Archive for December, 2009

Teaching Nationalism

The resurgence of nationalist rhetoric among the leading politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina is alarming. The Bosnian government, partitioned by the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, systematically strengthens nationalism in the country as they seek votes from largely mono-ethnic territories. As a result, the three main ethnic groups- Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs- all feel uneasy as the minority in various parts of the country.

Furthermore, the country is so focused on the relationships among these three main ethnic groups that the Jewish and Roma populations (labeled “Other” by the Dayton Agreement) are marginalized. Last week, European courts stated that Bosnia’s constitution discriminates against Jews and Roma because it does not allow them to run for parliament or president. Internationally mediated talks to change the constitution and give the country a chance to join the European Union are ongoing, but progress has stalled due to the inefficiency of Bosnia’s government. Bosnia’s constitution was hastily written in Dayton, Ohio in 1995 in a hurry to stop war, but it was only a temporary fix. Now fifteen years later, Bosnia is completely stuck in a mess of nationalism and the Jewish and Roma populations are long forgotten.

These last two entries on minorities in Bosnia are the result of homework and a pet-research project, but I am obviously still in the brainstorming phases. Next week in sociology seminar class, it is my turn to lead the discussion on the topic of religious minorities in Europe, and I would like to use Bosnia as a case study. Also, the brainstorming led me to a topic that currently has me completely engrossed: school segregation in Bosnia.

I began thinking about primary and secondary schools in the Balkans this summer after my trip to Kosovo. A friend living in the Serbian enclave of Gračanica explained the troubles the Serbian schools face because they are so overcrowded as a result of ethnic migration. Children go to schools in four shifts from 6 am – 6 pm; learning is compromised in their formative years because the Serbian minority in Kosovo (I believe now less than 10%) wants to live together. Even more troubling is the fact that the history taught in the Serbian schools is completely different from the history taught in the neighboring Albanian schools, with each group spoon-feeding their nationalist rhetoric to future generations. NGOs are working to encourage the use of alternative textbooks from multi-ethnic perspectives, but it seems like an upward battle.

Now I am revisiting the topic of education as I study Bosnia, because I think this subject has the potential to blossom into a long-term project for me. Almost fifteen years after the Dayton Accords, the children of today’s Bosnia are growing up much more isolated than former generations. The three largest ethnic groups, Bosniaks (Muslims), Croats (Catholics), and Serbs (Orthodox) each view the past differently, with nationalism and grudges clouding their perspectives. For example, in Mostar, Bosnia which is divided between Bosniaks and Croats, there is only one Gymnasium that accepts students from both ethnic groups but it is not completely integrated. There are two separate curricula for Croatian and Muslim students. Only sports, school activities and a few classes, such as technology, are combined. Although this is not the only integrated public school in Bosnia, and there are a few multi-ethnic private schools available, the reality is that most schools in Bosnia are segregated.

In Stolac (located in the Southern part of Herzegovina), Croat students use the high school building for the first shift of the day and they learn the capital of their country is Zagreb. The second afternoon shift (the Muslim students) learns that the capital of their country is Sarajevo. The Stolac school is an example of Bosnia’s postwar emphasis on “two schools under one roof.” Each ethnic group learns different curricula and do not mix. The Muslim students cannot enter the building earlier than their designated time in the afternoon, even if it is raining. Sometimes they turn the heat off for the second shift of students. Many schools currently operate like this in Bosnia, and often parents send their kids to schools far away just so that they can learn with their own ethnicity.

In the early stages of researching school segregation in Bosnia, I realize this post lacks statistics. However, as I sort through countless articles about the current education system in Bosnia, I feel alarmed by the long-term damage that is obviously taking place. Before the wars, students of all backgrounds attended the local schools without problems. Today, almost fifteen years after the war, the young people of Bosnia are more isolated than ever before. Nationalism and stereotypes prevail, and the children completely lack skills and opportunities to intermingle. Although nongovernmental organizations and the international community are trying to help Bosnia reform their education system, Bosnia’s inefficient political system makes change difficult. I fear that the current situation of segregation in Bosnia’s schools and the way it promotes nationalism and hatred will destroy this country in the future.

