Posted on behalf of Mico Tatalovic.
Serbian scientists are up in arms after the science and education ministries were merged in a restructuring of the government last month.
Within a day of the announcement a Facebook group formed, currently with close to 4,000 members, and then a website with a petition which has been signed by more than 5,000 scientists and academics, roughly half of the country’s scientific workforce, within a week.
“It is certain that this merger is bad for science,” Milovan Šuvakov, an associate professor at the Institute of Physics in Belgrade, and one of the organisers of the campaign told Nature. “We fear that this move threatens the continuity of science funding.”
Serbian scientists get five-year grants from the ministry, and around 800 projects are still waiting for the funds for 2011-2015 to be released, which usually happens by March. These funds were promised at the end of last year when the projects to be funded were announced, but so far the government only signed contracts to release the money for salaries and not for any other research activities or costs.
Without any other science-funding institutions in the country – there is no national science foundation, for example – Serbia’s scientists rely on the ministry for the basic costs of maintaining and running their labs. The science ministry was a small and efficient one, scientists say, and their worry now is that funding for research will be swallowed up in a sea of teachers’ salaries and local education needs. They also fear for the future of the country’s five-year science development plan, which was launched last year.
The petition was handed to the president, Boris Tadić, and prime minister Mirko Cvetković on 28 March, and it continues to gain signatures online. There has been no response from the government.
But the organisers of the petition say they do not expect a quick reversal of the decision – they are in it for the long haul, to build up support and raise awareness in the hope that after the next general election, expected within the next year, the government will reconsider the merger.
In the meantime, they are sending teddy bears, named after famous Serbian scientists, to research centres around the world to gather support from the scientific diaspora. The first one, Mika, named after Mika Petrovic, a Serbian mathematician, was last spotted in Nice, France.
Image: Mika the bear
Mico Tatalovic is deputy news editor at SciDev.Net.