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News 13 Oct 17

Rightist Presence on Croatian Education Council Alarms Critics

The number of right-wing Catholic nominees to Croatia's new national council on education has alarmed critics – who complain that the criteria under which they were proposed are unclear.

Sven Milekic

Educational experts in Croatia complain that the criteria for naming members to the National Council on upbringing and education are unclear – after the government nominated a number of very socially conservative candidates to it.

Croatia's parliament has yet to confirm the eight new members of the Council chosen by the centre-right government in May, six of whom are linked to the powerful Catholic Church and to conservative circles.

The task of the Council is to monitor the quality of pre-school, primary school and high-school education, and suggest different measures and strategies for developing the educational system.

A Croatian news site, T-portal, has reported that one of the candidates, Professor Suzana Vuletic, comes from the Catholic Theological Faculty in the town of Djakovo.

She is known for having slated a 2013 comedy film, "Priests Children", about a Catholic priest on an island who wishes to raise the low birth rates by sabotaging contraception products.

 The film “offends all the noble endeavours and the goodness of the clergy”, as well as “depicting the Church, the faith, and … the priests, as extremely deviant”, she said.

Another candidate, Neven Hrvatic, a professor of pedagogy at the Zagreb Faculty of Humanities and Social Studies, is a member of the committee of the Croatian Bishops’ Conference for the pastoral care of the Roma community.

A third candidate, Alexander Buczynski, is one of 77 historians who supported Zlatko Hasanbegovic, the controversially right-wing Culture Minister appointed in 2016.

Eli Pijaca Plavsic, a former member of the Council and part of the NGO Forum for the Freedom of Upbringing, told BIRN, complained that it was not clear “what criteria they have to fulfil and the criteria according to which they are named”.

“They [the candidates] are named following an open tender, but the criteria are so wide, basically just setting the categories: primary schooling, higher schooling and so on … The Minister simply names them, and that, of course, corresponds to some political preferences,” she said.

“What is interesting in the case of the candidates for the Council is who are really members of certain conservative parties,” she added.

One is Eva Kirchmayer Bilic, a Zagreb Music Academy professor from a small, right-wing, Christian values party, Hrast [Oak] - Movement for Successful Croatia, which entered parliament under the umbrella of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ.

According to members of the former experts working group on educational reform, Hrast put pressure on the group – working to implement comprehensive education reform during the former HDZ-led government – to change the curriculum, which it saw as too liberal.

Kirchmayer Bilic was also known for having complained that, “after the French Revolution, the world has turned away from God”.

Media reports suggests that the HDZ’s junior partner in the government, the liberal Croatian People’s Party, HNS, and its new Science and Education Minister, Blazenka Divjak, do not support the proposed candidates.

The HNS is reportedly against the nomination of Kirchmayer Bilic, partly because she once defended the Croatian wartime fascist chant, "Za dom spremni" ["Ready for the Homeland"] as “a historical Croatian salute, true and primaeval Croatian message of the deepest, most honest and most positive connotations”.

Another candidate, Valentina Jerkovic, is the president of Hrast’s branch in the city of Rijeka. As part of the conservative initiative "In the Name of the Family", she was actively involved in the campaign for a referendum on banning gay marriage.

Although the appointments to the council are on the agenda of parliament, there is no date set for when the vote will take place. The current session of parliament ends in two weeks' time.

According to some sources, the discussion on the council's members has been removed twice from the agenda of the parliamentary education committee, which suggests there are problems in achieving a majority on the body.

The HDZ-led government has only a thin majority in the parliament, relying on the support of the HNS, the eight representatives of the national minorities and few individual MPs.

One HNS and one Serbian minority leader Milorad Pupovac are members of the parliamentary committee, without which the HDZ cannot obtain a majority on the body.

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