Most of Czech Students Care Only About Themselves

Is there still a difference between western and eastern Europe?…Pardon the central European student mentality. To tell you the truth: I don´t know. I am studying in the former Eastern part of Berlin at Humboldt University. Having been an Erasmus student at Charles University, all I can say is that there is a big difference between the student mentality at these two universities.

Both universities have almost an equal amount of students. Both universities have made radical changes after the fall of communism in 1989. The difference between the two is the different development afterwards. While political conscience and community spirit of students strongly increased at Humboldt University (HU), there has been a vast decrease at Charles University (CU). The development at HU seems to be logical: During communism, real political spirit was forbidden so there were no active students. Later on, when student activities were allowed, there were a lot. At Charles University the exact opposite seems to have happened.

I know what I am talking about because I tried to get involved at student life when I was an Erasmus student. I was the editor of the faculty newspaper BULLETIN at faculty of law. During this time I had the pleasure to follow the election campaign for the Academic Senate. Yes. Elections. Maybe you have not noticed but there has been an election for the Academic Senate of the faculty with a voters participation of only 10%. The Academic Senate of the University did not even have enough candidates to fill all the regular places. Are the active days of 1968 and 1989 forgotten? Writing exams in order to please the teachers is more important than building up a student community that cares about the problems of University and about the responsibility towards society in general. Do you think I am arrogant? I am just disappointed. All my efforts in rebuilding such a community spirit were useless. 95% of Erasmus students read our newspaper with English an Czech articles. Interest from the Czech side was low. Lower than voter participation. I don‘t know the reason for that but I do know what a student community could look like…

No student community in Prague

When I came back to Berlin there was an election campaign at my University. It was the election of the parliament of students. This is not an official organ like the Academic Senate but rather an institution of the self-administration of students. This administration was not invented by state or by teachers but was created by students. Such an organ does not exist at Charles University because a creation of self-administration by Czech students has never happened. The parliament has completely no power concerning official decisions at the faculty? Was it useless to build up such an institution? To answer that question one has to look at the tasks of this organ.

The parliament organizes student lives. It organizes music events, political discussions and unofficial lectures. It runs a cheap, non-profit student cafe at the university and three excellent student newspapers. Another important sector is student consulting: Information about different subjects, teachers and exams is provided. Young mothers can send their children to a university kindergarten and if your bicycle does not work anymore you can go to a student garage where somebody will help you to fix it. There are student officials that take care of ecological problems, low budget students and cases of discrimination. Other people are responsible for a web page and publicity work… the list is various and almost endless. Every semester there are some new institutions. To sum it up, the parliament is responsible for all kinds of student affairs concerning the inside of student community but also concerning the interest of the student community towards the university administration.

How does such a institution work? Money makes the world go round. The parliament is self-financed. Every semester I have to pay six Euro to the student accounting office. If one thousand students have to pay this amount, then there is 350.000 Euro per year in the budget of the parliament. If every student at Charles University would pay 100 korun per semester, there would be a similar student budget per year. But all the money would be worthless if there were not that many motivated students who worked for free for their institutions.
The parliament is also a mirror of the German political society. It consists of different student parties. There are social democrats, conservatives, ecologists, fun parties and many more. In debates, the elected student deputies discuss general topics of education, politics and society. Everybody is struggling for his point of view and wants to get involved in the political process.

I know that there are some brave Czech students who are fighting for a better university and a student community- but they are few. The majority of students are quiet and care only about themselves.

In the end, it is up to you which university you want: A university where everybody is studying on his own, fighting for the best marks with others or a university where students gather to build up a social community. If you prefer the first society concept, just don‘t complain. Don‘t complain about unfair exams, boring lectures and slow administration. Don‘t complain about corrupt politicians, stupid decisions and unfair taxes. People who are inactive gave up their right of taking decisions to others. Universities, laws and governments don‘t build themselves but are made by the people!

David Dauner
student of Humboldt University in Berlin, spent an Erasmus semester at the Law Faculty of the Charles University

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