Archive for the ‘ Other ’ Category

Siberian Summer Camp (for Serbs)

Some Serbian parents need a suitable environment for their children who struggle with discipline, structure, and patriotism. Russia offers the solution: military camps to learn the Cossack way of life.   Parents have three options of camps, which are far from civilization in Siberia, and last for three weeks.  Children learn how to throw grenades and use other weapons, to survive in the wilderness, and to sing patriotic songs. Not including the plane ticket, the camp costs 200 euros.  This is a small price to pay because the children will surely come back transformed.  If you know a naughty Serbian child, please see the website for more information.

Source: e-novine,com


Balkan Connections

A railway company named Cargo 10 is ready this October 1st to open its newest project – a new train connection in the Balkans, from Ljubljana to Istanbul.  This project will provide the Western Balkans with trains that are faster, more modern, and in compliance with EU standards.  Cargo 10 was founded by Serbia, Slovenia, and Croatia, and Bosnia (FBiH and Republika Srpska separately) and Macedonia also decided to join.  The first step of the project, costing 100 million EUR, will be used for the restoration of the railway lines and the purchase of new electronic engines.  The second loan, valued at 200 million EUR, will be spent on the development of additional routes.  According to Radio Srbija, some of these projects will include,  “the modernization of railway line Belgrade-Subotica-Hungarian border, which is in the north line of Corridor 10. By the end of the year, works on the electrification of the Niš-Dimitrovgrad-Bulgarian border railway are to begin. Next year, two railway bridges, namely those in the towns of Paraćin and Novi Sad respectively, will be built. Negotiations with Russia on a loan of 600 million USD for the Belgrade railway junction and for the building of the Valjevo-Loznica railway are expected.”

Last December, Belgrade and Sarajevo reopened its direct railway connection after 17 years, which was a huge step for the region.  Trains in the former-Yugoslavia are old and slow, and in desperate need of modernization as these countries strive for EU membership.  Serbia’s visa restrictions were lifted at the end of last year, and BiH hopes to join the Schengen White List soon.  The countries in the area need more coordination and joint business ventures like Cargo 10 and travel around the region should be encouraged, for tourists from the rest of Europe as well as for citizens from these successor states.    Ticket prices will be much cheaper and travel times will decrease by about one third, which will result in further economic development of the countries involved.  I believe that Southeast Europe needs a physical connection like this railway line in order to overcome differences of the past and to forge ahead to a prosperous and stable future.


BBC article about the Belgrade-Serbia line (opened in 2009)

EUobserver and Radio Srbija on the Cargo 10 project

The Dismal Future of Crete

Long before the Greek economic crisis was a permanent fixture on the news, the UK-based Minoan Group planned to develop  the northeastern area on the island of Crete.  The 1.2 billion euro project will create six tourist villages, three golf courses and luxury holiday resorts on land leased by the declining Toplou monastery.  As one of the largest tourist development projects in Greece, the resorts will provide around 3,500 jobs when completed, and perhaps keep young people from leaving the country to work elsewhere in Europe.

The Future Site of the Luxury Developments

During this time of recession, I try to convince myself that this development project is one logical solution to strengthen the Greek economy through tourism, and to simultaneously strengthen the European community.  However, it is difficult to ignore the negative impact this large luxury tourist destination will have on an island with such a rich history.  The largest island of Greece, Crete was the center of the first advanced (Minoan) civilization in Europe.  Is it some kind of joke that the development company is called the Minoan Group, as they plan to destroy the sites leftover from this Bronze Age ancient civilization?   Today, the island of Crete still has many sites that have not been archaeologically excavated that would provide Europeans with insight into their roots.  The island was farmland during antiquity, and the Neolithic and Minoan farms, terraces and fields are still visible on the island of Crete.  The golf courses and development would only cover up this landscape.

Overall plan for the different tourist locations

Furthermore, this project will cause irreversible damage to the Crete environment, which contains some of the world’s most rare plant species, due to the semi-desert climate of the island.  This part of Crete is supposed to be protected by the Natura 2000 decision, which designates areas in the EU for conservation.  Development is directly in opposition to the Natura 2000, and this tourist village far from the present-day tourism on the island would wreak havoc on the natural beauty of the island.

