Focus on focus: Self-educational university “Svetozar Marković” – A cycle of educational programs “Women workers, activists, theoreticians”

The promotion of the “Little self-educational reading book No. 6” in the city of Kragujevac.

In 2021, we have supported the work of Self-educational university “Svetozar Marković” through a series of encounters devoted to women workers, activists and theoreticians working in the late 19th century and early 20th century, as well as the translations of their texts published in “Little self-educational reading book No. 6”. On this occasion, we are talking to Irena Ristić and Saša Perić about self-education, as well as about the significance of the translated authors today. 

1. There is no doubt that the educational system in Serbia is problematic, from its accessibility to its programs and contents. Self-education comes as a rebellious and interesting alternative or addition to standard education. However, what sort of problems does it encounter in practice?

Irena: The lack of resources, visibility and trust. Fragmented society, the scene shattered in a pile of micro-communities, perpetuates systemic control with its conflicts. 

Saša: We understand self-education not only as an addition but as an alternative, as a qualitatively different approach that aims to connect people and establish the process of education as common, group processes that go towards overcoming diverse social hierarchies and inequalities. Education can and should be liberating, in every sense of the word, but people are often too tied to the artificially imposed authorities and stiff formalism of the official education. The biggest problem is how to overcome this, how to change people’s awareness and their relationship with education, and this is something that we believe can be achieved only through a long-term and difficult process, with a lot of persistence and devotion. Yet, no matter how difficult that process is, it is also always exciting, fulfilling, inspirational. Simultaneously with the changes of people’s awareness goes a gradual change in mutual relationships, institutions and the entire society we live in, hence the material limitations, such as the lack of assets, spaces, time, interest, will be disappearing…

2. What are the basic principles of work of the Self-educational university “Svetozar Marković”?

Saša: The basic idea around which the Self-educational university has been developing is that all the people have certain knowledge which they can share with others and it is necessary to create a space outside the existing institutions where everybody who is interested could partake in completely open and democratic processes of education. Instead of hierarchic relationships and predetermined authorities, we cherish the principle of equality, we aim towards eliminating the walls between those who teach and those who learn, and the accent is on the dialog and thought exchange. One of the most significant goals of the Self-educational university is the development of critical awareness and providing an opportunity for the people to learn from each other how to analyze the world we live in, how to match theory and practice, and how to become the creators of social changes. 

3. The 6th edition of Little self-educational reading book is devoted to women activists and theoreticians of the late 19th and early 20th century, with the intention of contextualizing their work in regards to the current socio-political climate. What are the conclusions? What do Lucy Parsons, Sylvia Pankhurst, Voltairine de Clayre mean to us today?

Saša: The seven authors, whose translated texts we have published in this reading book, were quite diverse, but what connects them is love for freedom, equality and justice, as well as readiness to fight and self-sacrifice for those ideals. They really lived up to their ideals and this is why stories of their lives are as interesting and inspirational as their texts. Return to the past and exploring the lives and works of these early anarchists, socialists and unionists can be extremely significant to current generations. Through the example of these women who have been writing, organizing, agitating, starting uprisings and preparing revolutions, we can see that every freedom we have today came as a result of devoted, painful and oftentimes bloody struggle. It is important and necessary to learn about the history of struggles for workers’ rights and women’s liberation today in order to wake up from our lethargy, to understand that with peaceful protests, petitions and social media outcries nothing can be changed significantly. We once again need that sort of determination, passion, devotion and combativeness which we can find in Lucy Parsons, Mother Jones, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn… and then no obstacle towards creating a more equal and free world will be impossible to overcome. 

4. How do you see the future of self-education, both in your organization and on wider levels?

Irena: As the pillar of struggle. Almost an obligation. When public educational institutions become fully privatized, and it seems certain that this will happen in the upcoming decade, in the political struggle, self-educational practices will become primary. The formats will vary, become more compliant, frequent, the people will become more open and ready for mistakes, hence more liberated. With the lack of choices, there will be a stronger epistemic motivation, and the polygons that constitute around self-educational practices will at the same time make opportunities for new gatherings, exchanges, producing sociality, strengthening solidarity – the springboards of new actions and methods. It’s already been happening but we are still trapped by the heritage, hence we overrate the academic marks of middle-class prestige.

Interview and translation by Galina Maksimović