In Defense of Secular, Free and Democratic Education and Research!
We, the undersigned,
express our deep concern over continuous pressures on the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb, which threaten basic academic freedoms, free research and thinking, democratic governance and participation, and, last but not least, the secular character of the University.
After unsuccessful attempts by the former dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences to merge the Faculty’s curricula with the curriculum taught at the Catholic Faculty of Theology, the situation has moved from bad to worse. 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.
To this institutional pressure, we should add numerous political and social pressures and attacks in the public sphere. 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.
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.