The Minoan Group has careful answers to all of the concerns of those against this project.  They say they are going to keep the golf course with brown grass, and that they will produce their own water.  This development project will only cover a percentage of the island, but once completed, I’m sure the resorts will expand.  Development in this area is not sustainable because of the lack of water, and already hotels have failed in this location.  With this luxury resort on the opposite side of the island from the current tourist destinations, it will only be a matter of a decade or two before the entire island is developed for foreigners.  The beginning of advanced European civilization, an environmental hotspot, and the location of well-preserved archaeological sites will be long forgotten underneath the golf courses and “tourist villages.”  Despite the need for economic recovery, this is just way too tacky.

(Top Image) A Future Golf Course

The plan for the golf course and conference center

Please visit the Minoan Group website for more information, or this petition site where over 10,000 people have signed against this development project.  Other sources for this post include this wordpress blog post by HomeboyMediaNews and this article on the Travel Daily News website.

Assessing the Purpose of this Blog

Today I was reminded that some people are very skeptical of blogs and I found myself questioning the purpose of this site.  About eight months ago, I started to write with very low expectations in terms of readership.  No one is more surprised than I am to see that there were over twenty-eight thousand visits so far, and after more than forty posts, I think this is a good time to question my objectives.

Looking through my past entries that differ greatly in topic and style, I certainly consider some more successful than others.  When I first moved to Poland and began writing, it was impossible to overcome my perspective as a tourist and this is reflected in early posts on museums and Krakow in general.  Some of my later posts merely point out an artist that I love, such as Dan Perjovschi, or a book that I could not put down, like Love Thy Neighbor by Peter Maass.  Although I was hardly critical, these entries were meant to make recommendations to others with similar interests, and later even influenced some brief correspondence with both the artist and author.  My family at home loved reading an entry explaining Polish Christmas traditions, and writing it certainly put me in the holiday spirit.  Sometimes although not often, I just feel like sharing a funny video with my East Europe-loving friends, like The Estonians, or I am happy to see that people worked very hard to compile a bibliography specifically on Bosnia, and I want them to have as much publicity as possible.  Entries on Ante Pavelic or the Jewish community in Bosnia took on a historical perspectives and after my vacation to the Baltics, I felt like making some hostel and restaurant recommendations to other travelers.  None of these posts are meant to seem very original, but they reflect what I am thinking about or considering at a particular moment.

Least successful posts are the results of moments of excitement, like when I first thought about education in Bosnia.  Readers probably wondered what point I was trying to make in the stream of consciousness found in Teaching Nationalism.  Although the post is not very successful in itself, this initial brainstorming led me to my master’s thesis topic, which is on the international involvement in education reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Later I would excitedly come across an interesting article about the new textbooks in Kosovo, and with only one source about the study, my post ends up summarizing.  This is probably not so useful.  Sometimes I am responding to current events in the region and merely adding to the mainstream media already available, as in the case of the post Arbeit Mach Frei (after the sign was stolen from Auschwitz), or A Long Road for Serbia… (after Serbia finally submitted its EU membership application).

On the other hand, I am particularly proud of some of my posts.  For example, Child of a Dictator explored the life of Valentin Ceausescu, discussed recent history of Romania, and commented on a news story from Bucharest all in one entry.  A Need for Truth is my most clicked on post, and it combines personal experiences with many current issues in the Balkans, and expresses my hopes for the future.  Writing about my experience in the Tolerance March in Krakow generated some interesting commentary from readers, as did Waste of Space, on the Parliament Palace in Bucharest.  My mouth watered as I wrote about barbeque in the Balkans and my friends seemed to enjoy reading the descriptions of burgers, so sometimes I think a little fun is okay.  Also, it was a pleasure for me to speak with Savo Heleta after reading his book.  This conversation provided a nice addition to the site, as well as a memorable experience in my exploration of Bosnia.

