School, photo: Pescanik
School, photo: Pescanik

The rector said that the truth about Sinisa Mali’s doctorate should be determined as soon as possible. With this statement, she became the hero of the day. She also said what everybody already knows – that about ten days ago, a group of the ruling party’s activists came to the Rectorate to defend it against the protesting students, because these students are protesting to have the truth about Sinisa Mali’s doctorate determined as soon as possible.

Although a hero, the rector didn’t impress everyone in the same manner. For the regime, she became a villain, almost a personification of evil itself. For the other, anti-regime side, the rector suddenly became an uncompromising fighter for freedom and honor. I’ll say it again: all the rector said was that the truth should be determined, and mentioned a fact which is known to everyone.

This is all it takes to make one a hero in Serbia – whether positive or negative.

In an overly-dramatic fashion, Brnabic said that the rector has crossed “the red line”. According to Brnabic, by telling the truth, the rector has chosen a political side. This means that political sides in Serbia come down to the choice between the truth and lies. On the one side, the side of the government, protected by an angry, hissing Brnabic, there are lies. On the other side, which is most commonly known as the opposition – the truth.

We doubt that this is what Brnabic meant, but this is what actually came out of her mouth. Which is unusual, because she doesn’t seem interested in either truth or lies. Instead, she focuses on loyalty – either you are loyal to the regime or you’re against it. Truth and lies are collateral damage of the demonstration of loyalty. Immediately after the rector boke the loyalty code, the fury from the top of the pyramid came tumbling down upon her.

While the government, personified in Brnabic, is rejecting the rector with disgust, she is welcomed and protected by the other side with open arms. The opposition is asking the Belgrade University Council and Senate to “protect the rector and protesting students” – according to a group of BU professors. This is cleverly put, because it may imply that the rector is protesting, too. If the Council and the Senate rose to her protection – we’d have a whole University implicitly joining the protest.

But who are the members of the Council and the Senate who are supposed to protect the rector when she says that the truth about Sinisa Mali’s doctorate, which everyone, and I really do mean everyone, already knows, should be determined? Those are the same people who have done nothing for years to accept the truth about Mali’s plagiarism, which, let’s say it again, everyone already knows.

Moreover, the rector herself didn’t do anything to make this truth official, although she has a bunch of regulations at her disposal to do so. Instead of using them, the rector actually said that she’s thinking about using them – as soon as possible. By saying this, she has “crossed the red line” and became the hero/villain of the day. And so it seems that this red line doesn’t even separate the truth from the lie, but becomes a question of the mere will to eventually speak the truth.

Let’s take this one step further. The rector promised to do everything to determine the status of Sinisa Mali’s doctorate (whether it is or isn’t plagiarized) as soon as possible. By this she must have meant to do it through existing institutions and based on existing regulations. But, ever since 2014, those same institutions, together with the Council and the Senate, have been refusing to implement these regulations and mark the doctorate as plagiarism.

When she promises speed, who and what exactly is the rector referring to? The same people who took five years to do nothing?

The rector is part of a knot of lies which refuses to untangle. By taking a principled stand towards the protesting students, she started to untangle herself from the knot. But all University institutions, including the Council and the Senate, are strongly intertwined and won’t let her out. From now on, she must act as a person (of integrity) and not as a rector (i.e. a person performing a corrupt function).

Only the rector can protect herself from the attacks; the Council and the Senate are little or no help at all. Instead of postponing the truth on the doctorate as a rector, Ivanka Popovic should speak for herself and say that it is plagiarism. By re-establishing her own integrity, Ivanka Popovic will re-establish the integrity of the rector. And then the Council and the Senate will come crumbling down.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 03.10.2019.

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Dejan Ilić (1965, Zemun), urednik izdavačke kuće FABRIKA KNJIGA i časopisa REČ. Diplomirao je na Filološkom fakultetu u Beogradu, magistrirao na Programu za studije roda i kulture na Centralnoevropskom univerzitetu u Budimpešti i doktorirao na istom univerzitetu na Odseku za rodne studije. Objavio je zbirke eseja „Osam i po ogleda iz razumevanja“ (2008), „Tranziciona pravda i tumačenje književnosti: srpski primer“ (2011), „Škola za 'petparačke' priče: predlozi za drugačiji kurikulum“ (2016), „Dva lica patriotizma“ (2016), „Fantastična škola“ (2020) i „Srbija u kontinuitetu“ (2020).

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