How did everithing begin?
In the gloom of 1993, when Serbia was afflicted by inflation and imposed international sanctions reached their peak, a noble idea was conceived in Belgrade, designated to aid gifted students in the times of chaos and despair.
The idea was conceived by Marinko Vučinić, Branko Dragaš and Refik Šećibović, old acquantances who saw the opportunity to realise the idea they had come up with back in their student days. The idea was realised within a project called the Kredibel School. Refik Šećibović, PhD, incorporated into this project the findings of the study of the educational issues in Yugoslavia he had carried out for many years, showing in an experiment the ways of resolving the problems of higher education in Serbia. Branko Dragaš, the director of the Kredibel corporation, decided to support the Kredibel School project financially, thus incorporating this project into the broader concept of aiding the institutions who were trying to renew the civic spirit and culture. Simultaneously, Marinko Vučinić, director of the Tersit publishing company, which had made a significant contribution to the cause of restoring the civic spirit of Belgrade, helped the School acquire its shape through his experienceed, imaginative and sensible initiatives. Enabled by an internal decision of Kredibel Bank, Kredibel School started operating on 17th November 1993.
The first students of the School were the best students from the Faculties of Psychology and Economics. The aim was to shape broad-minded individuals, capable of understanding the complexities of the modern society, as opposed to the narrow-minded and short-sighted specialists. In the time when Serbia was on the verge of civil war and its fatalistic separation from the rest of the world began, arouse the need for enabling the best ones not to sink into the ovewhelming atmosphere of futility. Therefore the task of the newly-formed School was to provide the most successful ones with a rational and sensible view of themselves and their country, and not allow them to sever the bonds with the wolrd of knowledge, ideas and new experience. Guided by these tasks, the School chose the wise Latin saying Non scholae sed vitae discimus to be its motto. The selected students who proved successful were offered employment in the Kredibel corporation. The first generation of Kredibel School, the generation of 1993/1994, were labeled ''zero generation''. As an experimment generation, they helped to test the project and highlight its strong points, as well as the weak ones. The School began its operation on the premises at Terazije, but soon moved to more suitable premises in Kralj Petar Street.
The first professional review of the School was given by Ana Pešikan, who led the selection of candodates for the School. She characterised the School as an institution for nonformal education that kept up with similar global trends. She pointed out: ''The School's aim is not to parallel regular schools, i.e. to educate experts with certain professional profiles and give them diplomas. Instead, its aim is to provide information and acquisition of skills, and to gather carefully selected, diverse, high-quality knowledge, successfully integrated into a harmonious set of knowledge required by an expert (of whatever profession) who wants to do their job creatively and competently''. At the time, this was one among a very few attempts at advancing knowledge and skills and broadening the mindsets of the most successful students.
The Kredibel School programme has changed along with the students' interesets and needs. However, three areas were prominent:
- business eduaction
- general culture and level of information
- creatiing Kredibel's image
The format of the School Board, as well as the structure of the expert team was in accordance with the programme orientationof the School. The first School Board consisted of Branko Dragaš, Zoran Krstanović. Ljubiša Rajić PhD, Goran Pitić, Ivan Ivić PhD, Đuro Šušnjić PhD, Nikola Samardžić PhD, Cane Tulić PhD and Borivoj Rašuo MA. The expert team consisted of Refik Šećibović PhD, the first director of the School, Goran Petković PhD, Ana Pešikan MA, Angelina Marković and Predrag Golubović. Tijana Nedeljkovič, a ''zero generation'' student, initialised the psychological workshops programme, which is still successfully held at BOS.
''The first generation of the Kredibel School'' enrolled in the school year 1994/1995, having previously been carefully selected from almost all the faculties of social sciences in Belgrade. The School opening ceremony was held on 14th October 1994, on the premises in Kralj Petar Street, which were later used as a setting for Emir Kusturic's movie Underground. Since that day, 14th October has been celebrated as the School Day.
