For the first time since 1968, Montenegrin high school students are refusing en masse to attend classes.
By Marina Roganovic for Southeast European Times in Podgorica -- 28/09/09
Students protest outside Cetinje's Gymnasium School. [Marina Roganovic/SETimes]
High school students from Cetinje's Gymnasium School have not set foot inside the institution since it opened for the new school year on September 1st. The students are protesting the local education board's decision to overturn its appointment of Miomir Djurisic as principal for a fifth successive year.
At issue is an appointment process which has become mired in bureaucratic squabbling, with political and possibly even religious overtones.
According to Djurisic, the controversy involves a chain of events that started just after his latest one-year term ended. "On June 26th, one of the members that was going to vote for me quit the board. He was replaced, but on July 1st, I was voted principal by four votes to three, anyway," he explained.
However, Djurisic's opponent in the race for principal, one of the school's professors, complained to the ministry of education and sciences, which had not yet approved the appointment.
Days later, a board member who voted for Djurisic was replaced by the ministry. The displaced member has filed a complaint in the administrative court, claiming that her removal was unlawful. Such an action, she says, can only be carried out by court order.
At the next board meeting, both the displaced member and her replacement attended. The board's president and another member chose to resign their positions, rather than allow the ministry's replacement to vote on Djurisic's appointment.
The ministry has since appointed two replacements to the board. No new election has been held, but an interim principal has been appointed.
On September 17th, Education and Science Minister Sreten Skuletic told the media, "I don't think they [the students] have any reason to protest. They will very soon get a principal, through a proper procedure." Djurisic has implored the students to end the protest and attend classes, but the protestors are defiant and vow they will not go to school until Djurisic is returned to the principal's office.
"I am proud of what we are doing," said Mina Novalic, a junior at the prestigious school. "We will not allow these manipulations. We will fight for our rights and we will prevail."
In an open letter, published in the September 19th edition of Montenegro's largest daily newspaper Vijesti, Cetinje Mayor Milovan Jankovic said there are other factors involved.
He said Marko Jokic, the deputy minister of education and science, told him in a phone conversation that Djurisic is unfit to hold the office of principal "because of his alleged meetings with Amfilohije Radovic [the leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro]."
Jankovic is a member of the country's ruling Democratic Party of Socialists. Jokic has denied the allegation.
On September 20th, the students' parents published an open letter to the minister in Vijesti. "Mr. Minister, we have a voice, and we hear and see. Politics do not belong in school desks," said the letter.
Podgorica Gymnasium students walked out of school on September 21st and marched through the streets in support of the Cetinje students. "We are supporting them, because it's not only about their rights but the rights of all of us, and this could happen anywhere," said student protestor Andja Jovetic. The Podgorica students returned to classes following the demonstration.