Charity or Tolerance? Debating Moralities in the Educational System of Contemporary Serbia

Article excerpt

Abstract:

After regime change in 2000, the Serbian Ministry of Education introduced two new subjects in the schools: civic education and religious education. Representatives of local civil society associated the establishment of religious education in schools with a rise in nationalism and a split of the society into "believers" and "citizens". Representatives of the church, on the other hand, criticised the concept of civic education as redundant, and its establishment as merely the minister's "plot" to weaken the reintroduction of religious education. The paper discusses the debate on the new school subjects against the background of Serbia's socialist past, the rise of militant nationalism in the 1990s (respectively its recent ascension), and the democratisation and human rights discourse.

Key words: socialism, human rights, civil society, education

Introduction

This paper addresses an important development in the post-socialist and post-authoritarian transformation of Serbia, namely, the reform of the school system following regime change in 2000 (1) through the introduction of two alternative school subjects: religious education (veronauka) and civic education (gradjansko vaspitanje). Before, and especially after, these subjects were introduced in 2001, a heated debate evolved between representatives of the church, and among others, local NGOs. This debate can be understood as paradigmatic for the contemporary moment of social transformation, as it shows the fundamental contentions and similarities between civil-liberal and nationalist positions concerning an important aspect of the potential direction of social change: the education of young generations. The debate regarding the two school subjects can be seen as an expression of the contemporary discourse on morality, and the promotion of an "adequate" value system legitimized through constructing images of the past.

While advocating for religious tolerance and freedom within a secular state, NGO-representatives opposed both school subjects, arguing that they implied a break-up of society into "believers/Serbs" and "democrats/citizens". Advocates of religious education, on the other hand, rejected the subject of civic education as artificial and redundant, and claimed it was merely a politically imposed "counter strike" against religious education. In the course of this paper I will argue that teachers of religious education avoid discussing concepts of tolerance and human rights by means of an "argument of inclusion". This line of argument postulates the superiority of the traditional Christian values of love and charity over the allegedly redundant, artificial, and political nature of the "vocabulary of democratization". I will conclude by indicating a crucial commonality of the two positions--the neglect of the burning issue of the current decline in socio-economic rights and security, which were core values addressed in the socialist period--by reference to the "hypocrisy" or "godlessness" of Yugoslav real-socialism. In order to contextualize my analysis, I will start with a few remarks on religion in socialist Yugoslavia, and Serbia in particular. In this context, I will also briefly discuss the extent to which socialism under Tito had some features of faith, and afterwards will turn to the debate at hand and outline the main opposing arguments, and how their constructions of the past imply visions of a proper morality and a "healthy" future society.

The historical background: Titoism and Orthodoxy

Although Yugoslavia under Tito was considered to be less repressive of religious freedoms than most of the countries of the Soviet Block, there was a significant amount of control and repression of the church by the communist party. As specified in the 1946 constitution of the Federative Peoples Republic of Yugoslavia, there was a clear division between the state and the church whereby the state was defined as secular. …