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A “Communist” Education Remembered

Identifying the Totalitarians

Belgrade’s Tenth Gymnasium was a well-proportioned neoclassical building in a leafy park three miles from the city center.  Built by King Alexander shortly before his ill-fated trip to Marseilles, it bore his name until the Partisans’ victory in 1945 and was considered a very good secondary school.  Many of its students came from the provinces on state-assisted scholarships, and its diploma—obtained after a grueling final exam known as the Matura (equivalent to Germany’s Abitur or France’s Baccalaureat)—practically guaranteed the graduate’s entry into university.

Before World War II, it was not uncommon for university professors, especially in the junior ranks (assistants and “dozents”), to supplement their usually meager incomes with grammar-school contract-teaching positions.  After the war, for many who did not join the Communist Party, this was the only professional option left, as insistence on Party membership was not nearly as strong in secondary education as it was in the academy.  In the 60’s and 70’s, by the time they were nearing retirement, some of these people were not only mature educators but first-class intellectuals who derived real pleasure from nurturing in their more talented charges the sense of beauty, truth, and goodness that was independent of, and even at odds with, the official ideology.

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