“The fight for students’ rights in Europe today is less about life and death than it was at the first International Students’ Day in 1941. The battlefield has changed but it is still about the right of students to speak out and the right to education,” says ESU Chairperson Bert Vandenkendelaere.
On November 17, 1939, nine students and professors were executed by the Nazi authorities in Prague after a funeral march that turned into an anti-Nazi demonstration. Two years later, the day was marked as International Students’ Day in London.
Vandenkendelaere said: “Although Belarus sadly stays a notable exception, most students in Europe now have the right to free speech and assembly. Yet, in many countries the participation of students in governance is not or no longer a given. Students in Romania have to fight for their rights to representation these days. In many other European countries students are continuously trying to weather a marketisation of their education systems, endangering the equal right to access to higher education.
“We want to contribute to a better society with a high quality education for all. But in many places this education becomes no longer accessible and our participatory right to improve the quality is being questioned by governments, universities and rectors. ESU therefore asks all the actors involved to reflect on this 17th of November about the way education is again changing into a service to boost the careers of the elite, rather than the welfare of our societies. Because only in societies with well-educated citizens from all socio-economic levels will history stay remembered and dramas like the one on November 17, 1939, can be avoided.”
Also in the Czech Republic, the November 17 focus is different than it was at the dawn of the Second World War. The Czech national student union SK RVS will commemorate the student Jan Opletal, whose funeral march ignited the demonstrations on November 17, 1939. They are also organizing a march against commercialisation of higher education.
“Commercialisation is one of the biggest threats to our education systems today. We think it’s important on this day to not only remember history, but to bring up the big issues with which the current generation struggles”, says Miroslav Jasurek, president of SK RVS.
The Czech November 17 programme also includes discussions with Austrian students, who have mobilised heavily for better higher education funding the last year. For more information see the SK RVS web site (in Czech).