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Right to Protest


December 20, 2011

We believe that, at a critical moment in the deepening crisis, it is our right and duty to demonstrate solidarity with all groups that are fighting for their democratic rights and to stand up to the rising tide of violence of the fascist gangs.

This year’s student protest, rallied behind demands essentially directed against high university tuition fees and the commercialisation of higher education, has encountered strong resistance from the authorities: the management of the Faculties of Philology and Philosophy, Belgrade University, and the Ministry of Education and Science. Students held several protest marches in Belgrade and Novi Sad, before entering into a weeks-long blockade of teaching at the Faculties of Philology and Philosophy, as well as the College of Computing and Electrical Engineering in Belgrade. Coordinated action by the police, official student representatives and neo-Nazi groups prevented discussion of the planned blockade of teaching at the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad.

During the blockade of teaching in Belgrade, the authorities tried to present the students to the public as a small group of hooligans and thugs, led by the radical left, which uses student problems, in the words of the Minister of Education and Science, Zarko Obradovic, to “cause trouble”. This attitude of the authorities towards protest is most clearly reflected in the call of the Rector of Belgrade University, Branko Kovacevic, addressed to the State – that is the police – to stop student protests “by persuasion or force” – and in the moves of the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, Vesna Dimitrijevic. To break the blockade the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy hired an additional ten private security guards who, on the premises of the Faculty, threatened journalists and physically attacked protesting students. After these incidents, the Faculty of Philosphy filed a request with the public prosecutor to initiate criminal proceedings against three students, Vuk Vukovic, Matija Medenica and Kosta Ristic, under the false accusation of violent behavior toward members of the security staff. The case is currently under preliminary investigation. No one has been called to account for the documented violence against the students.

These moves were designed to isolate the protests and prevent their spreading. This also opened up space for frequent attacks by organized neo-Nazi groups on the student protest: employing rocks, tear gas, smoke flares, crowbars, brass knuckles and knives. The latest attack took place on 6 December, when three neo-Nazis appeared in the occupied classroom 101 of the Faculty of Philosophy and demanded that the sociology student Matija Medenica leave the building with them. After a brief argument, one of them attacked Medenica with a knife in an attempt to stab him, fortunately without success. The Faculty management declined to make surveillance camera recordings available to the students who had been attacked.

During the past year different movements for social and democratic rights have been met with similar repressive measures: farmers from Vojvodina were unable after several days of struggle to break through the police ring around the city of Pancevo and hold a protest in Belgrade; raspberry growers were also denied access to Belgrade; the state banned this year’s protest against discrimination of the LGBT community; a repressive draft law on strikes was withdrawn under pressure from the public, only for the new draft laws on primary and secondary education to announce the virtual abolition of the right to strike for education workers – who in March held a demonstration of 15,000 people on the streets of Belgrade. Meanwhile living standards are collapsing, unemployment is rising, and across the country almost every week there are attacks of members of the Roma and LGBT communities. A growing anti-immigrant mood is noticeable.

We believe that, at a critical moment in the deepening crisis, it is our right and duty to demonstrate solidarity with all groups that are fighting for their democratic rights and to stand up to the rising tide of violence of the fascist gangs. We condemn the actions of state institutions that serve to criminalise protesting students, hush up fascist violence and work to suppress the right to protest.

Therefore we call for:

The withdrawal of all actions aimed at punishing participants in student protests;
The responsibility of the management of the Faculty of Philosophy for physical attacks carried out by private security on the premises of the Faculty and the responsibility of the management of Faculties of Philology and Philosophy, Belgrade University, the Vice-Chancellor of Belgrade University and Minister Obradovic for creating a propitious media climate for neo-Nazi attacks on student protests;
The withdrawal of all legislation restricting the civil right to express public protest;
The launching of a campaign to defend the right to protest.
We call on parents, students, and workers in education and the arts, trade union activists, non-governmental organizations, and all citizens who hold dear democracy and equality to show solidarity with all those who find themselves under state repression and attack by fascist gangs.

Marks21 is the Serbian sister organization of the International Socialists. More information can be found at www.marks21.info

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