Serbian Students’ Petition Alarms Montenegrins

13 Aug 15
Serbian Students’ Petition Alarms Montenegrins

An internet petition calling for the abolition of free tuition for Montenegrin students has caused reactions on both sides of the border.

Sasa Dragojlo, Dusica Tomovic
Belgrade, Podgorica

Law Faculty in Belgrade / photo: Facebook

A petition calling for the abolition of free tuition privileges for Montenegrin citizens in Serbia has caused a stir after it was reported to have collected amost 14,000 signatures.

The petition calls on the Serbian education authorities to allow Montenegrins to attend state universities only as ordinary foreigners, which means they must pay to study.

Although the petition was launched online years ago, back in 2011, it drew little or no attention until last Sunday, when some Serbian media outlets claimed that over 4,000 people had signed it in only two days.

“Montenegrin students in Serbia have full equality with citizens of Serbia…they are getting places in the budget and also in the dormitories at the same price as our citizens. This should be stopped as soon as possible,” the petition reads.

Student parliaments of several state faculties in Belgrade, Nis, Novi Sad and Kragujevac and at Mitrovica in Kosovo condemned the petition, calling it malicious and untrue.

“What is next – a ban on Serbs from Republika Srpska [the mainly Serbian entity in Bosnia], other countries in the region and the Serbian diaspora?” local media quoted a Serbian student organization in Mitrovica, Kosovo, as asking.

After Serbia and Montenegro separated in 2006, the problem of Montenegrin students studying in Serbia appeared in public for the first time.

Under Serbian education law, students from Montenegro can study for free in Serbia if they declare themselves as ethnic Serbs.

But the petition claims that there are numerous abuses of the rules, such as false residence registrations and use of the privilege by Montenegrins with dual citizenship.

The petition says Montenegrins should have to pay all the costs of studies and housing in dormitories.

“Those regarded as domestic students should only be those whose parents pay taxes in the territory of Serbia, or who have completed secondary school in Serbia or in the Serbian language, such as in the case of students from Republika Srpska”, the petition says.

Milovan Suvakov, Serbia’s Deputy Minister of Education, said citizens of Montenegro do not have all the privileges stated in the petition but only the same rights as members of the Serbian national minority from all around the Balkan region.

“The quality of our higher education is so good that students come from many countries. That is how we develop the competitiveness of our higher educational institutions,” Suvakov said.

News of the petition has meanwhile sparked sharp reactions in Montenegro on social media and news web portals.

While some support the initiative, arguing that only those who consider themselves Serbs should study for free in Serbia, and calling on the authorities in Belgrade to determine whether those students were “really Serbs or Montenegrins”, the majority criticized the petition as a “nationalist’ initiative”.

Zorica Markovic, from Podgorica, whose 21-year-old daughter is studying at Belgrade University, said if the initiative was accepted, her daughter would have to end her education and return to Montenegro.

“We simply could not afford to pay for scholarships. We barely manage to pay for her accommodation in Belgrade,” Markovic told BIRN.

Some surveys suggest that about 10,000 Montenegrin citizens are studying in Serbia, mostly in Belgrade and Novi Sad.

Source: Balkan Insight (Montenegro)