So…what exactly is my point with this site?  I’m certainly not trying to present myself as an academic or authoritative source on the subject matter, and some posts are more original than others.  Sarah, a PhD student who blogs at Café Turco wrote about the sense of community that stems from blogs like this one that has a small audience.  Her site provides a great model for me in the way that she combines personal experience with well-researched articles.  Mark O’Hoare (Greater Surbiton), a professor and author of several books on the former Yugoslavia, teaches me a lot through his highly analytical and academic articles.  A friend of mine who writes in Spanish at Balkanidades impresses me and amuses me with his insightful thoughts on the intricacies of society in the Balkans.   Also, I have connected with other master’s students (Historiographic Anarchy) and travelers (Gina’s Polish Complex, Jeff Warner).  Sometimes its lonely having a marginal interest like the former-Yugoslavia, but writing this blog has made me realize that other people share my passion, and I learn a great deal from these connections.

Reading over past entries made me assess my goals with this website.  Because I am constantly and enthusiastically reading about this region, I will continue to recommend my favorite books, artists, Balkan meat dishes, and tourists destinations, hoping to spread my love of East Europe.  Eventually I would like to develop a page of resources on the internet for others interested in these topics.    Also, I would like to continue to connect with other people interested in the former-Yugoslavia, and East/Central Europe in general.  I strongly encourage comments and criticisms, which can be added to the left of each entry.   Also, I would like to track my own learning as I try to navigate through this field.  As the title implies, this site reflects my educational and personal journey.  I spent four months living in Serbia and I am now in my tenth month living in Krakow.  Soon I will move to Bosnia to stay indefinitely, and I look forward to learning and experiencing much more in the region in the near future.  Although currently a novice, I would like to challenge myself to comment on politics in the region and to be more critical in my writing.  Expressing my opinion on this site (even with varying degrees of research or success) has taught me a lot so far.  Someday in the future while living and working in Bosnia, I hope to look back on these early entries and cringe at my naivety. For now, I will continue this project and keep on learning.

Thank you very much to those reading, and as previously mentioned, feedback is always very helpful.

Balkan Barbeques are Serious Business

When I lived in Serbia, a friend asked me, “Is it true that in America, you barbeque with gas grills?” I responded that some people use charcoal grills but others use gas-fueled grills in their backyards, and my friend laughed in complete disbelief and horror. In the Balkans, barbeque (роштиљ, roštilj) is serious business. The first time I ate barbeque with Serbs was in the United States. I could not believe how much meat they cooked for only 8 people, and I waited in hungry anticipation as they seemed to grill for hours, covering the grill completely several times with meat before we were allowed to dig into the meal. Suddenly, the typical American style cookout of hamburgers, hot dogs and potato salad seemed pathetic in comparison. Later, when I lived in Serbia, I had the good fortune to attend several barbeques with friends. I loved to watch as Serbian friends literally built the barbeque in the grass, and tended to it with care and expertise. Lately, two of my friends traveled to Bosnia and Serbia and I helped them plan their trip. I told them to look for pljeskavica and ćevapi and I felt inspired to research a little more about Serbian barbeque and what makes it so delicious.

Helping with the rostilj in Valjevo, Serbia

Surprisingly, I learned a lot from the New York Times with this article. Previously I thought the secret to the wonderful burgers in Serbia (pljeskavica) rested in the way the people tend the barbeque, or perhaps in delicious toppings of cream or pepper-based spreads. This article explains that the secret to a Balkan burger is in the type of ground meat used to make the patties. Each chef has their own secret, but it seems to me that most in the Balkans use more than one kind of meat, unlike in the United States where we only use beef often with a dry result.

One version of the pljeskavica

Of course, these pljeskavica would not be complete without the unique toppings that exist in the Balkans. My favorite was urnebes, which was a type of salad made from pavlaka and chili peppers, which gave it a sort of pink color. Pavlaka is also a typical topping by itself, and it is a sour cream-like product like crème fraiche.  Cabbage, lettuce, onions, etc, are also popular.

