The Yugoslavia seven
The word "praxis," uncommon to Western ears, marks an important divide among Marxist scholars and is at the center of a major battle over human rights and academic freedom in Eastern Europe. The emphasis on "praxis" signals a recognition of the creative aspects of human life, of the fact that human beings can, through theoretical understanding and human and social effort, affect progressive change. The term, along with its negative counterpart, human alienation, was the hallmark of the early writings of Marx.Skip to next paragraph
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It is not, however, an emphasis which all Marxists greet with equal enthusiasm. To some it is seen as a way to reject the scientific character of Marxism, to downgrade the importance of the dialectic and what it is supposed to tell us about the course of human history and future events.
This seemingly academic issue has been the source of a bitter 12-year conflict in Yugoslavia which has resulted in the dismissal of seven of that country's most eminent philosophy professors, all from the University of Belgrade.
The situation is complex. However, it concerns the role of worker-management and control of factories and other work places, the privileged position of the communist bureaucracy, and the sporadic resurgence of sectional nationalism. Another important feature is the uneven economic development that has occurred in a country that was formed by fusing together a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire with a part of the old Ottoman Turkish empire.
The conflict in Yugoslavia does not have the high drama of Iran, Korea, El Salvador, or Poland, but it is nonetheless a lesson in the slow yet relentless methods that a bureaucracy can use to stifle dissent. The parties to the conflict involve not only the faculty of one of the country's major universities but trade union members, local officials, and national officers, including the late President Tito himself. The fact that Yugoslavia is itself a society twice born in revolution and dissent (first against the Germans, and then against the domination of the Soviets) adds a tragic irony to the episode.
Yugoslavia has always been a society that takes its intellectuals seriously. During World War II and immediately after, cadres of young, spirited revolutionary intellectuals were sent into the rural areas to explain the cause of the resistance and the ideals of the new society to the peasants. One member of such a cadre was Mihailo Markovic. Markovic was also a partisan fighter under Tito, and his career is but one example of the commitment that he and his colleagues have to Yugoslavia.
Yet Markovic and six of his colleagues on the faculty of philosophy at the University of Belgrade were recently dismissed from their research positions. Markovic's passport was confiscated and his freedom to travel lost.
All this followed a series of events that changed the structure of the governance of Yugoslavia universities and, in the opinion of many, violated the federal Yugoslavia and local Serbian constitutions.