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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

The result counts

Conflict in Donetsk region over the possible sacrifice of schools for the sake of “optimization”
24 February, 2011 - 00:00

The first to win were the parents of the pupils of school №No. 111, located in one of the remote suburbs of Donetsk. They picketed the premises of the Petrovska district council which, according to the information received by the parents, was going to consider closing down this popular school.

The protests got emotional: some of the protesters even promised to commit acts of self-immolation if their demands to preserve the school were not heeded. As a result, the district council deputies decided that the problem was “insufficiently studied” and laid the conflicting question on the table.

This news is reassuring, but the local authorities have not surrendered just yet. The activists from the school №No. 111 parents’ movement say that the district deputies will probably try to examine this question again when the social passions calm down. However, the protesters are determined not to give up and admit that the fact that they managed to find effective methods to convey their point of view to high-ranking officials, and to defend it if needed, gives them strength.

The local authorities continue to insist on their own plan. “There are two options,” stated the Head of the Donetsk Regional Administration Anatolii Blyzniuk. “We can either aggravate the situation or come to the community and tell them: ‘There’s a school built just after the war, and there’s another school, built in 1970s, which is much better. Should we take our children to the old school and open both Ukrainian and Russian classes there?” The governor’s words look like an attempt to start a linguistically-themed quarrel among the worker settlement’s inhabitants.

At the same time the mass protests against the “optimization” of general schools were held in many places of the “miners’ capital.” In particular, the inhabitants of the Budionovsky district made the local authorities promise that next autumn the school №No. 136 will resume accepting the first graders, which was banned by a directive.

Having opted for picketing tactics, pupils and parents of school №No. 2 organized public protests. They suspect that the family of one of the local officials has an eye on the school’s territory, situated in the city center.

“There isn’t any official information, but the rumors continue,” says the mother of one of the second grade pupils Lilia Syroid. “Certainly, a hotel or a skyscraper in the city center is much more profitable than a school. Our children will supposedly go to the schools №No. 5 or №No. 14, but it will mean that they will have to cross several roads with heavy traffic.”

In Makiivka, a city near the region’s capital, the inhabitants of the remote worker settlement Pershotravneve, where the Ukrainian school №No. 77 is going to be liquidated because of “optimization,” are ready to start mass protest actions as well. The pupils’ parents don’t believe the department of education, which assures them that their children will be taken to one of the central schools; they are well aware that their depressed industrial town has poor public transportation. In their letter to the town hall they emphasize that they have “a deplorable experience of educational and cultural institutions being closed down — the mining school, the club and the kindergarten that were formerly closed are ruined now, and in order to take their children go to the only kindergarten left, people have to queue for several years.” In this situation the local authorities also prefer giving vague promises and delaying their answers, avoiding open conflict with prospective voters.

However, the situation is not the same everywhere, and depends a lot on the people in charge. For example, the mayor of Horlivka Yevhen Klep stated that “optimization” won’t mean “liquidation.” “There are several schools with eight people in the tenth grade. Those classes will have to be closed, but not the schools. Suffice it to say that the training center at the secondary school № No. 55, situated in the enormous three-stored building in the center of the town, is attended by 100 people only. However, it’s not a reason to close it down. For example, the department of education is situated in rented premises. We are overpaying by having both the enormous near-empty building and paying the rent [for the other one]. Why don’t we move the department of education to the school premises? This is what optimization means. We’ll do our best to preserve all the schools in the town,” emphasized the mayor.

At present the activists of the school pickets have to decide on their further actions. It’s clear, that the experienced officials, trained during Soviet times and occupying nearly all the posts in the region, won’t simply give up. They have “informal” leverage at their disposal to influence the school directors and NGO heads that supported the parents’ protests, and they have already started using it. In particular, the director of school №No. 111 Svitlana Babenko, who recently defended her school with passion, suddenly switched to the opposite side. One can only guess why…

However, the recipe for victory is unexpectedly simple: consolidation. If only the community unites its efforts it will be able to resist the impudent officials.

By Serhii KOROBCHUK, Donetsk