Later on, the School focused on recruiting the best final-year students from the firleds of social sciences and humanities. In that way, it assembled the most successful students of various professional profiles, who for first time after they finished their secondary education had the opportunity to immerse in a wider range of disciplines. Eminent philosophers, scientists and experts in the fields of social sciences, as well as renowned artists were invited to give lectures in the School. Debates on current happenings in politcs were organised, with the participation of various scientists and politicians. The school year was crowned with a summer school, which lasted from 10th to 20th June in the fairytale setting of the Dunđerski Castle in Bačka. It was an opportunity for students, assisted by the experts in economics, law, sociology, history, literature and art, who were also present, to write a Proposal of the Revival Of the Yugoslav Society. After the summer school ended, the Proposal was printed, and the introduction said: ''The Proposal of the Revival written by the first generation of the Kredibel School today looks like a true utopia, because to advocate a comprehensive social rebirth in a society that negates utopia goes beyond mere challenge.'' The Proposal contained three parts: economic rebirth, political recovery and cultural renaissance. What distinguished the first generation of Kredibel students and the School itself was immense individual optimism and extremely successful development.
The School entered the academic year 1995/1996 with great expectations. The most ambitious celebration of the new school year was organised at the Konak of Kneginja Ljubica on 14th October 1995. An extensive publishing programme was presented at the opening.
The first Collection of the students' works, the first Collection of the lecturers' works, as well as the aforementioned Proposal of the Revival of the Yugoslav Society were printed. The first Prospectus of the School was also printed and translated into five languages. Collection of the lecturers' works contained the works of the following lecturers: Ljubomir Maksimović PhD, professor Vladeta Jerotić, Đuro Šušnjić PhD, Kosta Čavoški PhD, Nikola Samardžić PhD, Dušan T. Bataković PhD, Ljubiša Rajić PhD, Dejan Erić MA, Nebojša Janićijević PhD, Goran Petković PhD and Dejan Šoškić MA. ZBORNIK reveals the School's multisciplinary tendencies, as well as the harmonious relation among the works from the fields of social sciences and humanities. It was expected that the third academic year would lead to the further development of the School. However, sudden financial difficulties that Kredibel corporation faced threatened to geopardise the intended programme. Although denied the privilieges the previous generations had enjoyed, not only was the highly motivated third generation not discouraged but its students strenghtened the bonds that united them, showed that the spirit of the School remained and proved that it was possible to overcome whatever obstacles came their way.
The first years of Belgrade Open School
Inspired by the experience of this generation associates have managed to create conditions for the further operating of the School through great personal efforts and exercise of personal restraints. At the meeting in late spring 1996, the School Director, Refik Šećibović, made, along with his associates and on their insisting, the decision not to close the School although it remained without its operating funds. It was crucial, after a comfortable financing experience by one of the powerful funding sources, to switch to collecting money from foundations, and rely upon the volunteer work of the staff. In the dawn of the new circumstances, the School registered as a Citizens Association, i.e. non-governmental organization, under the name of the Belgrade Open School. All the School founders were former associates of the Kredibel School. The school has nurtured and supported the elite spirit led by high professionalism, different ideas and views, dialogue, tolerance, rationality and common sense. All this belongs to the extroverted spirit ready to both give and receive. Hence the name the Belgrade Open School: it also indicated the school’s involvement in the organization of the civil society network in Serbia. As a response to the question “Why the Belgrade Open School?”, Prof. Djuro Šušnjić provided the following definition of what BOS is / should be:
The Belgrade Open School is no ordinary school, although students study hard while attending it. Namely, it is not a place where a narrow educated professional who refrains from thinking and acting outside of the designated area of profession is trained, but it also develops a personality open to the world of tomorrow... The sole aim of the School is not to have the students know a lot but rather learn how the knowledge is acquired
The new Managing Board was established and comprised of: Dr. Refik Šećibović; Prof. Ivan Ivic; Prof. Hasan Hanić; Marinko Vucinić; Dr. Jelica Minić and Angelina Marković. Branko Vuksan was elected as the second school headmaster; Chairman of the Managing Board became Prof. Čedomir Čupić, and a vice president Prof. Vukašin Pavlović.
