Saturday, 5 September 2009

Segregation in Bosnia's schools, a strange but sad story

Recently, I came across an article on the Traverse City Record-Eagle website regarding the segregation of children based on ethnicity in schools throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. (Click here to read it)

Now, I have heard about this situation before, as I remember when the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles actually opened a new school for Bosniak and Croat children in Mostar. And I remember it being mentioned that those children will be taught in same school but not in the same classrooms, which disappointed me. But I never realised how bad it really is!

Consider this school in the town of Stolac in the south of the country:

It's shortly after noon, and teenagers who were taught their capital is Zagreb, in neighboring Croatia, are streaming out of Stolac High School. In an hour, their classrooms will be filled with children who have learned that their capital is Sarajevo, Bosnia.

Fourteen years after Bosnia's 1992-95 war, youngsters from Muslim Bosniak and Roman Catholic Croat families attend the same schools, but are separated from each other and learn from different textbooks.


The Stolac school is an example of Bosnia's postwar emphasis on "two schools under one roof." (My Emphasis in bold)

Same school, different textbooks; two schools under one roof. For a moment, I thought of China's and Hong Kong's 'one country - two systems' system of governance. But then I remembered that the people of China and Hong Kong are not the ones whose children are subjected to such degrading and disgraceful segregation in their schools, let alone do they face other serious post-war problems as the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina do!

Carrying on with the article:

With the Bosnian Serbs already holed up in their own part of the country, critics say the Balkan nation's school system is one of the worst examples of segregation in Europe -- one that's producing a generation ripe for manipulation by nationalists.

Tiny Bosnia is home to just 3.5 million people, yet its schools are governed by 14 ministries (!!!), many run by people who favor segregation. Vedran Zubic, a high school teacher in the capital, Sarajevo, sees the separation as a continuation of wartime nationalist rhetoric.

"We have a generation of young, intolerant, ethnically isolated and ethnically overfed pupils who are being used as weapons of nationalist politicians," he said. (My Emphasis in bold, exclamation marks and larger font size)

WTF??!! 14 ministries of education in one country of less than four million?!

And yet the worst thing for Bosnia's future is precisely that this state of a affairs, as far as education in the country is concerned, is producing a generation of "young, intolerant, ethnically isolated and ethnically overfed pupils", who are as such "ripe for manipulation by nationalists", and thus "[usable] as weapons of nationalist politicians". And not surprisingly, this strange and shameful situation is desirable by many in the war-torn country, seeing as this is a "continuation of wartime nationalist rhetoric", as noticed by the respectable Mr. Zubić mentioned above!


However, it is very easy for me and other people who live outside of Bosnia to criticise and abhor such an education system, spewing my disdain for it on a blog I maintain on a computer two thousand miles from the country!

The sad truth is that this system of segregation in Bosnia's schools was instated by the OSCE (the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) to meet the educational needs of children of families returning to their hometowns and villages, from whence they were expelled during the war. In fact, schools in many places in Bosnia have followed the example set in Stolac.

But let me explain this situation in simple terms for those who haven't lived through inter-ethnic conflict, nor have any close relatives affected by such wars. In the Stolac example above, the Muslim Bosniak families returned to their hometown from which they were thrown out of by Bosnian Croats. They want their children to go to school there, obviously, but they don't want them to learn from textbooks filled with the pro-Croat literature that they find offensive, and they don't want them to be taught to look at neighbouring Croatia as their 'domovina' ("homeland").

It's the same situation throughout Bosnia for members of other ethnic groups: Bosnian Serbs or Croats that return to towns and villages from which they were expelled either by Bosnian Croats, Muslims or Serbs, don't want their children to be exposed to the nationalist rhetoric that they dispise of the ethnic group whose members persecuted and humiliated them during a war that destroyed their lives and even took away their loved ones.

Therefore, Bosnian Serb, Croat and Muslim/Bosniak children only learn about their own people's culture and history (according to their nation's historians), and virtually nothing about the culture(s) and history/ies of their closest neighbours.

