Those of you who attended European Conference of Science Journalists in Toulouse 2018 are familiar with me and story I was telling you. Remember – it was about desecularization and antiscience movement in Eastern European countries, in my case, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I emphasized that science is connected to politics, and that far right and far left parts of the political spectrum have strong antiscience sentiment. I said that there are four riders of antiscience apocalypse – climate-change deniers, anti-vaxxers, anti-GMO activists and those who reject Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Unfortunately, antievolutionists are part of the Bosnian political elite. Bosnian society is deeply divided by all kinds of political, ethnical, religious and economic divisions and gap. This led us from democratic to pseudo-democratic atmosphere. And the worst is yet to come – those elites raised their “jugend”: young, very conservative, far-right, xenophobic and homophobic young members. One of them (Salmir Kaplan, who was minister of culture) once wrote on his FB that “theory of evolution is for retarded people”, while other one, Haris Zahiragić, ex-president of students’ association of the University of Sarajevo several times wrote against Darwin’s theory and science.
A survey showed that citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are more and more religious while they don’t possess an adequate level of scientific literacy. In my opinion, secular society is the basis for democratic society. Religion and government should be separated, but democratic society is also the one that respects religions views. But Haris Zahiragić, in his comment to this survey, wrote on his FB: “Citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are not enlightened by the science, they are enlightened by the Truth”, and, in his case, “The Truth” is written in the sacred book – Koran is the Truth. And this young man and his opinions and attitudes are on the list for the Elections 2018 in Bosnia and Herzegovina – on list for the Parliament.
In this constellation, it is hard not to think that politicians who are the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina are more fundamentalist and conservative than their predecessors.
More fundamental reaction from one side of political elites will lead to more fundamental reactions from the other side: every action has reaction. Bosnian society is “going deeper underground”.
University of Sarajevo, main building, source: nap.ba
But let me explain the exact event that forced me to write this. For a long time, Haris Zahiragić was a president of the organization “Students’ Parliament of University of Sarajevo – SPUS”, controlled by one the main parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina, SDA. But even when he graduated law, he stayed very close to this organization, disseminating hate, retrograde opinions and even homophobia. Also, some of the people close on the highest structures of University of Sarajevo are deeply connected or even a members of a SDA party. Rector himself, students’ delegates, some professors… and University of Sarajevo is not an independent institution – it is controlled by the Cantonal Ministry of Education, Science and sports and their minister is also from SDA.
In July, University of Sarajevo proudly announced that they are making “The Codex” which regulates which types of clothing, make-up, heels are “acceptable” and which are not. Haris Zahiragić explained us that this is his contribution in development of the University of Sarajevo. Please, try to find The University of Sarajevo in any ranking-list. Where is it? Nowhere! Instead of efforts aimed at quality of studying and scientific works, they are making a kindergarten of the university! So, for women, forbidden things are “dramatic make-up”, “high heels”, short skirts, any clothes that shows “too much”, like blouses that don’t cover arms… sandals are also not acceptable. They are many “not acceptable” clothes for men also, but “The Codex” also says that tattoos and piercings are not “acceptable”. So, will they expel students with tattoos and piercings? What is a “high heel” in “The Codex”? For someone, even “kitten heel” is high and for someone 10-cm heel is not that high. What about make-up? This “Codex” is trying to control our bodies and this is the way of institutional control! Especially women’s bodies and their sexuality, because, you know “sexual harassment begins with woman’s clothes”. It is her fault that she was wearing shorter skirt! Instead of preventing and punishing sexual harassment, University of Sarajevo is trying to control our bodies.
Rector of the University of Sarajevo said that “The Codex” is here to regulate certain behaviours and to prevent cases of intoxication by alcohol of the university staff. But, intoxication is already regulated by the bunch of other legislations and governmental laws. There is no need to regulate it with any codex at the university. This was a pathetic try to defend “The Codex”. It is interesting to note that Rector, Rifat Škrijelj, is a biologists, but on his lectures he used to tell students to read Harun Yahya, Islamic creationist and author of about 300 pseudoscientific and antiscientific books. Rector himself defended two professors at the department of Biology, who are openly creationists. One of the authors of this Codex, Ago Omerbašić, once wrote that even heliocentrism is “just a theory”!!!!!!!!!!
A lot of people, professors, and teaching assistants reacted to this codex. Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, Nenad Veličković, analysed “The Codex” very well. A few more reactions were also published on the website “Prometej” (“Prometheus”) which is promoting secularism. There were a lot of reactions on Twitter and Facebook. Me myself with friends used hashtags #Galvanize and #TheTimehasComeTo, inspired with Chemical Brothers’ song.
One of the protégés of Haris Zahiragić is Rijana Jusufbegović (her first name is pronounced almost similar as “Rihanna”) and she is “student-rector” (I have never heard of this position, but is seems to me that this is a camouflage for actions against secularism). She also defended “The Codex”, calling attacks on it “vicious”. Rijana is also on the list for the elections 2018 as a candidate for the Parliament. Everything we saw here is a sign of further desecularization of the country. Influence of modern Turkey and modern Russia are stronger than ever here. If we don’t react to these so-called “small things”, attacks on freedom, in next 20-30 years we will have authoritarian society and our only freedom will be to nod our heads.
A feminist FB page called “They are all witches” madea few memes using Rihanna’s photos where she wears clothes listed as “not acceptable” by “The Codex”. On every meme it was written “She went to the faculty” (“Pošla na faks”). FB page asked all of us to join them at the Faculty of politics for the public debate on “The Codex”.
What I am asking of you, dear colleagues, is to support these efforts to keep the University of Sarajevo secular. To keep Bosnia and Herzegovina on its way to EU. We need some help from all of you, sympathy and empathy. Please, write about this and spread the information about problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina, how antiscience is ruining secularism and leading Bosnian society in a wrong way – anti-EU antiscience way. We need your support, right now #Galvanize #PošlaNaFaks.
Jelena Kalinić, MA in comparative literature and graduate biologist, science journalist and science communicator, has a WHO infodemic manager certificate and Health metrics Study design & Evidence based medicine training. Winner of the 2020 EurekaAlert (AAAS) Fellowship for Science Journalists. Short-runner, second place in the selection for European Science journalist of the year for 2022.