video about the violence against the Faculty of Philology students. If he decides to delight us and resigns himself, just watching theYoutube video will suffice.

(Here I deal only with the calls to violence. The debate, already initiated through the Pescanik website about the root causes of the Philology student protests, its forms, and the catastrophes of higher education in Serbia, should be continued only once the threat of violence has passed. If it passes.)

Translated by a listener from Ottawa, Canada.

Peščanik.net, 31.10.2011.


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Vesna Rakić Vodinelić
Vesna Rakić Vodinelić, beogradska pravnica, 1975-1998. predaje na državnom pravnom fakultetu u Beogradu, gde kao vanredna profesorka dobija otkaz posle donošenja restriktivnog Zakona o univerzitetu i dolaska Olivera Antića za dekana. Od 1987. članica Svetskog udruženja za procesno pravo. 1998-1999. pravna savetnica Alternativne akademske obrazovne mreže (AAOM). 1999-2001. rukovodi ekspertskom grupom za reformu pravosuđa Crne Gore. Od 2001. direktorka Instituta za uporedno pravo. Od 2002. redovna profesorka Pravnog fakulteta UNION, koji osniva sa nekoliko profesora izbačenih sa državnog fakulteta. Od 2007. članica Komisije Saveta Evrope za borbu protiv rasne diskriminacije i netolerancije. Aktivizam: ljudska prava, nezavisnost pravosuđa. Politički angažman: 1992-2004. Građanski savez Srbije (GSS), 2004-2007. frakcija GSS-a ’11 decembar’, od 2013. bila je predsednica Saveta Nove stranke, a ostavku na taj položaj podnela je u aprilu 2018, zbog neuspeha na beogradskim izborima.
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