A Catholic religion teacher in Croatia has emerged as the unlikely hero of a public education strike in the country.

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Croatian public primary and secondary teachers have been on a “circular strike” since early October, with different groups of teachers in different areas in the country walking out on different days.

Their strike is over the Government’s refusal to grant them a 600 kuna (80 euro) monthly salary increase, to bring their pay into line with that of other public servants in comparable fields such as healthcare, social care, higher education or culture.

The industrial action brought over 20,000 people to a protest Monday in the capital Zagreb’s main Jelačić Square.

In that demonstration, some of the country’s 68,000 public school staff denounced “many years of dissatisfaction with material and social status” and “disrespect for our profession”, according to Sanja Sprem, the head of the Croatian Teachers Union.

The hero of the strike, however, has been religion teacher and local union leader Marin Miletic, who on Monday uploaded to YouTube a powerful video on the struggles of the striking teachers.

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“They tried to divide and intimidate us – they failed. The teachers stood up loud for a fairer system, for fair wages for workers, for our retirees… for a society where citizens will want to stay and live in, and not to flee from our Croatia”, Miletic wrote in the video description.

“We have been supported by many brave people, ots of different unions, individuals all united for – a better society, a better education system”.

Miletic denounced that “some individuals” have been “annoyed” by the fact that he speaks out for workers as a religion teacher.

He added his breaking the mould and standing up for teachers’ rights “damages their exclusivity and lack of libertarian thought”.

“I’m primarily a human being, then a religious teacher who has shared this chamber with his colleagues for fourteen years”, Miletic explained.

“My teachers are my legitimacy. My atheist and agnostic colleagues, members of other religions who voted 100 percent in a secret ballot for me to be their union leader. They’re my legitimacy”.

The religion teacher and union leader said all Croatian educators, whether religious or not, have “existential battles in common”.

“We can do so much more when we stick together”, Miletic insisted.

“I have only one Master. the one in Heaven. Jesus. And everywhere else – my heart, my conscience, and I’d never overlook that for anything, no matter the cost”, the teacher continued.

“How many masters do those who spit on me now have? I don’t know. May God bless them.

“I don’t have time. Life is short. You need to create, you need to work, you need to live”.

Why it matters

For his powerful words at Monday’s protest in Zagreb – where he stirred attendees to work “for justice, for a better Croatia, for a country with fewer homeless people, for the poor [and] for a fair wage for workers” – Miletic earned nothing but a cold shoulder from the Archdiocese of Rijeka.

In a statement, Miletic’s local Church authorities distanced themselves from the teacher and union leader’s protests, and said he was speaking as a private individual.

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