I learned that the pljeskavica was invented in Leskovac, Serbia where they have an annual festival honoring the burger. The festival also includes a contest to create the biggest pljeskavica. According to one journalist who visited the town, the contestants prepared a pljeskavica that was 53 pounds with a diameter of 56.7 inches. Currently Seymour, Wisconsin holds the world record for producing the largest hamburger after cooking an 8,266 pound burger at Burger Fest on August 4, 2001. When the journalist told this fact to the chefs of Leskovac, they rejected it, claiming that it is not possible to make such a big hamburger if cooked correctly. One thing is for sure- burgers/pljeskavica in Serbia are very large, and as my friends in Novi Sad joked, they only get bigger as you travel south in the country.

Competition for the largest burger patty

Another treat of meat that I miss dearly is ćevapi, or ćevapčići (which is the diminutive). The word comes from the Arabic word kebab, and the dish arrived during the Ottoman Empire expansion into Southeast Europe. Sarajevo makes the best ćevapi, which is grilled meat formed into sausage-like rolls. Nothing beats sitting in an outdoor café in Sarajevo and eating this dish, served with onions and lepinja, which is spongy Turkish flatbread that is also put on the grill. Sometimes ćevapi is served with kajmak, which is another unique dairy product that is difficult to explain.  It is something in between a cream and a cheese, and it tastes good on just about everything (I’ve eaten it on burgers, bread and even corn on the cob). Once again, the secret lies in the mixture of ground meat.

Cevapi, lepinja, and onions

According to the NY Times article, there are many places to try pljeskavica in New York City, due to the number of immigrants from the former-Yugoslavia. Somehow, all of the different ethnicities can agree that Balkan barbeque is the best. The most noticeable difference is that in New York, you will pay around $10 for a burger that would cost $2 in Serbia or Bosnia, but they are worth trying. As I plan to move to Bosnia in two months, I am starting to get very hungry.

Conversations with Savo Heleta

Growing up in Goražde, Bosnia, Savo Heleta did not think about ethnicity, race or religion.  Everyone knew one another in the small peaceful city, his best friend was Muslim, and most considered themselves “Yugoslav.”  In Not My Turn to Die (March 2008, AMACOM Books, New York), Heleta describes (perhaps a bit too simply) how nationalist politicians led the country into war, but this is certainly not a story about politics.  He provides a gripping account of his family’s struggle for survival during the first two years of the war, through constant shelling, murder attempts, degradation and forced starvation.  His family was among the few Serbian civilians that stayed in Goražde, a Muslim dominated city, and ironically, they suffered through shelling and sniper attacks from their own ethnicity.  The city was crowded with Bosniak refugees from neighboring towns, and Heleta’s family became isolated in their own home among their neighbors with no connection to the outside world.  Simple actions such as retrieving water became a matter of life and death.  Eventually his family escaped by swimming in the Drina River to safety, but not until after they lived in complete terror for two years.

We often read personal accounts of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina from a Muslim perspective and statistically, Serbs were guilty of most of the killing.  However, Serbs also were persecuted during the war and suffered extreme losses.  Heleta’s memoir describes such experiences.  He reminds us that this is only his story, and that he cannot speak for the country as a whole.  Often Heleta describes acts of kindness from Muslim neighbors and his detailed, journalistic style is engrossing and sincere.  The book is as much about peace as it is about war, and readers witness the transformation of an angry adolescent to a forgiving adult, who studies and works on post-conflict issues in Africa today. I felt privileged to speak with him, and to hear his opinions on the war, life in Bosnia today, and the future of the ethnically partitioned state.

Author Savo Heleta

Christine Bednarz:  I’ve really been looking forward to this… I have a lot of questions for you. I enjoyed the book immensely. I found it to be honest, sincere, and as objective as one can be when talking about the former-Yugoslavia.

Savo Heleta: Thanks…and one always has to remember that is a personal story and there are many stories out there.  This is only one.

CB: Of course.

SH: People sometimes say to me… “You don’t write about other parts of Bosnia”… well, I was not there.

CB: How do people in Bosnia and the former-Yugoslavia respond to the book in general?

