A society without strong, respected and recognized social sciences is doomed to wander and limp
Throughout August, the Faculty of Political Sciences was the epicentre of public attention considering that the meetings between the government and the opposition took place on its premises. This was the reason why we wanted to interview the Dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Belgrade, Dragan R. Simić.
How did the cooperation with the Open Society Foundation and gathering the government and the opposition at the same table come about?
— Bearing in mind the great division in our society and the absence of not only dialogue, but also the required regular contacts between the authorities and the opposition, as well as the crisis in the most important institutions of parliamentary democracy, while devotedly following the ancient principle that dialogical form is the most important and “superior form of knowledge”, it was quite clear to us at the very outset that further absence of responsible, competent and courteous dialogue would be detrimental not only to the political field and politicians, but it could permanently and irreparably destroy all dimensions of social life. Thus, these negative processes would jeopardize the fundamental interests of every citizen of the political community, down to every individual. In this regard, the Faculty of Political Sciences (FPN) gave its strong support to the initiative of the Open Society Foundation to launch a series of discussions on key topics of our political life and reaching a possible agreement on electoral conditions in the forthcoming parliamentary and local elections.
How significant is the fact that the talks take place at the Faculty of Political Sciences?
— With these talks, the Faculty of Political Sciences continues what our founding fathers started 51 years ago when the College of Political Sciences grew into the Faculty of Political Sciences and continues its mission in a society that we believe is at least threefold. Along its development path, which wasn’t always easy, the Faculty of Political Sciences became a true school of democracy, where this least benign system is studied comprehensively and in-depth. Our Faculty’s current curricula are increasingly focusing on people, the individual and the person as the very centre of the social cosmos, as well as re-affirming the common interest and the common good, whereby politics, as a skill of the possible, is striving to realize interests while not going beyond the moral what is moral and not renouncing the aesthetic. The Faculty educates such experts in the non-governmental, state and public sectors who are able not only to adapt to the current state of affairs but to improve and change it. University of Belgrade’s Faculty of Political Sciences is also a school of statehood. Since its founding, our students have been taught to think about broader, social, national and state interests as well. Many of our former professors and students have occupied and still occupy the highest positions in government, leadership and diplomacy, defending the interests of our political community and all its citizens in Serbia and the countries of the region. After all, the Faculty of Political Sciences has nurtured critical thought, dialogue, tolerance and openness since its establishment. For the half-century of its existence, the Faculty of Political Sciences has been functioning in four different countries and proved to be a resilient institution, similar to universities that have emerged and lasted throughout Europe and the world, from the early Middle Ages to the present day.
The establishment of FPN was marked by numerous events such as the founding of the Bitef Festival, student demonstrations, the performance of the musical „Hair“ and shortly after, the launch of FEST. How do you make sense of today’s developments and the role of FPN in all this?
— An institution that has been lasting for half a century is an accomplishment worthy of attention anywhere in the world, let alone in the turbulent Balkan region, in Serbia. The evolution of the College of Political Science into the Faculty of Political Science occurred on November 12th, 1968; the founders of the Faculty, both those engaged in practical politics and those who were scientifically concerned with political phenomena, were aware of the need to explore the subject of this aristocratic science, studied for thousands of years since ancient times, in the higher learning system too. As one of the founders of the Faculty, Najdan Pašić, put it, they realized that “the development of political science is a significant and reliable indicator of a society’s readiness and capacity for democratic critical dialogue about itself, its nature and the ways of its development“. From ancient times to the present, political democracy and political science have always shared the same cradle, they existed and died together”. Therefore, it is no coincidence that such an institution was born in a social and spiritual climate of a time of rebellion, restricted by the infamous party programme of 1958, the founding of BITEF in 1967, the student unrest in 1968 in all major cities of the former Yugoslavia, one from the first performances of the musical “Hair” in the world which took place in 1969 on the stage of Atelje 212, and shortly after, the founding of “The Brave New World” and the launch of FEST in 1971, the vague noire against ideological deception… Belgrade was the world back then too. It was the time when a new cultural pattern was born within the framework of an undemocratic political system, which cornerstones were political democracy, human rights and winning over freedom.