Not only do they learn conflicting views of history and military conflicts therein, they are also taught that they are separate peoples typically with a history of victimhood listing their neighbours' numerous transgressions against them; they are also taught to believe that their ethnic groups have very unique cultures, which practically means that they have completely separate cultures from each other; and to top it all off, they are even taught to think that they speak separate languages from one another!

This kind of education system is akin to brainwashing! But it is the kind of education system created for a divided and deeply traumatised population scarred by a war that destroyed the sense of common identity they used to have before.

Unfortunately for Bosnian society, this creates "three sets of citizens who do not know anything about the others, have no intercultural skills", who also lack "critical thinking skills" necessary to avoid future outbreaks of war.

Read the full Record-Eagle article here: Segregation lives in Bosnian schools - Country's ethnic divisions are evident, Dated 25th August 2009.


Anonymous said...

Hi Alan: I am really glad you wrote about this segregation in Bosnian schools. I also read an article about this somewhere else recently and was shocked, but not surprised. I am acquainted with Bosnian Serbs who lived in the southern most part of Herzgovina and they are always insisting they are ethnically different than Bosnian Croats. The amazing part of this is they live in the United States now and have for 10 or more years and can't seem to get past this nationalistic rhetoric. I get the same thing from Bosnian Croats from the Mostar area, and Bosniaks from Sarajevo, too. I don't know the answer, but I think the answer is that the politicians in BiH must checked their swords and their ethnic egos at the door and lead by example. There needs to be a group of people who develop textbooks that talk frankly about the war within all of former Yugoslavia. There is plenty of blame to go around. These people need to try to tell the truth and from multiple perspectives. They also need to honor the glorious contributions made by all the so called ethnic groups. To tell the truth, I think one of biggest disservices that people of the Balkans perpetuate, as well as current politicians within all of former Yugoslavia, is giving so much credence to the so called Diaspora residing in other countries. Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, whomever, shouldn't be allowed to vote in absenteism in perpetuity. What a ridiculous concept. In the US you only get to vote absentee if you are in the Military, a student studying abroad or a diplomat stationed outside the country. There are very few exceptions to this. The only way you can create a unified identity for a country is to get beyond this Diaspora nonsense which just adds insult to injury in my opinion. I don't know who the right people would be to write the textbooks used for history of the nation but it needs to happen. It seems when egos, nationalism which is really fascism not patriotism, and power converge you get what happened in former Yugoslavia and what some still seem to want to create You get what happened in Germany under Hitler.

As for the question of if you should change the name of your blog--only if you want to. Don't do it because some relative complained. That is their problem. I read your blog now and then and I find your thoughts refreshing. I don't think you are too nationalistic, rather you are idealistic in your hopes that people can be proud of their Serb heritage, as they should be. Just like Croats, or Bosniaks, or Scottish (like myself) or French or any other nation should be proud of where they came from. But I am first and foremost an American, and I think or hope that you are first and foremost British. Yet you are of Yugoslavian ancestry and Serbian ethnicity (though I increasingly am reading there really is no such thing genetically).
Anarchist is one of those politically charged words that offend. In America lately it's being called Liberal--which I am. Fascist and Nazi conjure up various notions. So I guess what it gets down to is how you define yourself truly based on your political belief system. If Anarchist is truly the right word, maybe you can write about how the dictionary defines this and how your belief system fits that definition and how it plays out in your day to day life and day to day actions.

Good luck,
vidimo se kasnije,
Marti Bridges
Boise, Idaho USA

Balkan Ⓐnarchist said...

Hey Marti, it's nice to hear from you! Haven't heard from you in a long time. I always like receiving comments like yours above; gives me something to respond to.

About the Diaspora: I am a British Serb, and as such I am also a Diaspora Serbs. And in my opinion, the diaspora should maintain a link with their home countries and be a source of help for them too.

Though I see what you mean regarding voting. You have the case of Bosnian Croats who permanently live in Bosnia being allowed to vote in Croatian elections in neighbouring Croatia. But conversely, you have Croatian Serbs like myself, who don't live in Croatia, but are likewise allowed to vote in those same elections in Croatia.