SH: This is quite interesting.  People from different sides who read the book say it is a good, very objective book and people who never read the book are critical of it.

CB: That is very interesting. I wonder if some people are afraid of the truth about the wars coming out?

SH: Perhaps…. I always say that there is no one story, one history.  We all have our experiences. And sometimes our experiences are quite different from what is presented on CNN for example. In 2008, an online magazine in Bosnia published an interview with me about the book… after that I received death threats from people who never read the book.

CB: Was this your interview with

SH: Yes, with Sarajevo-x.  Even they at Sarajevo-x were surprised after so much hate mail and comments came after the interview.

CB: I read that interview…

SH: Can you read Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian?  Interesting.

CB: Not really… I spent 5 months living Novi Sad studying the language at their university… but I needed a lot of help translating that interview.  Look at you- very politically correct by naming all three languages. Any plans to translate your book for the people of the former-Yugoslavia?

SH: Yes, you always have to be PC!  I hope to get the book translated soon… at least so my parents and family can read it.  They have a copy in English but they can’t read it.

CB: Wow, they haven’t read it yet?

SH: No.  My sister did, she could understand it. My cousin tried to translate some of it for my parents and family.

Me: That’s really interesting to me, because the book was as much about your family as it was about you.

SH: Exactly.

CB: They must be very proud of you. What are they doing now?

SH: My dad is a journalist.  My mom has her own little business, she makes stuff, like scarves, etc.  And my sister lives in Belgrade and works as a graphic designer- a very good one.

CB: Your parents still live in Bosnia?

SH: Yes, they live in Bosnia, in Višegrad… some 30 km from Goražde,, where we used to live.

CB: The Bridge on the Drina.  I drove through Višegrad last summer.

SH: Yes, they live very close to the bridge.

CB: The interview with Sarajevo-x mentions your father’s work as a journalist and his part in the documentary Na Drini grobnica…which described Serbian suffering during the war and received quite a bit of criticism for its lack of objectivity. How were your healing processes different?

SH: Actually, my dad was never involved with that documentary… I didn’t know about that documentary and whether he was involved or not at the time I was interviewed… the only involvement he had was to write about it as a journalist after attending a press conference when the film was released.  And even if he was involved, why is it a crime to talk about Serbs who were tortured and killed in Goražde,?  As I said before, there is always more than one side of every story… nothing is simple, black and white.

CB: Especially when it comes to the former-Yugoslavia. There are many sides, and objectivity must be impossible…although I appreciated your book, especially when you pointed out the help you received from Muslim neighbors, etc.

SH: I had a lot of Serbs telling me that I shouldn’t have written about help we received from our Muslim neighbors and friends…and I dismissed them as I dismissed others.  I will say what happened despite the fact that some may not like what I have to say…One of my favorite books is “I Write What I Like” by Steve Biko… he was a South African activist against apartheid who was killed mainly because he wrote against the then racist regime…I hope I don’t get killed though…

CB: I’m not familiar with him… I hope so as well!  But of course there are many sides of the story… and of course during a war, all sides suffer extreme losses. This is unavoidable… but in your opinion, who were the real victims of the wars following the breakup of Yugoslavia?

SH: The real victims were civilians, ordinary people, who did not want the war and they are on all sides.  Many were killed, many lost family members, homes, property, future.  I see all of them as main victims

CB: Many seem quick to place blame or take sides.

SH: That’s the easiest.

CB: Earlier you mentioned CNN and its portrayal of the war. The UN and Red Cross involvement are an interesting part of this book. One month before the fighting broke out in Goražde, the Red Cross staged a fight for bread with 30 refugees and you write, “The scene looked like someone was in the process of making a movie.” Did this sort of thing happen often?

SH: I saw it only once.  I’m not sure what happened elsewhere but then there are similar stories from other parts of the world.

CB: And NATO…NATO dropped food for the city and people had to risk their lives looking for it. Your father came home one day after seeing something horrible- a family was waiting for a food drop and it landed right on them, killing them instantly. What could have been different?

