Branko Ružić, Vice-President of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), has taken over the education portfolio at a time when, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the entire school year is jeopardized. The new minister of education, science, and technological development said in an interview with Kurir that closing schools is "not even perceived as an option", as the recently introduced measures – the partial switch to remote teaching – are expected to be efficient.
Ružić also revealed why the Socialists would like a coalition with the Progressives in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections despite spats taking place in the early days of this government. He described the incident in which Minister of Energy Zorana Mihajlović asked Dušan Bajatović, the long-serving general manager of Srbijagas, to leave a meeting as – a creative difference.
New measures related to the teaching process at schools have been put in place. How much will this disrupt the school year, and what is the next step if the current unfavourable situation goes on?
"Schools and teachers have demonstrated their readiness to adapt to the situation. Everyone in the education system has taken on a heavy burden in order not to lose the school year, but rather to use it to the full under the circumstances. I expect this switch to online teaching – for those in senior years of elementary school and all secondary school students, coupled with the recommendations to higher education institutions to make the same sort of switch – and an earlier start of the winter break for these age bands across Serbia, ahead of the vaccine rollout, to help the efforts of the government and the medical professionals in bringing an end to this calamity."
As Minister of Education, what are you most afraid of in relation to the uncertain course of the epidemic? Is there a scenario that includes the closing of schools?
"Closing schools is not even perceived as an option. The continuity of the education process will be ensured under these circumstances as well, as education is a social domain of the highest national importance. We are ready to respond at all times and never initiate actions by ourselves – the views of the medical side of the Task Force, who make recommendations based on all the information gathered, are always taken into account. I believe that the current comprehensive measures will have the desired effects."
On Serbian football
'We don't need trenches, we need a systemic approach.'
Do you watch national football team competitions?
"As any other citizen of this country, which we all love, being eliminated by Scotland was tough to watch. The lack of enthusiasm, bad energy, and no passion, on that day of all days – I think it's unacceptable. We have great players, and the game against Russia demonstrated that they are indeed able and willing, when they are tactically well-organized."
What is happening in Serbian football, and how do you comment on the avalanche started by Nemanja Vidić?
"There's no need for anyone to talk about Nemanja Vidić, as the fact that he was the captain of Manchester United and their best defensive player in recent history speaks for itself. However, if we want our football to improve, we don't need 'avalanches' or trench warfare, but a modern, systemic approach worthy of the 21st century, as well as plenty more wisdom. We all like to play national team managers, football officials, even footballers. However, having a rational approach is the only way forward towards better results. I truly hope that we qualify for the Qatar World Cup. As for personnel policies, let those in charge of it be the ones dealing with it."
Given that reshuffles and removals from office of government ministers are aimed at increasing efficiency, what will you be correcting or doing differently than your predecessor, Mladen Šarčević?
"At the moment, the most important thing is to protect the health and safety of our children, teachers, and non-teaching staff, as well as to ensure the continuity of the teaching process. Naturally, in parallel with this, we are continuously working to implement the reform processes and projects, digitize education, develop dual education, and set up the Education Management Information System аs a guide for education policies. We are continuously working on strategic documents, legislation, further improvements of science and technological development – the backbone of our economy, industry, and overall development."
What is your take on Dačić's proposal that the SPS join the Serbian Progressives in the 2022 parliamentary and presidential elections? Are you afraid that such a move might strip the Socialists of their identity as a political party?
"Let me remind you that we have been hearing stories about this so-called loss of identity for eight years already. In the meantime, scores of once relevant political parties have not just lost their identities, but have also disappeared from the political arena. As the only credible long-standing political party, the SPS is still – after three decades in politics – in a position from which it can influence the social and political processes and serve the interests of the citizens. The SPS and the Progressive Party voters are not one and the same, as they would then be in a single party. However, what brings us together is the focus on state-building, economic progress and development of Serbia, as well as maintaining the national dignity alongside the European values and future that we are committed to. It was this political platform that resulted in a landslide victory of our common presidential candidate in the previous presidential election, and it is certainly a landmark in developing strategies for upcoming elections."
The time of corona
'I miss the Serbian directness.'
What do you miss the most in this "new normal" that we are forced to adapt to?
"At a time when we are losing our loved ones to the coronavirus, it would be in poor taste to complain. But if I were to single one thing out, it would be the directness that is characteristic of all of us living in Serbia."
The first spats following the formation of the government took place between the SPS and the Progressive Party. How do you see the conflict between Minister Zorana Mihajlović and your fellow party member and Srbijagas's general manager, Dušan Bajatović?
"I don't think those were spats between political parties. I rather think that that was a case of a creative conceptual difference, even a mild, unintentional lack of familiarity with the procedures. Personally, I haven't noticed a single word, spoken or written in public, bearing the slightest resemblance to a conflict, coming from the general manager of Srbijagas.
"It is important for the county and its citizens to see a steady progress in energy security, supply stability, and the implementation of strategic infrastructural projects in the energy sector. In this mosaic of successes, I see Mr Bajatović as a precious and strategically important piece, as I have always acknowledged the inexhaustible energy of my esteemed colleague Zorana Mihajlović."
Ivana Kljajić/ Kurir.rs