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2 June 2009

On this day in history: Belgrade student revolt, 1968

In the late 1960s, student dissatisfaction was not solely confined to capitalist countries. Many students in Yugoslavia shared similar concerns with their fellows at universities in France, the United States, and other countries that had seen campus revolts. The students of the New Belgrade campus resented the privileges of the party élite, and this resentments boiled over on the night of 2nd June 1968.

A popular theatre company were booked to play the university. The students requested that they perform at the university's large open-air amphitheatre but instead authorities arranged for them to play a smaller venue and only make seats available to youth members of the ruling Communist party. On the night of the show, a large group students gathered outside the theatre and attempted to force their way in. When the police drove them out again they reacted by throwing stones at the theatre windows and smashing its doors.

The police responded by sending in a fire-engine to clear the streets, but the students managed to turn it over and set fire to it. They also started turning cars over to form barricades, as they had seen done by Parisian students on the television news. As the police pressed forward the retreated to the university campus where they discussed how to proceed.

The next day, around four thousand students decide to march on the centre of Belgrade to air their grievances: their disgust with the inequalities of the socialist state; their concerns about unemployment; their demand for establishment of real democracy. Halfway along the route, they find their way blocked by thousands of armed police, who fire into the crowd. The ensuing battle creates around seventy casualties.

That afternoon about ten thousand students occupy the Philosophy and Sociology Faculty on the New Belgrade campus and draw up a list of demands. Meanwhile, the streets of Belgrade fill with riot police instructed to squash any further demonstrations. Over the following days many of professors and other faculty staff join with the students in their occupation. Tensions rise - the press demands swift and merciless action against the students and on the 9th June police surround the university. But then, to widespread surprise, President Tito intervenes.

In a television address, he welcomes the students' criticism of the state and endorses their programme of reform. His words defuse the situation, the media performs a volte-face and the riot police disappear. The majority of students are jubilant, but a small hardcore of student activists continue to express their concerns and following another speech Tito, in which he denounced extremism, riot police moved in and cleared the Philosophy and Sociology Faculty on the 20th June. Slowly and surely the status quo was restored.

The European Protest Movement site includes the text of a Letter from Belgrade to Students in Warsaw.

Related posts
Night of the Barricades, 10th May 1968
Buffalo Nine arrested, 19th August 1968
Tlatelolco Massacre, 2nd October 1968
Rodney Riots, 16th October 1968


World History said...

What a protest! This is a great article. We hope we can add your post to your event here.

insurance said...

Student university always give a change to their country. Great article.

Borkiman said...

World History: Be my guest.

Thank you both for the comments.

Unknown said...

hi! I'm doing a research about the serbian culture in the sixties, could you please tell me where have you found the photo you posted in the article, or similar photo of the serbian '68? Thank you so much

Borkiman said...

E: I cannot find the original page where I found that picture. It may have come from a book, I will check later to see if I can find it.