SH: Yes, I actually read somewhere else about that same incident when that family was killed by the food drops.  I’m not sure what could have been different… the UN forces could have tried to help civilians on all sides…but these things happen… there are over 10,000 UN troops in South Sudan right now and their mission is everything but protection of civilians who are dying in clashes by hundreds every month.  So what’s the point in having peacekeepers if they are not there to protect civilians? Does the UN just want to be politically correct and send troops who then do nothing? I keep looking for answers in my research on Sudan and Africa.

CB: That’s a good question. The UN work in Goražde was certainly…inadequate.

SH: And it seems that hardly anyone cares for helping ordinary people.  When we saw the first UN convoy entering the city in 1992, we thought that’s it, we are safe from now [on]. They delivered food and left… then the bombs came down on us… This was the first realization that the help we expected from them was not going to be…And the help never came from them… it came from ordinary people who often saved our lives.  And there was one UN official who said to us that he was risking his job to take a letter from us and deliver it to the other side so our family can know that we are alive.  He did it in his personal capacity.

CB: And it seemed like the food did not always reach the people.

SH:   That’s understandable, there was a huge shortage, so much money to be made, those with guns had power over the people without guns so they took advantage.

CB: Yes, your book certainly showed the overall failure of large organizations and highlighted the random acts of kindness of individuals.  Luckily your family finally escaped to Višegrad, Serb occupied territory- where your parents live now, by swimming in the Drina River. You felt free again and were even able to return to school. I’m thinking about writing my master’s thesis on education in Bosnia… and your book very briefly mentions the schools in Višegrad. Could you elaborate further?  I guess this was at the point when you were finishing primary school and starting high school… is that right?

SH: Yes.  At that time I didn’t care about education, which was in a bad state.  I hardly went to high school.  Our teachers didn’t care, they weren’t getting paid… Many of us students didn’t care about education either.  I’m not sure if I’m a good person to talk about education in Bosnia, I may be too critical… I also don’t know how things are since 2002… but during and right after the war the situation with education was bad.

CB: Yes, it seems to me that the partitioned state as a result of the Dayton Peace Agreements created ethnically homogeneous schools that teach their own nationalist position to kids.  Which means that unlike in your childhood, the children of Bosnia today are growing up more isolated than ever before…But I realize that education is not your area, and hopefully the situation has improved somewhat since you finished high school.

SH:  Yes, I agree with you.  And they are getting that divided mentality from primary school… I’m afraid to think how they are going to turn out.

CB: Me too. What’s it like to go back to Bosnia and the region? How do people live? How do they get along today?

SH: I go to visit as much as I can – once a year…. I don’t think there will be any more fighting there, I can’t think of anyone stupid enough to go back to war.  I’m afraid that there will be social unrests as the economy is on its knees, there are so many unemployed people… I sometimes don’t understand how people make it.  For me personally it is very strange when I go back… living in the US for four years and then moving to South Africa, I have changed completely in every sense… my views, perspectives, interests – I’m perhaps the only Bosnian who is crazy about cricket! And people there seem to be still living in the war-post war state of mind.

CB: You certainly have lived in three very different places: Bosnia, Minnesota and South Africa. Because I’m a American who loves living in Europe… I have to ask- what was it like to leave Bosnia after living through war and go to a place so… materialistic?

SH: It was different… but then I went there to study.  I had a different experience than those who go to the US to live and work.

CB: And now you are in South Africa? What are you doing there?

SH: I spent one semester in South Africa in 2005, met a girl – it’s always like that…and then came back in 2007.  Finished [my] masters in Conflict Transformation and Management at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in 2009.  Now [I’m] doing a PhD in Development Studies, focusing on Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development and also working on South Sudan Executive Leadership Program.  By the way, the New York Times, Washington Post, etc. published a story about us today.  We are quite proud today.

CB: Congratulations…that’s quite the recognition. I’m sure your life experiences really prepared you for your work today. But is your work in Bosnia done?  Aside from your book promotion and interviews, of course.