In the school year 1997/1998 BOS was moved to the Palace of Belgrade – better known as Beogradjanka. The third director of BOS was elected, Vesna Djukic-Šećibović, and a constant team of the School consisted of Milorad Bjeletić, Andrej Eror and Slobodan Marković. The fifth generation of students enrolled, and there has been significant innovation in the programme. Modular system was introduced and the programme was divided into five sections: 1 Civil Society; 2 Modernity; 3 Modern Economics; 4 Regional studies; and 5 Skills and style, with the possibility of forming new modules depending on the interests of students. New patrons of the School were found soon: the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Belgrade City Assembly. Continuing with the practice to provide its students with the latest and the best in quality, the School, in cooperation with the European University Institute in Florence (EUI), organized seminars in European studies with foreign lecturers. The BOS students (the acronym by which the students call the School) had the opportunity to hear among the first the details about the G17 programme of radical economic reforms.
Encountering great understanding at the Open Society Foundation in Belgrade, the School managed to continue working, in the academic year of 1996/1997. Students of the School’s fourth generation were among the first participants of the Students’ Protest in 1996/1997, showing that they do not accept lawlessness and are willing to actively participate in solving social problems.
By this time, several similar institutions appeared in Serbia. According to the Center for the Development of Non-Profit Sector’s records, during 1997 the BOS was one of the 33 non-governmental organizations in the field of education and research in the FRY.
By the year 1998 the number of informal organizations dealing with education and civil society increased. One of the first manuals that counted such initiatives placed the BOS among 130 projects in Yugoslavia which, at that time, were engaged in education for democracy and civil society. As an institution dedicated to the ideals of civil society and as a part of the academic community, the BOS immediately reacted to the adoption of the Higher Education Law, which significantly limited the autonomy of the University in May 1998. Introductory meetings and discussions were held in the premises of the BOS which soon led to the forming of the Alternative Academic Educational Network – AAOM in the summer of 1998, and numerous associates of the BOS were actively included into its work.
In the late 1997, BOS was, on its own initiative, visited by the representative of the Higher Education Support Program (HESP) from the Open Society Institute in Budapest, Zorana Gajic. Visits proved to be a milestone in the further development of the School, since HESP was and remained the most important programme for higher education support in the regions of both Central and Eastern Europe. At the time HESP was opening many possibilities for programmes from Serbia. The support for summer schools of political science, economics and sociology started at that time.
However there was no institution from Serbia among the around thirty of those that HESP supported through its network. HESP's delegation noted during its visit to the School that the BOS could fit into one of the existing networks supported by this programme – a network of invisible colleges. A long correspondence, exchange of opinions and the help of HESP's experts ensued. With the great support and expertise of Ms Gajić, as well as with great work and dedication of associates, the School was able to meet HESP's criteria, and become the first educational institution in Serbia which, firstly, received temporary aid from HESP, in the spring 1998, and then entered a network of HESP supported institutions in July 1998.
With renewed faith in further development, the school lived to see its fifth anniversary. The jubilee was officially celebrated in March 1999, at the Youth Center, under the shadow of the upcoming NATO attack on Serbia. The ceremony opened with a play prepared by Ljubivoje Tadic and the Proceedings of the third, fourth and fifth generation of students was promoted, thus restoring this important publishing venture.
Belgrade Open School as an Institution of Higher Education
With the entrance into the HESP's network, the greatest reshaping of the School’s program took place as well as the establishment of academic programs and rules, which with minor modifications, survived until today. The sixth generation was enrolled in the academic year of 1998/1999 through the system of student selection which has been significantly stricter since then and includes several extensive tests and an interview with the Commission. Since this time the title participants was abandoned and replaced with students, which indicated the School’s separation from informal education and its closing to the customs of Higher Education Institutions. Nevertheless, the BOS maintained a very important trait of non-formal system – the persistence on continuous improvement of teaching methods. Two academic, one-year, two-semester programs were introduced for students of final years of primary studies from faculties of social sciences and humanities. The programs were called, somewhat vaguely, Open and Main. Each program has enrolled 35 students ever since. The Main program consisted of three compulsory modules in each semester, and a voluntary one from the three offered. Compulsory modules were Civil Society 1 and 2, Skills 1 and 2, Market Economy and European Studies. The change of the School’s direction can be seen from the list of compulsory modules. It will increasingly move in the direction of academic programs for the best of students and a seminar for the general audience that deals with civil society, democracy and European studies.