Ethnic divisions in Bosnia (2006)- Bosniaks (green), Serbs (blue), Croats (Orange)

Click on the map (and zoom in) to view ethnic groups in Bosnia.


No Place for Muslims in Europe

A Mosque in Bosnia

Perhaps at this point, the Swiss ban on minarets is old news for most people.  Despite the fact that Switzerland has 400,000 Muslims, voters approved a ban on minarets by 57.5% in the last days of November.  Many of the Muslims living in Switzerland today are Bosniaks and Albanian Kosovar refugees who fled genocide in the former-Yugoslavia in the 1990s.  In their homeland, mosques and minarets were burnt down or blown up, so they sought safety and religious freedom elsewhere.  How horribly ironic- after starting a new life in “civilized” and “democratic” Switzerland, they face the same racism.

Europe is increasingly Islamphobic, especially in the aftermath of September 11th.  Although Muslims in Western Europe will eternally be “The Other,” at least they have some functioning institutions for protecting their rights.  In my opinion however, the intolerance is worse in Eastern Europe, especially in partitioned Bosnia.  Just after the outrageous Swiss ban on minarets, 1,200 Serbian residents of Bijeljina, Bosnia, signed a petition calling for the reduction of volume of the ezan (call to prayer) on the basis of noise violation.  Of course no one is bothered by the ringing of church bells.  This town in northeast Bosnia in the Republika Srpska is one of the many places that Serb troops slaughtered Muslims in the war from 1992-1995.  Bijeljina was “successfully ethnically cleansed” during the war, and the Muslims who returned to their former homes after the war are still terrorized.

When will the war be over in the Balkans?  After twenty years, prejudices and intolerance still reign.  The partitioning of Bosnia adds more tension to the situation, and the Muslims are once again the minority, with increased pressure from Republika Srpska.  Most people stopped talking about the Swiss ban on minarets a few weeks ago, without considering the implications the ban has on other places like Bijeljina.  What is worse- that Muslims are still terrorized by Serbs in their home country two decades after the war… or that refugee Muslims in Western Europe face the same prejudices abroad?

Arbeit Macht Frei

Who the hell would steal the “Arbeit macht frei” sign from Auschwitz?  Meaning ‘Work sets you free’ and constructed by prisoners from the camp, the entrance sign is symbolic of the Holocaust.  The camp, in which 1-1.5 milion people died,  has been a museum since 1945.  The sign is 5 meters long and weighs 40 kilograms.  I wonder how such a large sign was taken unnoticed, but apparently the one security camera used was blinded by the snow.  Borders were closed in case the sign is on its way out of the country, 50 criminal investigators are patrolling the camp grounds with dogs, and a temporary replica was installed in the sign’s place.

Who would do such a thing?  The museum has 1 million visitors every year, and the memorial stands as an important educational tool.  World leaders are outraged, and I have to agree that this act could only be antisemitic.  Will the sign go up for sale?  Will this symbol of the Holocaust be destroyed in an act of hatred? I have nothing new to say about this hurtful act of vandalism, but I feel truly sick over this piece of news, and I hope the criminals are caught and imprisoned.  This sign is more than just pieces of guilded iron- it is possibly the most recognized symbol of the millions of  people that died in the Holocaust.

Ante Pavelić, Hitler’s Friend in Croatia

Ante Pavelić (1889-1959) governed Croatia under the protection of Germany and Italy from 1941-1945.  He is best known for leading the Ustaša Party in the Independent State of Croatia and using Nazi-like ethnic cleansing tactics to exterminate Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies during World War II.

Born in Bradina (present-day Bosnia) in 1889, Pavelić graduated from Zagreb’s Faculty of Law in 1915 with a doctorate degree. In 1918 after years of foreign domination, the Serbian monarchy formed the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Extreme nationalist groups formed in all of the countries in the region, and Croats quickly became as dissatisfied under Belgrade as they were under their previous Hungarian control.  In 1918, Pavelić began his political involvement with leadership roles in the Croatian Rights Party (HSP), and later represented the HSP in the Zagreb City Council.  Gaining recognition from several articles he published in the weekly Croatian Rights Party newspaper, Hrvatsko Pravo, Pavelić advocated for an independent Croatia.

