Posts Tagged ‘ Albania ’

Kosovo Orders 300,000 Inaccurate Textbooks

According to a recent nine-month study by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, there are an alarming number of mistakes in new Kosovo textbooks. This is certainly not surprising. It was my trip to Kosovo last summer that first influenced me to think about nationalism in education in Southeast Europe, which is now my main focus of research. I took a bus from Serbia to Kosovo in April 2009, a little over a year after the declaration of independence. Already Kosovo was creating a new national identity through billboards, signs, and statues.

Gračanica Monastery

Visiting a Serbian friend in Gračanica provided me with a valuable insight into the life of the Serbian minority in the country, which is currently less than ten percent of the population (CIA World Factbook estimates the following ratio: 88% Albanians, 8% Kosovo Serbs and 4% other ethnic groups). My friend worked for the United Nations so she did not live like the majority of the population (UN passport, nice apartment), but after living in Kosovo for almost a decade working for various human rights organizations, we had a very interesting conversation.  Gračanica is known for its beautiful Serbian Orthodox monastery, which was founded in the 14th century and is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Judging from the look of the houses, stores and the town in general, this was not a place of luxury. Electricity and water shortages are a problem here as in the rest of the country and the population struggles to make ends meet.

The most alarming part of the conversation that day was her description of the school conditions. After decades of conflict, the Serbian minority migrated into a few enclaves scattered throughout the country. The problem with this is that the town of Gračanica ended up incredibly over crowded. The local school could not support the current number of students, so the solution was to have students attend the school day in four shifts. The result was that some students ended up starting their school day at six in the morning, and some went until six in the evening. None of the groups had enough classroom time to learn very much. The children’s learning was extremely affected by the ethnic divisions in the country, because the Serbian families understandably wanted to live in a community together. This day led me to investigate how they teach history in Kosovo. I found out that Serbian schools teach completely different history and geography lessons then the Albanian schools down the road, ensuring that Kosovo will remain divided for generations to come. Eventually this trip would influence me to write my master’s thesis on education policy reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is my favorite country in the former-Yugoslavia.

BIRN survey investigated the new textbooks that the Kosovo Education ministry ordered for 300,000 students. They analyzed 16 textbooks used in schools and found many mistakes such as out of date maps and even the wrong dates for the birth of Napoleon and Alexander the Great. BIRN states that the textbooks are overloaded with facts and contain many mistakes, and this will negatively impact learning in the country. Interestingly enough, the study showed that many schools are teaching their students with maps depicting Serbia and Montenegro as one country with Kosovo as a part of Serbia. Montenegro declared its independence from Serbia in 2006 and I would have guessed that after the declaration of independence, maps would change immediately to proclaim Kosovo’s new status. The children in Kosovo must be pretty confused about where they live.

An outdated map of the region (pre-2006)

According to the BIRN article, the mistakes do not end with geography; they are also found in biology, history and civic education textbooks. Some students learn that there are six continents, not seven. Eighth grade students learn that Latin America is the world’s “third largest territory” after Asia and Africa. The study also noted that students have to learn 60 to 70 dates or facts in each lecture, which is unrealistic and leaves no time for critical thinking. As far as I can tell, education in the former-Yugoslavia highly depends on rote memorization of facts and very little on critical thinking in general. The textbooks also contain various interpretations when teaching about the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. Sixth graders learn that “to participate in fighting the infidel” is one of the five Pillars of Islam (the most important set of rules for Muslims in the Koran) instead of the ‘Shahadah’ or testimony of faith. Jusuf Thaci, the BIRN report’s author, said: “It can be easily noted that this promotes hatred, which is not in accordance with the law in Kosovo.” Most alarming is the fact that a great deal of time is spent teaching about the enemies of the Albanian nation whereas other important events, battles and movements, are just noted briefly without giving much background information.

