Posts Tagged ‘ nationalism ’

How Convenient: Mladić’s Family Wants Him Declared Dead

Although the international community patted Serbia on the back for cooperating with the trial of Radovan Karadžic, the arrest of Ratko Mladić remains a key condition for progress towards EU membership.  General Mladić was the chief commander of the Bosnian Serb army during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992-1995. At the end of the war, he was indicted by the U.N. court in The Hague for allegedly ordering the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims in 1995 and for his involvement in other atrocities of the war. Currently he faces charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

I am pretty skeptical of the YouTube videos that circulated this time last year of Mladić at his son’s wedding, however he probably is hiding in Serbia somewhere. And let’s be honest- it’s really not that big of a country. Karadžic lived in Serbia for several years, parading around as an alternative healer with a fake name, and even speaking at medical conferences in front of hundreds of people. Serbia had many opportunities to arrest him, but sometimes the country seems to protect its own.

Now Mladić is probably the most-wanted fugitive in the world. With an increasing pressure from the international community and a strong desire to join the EU, Serbia claims to be stepping up efforts to arrest him. However, I had a good laugh today when I read the latest news. The family of Mladić wants to declare him dead. The family would like to unfreeze his pension and stop the harassment directed towards them. Milos Saljic, the family’s lawyer stated: “The family has decided to stop the agony because it has long been convinced that Gen. Mladić is no longer alive.  No one has seen him for seven years.”

The chairman of the national council in charge of cooperation with the Hague tribunal, Rasim Ljajic, said that by making this request Mladić’s family “is making a mockery of state institutions” and that the request would in no way affect the ongoing search for his arrest. Under Serbian law, a person could be declared dead if s/he is over the age of 70 and there is no information about the person for more than 5 years. However, Mladić is only 68. According to his family, he was last seen 7 years ago and not in good health.

These naïve attempts by the family of Mladić to end the search are pretty amusing. As I wrote on this blog before, I remember sitting in a bus from Kosovo to Serbia, staring at a portrait of Mladić prominently displayed next to the driver. This war criminal is still a hero for many extreme nationalists in Serbia. Although the death of Mladić would certainly be convenient for the family and for the country seeking EU membership, somehow I think the search will continue.

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/]

Krakow’s 2010 March of “Tolerance”

Police and participants

This past Saturday I participated in the sixth annual March of Tolerance in Krakow, which is a march to raise awareness for sexual minorities.  The event received very little media attention as far as I can see, but according to Radio ZET, there were around 500 participants that marched from Plac Wolnica in Kazimierz (the Jewish District) to the Market Square in the center of the old city.  Krakow police reported that this year’s march was very calm and that there were no serious incidents.

Inside the crowd of particpants

From a Polish perspective the march may have seemed calm but it was an interesting experience for me as an American.  In the past, I attended and participated in the Gay Pride Parade in Philadelphia, as well as other events organized by the GLBT community in my city.  Certainly it is not fair to compare a liberal city in the United States with a smaller city in former-communist, Catholic Poland.  However I am used to events in Philadelphia and the march in Poland seemed anything tolerant.

Praying for parade participants

First I noticed a group of priests holding a cross on the grass outside of Wawel Castle.  Policemen encircled the group, each with a German shepherd on a leash, lazily watching the priests pray for the parade participants.  People watched as the parade walked towards the center, carrying signs, rainbow flags, and holding balloons.  Some stood on balconies gawking out of their windows as the people walked past.  Just before the market, nationalists threw eggs at the parade.  Some shouted (according to the article, because I couldn’t understand all of the Polish yelling) “Boy, girl – a normal family!” and “We do not give you Krakow!”  As the parade participants released the balloons at the end of the march, I watched a man who was standing with a priest that seemed to be his friend spit at one of the demonstrators holding a sign.  However the most interesting thing for me to see was the sheer number of policemen that worked the event.  The policemen, some holding large plastic shields or with tanks of gas on their back ready to control an unruly crowd, formed a tight wall between the marchers and the public.  They intimidated me, dressed in all black like members of a SWAT team.