The School’s mission was changed as well. From the generally humanistic motto Non scholae, sed vitae discimus, it moved to rather firmly set expectations. According to the new mission, "The School’s goal is to enable students to become independent, confident, respectable citizens, capable of acting within the frame of complexity of a democratic society". The duality of the BOS’s task under the circumstances at that time can be seen from both this mission and the program: 1. advancement of knowledge and skills through higher education programs, 2. emphasis on contents that lead to the introduction of civil society in Serbia.
In addition to that, another novel was introduced – tutorship – which significantly enriched the academic program. This method began to be applied since 1992 at Pest’s Invisible College, and then HESP made a network of such institutions in Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Moldova and Kyrgyzstan. Several institutions who have implemented tutorship into their already developed and existing programs along with the BOS have joined this network. This kind of work presents an individual, elite form of education in which each of the students from the Main program chooses a prominent representative of Serbian academic community for a tutor, whom he/she will work with for a year on a particular topic. The visible product of this cooperation is a written work, usually the student’s first scientific work, which is published at the end of the year in the Proceedings of the School. In that way the scientific and professional experience of a community, without any obstacles, is passed on to those readiest and most capable to receive it. In the previous five years (1998-2003) 175 BOS’s students, who prepared the same number of scientific papers and who have worked with over a hundred eminent experts from both home and abroad, went through this kind of work.
The sixth generation was enrolled in the fall of the 1998th according to the new program and with great enthusiasm. For the first time the Winter School was organised, in the research station Petnica students and the School’s professional team undertook a computer training program. In late March, the School stopped work due to the beginning of the NATO intervention. Falling of the first bombs on Belgrade, on the 24th of March, students experienced at the School, at Dr Milan Vukomanović’s lecture on the topic Man as a Religious Being. The war briefly stopped teaching, but it was restored in early April, in the Marshal Birjuzov Street, since there were fears that the Beogradjanka building will be one of the intervention’s targets. "That is how the academic year of 1998/1999 was finished with the sounds of the sirens", noted one of the students at the time, while the other one marked coming to lectures at BOS, under the sirens, as collective therapy.
This is the only generation of the BOS who published its magazine, and students of this generation prepared and, in 2000, published the first BOS's lexicon in the field of economics. The war was over. The regime remained in power. The mood in Belgrade was sullen, but BOS’s students were still full of hope. At the celebration for distribution of diplomas to the sixth, "war" generation that took place in mid-October 1999, at the XL Club in Sarajevo Street, the Chairman of the BOS’s Managing Board Prof Čedomir Čupic said:
Seeking the truth and the meaning of life, but also for the truth of the community in which you live, you have decided to search for the exits and resist the demons of destruction, devastation and destruction. You need to face, without fear and critical when it comes to knowledge and skills, passionate both at work and in love, and noble in friendship. Marvel and rejoice learning and those who promote life, because admiration is the property of honest people, and the envy of the low souls. Allow yourselves to be lead through life by reason, common-sense, beauty, moderateness, responsibility and passion.
The seventh generation was enrolled in the academic year of 1999/2000 in the School, which was technically well equipped, and could once again after five years offer students a school outside of Belgrade, the winter school of academic reading and writing under the guidance of Prof Dr Ljubiša Rajić. From this time the premises of BOS are continuously located on the sixteenth floor of Beogradjanka building, and the School was able to provide the computer lab, a donation from HESP, which was equipped every year additionally, and also a library with a growing number of foreign titles. Civil Society I and II remained as the only compulsory program, whereas out of six voluntary programs, students could now choose three. The teaching of English language was improved by introducing the TOEFL test.