When King Alexander proclaimed a royal dictatorship of Yugoslavia in 1929 in an attempt to eliminate ethnic differences, Pavelić was forced to emigrate and lived in Vienna, Sofia, and Italy.  He most likely started the Ustaša Croatian Revolutionary Organization (UHRO) at the end of 1930 while living abroad.  Pavelić declared himself leader (poglavnik) of the Ustaša organization in 1933, and published a manifesto of the movement.  Ustaša literally means ‘one who takes part in an uprising’, and Pavelić was greatly influenced by Benito Mussolini and terrorist groups in Macedonia and Albania.  The aim of the party was to overthrow the government of Yugoslavia and with the help of Italy, to create an independent Croatian state.  While abroad, Pavelić organized other Croatian émigrés into army units, training them in military camps in Italy and Hungary. Soon Pavelić helped with the assassination of King Aleksander Karađorđević, the first king of Yugoslavia, in Marseille, France in 1934, and was subsequently arrested and imprisoned in Italy until 1936. Pre-war, Italy and Germany used the Ustaša party to disrupt Yugoslav power, but later found the Ustaša nationalism a burden.  In 1941, Germans needed to withdrawal from Yugoslavia and address the Eastern front, or perhaps they would have crushed the Ustaša power at this time.

The Germans conquered Yugoslavia in only 11 days in the Spring of 1941 and they were enthusiastically welcomed by many Croats.  The Independent State of Croatia was established on 10 April 1941 under leadership of Pavelić and the Ustaša party.  Hitler declared Pavelić poglavnik, and so Pavelić appointed the government and assumed the roles of president until September 1943.  He also took over the duties of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  The new state was enlarged, encompassing regions of Bosnia and Serbia.

Using Nazi-like terror tactics to exercise power, Pavelić led the Ustaša party’s extermination of Serbs, Jews and Roma, and persecuted Croatians harshly if they did not agree with his policies of racial purity and genocide.  Although completely inaccurate, Pavelić claimed Croats were “gothic people” and thus superior.  Pavelić also used religion to distinguish “The Other”, and many Catholic clergymen helped the Ustaša party.  The head of the Catholic Church of Croatia, Archbishop Aloys Stepinac, along with many other aides were acquitted after the war in Yugoslav courts for collaborating with Pavelić’s government.  The Ustaša massacred whole Serbian villages in Croatia and Bosnia in attempts to create a “pure Croatia.”   In 1941 and 1942, around thirty German, Italian, and Ustaša concentration camps were built in the Independent State of Croatia in order to aid in their genocide, the largest of which was the Jasenovac camp.  Due to lack of accurate documentation, the number of victims from the Jasenovac camp greatly varies between 50,000 to 600,000, with Croatia claiming the lesser figure and Serbia the greater.

With the Yugoslav Partisans advancing in 1945, Pavelić fled the country with the help of the Catholic Church in Italy, seeking safety in Argentina using a false identity. He survived an assassination attempt in 1957 and fled to Spain, where he died in 1959 in a German hospital in Madrid due to complications of the bullet in his spine.

Although Pavelić was certainly not the sole source, he became the face of Croatian nationalism during World War II.  He was one of the founders of the Ustaša movement, and the most important leader in the Independent State of Croatia.  Pavelić led a specifically Balkan holocaust against Serbs, one that many people in the West do not realize took place.  For Serbs today, the Croatian flag is a symbol of Fascism and the atrocities committed against their nation during the war.  Later Josip Broz Tito forbade discussion of the Jasenovac exterminations in an attempt to keep peace in a multi-ethnic Yugoslavia.  After the death of Tito and during the wars in the former-Yugoslavia in the 1990s, much of the nationalism from the World War II and Pavelić era resurfaced, causing utter destruction in the region.  Many people hastily attribute the tension among the nations of the former-Yugoslavia as some kind of ancient hatred; rather, the hatred stems from only as far back as World War II.  Supporters of the Ustaša party are still present in Croatia today. Although Ante Pavelić alone cannot be blamed for nationalism and hatred in the former-Yugoslavia, his leadership during World War II created a lasting divide and the region still suffers effects today.