SH: People always ask me that…

CB: Sorry to be redundant…but after your work with Peacetrails while many of your friends went a more destructive route… I have to ask.

SH: In terms of my interest, I think I will remain in Africa and work on African conflict and post-conflict issues.  I can’t really explain it.  This often happens to people who come to Africa… Nothing really matters after that, you just can’t leave.

CB: Well you seem like the type of person who follows his heart. That’s a good thing.  In all of your travels and work on three different continents, what do you think is the worldview of the former Yugoslavia?

SH: It’s a bad one of a place where people know nothing but to kill each other… Almost the same as the view of Africa, but when my American friends visit Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, they enjoy it so much and write to their parents that these places are great, safe, beautiful, etc.

CB: I can relate to that- I think Bosnia is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. The people in that whole region are some of the nicest, most hospitable people I have ever met anywhere.  I hope to move to Bosnia after I finish studying in Poland. Okay, I know you are busy and I’ve taken up enough of your time already. One last question:  What are your hopes and predictions for the future of Bosnia?

SH: I really hope people in Bosnia can move on and start thinking about future… the past is there but we don’t have to live by it.  I hope there can be some form of reconciliation as nothing really happened so far and all those who committed crimes should be brought to justice, from all sides.

CB: I hope that Bosnia can find reconciliation as well.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the former-Yugoslavia.  Please visit Savo Heleta’s website for more information and the book is available for purchase here.

Majority Rules: The Education System in Bosnia

Recently, I expressed my interest in the education system in Bosnia.  Here is an excerpt from an essay I wrote:

In the Republika Srpska, problems arise when Muslim Bosniaks return to their small towns that were ethnically cleansed during the war. In these communities, education policies primarily reflect the domination of the Serbian majority group over minorities. Minority children are allowed access only to education organized to serve the needs of the majority students and the atmosphere is hostile in some schools.  The Serbian curriculum has a Serbian world perspective and is taught in the Serbian language and the Cyrillic alphabet. Students learn of the symbols, struggles and sacrifices of the Serbian people neglecting to explain the other perspectives in Bosnia. For example, in music class students learn patriotic Serbian songs, and in religion class only Orthodox Christianity is considered.  Vague references to “our country” implicitly refer to Serbia and not to Bosnia and Herzegovina.   Although the education system in Republika Srpska is centralized and the administration functions more smoothly than the system in FBiH, schools fail to incorporate minorities.

In FBiH, education is less centralized with many decisions delegated to the local level.  Much tension exists between the Bosniaks and Croats, as evident in their schools, and many parents will drive their children to a school farther away in order to receive instruction with their own ethnicity.  In the five cantons with a Muslim majority, education is taught from a Bosniak perspective in the Bosnian language.  Literature focuses on Bosniak authors, and does not include authors from other ethnicities in the region.  History textbooks heavily emphasize aggression and genocide attempts against Muslims specifically . In the two cantons with a Croatian majority in FBiH, the study of language means instruction only in Croatian without any references to the other languages of the region.  The wars in the 1990s are referred to with the theme of defending “the homeland.”  The history books focus on a Croatian perspective and neglect the “non-Croatian population.”  Bosnia and Herzegovina is referred to like a foreign country such as Serbia or Macedonia and textbooks are published in Zagreb .

Religion, as one of the main distinguishing features of ethnicity in Bosnia, is specifically a sensitive issue in education.  The constitutions of FBiH and Republika Srpska explicitly guarantee religious freedom while implicitly referring to a separation of church and state.  However, with the importance of religion in the last few decades, an American-style separation of church and state is impossible in Bosnia .  Religious education was introduced in all public schools in the 1990s yet only the religion of the majority is taught.  Authorities explain that it is not possible to provide teachers to represent each religious group, reflecting the political divisions in the country .  Technically religion education classes are optional, but in reality, students who opt-out of these courses face discrimination in some school districts.  In some schools if students do not attend the religion classes, they are forced to sit in the hallway .  This method of dealing with multiculturalism in schools only emphasizes and strengthens differences between ethnicities.

Still interested? Download the pdf to read the essay.  bosniaeducation

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