Quite a few of FPN professors participate in these meetings. How willing are politicians to listen to experts and why did you choose the Chatham House Rule?
— „Knowledge for its sake“ is the same as „art for its sake“, namely it has a problematic purpose and its existence and value are validated only in relation to reality, with individuals and society. In this sense, the presence of our professors and researchers, as well as experts from other institutions, is expected, even logical, in such conversations. Although the prevailing trend today is that theory and practice should be separate, that is, there is a claim that the world of science is increasingly „less useful to the world of politics” and vice versa, I see no other way than bringing the world of theory and the world of practice to meet and talk at least about certain key issues for the individual and the society. These two “worlds” can exist separately only to the detriment of both entities. In the civilized world, the Chatham House Rule is one of the better ways to discuss difficult, delicate topics, at the very least, with mutual respect for one’s interlocutors. This is not easy at all. In the case of the mentioned roundtables, political science was certainly not ancilla politicae.
How did the decision to partially open the third meeting to the public come about, after the first two closed meetings?
— The Faculty of Political Sciences is, among other things, a school of journalism and communication science. It would be unnatural and contrary to the nature of our faculty to start a media debate with the absence of the public; our goal was not to hide anything from the public and work on something behind closed doors, but to try to come to the most efficient way possible to reach an agreement on the election conditions, in compliance with the Chatham House Rules. Together with the most reputable non-governmental organizations dealing with these issues, FPN has created the ambience in which first thing to do would be to paint a picture of the real situation and then agreeing on what to do next. We should not blame the mirror if we sometimes don’t like our reflection in it.
What is the status of the Faculty of Political Sciences and social sciences in general in Serbia today?
— The Faculty of Political Sciences has a sound footing and a bright future. The foundation of our facility is built on the vision of our founders, the very first professors and assistant professors, some of whom, we are pleased to say, are still alive. Over 200 professors and assistant professors and 200 administration staff have built this institution on the back of that firm foundation since its establishment until today. However, students, both current and 15,000 who graduated from our Faculty at different study levels over the past five decades, are the strongest pillar that carries our house. These impressive figures are certainly even more valuable when we consider that our graduates, as well as our professors and assistant professors, have been contributing greatly to our society. As far as the position of social sciences in Serbia today, I would say that, despite the importance of the natural and technical sciences for the development of the modern world, it is not possible to understand the vision of the modern state and society without a clear and strong role for social sciences. Since ancient times, “the field of human things”, to use Aristotle’s term for social sciences, they have taught the purpose (telos) of all human activities and endeavours. A society without strong, respected and recognized social sciences is doomed to wander and limp.
– We are proud of the fact that the links and cooperation between the Faculty of Political Sciences and related faculties in the countries of the region, Europe and the world have not been broken even during the turbulent period of the 1990s. In terms of international cooperation and exchange, the Faculty of Political Sciences is one of the most open faculties at University of Belgrade, which is, again, the leading university in our country and one of the leading in the region, as ranked by the distinguished Academic Ranking of World Universities (the so-called Shanghai Rankings). In addition to student mobility, our research and research centres that “cover” different countries and regions of the world – from Europe, the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom to the Far East, China and
– contribute to our openness. We are also proud of the outstanding results that our students have achieved in competitions all over Europe and the world. We would also like to underline that we often play host to students and professors from abroad for various purposes and that we have undergraduate and Master’s studies in several foreign languages. In mid-June this year, FPN was the host of the congress of the biggers international student association ISA (the International Studies Association) with close to 600 participants from sixty countries from all continents. Serbia is a full-fledged member of the globalized world and it is increasingly influenced by the processes and features of the global order in statu nascendi, both positively and negatively.