November 17th known as the International Day of Students is a day of remembrance and gratitude for the acts of those students who came before us, many of whom dedicated their lives for the liberties and rights that us students enjoy today – and sometimes take for granted.
The International Day of Students has particular historic significance as it commemorates the fight of students against authoritarian governments and for democracy. It is an important day as it changed the course of history and it reminds everyone that students are a driving force for change. Students fight still today for their students’ right and matters that affect them directly as students; but students also always embraced their role of active citizens and voiced the concerns and demands of society as a whole.
It is our duty to show respect to the students who fought for our liberties and it is our duty to continue being inspired by them and honour them with our actions. Indeed, today students see their rights being violated or threatened. Moreover, many students still live under threats and oppression from authoritarian governments. Therefore today it is important to celebrate the International Day of Students and remember that students still have a key role in advancing towards democracy.
Demonstrations by Czech students against the German occupation resulted in the killing of Jan Opletal – an aspiring medical student by Nazi soldiers. The student’s funeral procession which was held on the 15th of November led to thousands of students, who used the occasion as another anti– Nazi demonstration. In a brutal retaliation all Czech higher education institutions were closed down; Nazi troopers stormed the University of Prague, more than 1200 students were jailed or sent to concentration camps; and nine students & professors were executed without trial two days later on the 17th of November 1939.
The events of Prague in November 1939 day were first commemorated on the 17th of November 1941 by the International Students’ Council in the UK in what became known Europe over as Students’ Day.
Students’ rose up in Greece on Students’ Day 1973 in what is known as the Athens Polytechnic uprising. After barricading themselves and constructing a radio station from the equipment that the students found in the laboratories they started broadcasting pro-democratic and anti-regime messages to the entire city of Athens. They were soon joined by thousands of their compatriots. The student strike against the Greek military junta came to a climax on November 17, with a violent crackdown and tanks crushing the gates of the polytechnic. The Day of the Greek Students is today among the official holidays in Greece.
In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the events of November 17, 1989 remain etched in the memory of all who were students then. On this day a peaceful student demonstration in Prague was beaten back by the riot police. That event sparked a set of popular demonstrations that saw the beginning of the Velvet Revolution and finally the demise and overthrow of the communist regime there.
17th of November is a day of remembrance but is also a day of action for students today. Students face many challenges regarding their access to Higher Education and still have to fight to be able to fully enjoy their fundamental rights.
We live in a changing world that is every time more interconnected and therefore it is important that students all around Europe and the world take joint actions on the International Day of Students. Actions of students will differ according to national context, however there are some common threats for European students and this is what the European Students Union, OBESSU and their members fight jointly.
This year 2013 has been another challenging year for students as decision-makers have continued disinvesting in education due to the economic crisis. Austerity measures are the only solution envisaged by decision-makers and it is something that we students need to fight for as the responsible authorities have lost their long-term vision on education. This year, ESU claims once again that Education is the solution to the crisis as investing in education ensures the return to the government and society in the long-run.
Austerity has strengthen a commodified discourse of education seeing students as customers and considering higher education as mean to make money instead of an investment. Students across Europe face the following common issues, to name a few:
– drop in the budget for higher education
– escalating students debts
– the increase of loan schemes instead of grants
– diminished budget for the mobility programme Erasmus: Spain
– raise of tuition fees: Armenia
– instauration of tuition fees for non-EU citizens: Finland and Norway
– closure of universities: Greece
Austerity measures and the economic crisis do not only affect higher education systems and the access to higher education for all; but it also brought dangerous behaviours in our societies. These dangerous behaviours consist in the resurgence of intolerance, fascism, racism and exclusion of sexual and ethnic minorities. These trends translate into a violent society where some members of societies suffer of acts of aggression and live in fear. Higher education institutions are not exempt from these behaviours making it difficult for targeted populations to study. Assaults on immigrants in Greece and governments shifting to the far right translate this. As students in the past have fought against fascism and undemocratic governments, students today ought to pursue the fight to safeguard the democratic values and the values of tolerance and inclusion that define our modern societies. Students need to continue to fight and be united to be able to speak up for those who can’t voice their demands.
Finally it is important that students lead this fight as they know best that education and higher education is the best way to ensure active citizenship, democratic values, Human rights, solidarity and inclusion.