Balkan teachers and parents in opening day protests as school year begins

The new school year is off to a rocky start in several former Yugoslav countries, with teachers marching for better pay and protests from parents demanding changes in the curriculum.


An association of teachers’ unions demonstrated in Belgrade on 1 September, opening day of the school year, demanding, among other things, to be exempt from planned cuts in public sector wages, B92 writes. According to association head Dragan Matijevic, the average salary in the education sector is less than the overall national average.


Belgrade is desperate to trim its bloated state budget as it guides its economy toward EU integration and planned cuts to public wages and pensions sparked a wave of discontent.


The protest forced classes to be suspended in 240 schools and shortened to half an hour in 60 others out of the 600 schools affiliated with the 30,000-member association, its leadership said. Education officials said classes were completely stopped in 96 of the country’s 1,764 schools and shortened in 29 others, according to B92.


Gripes over pay also have teachers demonstrating in Montenegro, where the education union announced a one-hour warning strike for today, Balkan Insight writes. But while Serbian teachers are trying to hold on to what they have, Montenegrins are asking for 15-percent salary increases in line with a 2011 agreement to link public-sector wages to economic growth.


“This would not work if there was no room for wage increases, but there is,” union leader Zvonko Pavicevic said.


Other demands include increases in food and transportation allowances and full-time employment for teachers working on part-time contracts.


Education policy was the bone of contention in Bosnia, where several dozen Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) parents from Banja Luka in Republika Srpska refused to send their children to schools that use only the Serbian language curriculum, Balkan Insight writes.


The dispute arose last year when hundreds of Bosniak parents pulled their children out of school for weeks, claiming authorities in the largely Serb entity were reneging on an agreement to use Bosnian to teach their children literature, language, history, and geography.


Republika Srpska, unlike the Bosniak-Croat Federation entity, does not officially recognize the Bosnian language as such, referring to it as “the language of the Bosniak people,” according to Balkan Insight.


In addition, several schools from areas affected by deadly floods in May were unable to finish repairs in time for the start of the new school year.


This article was originally published by Transitions Online. Homepage image of Gimnazija Mostar by Mostarac/ Wikimedia Commons. 


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