These inaccuracies matter. They will affect generations to come unless someone steps in to fix the curricula problems at a national level. The international community and the NGOs involved in Kosovo should take a lesson from Bosnia. When the Dayton Peace Agreements were signed to end the war in Bosnia, no one thought about education. It took seven years after the war for anyone to address the need for education reform and the little progress has been made so far. Generally speaking, I would think it should be easier to reform the education system in Kosovo based on population statistics. Unlike in Bosnia where there are sizeable populations of Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats all competing through nationalist rhetoric and three separate curricula, Kosovo is almost 90% Albanian. With a little help, the Ministry of Education in Kosovo should be able to reform this one set of textbooks. The Serbian populations should also receive supplemental materials that address their population in more detail. With such a large number of mistakes and inaccuracies, irrevocable damage was already made. Taking a lesson from Bosnia, reform action must start NOW in Kosovo. After all…children are the future.

Source: Kosovo School Textbooks Fail Accuracy Test by Shengiyl Osmani [http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/main/features/28254/]

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Painting Politics: Why Edi Rama Matters

Edi Rama

A former painter turned politician, Edi Rama is the chair of the Socialist Democrat party in Albania and the capital city of Tirana’s three-term mayor.  While teaching at the Academy of Arts in Tirana, he was active during the anti-communist revolution and he co-authored a book in 1992 condemning Enver Hoxha’s regime.  The book called “Refleksione” discussed thoughts on emigration, economics and the future of Albania. Rama criticized the Democratic Party because of its corruption and more specifically, he often spoke out against Sali Berisha while abroad during his time as an internationally recognized visual artist.  Now that he is mayor of Tirana, it seems as though Rama is still struggling with the same fights today.

Albania applied for NATO membership on April 1st of last year, and submitted its application to join the EU less than a month later. It now has to receive a positive European Commission assessment of its preparedness for accession talks to be recognized as an official EU candidate.  The country’s future looked a bit brighter until the parliamentary elections on June 28, 2009. Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s right-wing Democratic Party (DP) and its coalition partners won the vote and a second term with a marginal 1.5% victory over the Socialist Party (SP), led by Edi Rama. The SP contested the election results, claiming they were manipulated, and called for a thorough investigation into the poll and a recount of votes, but Berisha rejected that demand. As a result, the SP, which won 65 of the 140 seats in parliament, has been boycotting the assembly since September, thus paralyzing the adoption of EU required laws. While the ruling DP-led coalition has a 75-seat majority in parliament, most of the bills the country must pass to make further progress on its EU integration path would require a three-fifths majority — 84 votes.  The point is that Albania’s government has not functioned since September because of this boycott and a year that could have been used to start adopting EU law was wasted.

Edi Rama's Colors

Rama has a bold style when it comes to reform, and he rid the city of many illegally constructed buildings, expanded roads, and built many parks.  Although I have not been to Albania (yet), I first learned the name Edi Rama when I read about the brightly colored buildings in the capital.  Sparking a great deal of controversy, Rama issued a decree to paint the gray communist buildings with bright, even a bit garish colors.  They bought red, blue, yellow and green, and even mauve, lilac and taupe and the city was transformed.  I like the idea of this project for many different reasons.  Even though I have not been to Tirana, I’ve spent enough time in East Europe to know that communist buildings can be a bit…gray.  Also, this project taught the residents of Tirana to share responsibility for their city.  This aesthetic and political act prompted many other social reform projects, and even livened up the art scene in Tirana, which now has an international contemporary art biennale.  In my opinion, however, the biggest success of what is now known as “Edi Rama’s Colors” is that the project gives visible evidence to social change, using the city itself as a canvas.

Despite Rama’s positive reforms and popularity, he led this boycott of parliament, which created a lasting political crisis and paralyzed the government.  He felt that the elections were fraudulent and he is unwilling to let the Socialist Party remain the opposition for another four years.  The EU, USA, Council of Europe and OSCE have tried to mediate talks between the parties, but neither side will budge.  The OSCE mission in Albania says that the country’s elections never meet international standards, although some progress was made during this last round.  In fact, in every election held in Albania since the end of the communist era in 1991, the “loser” has complained, accusing the “winner” of electoral fraud.  This election was no different.  Rama led a series of protests around the country over the past 6 months, but currently, they seem bigger and more exasperated than ever.  This weekend tens of thousands of people protested in Tirana starting on Friday, demanding a recount of the votes.  Some people are even claiming that they will not leave the square until the recount takes place.  Tents were erected, and a few hundred people (including a couple of dozen parliament members from the SP) are not giving up.  There are even talks of a possible hunger strike.

