A couple of thousand people rallied in downtown Zagreb on Saturday for a march for science, as did a large number of people in the coastal city of Split, warning that now was the eleventh hour for science and higher education in Croatia, which they said were not not being invested in and were neglected.
The marchers for science in Zagreb also warned that prejudices were growing and that pseudoscience and institutional clientelism were encouraged.
Science should be promoted, scientific principles and education protected
A candidate in recent elections for the Zagreb University rector, Damir Bakic, said that the purpose of the march was to defend scientific principles and promote science "given that we are witnessing frequent negation of scientific principles and achievements."
"It is a duty of all of us who are scientists and who educate young people to rise and defend scientific principles, scientific thinking and scientific education," said Bakic, warning about the challenging of scientific results as evidenced by the movement against child vaccination.
A former head of the expert task force for the curricular reform, Boris Jokic, warned that funds for science were reduced by the year despite the fact that development required systematic investment in science, as well as in the curricular reform.
"I am here also because of children. They and science need to be invested in. Unfortunately, Croatian politicians, regardless of their political affiliation, are not investing in those sectors or in people," said Jokic.
School children more responsible than politicians
Jokic expressed dissatisfaction that the expert task force for the curricular reform would not have a chair and that that post would be replaced by the post of a coordinator, noting that "more responsibility and transparency is demonstrated in the election of a school class president... than is by politicians in the case of the curricular reform."
"What they are doing is disgraceful, it undermines the rule of law, meritocracy and democratic principles. When all that is undermined by those who govern this country, we must all ask ourselves where that is leading," said Jokic.
Among the marchers for science in Zagreb were also GLAS party leader Anka Mrak Taritas and Social Democratic Party leader Davor Bernardic.
The protesters carried banners reading "See how billions of atoms are marching for science", "I think therefore I march", "Don't believe, doubt!", "Science for all, all for science".
"Ignorance is impotence, that's what's relevant. Young people are leaving the country not because they are paid better elsewhere but because they feel that Croatia is sinking hopelessly. This event represents a hope that Croatia has a future. We must all work together so that Croatia can move forward," speakers at the event said, calling on the government to secure funding for reforms.
According to police estimates, between 1,500 and 1,700 people attended the Zagreb march, while according to reporters' estimates the event drew a couple of thousand people.
Marchers in Split: No democracy without science
"Scientific facts are manipulated on a daily basis for purposes of personal promotion and scoring of political points, which causes irreparable damage. The consequences of such harmful conduct are evidenced by social conflicts, dissatisfaction, a general feeling of despondency and growing emigration of people of all age groups," student Dora Bogdanovic told the marchers in Split.
The marchers passed through the old city centre, with Bogdanovic saying that by choosing that route the marchers wanted to warn that science, education, students and life in general were disappearing from Split's historical centre and that the city was more and more "capitulating" to tourism.
"Bookshops and libraries have been closed or turned into fast food restaurants," she said.
The protesters stopped by the Ivo Pilar Institute and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, with Bogdanovic saying that "researchers are being pressured to move out of those buildings so they could be turned into hotels and hostels."
Among the Split marchers for science were leaders of the Pametno party and the local Social Democratic Party branch.
Inadequate investments in science and higher education, accompanied by public policies that are based on prejudices and the media promotion of pseudoscience and superstition as well as institutional clientelism are some of the main sore spots of Croatian society, the organisers of the two marches for science have said.
The March for Science event originates from the United States. The first event was held in 2017 in response to US President Donald Trump's policy that challenges scientific facts such as global warming and threatens the public financing of science.
Marches for science have spread to other countries, including Croatia, and last year they were held in Zagreb, Split and Rijeka.