THU, 08 FEB 1996 22:19:30 GMT
Rebellion of Educators in Serbia
At the time of crisis, the regime appealed to patriotism of teachers and professors. Now, it demands that they do even more: work without pay, be silent about it, and continue to teach and bring up children
AIM Belgrade, February 4, 1996
Almost month-long negotiations of the educators' trade union with the Government of Serbia bore no fruit. Educators are on strike, and the Ministry threatens to lower salaries of disobedient teachers and professors. Perhaps this refers to salaries for January, which they have not received yet, and it is highly uncertain when they will.
Bursting of educators' tolerance at the seams and their declaration of a silent war on the authorities, started in mid November, when signing of a paper to go on strike began in schools in Serbia. Direct cause was, for who knows how many times, delayed pay of salaries. At the time, employees of the judiciary and health services succeeded in obtaining a better financial status and surpassed quite significantly the already impoverished educators, who found themselves at the very bottom of the scale of all budget users.
In the first nine months of last year, teachers' and professors' salaries ranged between 420 and 565 dinars. They usually received them with a delay and in two instalments. Schools and educators are utterly impoverished. From the interior of the country, news arrive that all they are getting from the state nowadays are chalks and education superintendents.
For the first time in fifty years, schools lack teachers and professors. They cannot be found in the employment agency either, especially physics, chemistry, music, English and French teachers. Alarming data on the decline of quality of the teaching process show that the authorities are interested only in having children taught, but not in who is teaching them and how: only in the course of last year in the schools of Serbia, there were 260 thousand lessons taught by non-professionals, according to the data of the republican Ministry of Education. This practically means that, instead of trained teachers, the job was done by someone else.
"It is humiliating what they are doing to us. There is nothing ugly that we have not experienced yet. We were beaten by Vojislav Seselj when we went out into the streets to protest, we are not paid, we have no right to rebel, powerful parents demand altering of their children's marks, it is done even without our knowledge, we cannot offer anything to the children... We are humiliated, mildly speaking. Let them threaten us, we have nothing to lose. They can discharge us, and then they will have noone to do the job, there is a shortage of teachers anyway. Not even the refugees want to work any more. They come, and go." This is how Dragan Janicijevic, a teacher from Belgrade, describes the situation.
On February 1, in Belgrade, out of 178 schools, 115 went on general strike, and there are still no accurate data about the inside of the country. But, news about the strike arrived from Valjevo, Cacak, Svetozarevo, Pozarevac, Kragujevac, Ivanjica, Prokuplje, Sremska Mitrovica, Arandjelovac...
The history of strikes in the struggle of the educators is not too illustrious. With the exception of the present strike, simply because its outcome is uncertain, the most severe rebellion of educators was the one in spring 1992. Its outcome was shameful. The republican trade union of education left the strikers in the street and reached an agreement with the Government. They, therefore, still say that their main negotiator with the authorities in fact works in favour of the decision-makers in the sphere of education.
This February, people employed in schools mainly demand what they actually have a legal right to: increase of the base for personal income and coefficient for its calculation, equalization of all users of the budget in the financial sense, vacation subsidies for last year, regular payment of salaries. They also demand amendment of the Law on Strike. Pursuant to the current regulations adopted during the already mentioned unsuccesful strike in 1992, they actually have no right to strike. They must work, all they can do is shorten lessons to thirty, instead of the regular 45 minutes.
Minister Dragoslav Mladenovic responds to their demands with threats that their salaries will be lowered, and that they must "bear the consequences pursuant to law". He promises nothing: neither higher salaries, nor warm schools, not even what he uttered approximately two months ago - that he would personally lead the strikers if financial and social status of educators did not improve. He was hissed off at the celebration of the Day of Education Workers when he mentioned that he hoped that at the next get-together, in January 1997, they would not be without salaries.
In the past few days, the Ministry exerts enormous pressure on school principals, at least according to reports coming from Belgrade schools. They are expected to submit lists of strikers, to introduce working obligation, which is done at time of war. Dragan Zlatkovic, President of the City Board of the Independent Trade Union of Education of Belgrade, also verifies that repression exists: "Complaints against behavior of the principals have arrived from a large number of schools, but primarily against that of the Ministry. By all means, even by lies, they are trying to belittle the strike. They simply have no right to abuse the principals, to threaten us, to misinform the public that there is no strike. All Belgrade schools have abided by the Law on Strike and there is absolutely no reason for such repressive action."
In the general hue and cry raised primarily against the trade unions of education which they believe are the main rebels and instigators of teachers' discontent, this time the authorities miscalculated one thing: the strike was initiated by the schools, and not by the city or the republican trade union leaders. It started as a warning that education was ailing, undervalued, sick at heart, in distress. In the name of patriotism, teachers were silent for a few years. They got nothing in return, not even understanding, a gesture, which was expected from them during all these years - at subsistence level, to teach in cold classrooms, with no social or financial acknowledgment. The authorities now demand that they do even more: work without pay, be silent, educate and bring up children. A big number of schools, especially those in the interior of the country are doing it, secretly expecting from the capital to do something for them. These are mostly citizens of those parts of the republic which are reached only by messages of Minister Mladenovic, but not by the fact that, on February 1, in Serbia, lessons were cut to thirty minutes in 520 schools. The Independent Trade Union of Education Workers of Vojvodina announces a strike in the next few days, more radical than the others. For the first seven days, lessons will be shortened, and then they will shut down schools.
As the case stands now, educators have no intention to give up. The silent strike in which they work and do not work at the same time, can last long, even with no major shock for the authorities. Teachers and professors have lately written twice to President Milosevic, asking him to receive them. They did not even get an answer, and a delegation of pensioners had the honour to meet the President.
Minister Mladenovic publicly admitted that there was no money and there would be none in the foreseeable future. This practically means that educators have no choice but to act in accordance with the old saying: "The man who pays the piper calls the tune". Although the authorities publicly manifest indifference to demands of the educators and although they undervalue their protest, it is not quite true that rebellion of teachers means nothing to them. As it was possible to learn, some kind of state of emergency was introduced in the Ministry, and school superintendents were given a new task - to call schools every day and check whether they are on strike. Educators do not willingly repond to these phone-calls.
Everything is uncertain in the war between the Government and the educators. Both how long it will last, and what the outcome will be. According to the experience acquired during the previous trade union struggle, rebellion of the teachers could be interrupted by a generous distribution of money, or a sudden outburst of love between the negotiators, the trade union and the Government. In the general poverty and underestimation of teachers and professors, such an outcome of the protest would just prolong silent dying and undoing of schools.
(AIM) Branka Kaljevic