The lectures of this academic year were held under the strong regime pressure on civil society institutions. Due to the MUP’s special force raid into the Beogradjanka building in May 2000, BOS had to stop working for several days. As a response to such a situation in Serbia, the seventh generation expressed great energy and readiness to become actively involved in the political affairs and therefore can be labeled as “overturning”. In the "Lepenski vir" hotel, students of the Main program were trained in team work and acquired skills that made their constructive social engagement easier. A great number of BOS’s students, at the end of the academic year, took an active part in endeavours to reach a democratic change of government in Belgrade. Several students competed as candidates for aldermen in front of the democratically directed parties, and there were more active associates of the National Movement Resistance.
Both the staff and the School’s teachers engaged in efforts to reach a democratic change of government through organisation of numerous seminars all over Serbia in order to mobilize residents to become citizens and take responsibility for democratic society in their own hands. With these activities the School just continued the civic education programs that it conducted since the summer of 1996 when the first summer school for activists of the democratically directed parties was organised.
It is interesting to remember that at the time when dramatic political elections were held, BOS organised from 22nd to 24th September of the year 2000 an international round table: "Inter-religious dialogue as a form of reconciliation in South Eastern Europe". This was the first gathering of its kind in Serbia, which, after many years, brought together experts on religion from the former Yugoslavia.
BOS as a multilateral institution
During the years 1999 and 2000, there was an introduction of new activities in the BOS. When the eighth generation was enrolled in the academic year of 2000/2001, the BOS already had its present complex structure. Although it was formally still a non-governmental organization, the BOS, in fact, performed three functions. It became: 1. an institution of additional higher education; 2. a non-governmental organization dedicated to expansion of civil society; 3. a research institution devoted to the study of alternative forms of education and research of religion. In accordance with this, the BOS was divided into three classes: 1. Department for Advanced Undergraduate Studies; 2. Department for Civil Society; 3. Research Department. Besides that, an even greater attention was being paid to former students who organised a Former Students Organisation (alumni) consisting of approximately 400 members.
The most important change in the curriculum for this year was the reorganisation of the Open program, which has since been called the Program of the European Union and the Balkans. This affirmed earlier guidance of the BOS to European studies. With the same aim, the BOS, with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, formed a team of the School’s demonstrators, who prepared the project of promoting the European Union in Serbia and prepared a project the Future and Europe. The project included the preparation of four educational shows about the EU, as well as publishing of the magazine Eurotranzicija. The shows received great reception and were shown on prime televisions in Serbia and Montenegro.
This was also the first year in which the BOS acquired permanent teachers from abroad through the Civic Education Project from Budapest, when firstly Dr Rory Keane came to BOS, and then Dr Marc Downs. The summer school of presenting professional works was also introduced and it made the tutorship in the BOS appropriately rounded.
The last two generations of the BOS studied in more relaxed circumstances. The Ninth generation of the BOS was enrolled in autumn of the year 2001. It was primarily remembered by the large number of students who showed an interest in further engagement in the School. Most of the demonstrators were recruited from its ranks, which led to the change of generations among the demonstrators at the end of the year. The Tenth generation was enrolled in the autumn of 2002 with a desire to equalize the Main Program and Program of the EU and the Balkans as much as possible. This was the first generation in which the Main Program students did not pull the strings in the initiatives. Particular attention of the public was attracted by the rostrum Europe Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, which was organised by the students of the EU and the Balkans Programme, with the participation of prominent speakers.
The BOS developed from a small educational institution, into an organisation, in which, in mid-2003, worked around thirty employees, and through which passed hundreds of local and foreign lecturers in the previous ten years.
In May 2001, the BOS established the Centre for Research of Information Technologies – CePIT. During 2002, this Centre, with support from the Swedish Olof Palme Foundation, launched a significant educational project with an aim to putting in use modern information technologies in educational process, civic education and civil society development. The CePIT’s edition Internet Review: Belgrade 2002 did not go unnoticed. The Centre was equipped to organise a virtual classroom during the academic year of 2002/2003. A network of high schools in Serbia was organised and involved in the Virtual School Project through CePIT, with topics from the areas of democracy and transition. Compact discs with teaching materials were also prepared. In this way, the BOS entered the XXI century quite ready for the challenges of new technology, leading the way, as in the past decade, of the modernisation of teaching methods in Serbia.