Press release, November 23rd 2009

Press release, 2009-11-23

The decision to begin again the occupation of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb was not brought lightly. This decision is not a product of youthful love of adventure and irrational eagerness of those who made it. It is a direct consequence of the development of events since this spring’s suspension of the occupation. We have decided to take this action after much reflection. We are aware of what is at stake and of the weight of its implications, for us students as well as for the teachers and this school we have decided to occupy. We will try to briefly outline the circumstances that obliged us to act again. We believe this will make the decision to begin the occupation again more understandable to the general public.

The commission to change the legislation on higher education, in which representatives of universities as well as representatives of students were suppose to work alongside Ministry of Education officials, met only twice. Unfortunately, the only thing it was able to conclude at these meetings was that the commission itself is redundant and non-functional. Claiming that a “crowd” of 20 members only serves to deter “serious” work, the mandate to draw up a bill was passed on to a smaller group of experts consisting solely of those chosen by the Ministry. This group is meeting behind closed doors and so far has not made a public appearance. Thus ended – quietly, behind the scenes – the first act of this farce in which the wider circle of experts allegedly “democratically participates” in the drafting of the new law.

Once talk started that students might begin with their activities again, it was announced that the commission will be reformed. Of the commission only two things were known with certainty: that it does not include any of the Ministry’s representatives and that it was decided, quite arbitrarily, that it will be headed by Žarko Puhovski, the man who has not dealt with these issues in any way, except in the function of the appropriate producer of media attractive aphorisms and anecdotes. Therefore the Ministry decided to disguise the fact that it excluded even the narrower circle of interested experts from the process of drawing up the new bill by establishing a pseudo-commission in which Žarko Puhovski was given the role of a personified alibi. It is not upon us to speculate of the reasons that led Žarko Puhovski to assume such a role, but it is clear what lies behind this appointment. Putting the spotlight on the person whose role, established by the media, is one of the resident expert for everything and all is meant to create a smoke screen behind which the Ministry will be able to, without interruptions, formulate and push through the new bill, free from any influence from below. In order to prevent the possibility of protestation that the right to influence from below is synonymous to the meaning of the word “democracy”, they hired the man whose media image is allegedly in closest relationship with the defence of democracy itself. However, regardless of this scheming, in the university back corridors the talk soon spread that the function of this new commission was purely decorative – after the new bill is drawn, the commission’s task is merely to give it its blessing in the media and thus silence anyone who might object to the deficit of democracy and to bureaucratic autocracy. That is how the Ministry envisaged the second act of the farce.

We have decided that there is no point in waiting for that moment which will be reduced to a simple acceptance of the completed act. The public has the right to know now in which direction is the development of this issue heading. And there are plenty of unofficial and semi-official indicators to point out that direction. The information about the new bill that has leaked confirms the fact that the development is heading towards the commercialization of higher education, and this goes even beyond just the question of tuition fees. The Ministry has decided to lay low and continue the course firmly plotted even before this spring’s occupation. The only “concession” to the democratic interference is the tactical decision that the new bill should not be put forward until events have settled down enough that things can take their usual course: based on the logic of a firm division on media affectation and false concessions on the one side and backdoor maneuvering with crossed fingers behind the backs on the other. Regardless of the issue of free education, this practice remains unacceptable and profoundly undemocratic. Refusing to agree to such logic, and its acceptance as a supposedly unchangeable social fact in face of which one can do nothing but shrug one’s shoulders is reason enough for a decisive action once again.

Above that, however, remains the question of the right to education and the equality of opportunity. It is indicative that it is necessary to emphasize this aspect over and over again as it always gets lost from the the dominant media presentations and politicians’ speeches. However, the obligation to defend rights is not a matter of choice. When it comes to rights is unacceptable to formulate the question as: “How much of a right can we afford?” Within the context of discussing the crisis and fiscal constraints the only legitimate question is: “What is necessary to do in terms of fiscal and tax policies in order to ensure that the fundamental rights are guaranteed and achievable?” The choice between these two questions involves implicitly a decision about priorities and ultimate goals of society. It decides what kind of a society we want and what the purpose of the state apparatus is. If the politicians and mass media consistently formulate the issue of education (and other social rights) in the form of the first question, they are letting us know what kind of a society they are working for. And that choice reduces, in advance, the interests of the majority to questions of secondary importance. This raises again the question of the meaning of the word “democracy” and the political and economic elites’ adherence to its duties. The announced actions of the Croatian government, further privatization and the attacks on the social standard of the majority, represent an unambiguous continuation of that course. Such a tacit consensus to the detriment of the majority requires that we act in order to achieve change at that front.

At this moment some seventy universities in Europe are being occupied, mostly for similar reasons. In Croatia, however, tuition fees are already in absolute and relative numbers higher than in most European countries. The scope of the international movement is proof that our reasons for beginning a new occupation are not the result of misdirected subjective enthusiasm and love of adventure, while statistical facts only confirm that our reasons are objectively more acute than in most other countries.

We will not agree to the auctioning of rights – equality is not for sale!

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