It's almost dj vu for Zagorka Golubovic. Except this time it's even worse.
In 1968, when she was an anthropology professor at Belgrade University, her classroom criticism of Yugoslavia's Communist regime helped spark six days of protest in which 25,000 students and faculty barricaded themselves in the university. By 1975, as loyalty to the regime became a key qualification for work, Ms. Golubovic and seven others were banned from teaching.
Today, Golubovic is just as unwilling to kowtow to authority. She and more than 100 outspoken colleagues from the country's preeminent university have rejected a new law demanding what amounts to an oath of loyalty to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
The subsequent dismissals - some faculty have resorted to lecturing on sidewalks and in private homes - have spawned a movement to create an "unofficial" system of postgraduate studies. The move partly resembles the "shadow" parallel school system set up by Kosovo Albanians in south Yugoslavia: Both groups are fed up with the state-run schools and seek an alternative.
"I'm a person not easily disappointed or frustrated, but I feel even more helpless than I did in 1968 or '75 because at least then we felt we had some autonomy," said Golubovic, in Budapest last month to discuss creation of the Alternative Academic Educational Network. "But we still believe we can do something about it."
Such optimism is hard to come by nowadays in Serbia, which, together with Montenegro, makes up the new Yugoslavia. The Serbian government - with a nod from Mr. Milosevic - has launched an assault on not only the university system but also the independent media. The crackdown on both comes in the wake of the agreement Milosevic made in October with US envoy Richard Holbrooke to try to stabilize Kosovo, Serbia's troubled southern province.
The new education network would bind together the handful of independent educational institutions in Serbia and foster ties with universities in Europe and North America. It would offer postgraduate - albeit unaccredited - courses taught by the cream of Serbian scholars.
These courses are slated to begin next spring, though where they'll be held is still up in the air. What seems certain is that they'll draw some top-notch students.
"I consider all the professors who are no longer at Belgrade University to have been the very best ones," says Bojana Pecenovic, who received her law degree there last year.
Other Serbian students, however, may be deterred by the network's "unofficial" status. The Serbian workplace is tightly state-controlled, typically requiring diplomas from official institutions. To counter this, the network intends to establish relations with sympathetic bosses in the private sector, who might then offer jobs to the network's graduates. Same with studying abroad: The network hopes the certificate it issues will be recognized by some foreign universities.
Money, of course, is a key issue. But a leading supporter of the network is George Soros, the billionaire financier and philanthropist. His Central European University and nongovernmental agencies in the region will provide financial and logistical support.
The new university law politicized the current state-controlled system overnight. Milosevic now picks the education minister, who selects university deans, who choose faculty. This paves the way for less talented but more loyal faculty, says Vladeta Jankovic, a literature professor who was dismissed from Belgrade University for not signing the loyalty contract. Some students and teaching staff have reportedly held daily one-hour work stoppages in protest. In response, some student leaders are being threatened with expulsion.
"The regime wants blind obedience," Mr. Jankovic says, "but we must set an example for the public: that we should not be afraid."