- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2017

A Serbian political activist who was recently elected rector of St. Andrews University told the BBC he fears that the politically correct push to silence unpopular and controversial views on university campuses could lead to the Balkanization of society.

Asked by BBC presenter James Menendez for his thoughts on “safe spaces and so-called non-platforming, not giving a platform to certain speakers at universities,” Srdja Popovic said he rejected censorship, noting how his nonprofit organization, the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), trains pro-democracy activists around the world to peacefully counter those whom they oppose.

“It is completely one thing to prohibit them from speaking, which I strongly disagree of [sic]. It’s completely another thing to stage a protest and show what you think about somebody’s speech,” Mr. Popovic told BBC World Service’s Morning Commute program Friday. “… I’m the person who advocates students how to disagree with somebody but in [sic] the same time leaving the free space for that somebody to speech, even if you disagree with him or her.”

“I think without a dialogue, we will end up being super separated, super partisan, and living in Balkans which was suffering from this kind of exclusivity and everybody hating everybody. I can tell you this [is] a very bad idea,” he concluded.

Popularly elected by the student body of the ancient Scottish institution, the rector of St. Andrews presides over the University Court, the highest governing body for school, according to its official website. Previous rectors have run the gamut from wealthy industrialists like Andrew Carnegie to novelists like Rudyard Kipling and J.M. Barrie to comedian and “Monty Python” co-creator John Cleese.

“Court is the place where many University issues are decided — budget allocations, financial policies, academic policies, estate development and capital projects, staff and student provisions,” the website says.

A veteran of student-led protest movements against Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic in the late 1990s, Mr. Popovic — who resides in Belgrade — told the BBC he hopes to inspire and facilitate student leaders more than work directly on their behalf.

“Because I’m going to be remote director, we decided to take a completely different pact. From the very beginning of the campaign, we said it’s not like what I’m going to do for you but how to empower you, the students of St. Andrews, to do things for yourselves,” Mr. Popovic said. “The Serbian movement started with 11 people and ended with 70,000 people. And if you have 50 people ready to commit themselves to working on improving their lives … I think we are looking at a very solid beginning of the movement.”


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