Student Protest Blocks Macedonian Capital

source: Balkan Insight

by Sinisa Jakov Marusic

by Ivan Menkinoski, source FaceBook
by Ivan Menkinoski, source FaceBook

Over 12,000 students opposed to government-planned external, state-supervised exams for graduates attended a mass protest on Wednesday in Skopje.



Thousands of students, university professors and others supporters said “No” on Wednesday to a government plan for state-supervised tests graduates, in what was arguably the biggest student protest to take place in Macedonia in two-and-a-half decades of independence.

Students shouted “University is the voice of freedom!”, “No justice, no peace!”, “Can you hear us now?” and “Autonomy!”, and carried banners reading: “We are students, not clients,” and “I want to stay in this country.”

The march that clogged the centre of Skopje for over two hours took off from the university campus, passed the parliament building and ended in front of the government building.

Organizers and participants said they had trouble connecting to their mobile networks and accessing the internet. Many members of the press had the same problem. The protest was staged by a student organization, the Students’ Plenum.

In parallel with the main protest in Skopje, student marches were held in several other towns across Macedonia.

This was the second students march against the government plan for “external testing”. At the first march, held in late November, more than 2,000 people attended.

Photo by: Meri Jordanovska, Balkan Insight

Students mainly from the state-run Sts Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, and from other universities, oppose proposed amendments to the Law on Higher Education that envisage all students taking a “state exam” before they complete their studies as a form of improving the quality of their education.

They say the amendments are unconstitutional and pose a threat to university autonomy.

The change would “limit the right to education, guaranteed by the constitution,” the Students Plenum wrote in a letter to the Education Minister.

The plan was a “direct breach of university autonomy guaranteed in article 46 of the constitution”, done by “revoking and discrediting the ability of the educational institutions to determine grading methodologies on their own”, they added.

On Tuesday, Education Minister Abdulaqim Ademi insisted that despite the protests, the authorities remained “determined to introduce a mechanism for control of the quality of education”, adding that “it will not harm universities’ autonomy”.

Ademi said he was not informed of any alleged pressures being applied to students and high school pupils to stay away from the protest.

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski previously claimed that the opposition Social Democratic Party, SDSM, was the force behind the protest.

In fact, student leaders have told political parties to stay out. In a press statement they told party youth organizations they are welcome to join, but only as students and concerned citizens. They also asked them to keep party emblems and slogans out of the protest.

Keen the play down the scale of the rally, the ruling VMRO DPMNE party and pro-government media insisted on Wednesday that protest was attended by only about 3,000 people, all organized by the opposition.

Although some high-school students joined the protest, after being invited to do so by the Student’s Plenum, few turned up.

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight

The opposition mayor of the Skopje municipality of Centar, Andrej Zernovski, previously accused the government of pressuring high school professors in his municipality to stop pupils from leaving classes.

VMRO DPMNE officials dismissed allegations that some school classroom doors were locked to keep pupils from exiting class and joining the protest.

The protest march of Macedonian students has been supported by students in neighbouring Serbia. They announced their intention to hold a solidarity gathering in front of the Macedonian embassy in Belgrade on Thursday.

“Long live the fight of Macedonian students. We are students, not clients. One world – one fight,” the Serbian student leaders wrote in support of their Macedonian colleagues.

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight
Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight
Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight
Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight

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