Segregation reigns in wake of war

13th November 2009 at 00:00
The massacres ended 15 years ago but the schools of Bosnia and Herzegovina are more divided than they were before the conflict, says Andrew Hickman

Every morning, instead of going to their local primary in Kravica, a group of Bosnian Muslim children wait at a bus stop to travel to the village of Konjevic Polje. As they descend through a densely forested valley, they pass Bosnian Serb children making the same journey in the opposite direction.

The buses pass a bullet-pocked building where men and boys were kept after being separated from their families during the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, and the site of a mass grave.

Fifteen years after the end of the war, most children in Bosnia attend mono-ethnic schools like these or "two schools under one roof", where students have lessons in shifts or occupy separate floors. It's a far cry from school life before the war when Serb, Croat and Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) children mixed freely.

The majority of textbooks featuring hate speeches have been withdrawn. But without a national curriculum, the likelihood of children being exposed to one subjective version of the past remains strong.

Part of the problem lies in the way in which power was divided among the different layers of government after the war, with control over education given to 12 different ministries. This has allowed for what Genc Goranci, co-ordinator of the Nansen Dialogue Centre in Sarajevo, refers to as "the project" - a calculated attempt by nationalist politicians to use education to entrench ethnic and religious nationalist sentiment.

Jago Musa, the man responsible for the Croatian curriculum in the canton of Mostar, prefers not to use the word "segregation" as he feels "this implies it is negative". He argues that an education system is needed "which reflects the cultural and linguistic differences of young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina".

However, for Mela Zukevic, a Croat graduate, such views are misguided and offensive. "When I was at school before the war, I didn't know whether my friends were Serb, Croat or Bosniak or whether they were Muslim, Catholic or Orthodox. There were no cultural differences."

The United World College (UWC) is a hefty yellow building in Mostar's divided city. It is one of 13 set up around the world, including Wales, to "make education a force to unite people".

During the war it was occupied by the Croat army, but since 2006, Serb, Croat and Bosniak students have studied alongside international students. It tries to provide them with a balanced history of the 1992-95 war, with what its head Paul Regan calls a focus on "multiperspectivity".

It is also home to the Mostar Gymnasium, one of "two schools under one roof", where students are separated for most subjects on ethnic lines but link up for science teaching, student council meetings and sport.

Back in Kravica and Konjevic Polje, a group of parents are working to overcome segregation in a different way. As part of the Nansen Dialogue project (nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year), Serb and Bosniak parents meet regularly. They have renovated war-damaged parts of the schools and have set up a weekly computer club where all students work together. One of the parents is Niaz Osmanic, a survivor of the massacre. Some in the community aren't happy about the project. But, as he says, ending segregation "is the only solution for our children's future".

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