Because I am a former art student who now studies East European history and politics, I have a bit of a soft spot for Edi Rama.  He often makes comparisons between politics and conceptual art, and I appreciate his passionate and bold reforms.  However, I think that this stalemate in Albania’s parliament has lasted way too long.  I think that Edi Rama seems like the type of person who sometimes creates messes and doesn’t know how to fix them.  He must have thought the boycott of parliament would work by now, but he needs Plan B.  Are hunger strikes really the answer?  And what is the point of the OSCE monitoring elections?  The OSCE says that the elections are never up to international standards, but do they have the power to do anything about it?  Probably not.  If the elections were democratic in the first place, Berisha wouldn’t mind a recount, but most likely he knows he does not deserve to be in power.  Finally, I wonder when these politicians will think less about their own power, and more about the future for Albania.  Albania is ready to start making the necessary reforms on the path to EU membership.  First however, the country needs to wait out the several decade long bickering of archrivals Sali Berisha and Edi Rama.

New Book, Old Disputes

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia withdrew its recently published two-volume encyclopedia after the book’s contents infuriated all of the country’s neighbors. The country, an official EU candidate state since 2005 has a long-running dispute with bordering Greece over its name. The country of Greece objects to the name “Macedonia” because it coincides with that of the northernmost Greek province. Despite international mediation, the two countries cannot come to an agreement, which does not bode well for the Macedonia to finally become a full member of the European community.

The Region of Macedonia

This month with the release of a new encyclopedia, Macedonia further aggravated the tension with neighboring Greece as well as with other bordering countries. Following angry reactions, including the burning of the Macedonian flag in Kosovo, the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Art (MANU) recently decided to remove its ‘Macedonian Encyclopedia’ from library shelves. Greece feels that Macedonia is misrepresenting large periods of ancient history. Bulgaria is angered over the volume’s depiction of Macedonia’s struggle against the Ottoman Empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The most angered are the ethnic Albanian population of Macedonia and the Kosovars, as the encyclopedia uses derogatory names for Albanians and claims they “settled” on the land in the 16th century. However, it is widely accepted that Albanians are descendants of ancient Illiryan tribes, who settled in those lands in approximately 1,000 BC. Also, the encyclopedia states that ethnic Albanian leader Ali Ahmeti, now leader of the Democratic Union for the Integration of Macedonia, is suspected of war crimes when he has never been indicted. The United States and the United Kingdom urged Macedonia to remove the book from publication.

MANU is now hastily re-writing some parts of the encyclopedia, but the episode does not help the country’s foreign relations or international reputation. The relatively new country is struggling to form some kind of national identity in a region of the world where borders are constantly shifting. Dispute over land is an all too familiar problem in the Balkans. How far back into history can a nation make its claims when the region is constantly evolving?

When a country defines its national heritage, it picks and chooses the information it wants to present as an identity to the outside world. History is subjective. As a similar example, Serbia and Albania’s dispute over Kosovo unsurprisingly affects the teaching of history to young students in the area. The high school history textbooks in Serbian enclaves in Kosovo are drastically different from the textbooks in neighboring Albanian classrooms. Organizations such as Southeast European Joint History Project (JHP) and EUROCLIO work with historians in the region to write alternative textbooks for the Balkans, depicting a variety of perspectives. Hopefully this method becomes popular, because otherwise centuries of prejudices and disputes are passed down to the countries’ youngest generations, perpetuating conflict.

The complicated history of the Balkans makes the region fascinating from an outsider’s perspective. Centuries of overlapping histories of these geographically small nations make forging a national identity difficult. Writing the encyclopedia, Macedonia attempted to define its national heritage by distinguishing itself from neighboring countries. Unfortunately Macedonia’s encyclopedia was insulting to many of its closest neighbors. The encyclopedia is damaging for the country’s reputation and goals to join the European Union. Perhaps Macedonia should have skipped writing the national encyclopedia and instead focus on trying to put an end to their name dispute with Greece.

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