Staff at the Belgrade University Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory said in a statement on Thursday that their international appeal for support against government attempts to control it.
The statement said the appeal got the support of more than 400 professors from more than 200 universities, including Noam Chomsky, Jürgen Habermas, Judith Butler, Thomas Piketty, Yuval Noah Harari, Francis Fukuyama, Martha Nussbaum and Nancy Fraser. “No similar appeal at global level has gathered more significant names,” it said.
The appeal called for support because the Serbian government is trying to control the Institute which was formed by dissident intellectuals expelled from Belgrade University in the late 1960s, adding that it was a stronghold of resistance to the Milosevic regime in the 1990s.
“It seems that now the Institute is to be put on a leash. The Serbian government has named a new management board which includes some very controversial political figures. For example, Zoran Avramovic was made board chiarman and he was given key posts in the Education Ministry by Vojislav Seselj’s right-wing (ultra-nationalist) Serbian Radical Party,” the appeal said. It added that the acting director of the Institute is using “threats of pay cuts, attempts to limit the activities of the Institute Scientific Council, pressure on young researchers, ending international projects… indicating the future of the Institute”.
The appeal warend that democracy in general, especially science and education, are in increasing jeopardy in Serbia and added that few media outlets are free. “Freedom of thought and efforts in science have to be defended with European solidarity from colleagues and intellectuals,” it said.
The appeal demanded the immediate replacement of the management board members with experts and called for the views of the Institute staff to be taken into account in naming a new CEO. “The Institute must be allowed to regain its political and institutional independence. If the government is seriously devoted to democracy and wants to be a reliable candidate for EU membership it will give up this attempt at political control,” it said.