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.

  1. I’m sure you’ll realize this on your own, but it’s blue for Serbs and green for Bosniaks.

    • Christine
    • February 8th, 2010

    Of course… careless typing. Thanks Kirk!

  1. January 4th, 2010
  2. February 11th, 2010
  3. May 26th, 2010

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