Many Croatian Serbs still live in Serbia, where they have lived as refugees for many years. And the votes of Croatian Serbs are important to make sure that the municipalities from which they came have ethnic Serb representives in the local councils.

However, I am interested in what you say about Diaspora Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks in the USA. Please tell me more about that; I always love to hear about that!

So, how's life for you Marti in post-Bush America? :-D And how's your daughter doing? I think I remember you mentioning that she did some skiing, or swimming - what was it?

Nice to hear from you Marti, and thank you for your opinion about my blog and its name, I truly appreciate it. Alan.

Anonymous said...

More of the disruptive legacy of Dayton? This idea of separate schools under the same roof is set to repeat the destructive process set in motion by the Northern Ireland education system. The more we learn the less we learn.

Anonymous said...

Hey Alane!
Ja sam porijeklom iz Stoca.Clanak Ti je pravi pogadja u bit problema.Politika podjela u Hercegovini je velika,pogotovo u Stocu.Skola sa dva jezika,dvije istorije.Ko ispasta:Djeca ispastaju,neduzna djeca.Cak se i diplome u julu nisu potpisale tako da djeca nemogu upisati fakultete,primati stipendije,penzije,djecije dodatke,nemogu dobit zdravstveno osiguranje itd.Mozda je to precutni dogovor lokalnih politicara mozda relacija Stolac - Bugojno(zamjena).Pogresna politika je uzrok svega u Hercegovini.Cuvanje fotelja lokalnih politicara.Prije rata u Stocu je zivilo oko 18ooo stanovnika 44% Bosnjaka,32% Hrvata,20% Srba i 4% ostalih. Danas u Stocu zivi oko 9000 Hrvata,5500 Bosnjaka i 100 do dvjesta Srba.Opstina je podjeljena na dva dijela Opstina Stolac 51% i Opstina Stolac-Berkovici 49%.Iz Srednje Bosne politika etnickog ciscenja je doselila oko 3000 Hrvata iz Kaknja,Varesa i Konjica.Oni su dosli u Stolac da promjene demografsku strukturu.I mozda su i uspjeli jer je vec proslo 17 godina nove generacije su dosle.Ja licno nemogu da poznam 90 % stanovnika grada Stoca.Srbi iz Stoca vecinom zive u Trebinju,Ljubinju,Berkovicima,a svi mladji su otisli za Beograd,Novi Sad i inostranstvo.Kuce su im napravljene,a umjesto da se vrate oni slusaju svoje politicare i sve kuce u Stocu su stavljene na prodaju(VELIKA GRESKA).Bosnjaci su se oko 50% vratli u Stolac.Niko ne radi u Stocu vecinom rade u Mostaru ili Sarajevu,mladji se ne vracaju.Ovo sada dolazi ekonomsko etnicko ciscenje.Drugih 50% Bosnjaka je vani i zovu nas pogrdno DIJASPORA Zivimo vecinom u Skandinaviji,Americi i Australiji,sto dalje od Stoca.(i ja sam jedan od tih).Sva su Stolacka djeca koja su vani asimilirana a njihova djeca nece ni znati dje je Stolac.Velika ti fala na ustupljeno prostoru(mozda je slicno i gore u Lici ili recimo u Gacku ili Bjeljini,ili u Zenici.
A.Jasarbegovic,Utica Ny USA

Balkan Ⓐnarchist said...

Pozdravljam vas gospođo Jašarbegović u SAD-u! Izvinjavam se što kasnim u odgovoru, i nadam se da vas neće smetati što pišem vako po lički! ;-)

Moram vam reći da mi je izuzetno drago da e upravo osoba iz Stoca, iz grada o kojom govori ovaj moj članak, postavila komentar u odgovoru njemu!