Looking at Poland’s homophobia in the past decade, one can understand why the police reported this year’s march was calm, despite the eggs and shouting.  A decade ago, there were no politics of sexuality in Poland, and no one openly discussed any of these issues.  The first “Equality Parade” in Poland took place in Warsaw in 2001, but received very little media coverage.  As the community became more visible, the country reacted more strongly against it.  In 2003, there was the “Let Them See Us” Campaign, which was an exhibit of thirty photographs that opened in five galleries around the country.  The photographs featured same-sex couples in their everyday lives, holding hands, etc.  The more controversial subjects such as marriage or adoption were avoided.  Nevertheless, within days most of the photographs were destroyed, ripped, or painted over.

In 2004, violence erupted at the Krakow and Poznan equality marches.  The extremely nationalist group All-Polish Youth and their supporters attacked the demonstrators by throwing rocks and punches, and even beating some with clubs.  They chanted sayings like “labor camps for lesbians” or “faggots to the gas.”  The police were unable to control the violence.  In 2005, the “gay parade” and its legality was a huge topic during the presidential elections.  Recently deceased Lech Kaczynski (elected president in October 2005) banned the 2004 and 2005 marches when he was mayor of the city of Warsaw.  This decision strengthened his political career.  The 2005 Equality March in Warsaw was held despite the ban, which ended up adding to the event’s popularity.  Around 3,000 people participated, which was the largest march in the history of the movement. Later that year, the march in Poznan was also banned by the city’s major, but it was less peaceful.  Again the All-Polish Youth group organized the attack, and they threw eggs, horse manure and slurs.  As the crowd got out of control, the police ended up attacking the demonstrators rather than the attackers.  A participant reported seeing a boy dragged by police with his head hitting the pavement, another person was dragged away from TV cameras when he was talking about police brutality, and many people were arrested without explanation.  This time the media did cover the event, mostly criticizing the police brutality.

In January 2006, the EU Parliament passed a resolution against homophobia in Europe, which explicitly named Poland as a country where homophobia exists.  Poland perceived this as an attack against the country’s religious and moral beliefs.  Right-wing Polish members of the EU Parliament unanimously opposed this resolution, but it was passed anyway.  In June 2006, the EU Parliament adopted a resolution in response to homophobic and racist violence in Europe, and again specifically named Poland mentioning groups like the All-Polish Youth. A survey from 2005 found 89% of the population stating that they considered homosexuality an “unnatural” activity.  A Eurobarometer poll in 2006 found that 74% of Poles were opposed to same-sex marriage and 89% opposed to adoption by gay couples.  Only Latvia and Greece had higher levels of opposition.

Some of the police leading the parade

So in comparison to past events in Poland, this year’s Tolerance March in Krakow was relatively peaceful.  Participating in the demonstration provided me with a valuable insight into the culture and mentality of the country.  It is only an excuse to say that Poland is homophobic because it is Catholic.  Now that it is a member of the European Union, it needs to catch up to the level of tolerance of the majority of the Member States. I was shocked by what I saw on Saturday.  Some of my friends with me felt that the strength of police presence shows that the country is willing to protect these minority groups but I am not totally convinced this is the case.  I could not help but feeling that the number of police was overkill, and that they were also meant to intimidate the participators themselves.  Maybe next year the city of Krakow will send less police, judging from this year’s calm result.  Eventually, I hope that Poland not only becomes tolerant for its Tolerance Marches.  I hope that Poland learns to be accepting and embracing of all minority groups in the country.

A wall of policemen walking with the parade

Source  for Historic Information: Graff, Agnieszka. We Are (Not All) Homophobes: A Report from Poland. Feminist Studies, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Summer, 2006), pp. 434-449

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

Samo Sloga Srbina Spasava

Browsing through some old photos, I found a great example to illustrate my post on the flag of Croatia and Serbia’s own nationalist slogan- “Samo Sloga Srbina Spasava” (“Само Слога Србина Спасава” in the Cyrillic alphabet, hence- C C C C) meaning “Only Unity Saves the Serbs.”  This photo was taken in Tivoli Park in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and it reiterates how one finds this image all over the Balkans.

The cross has been used by the Serbian states and the Serbian Orthodox Church since the Middle Ages shortly after Dusan the Mighty was crowned tsar of the Serbs and Greeks on April 16, 1345.  The cross is still used today as a national, religious, and ethnic symbol of Serbs.  Although the cross has been used since the Middle Ages, it conjurs up a new meaning since the wars in the 1990s, as I mentioned in the previous post, “Flags Symbolizing Hatred.”  The above photograph is a great example of the slogan in real life written as grafitti.

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.

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