resisting ethnic divisions in schools

Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs have very different accounts about why the Bosnian War occurred. As a result, each group has different perspectives about the wrongdoing of other parties, which allow politicians to politicize the stories of their own victims and incite further division.

So, what does that mean for the education system in Bosnia? How do you teach Bosniak, Croat, and Serb children while groups still don’t recognize the others’ versions of history?

From the end of the war until now, three separate curriculums are taught in Bosnian schools – Croatian, Serbian, and Bosniak – which teach three different versions of events leading up to and during the war. Most tragically, experts and historians allege that the school curriculums are “discriminatory on purpose” to inspire stereotypes about other ethnic groups and “perpetuate the divisions of the war years.”

One stark example of differences in education curriculums concerns the siege of Sarajevo and the ethnic cleansing or genocide which occurred in Srebrenica. Sarajevo Canton Prime Minister Elmedin Konaković (Bosniak) affirms that “children will be taught on the basis of the facts established in verdicts handed down by international and domestic courts,” including “that genocide happened at Srebrenica.” On the other hand, Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik (Serb) said, “it is impossible to use schoolbooks from the Federation [Bosnia’s other, Bosniak and Croat-dominated entity] in which it is written that the Serbs committed genocide and held Sarajevo under siege. It’s not true and it will not be studied here.”

In spite of the challenges, many students are challenging the divided education system in Bosnia, including the “two schools under one roof” model, where students of different ethnicities are kept separate from one another. As part of the students’ and teachers’ opposition to divided education, they surveyed other students, parents, and teachers about whether they would prefer separate education based on ethnicity or a new integrated curriculum, and the majority of people voted for an integrated curriculum.

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Students and teachers are not the only ones challenging divided education. Organizations like The Genesis Project implement activities in ethnically mixed groups of children and adults in order to decrease misunderstanding, prejudice, and stereotypes and help diverse groups rebuild trust and challenge ethnic divisions.

A Bosnian high school teacher, Amela Kavazbasic, says, “So what [politicians] do now is they want to take control… it is far less possible to manipulate young people if they are together.”

In a recent development, high school students and activists won a rare victory against the government’s ongoing decisions to further divide society along ethnic lines. These students forced the government to reverse its decision to divide a school into two ethnically based schools in the town of Jajce, and now they’re taking their struggle to end ethnic segregation to an additional 57 schools in central Bosnia.

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