Posts Tagged ‘ Kosovo ’

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/]

Arenas for Nationalism: From Sports to Politics

Although I recently wrote about my hopes for better relations between Serbia and Croatia, tensions are currently rising.  On the first day of the Australian Open, a group of young Croatian-Australians gave the Nazi salute and chanted Fascist slogans.  They also brought flares into the stadium, and were soon ejected for unruly behavior.  This display of nationalism is not unique; racial tension between nations of the former-Yugoslavia often erupts during sports matches.

In the political arena, Croatia just elected a new president, Ivo Josipovic, and it was recently confirmed that Serbian President Boris Tadic will not attend his inaugaration because Kosovo president Fatmir Sejdiu would be there.  Tadic does not want his attendance along with Sejdiu to be interpreted as an acceptance of Kosovo’s declaration of independence.  The inauguration of Josipovic is scheduled for February 18 2010. He will succeed Stjepan Mesic, who has been prominent in backing Kosovo’s independence, much to the annoyance of Belgrade.

Stjepan Mesic seems to be using his last days in office to make controversial statements to his neighbors, and especially to Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Republika Srpka (serbian entity) in Bosnia.   Mesic stated: “If Milorad Dodik scheduled a referendum for secession … I would send the army,”  adding that he would “break the Bosnian Serb region in half”.  Dodik responds by calling Mesic “ustasa.”

Stjepan Mesic

I agree that Dodik is doing everything in his power to keep Bosnia as divided as possible and he constantly makes threats of secession, but is another war the answer? Few experts seem to think that Bosnia will have another war like it did in the 1990s, yet the ethnic tensions between Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia seem to be more aggressive than ever and Mesic’s threats are alarming.  Lady Ashton, the EU’s new foreign policy chief, has singled Bosnia out as the most unstable corner of Europe, according to the UK Guardian.

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.

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.

Reminded of Kosovo…

The first time I visited Serbia was in February 2008, less than two weeks after Kosovo declared its independence. A few days before my departure, a video clip on the news from Belgrade alarmed my friends and family who knew of my plans: the American Embassy in Serbia was lit on fire by a mob of protesters. Although the protest was largely peaceful for the whole day, at the end a bunch of hooligans got out of hand and torched the embassy. Of course the news in the United States only really showed the embassy on fire without much context, and of course my mother was very worried that in a few days her daughter would go to a country with a burnt American embassy. The visit was wonderful and Serbs, as usual, were extremely hospitable. However, one thing was clear: Serbia was angered by Kosovo’s declaration of independence and they did not want to accept what they considered to be an “unlawful” declaration of independence.

A year later I returned to Serbia for a much longer stay, to take language classes and to truly immerse in the culture. With more time to travel, I finally visited Kosovo much to the dismay and shock of some of my new Serbian friends. A friend and I traveled from Novi Sad, Serbia, to Mitrovica, Kosovo, where Serbs occupy the northern party of the border city. No passports were stamped because Serbia recognized this place as their own, the land of their most prized cultural treasures. Today, two million Albanians and 120,000 Serbs live separately in Kosovo, and Mitrovica clearly exemplifies this ethnic split. The north of Mitrovica is inhabited by Serbs and the south by Albanians, with the two areas separated by barbed wire, some UN stragglers, and a bridge.

Former Orthodox Church...curren military base- Prizren, Kosovo

A monument spelling “NEWBORN” (in English) stands in the center of Pristina, the capital city. A wall in Prizren, Kosovo thanked the 63 countries, including twenty-three EU member states, which recognize Kosovo’s independence in their own languages. However, 140 of the UN’s 194 members do not recognize Kosovo, including Russia and Spain. Traveling through Kosovo with someone from Spain was an interesting experience. When standing in a Serbian enclave, my friend was personally thanked for his country’s position, and when speaking with Albanians, I was thanked as an American. For Spain, a country struggling with its own separatist movements, this issue is a personal one. Mostly on this trip, I noticed the division and tension in Kosovo, saw indications of years of hardships in destroyed religious buildings, and felt uncomfortable after dark with the barbed wire and armed UN troops on patrol.

Kosovo Thanks You....in Prizren, Kosovo

Today on December 1, 2009, I am reminded of Kosovo because this day marks the start of the International Court of Justice trial to determine whether Kosovo’s stance is legal. Serbia would like Kosovo to remain an autonomous province, and Kosovo claims that their declaration of independence is “irreversible.” Judges at the ICJ, the U.N.’s highest judicial body, will hear statements from 29 other nations over eight more days, with key testimony from Spain, the United States and Russia expected on December 8. With the hearings expected to take months, and almost two years since Kosovo’s declaration, I have to admit that I agree with Kosovo’s stance: I think their statement of independence is irreversible. With the area populated by an Albanian majority by over 90% and the 1990s still fresh in the minds of all the inhabitants of the Balkans, Kosovo like the NEWBORN statue reflects is beginning to forge ahead to a new future. With the conclusion of these hearings, irregardless of the verdict, I hope Serbia can do the same.

NEWBORN Monument- Pristina, Kosovo

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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