Vidim da se ovije dana nalazite u američkom gradu Utica NY, za koji sam ču' da u njemu živi dosta Bošnjaka. I što se tiče života u rasejenju, potpuno razumijem vaše mišljenje o zaboravu kod djece na svo'e korjene, naročito kod djece koja su se rodila izvan zemlje porjekla roditelja (takozvane „matice zemlje”), a pogotovo kod djece od te iste djece koja, ka' ni svoji roditelji, se takođe nijesu rodila u zemlji svojije baki i đedova! Ali nažalost, to e slučaj kod puno manjinskije za'ednica u razvijenijem zemljami poput Amerike i Britaniji (đe ja živim), bilo da su se nji'ovi pripadnici doselili tamo u bliskoj prošlosti, ili u što daljoj prošlosti. (Primjetio sam da vam se rječ „dijaspora” ne dopada, pa se nadam da vam termin „rasejanje” neće onolko smetati! :-) ).

Puno toga što ste vi naveli u svom komentaru se more primjećivati svakud po ratom-zavaćenom prostoru u BiH i Hrvatskoj. I slažem se s vami da e VELIKA greška što moji sunarodnici Srbi prodavaju svoja imanja po svojijem zavičajima.

Ja sam sa roditeljima prvi put poslje ratnije godina posjetio Gračac u 2004-toj godini, kad sam napunio 18 godina. I od tog prvog posjeta gračačkoj opštini, ja sam se veza' sa Gračacom, njegovijem planinami i selima. No moj pokojni otac to nije želio, jer je on želio da proda svoju kuću, a ja to nijesam želio! Međutijem, moj otac, ka' i puno našije ljudi, nije vidio nikvu perspektivu za život tamo u našom zavičaju, a uz to je sluša' ono šta ljudi poput njegovog brata su govorili, iako taj brat nije nikad svoju kuću proda'! Ali to je ipak druga priča!

Što se tiče školovanja u susjednoj Hrvatskoj, oklen sam ja porjeklom, slučaj djece iz familija srpskije povratnika se bitno razliku'e od slučaja koji sam nav'o u gornjom članku u vašom mjestu porjekla. Ne postoji segregacija koja razdvaja srpsku djecu povratnika od hrvatske djece, bilo da su domocilni stanovnici ili iz porodica bosansko-hrvatskije izbjeglica, ko'e su naseljavale gradove i sela u kojijem su se, prije rata, nastanili većinom Srbi, i koji su takođe pripadali kratko-trajnoj 'Republiki Srpskoj Krajini' za vreme rata u Hrvatskoj. (U slučaju Gračaca (moj dio Like), naselili su Hrvate iz Kaknja i Bugojna, dva mjesta koja ste vi upravo spomenuli u vašom komentaru gore.) Etnički srpska djeca koja danas žive u tijem gradovima predstavljaju manjinu u odnosu na bosansko-hrvatsku djecu, ali ipak idu u iste škole i prisustvuju istijem časovima i razredima, a srpskoj djeci su nuđeni ekstra časovi, u kojijem uče vjeronauku i druge srpske teme poslje školske nastave.

Još ednom se vam zahvalju'em što ste komentirali o mom članku o vašom Stocu, što mi je velika čast! I ža' mi je što vaša stolačka mladež mora trp'ti politiku podjele u školovanju, koja im afektira šanse za bolju budućnost, i koju nad njima nameću zlonamjerni političari, koji sebe smatraju „pametnjakovićima”! :-(


Sam said...

WOW I cannot believe that's going on in my home country of Bosnia..I think the Bosnians should learn from Dr.King that "separate but equal" does not work.and we need to stop teaching our children that we are "separate" from each other.Thats the Bosnian future we depend on them to make Bosnia a better place.But it starts in the classroom and we need to teach out children LOVE AND PEACE and not the b.s there teaching now. by the way Alan I love you blogs I do disagree with some things.but GOTTA LOVE FREE SPEECH!!:D

Balkan Ⓐnarchist said...

Interesting article regarding bullying in Bosnian schools, comparing the experiences of school children in Stolac with the experiences of school children in the mainly Croat town of Posušje further northwest: Bullying Among School Children in Postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina: Cross-Sectional Study, from 2008.