Flags Symbolizing Hatred

Now that I am researching Ante Pavelić for a history class assignment, I finally investigated a question I’ve had for a long time- what does the Croatian flag mean and how is it connected with the country’s fascist government from World War II?  When it comes to history of the former Yugoslavia, it is truly impossible not to let biases affect research.  Until now, I never thought about how much living in Serbia and making friends with Serbs affect my views on certain issues.  I heard a comment from a Serbian friend that the checkerboard pattern on the Croatian flag symbolizes fascism and lazily, I never doubted it.


The current flag of Croatia

It’s not really my goal here to give a history of nationalism in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, or the history of Yugoslavia from 1929 onward, so please excuse me as I leave out plenty of details. Most importantly, I want to stress that during World War II, the Independent State of Croatia was a Nazi puppet state led by Ante Pavelić and his Ustasha regime. Pavelić greatly admired Benito Mussolini, and used ethnic-cleansing tactics like Hitler to eliminate non-Croats.  With 26 concentration camps, the Ustasha party especially targeted Serbs, but also killed Gypsies and Jews.  In Jasenovac (the largest camp) alone, up to 200,000 Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and political prisoners were killed, resulting in a mini holocaust, specifically Balkan, that most people do not even know took place.


The flag of the Independent State of Croatia during 1941-1945, the Ustasa flag.

The checkerboard pattern on the Croatian flag was in fact used during the fascist era, but the shield actually dates back several centuries.  Croats claim the checkerboard shield is one of the oldest symbols in Europe.  Whether or not this is true, it certainly dates back long before Croats were exterminating Serbs in Jasenovac.  However, when Yugoslavia broke apart in the 1990s and nationalism raged from all sides, the Croatian flag was used militantly and conjured up its World War II meaning for Serbs once again.  On the opposite side, as Serbs destroyed villages and raped women in Bosnia and Croatia, they wrote their own historic shield and slogan all over the place- Само слога Србина спасава/Samo sloga Srbina spasava (meaning’Only Unity Saves the Serbs’).  I saw the C C C C slogan written all over the region when I traveled this summer.  This slogan means “Greater Serbia,” Milosevic and utter destruction for Bosnians and Croats.


Flag of Serbia, with the acronym for the slogan in the crest.


Само слога Србина спасава/Samo sloga Srbina spasava (Only Unity Saves the Serbs)

Without attempting any groundbreaking conclusion, I ponder the symbols found today in the former-Yugoslavia, and how they perpetuate memories of a bloody past for all parties involved.  A small part of me respects pride for national history, but mostly I am saddened by the messages the flags imply.  These symbols and flags may mean the beginning of a nation for one country, but for a neighbor- they hurtfully mean genocide and destruction.  Visual symbols make a huge impact on people.  Idealistically, I wish Croatia and Serbia would change their flags for a new era…to find new symbols for a peaceful future. Realistically, I know that the countries of the former Yugoslavia prefer to live in the past.

Look here to see the evolution of Croatia’s flag throughout history.  Notice the use of the checkerboard pattern in 1848-1852, and 1860-1918.

What is Wigilia?

Pierogis made by my Babcia last Christmas Eve

I was going to wait to write about Polish Christmas traditions until the holidays are closer, but last night my university had its annual Christmas Party/Wigilia Dinner, and now I am very excited. My family has a Wigilia dinner every Christmas Eve in Philadelphia and it is my favorite day of the year. The university scheduled the party early because soon all of the students will leave for the holiday break, but typically this dinner is on December 24th.

