Student activism in Serbia

Jessica Greenberg‘s 2007 dissertation, “Citizen Youth: Student Organizations and the Making of Democracy in Postsocialist Serbia,” chronicles the students’ response, among other things, to the still ongoing European Bologna Process. Apparently, in contrast to Western Europe, where at least some professors view it as an instrument of neoliberalization and creeping audit culture, the students saw it as a welcome source of needed reforms. (Serbian professors and administrators, however, remain more equivocal on the topic.)

Greenberg starts with a general history of Serbian universities, saying that they were “decentralized,” with each faculty an autonomous legal entity. (Universities in Serbia date from this century, several having been started in the 1960s and 70s.) Apparently they were an instrument by which the state could consolidate its power — although the threat of subversion from within the universities remained a real concern to state power, and the university thus became “a highly politicized site of critique and protest.” Greenberg adds that “student protest was often exacerbated because expectations created by ideals of higher education were constantly foiled by social and material practices within the everyday workings of the university” (7). (Of course, this is true in America as well, and in France – although I wonder whether it also works in reverse. Is it possible that our social practices are constantly being foiled and disrupted by our dysfunctional educational ideals?)

Serbia is an interesting case of student activism, anyway, since it seems that students had a major role in the defeat of Milosevic in 2000. But after this victory, the student movement lost its unity, refocusing itself on reform of universities. In the context of traditional pedagogy and limited institutional resources, “many student leaders saw the forms of standardization, credit systems, quality assurance and transparency of testing and educational requirements as the solution” (14). Moreover, it was evidently viewed as “a way to make Serbia more properly European” (15). Indeed, Greenberg’s work centers on how Serbian students work through the difficulties of citizenship and democratic organization in their universities. Unfortunately, from the introduction, I get the impression that she doesn’t investigate the university as such, as an institution, as a complex social structure – it seems to be very much cultural anthropology. But for the time being, I just want to emphasize this fascinating case of a neoliberal, regional reform – the Bologna process – being reused and reappropriated in local politics.