The word “Wigilia” comes from the Latin verb vigilare, “to watch”, and literally means ‘eve’. Once the sun goes down, the whole family gathers for a huge Christmas Eve supper. Traditionally, you are supposed to leave one seat empty at the table for the “uninvited guest” in the spirit of hospitality, but my family has enough trouble fitting the “invited guests” at the table so we leave this part out. The evening begins with the sharing of oplatki, or Christmas communion wafers, so before sitting down to eat everyone takes a square. Mingling around the room, you break a piece off of someone else’s wafer wishing them a Happy New Year and vice versa. Although I am not a religious person and did not like eating the communion as a kid, now I think its nice to take the time to personally thank and wish everyone the best.

When that is over, everyone sits down at the table. Traditionally this is a meatless dinner with only fish served. First, my family starts with white borscht (sour soup) or mushroom soup. Next, there is fried fish, which is usually carp in Poland, but in Philadelphia we usually have two kinds of tilapia. My family laughs as a course of only peas go around, and then a course of just carrots as we wait for better courses to come. Śledź, or pickled herring, is served but only my late grandfather really enjoyed it. Finally the best course arrives- the pierogi (polish dumplings). My grandmother makes two kinds for every Christmas- ruskie (filled with potato and cheese) and kapusta (filled with cabbage). There is coffee, polish cookies for dessert, cake, etc. With the several courses, the meal takes a very long time and it’s nice to have the chance to sit and talk with family. However as a child, this is a long time to wait for presents, which come after the meal.

Perhaps my family’s Wigilia dinner with its few substitutions is not strictly traditional. In Poland we would eat more than one kind of soup, and probably a lot more cabbage. Also, my family usually has a baked ham hiding in the kitchen for those that do not like seafood. I think Wigilia dinner is probably a little bit different in every home, with the traditions partly Polish, and in part specific to the individual family. Since I’ve now lived in Poland for three and a half months and eaten my fair share of pierogis, it will be funny to go to Philadelphia for more. Still, living in Poland has made me cherish this tradition in my family even more, and I cannot wait until the dinner this year.

Serbia Moves Forward

Serbia’s future is starting to look a bit brighter. Due to the country’s cooperation with the current United Nations’ war crimes trial of Radovan Karadzic, the European Union will lift its trade ban on Serbia. Previously, the Dutch government was opposed to the trade deal, demanding that Serbia try harder to track down war criminal suspects such as General Ratko Mladic. The implementation of the trade agreement is expected to boost the country’s economy and foreign investment in Serbia, and government officials in Serbia feel closer to applying for EU membership.

More exciting news for the citizens of Serbia (as well as for Macedonia and Montenegro) is that EU governments agreed last week to allow visa-free travel in the Schengen zone starting from December 19 this year. The Schengen zone includes 25 European Union member states, as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland but excludes Britain and Ireland. Bosnia and Albania are disappointed that the new rule does not apply to their own countries, but the EU deems them “not-ready”.  Before visa requirements were introduced in 1991, citizens of Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia enjoyed visa-free travel to Western Europe for 40 years as part of Yugoslavia, the only communist country that permitted its citizens to travel freely abroad.

Spending some time in Serbia, I saw how difficult it was for my friends to travel, even to bordering countries. They deserve the same opportunities as the students from the United States or the European Union, to research, study and vacation in other countries. According to a Belgrade survey, more than 70 percent of Serbia’s young people have never traveled abroad. Soon this will change in time for the holiday season, and JAT airlines, the main carrier for Belgrade will offer special airfares to entice travelers.

However, the good fortune of some countries in southeast Europe is causing tension in others. Bosnian Muslims feel at a disadvantage because in their ethnically split country, Bosnian Serbs may obtain a Serbian passport and ethnic Croats in Bosnia, who hold Croatian passports can already travel. The EU claims Bosnia’s troubles are of its own making.  The decision to lift visa restrictions on Serbian citizens is also prompting Kosovo Albanians to claim they live in South Serbia, so they can access the travel benefits. Most applications for residency status are denied. It’s ironic that as Kosovo is currently defending the legitimacy of its declaration of independence from Serbia in the International Court of Justice, some Kosovo citizens are attempting to declare residency in Serbia. Serbia is right to refuse their applications, as citizens of Kosovo cannot change their nationality when convenient.

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