Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Education Struggle

From the BBC:
"Victorious Bosnia students 'will continue segregation struggle'"

Flush with success, students in Bosnia have vowed to continue their struggle against ethnic segregation in schools. At the weekend, the regional government dropped plans to force students in the town of Jajce into two ethnically based schools after a year-long campaign. The Jajce students were given a hero's welcome by pupils from other towns as they arrived in Travnik, the capital of the Central Bosnia Canton, on Tuesday. They now want to end segregation in the remaining 57 schools in the entity. "We saved our school... now the time has come for every other school in Bosnia and Herzegovina to fight against division and segregation," Nikolas Rimac, a Croat student who helped lead the struggle in Jajce, told the BBC.  The practice of separating students in the same building to learn from differentiated Bosnian, Serbian or Croatian curricula was introduced following the Balkan war of the 1990s.  It persists in spite of a ruling by the Federation Constitutional Court that it is discriminatory. The US ambassador and international organisations, such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, have also opposed the practice.   Segregation in schools is a hangover from the nationalist politics which sparked the conflict of the 1990s and continues to blight the lives of Bosnia's people.  Sometimes this produces absurdities such as the insistence that students of a particular ethnicity should be taught in "their" native tongue. The notion that Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian were distinct languages was thoroughly debunked in March, by an alliance of linguists from across the former Yugoslavia.  This infuriated nationalists who profit from perpetuating divisions among Bosnia's people. But it vindicated those who believe that the country will remain in the mire until its elected officials start serving the common good rather than their patronage networks.  The battle is far from over. Earlier this month the president of the mainly-Serb Republika Srpska ordered schools in the entity to remove references about the genocide at Srebrenica from history textbooks.  It was another example of how nationalists continue to use education as a tool for division. But the victory of the Jajce students shows that younger Bosnians are now rejecting the policies which have hobbled their country for more than two decades.   Under the system known as "two schools under one roof", the children are physically divided and cannot socialise.  Defenders of the system say it preserves ethnic identity and prevents one ethnic group from dominating another. But campaigners say it fosters tensions and suspicions from an early age.  The schools are "prisons and factories of hatred," Mr Rimac said. He said protests such as that on Tuesday in Travnik showed how such divisions could be broken down. "It was brilliant," he told the BBC. "All those wonderful and kind people... standing together in the name of knowledge, education, unity and justice."

^ It's hard for those of us who have never been through a war (especially a civil war) to completely understand what the victims are going through even 20 + years after it ended. The segregation of the education system in the late 1990s was probably a good way to help Bosnia try to rebuild and move forward after years of massacres, rapes, ethnic cleansings, concentration camps, etc. The country itself is separated internally between the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosniaks and so it only seemed "natural" to separate other aspects of society - including education. The students in Bosnia today were born after the war ended and so didn't personally go through the hardships or violence. Their parents were directly involved in the war (either as soldiers or civilians) and so the hatred and fear tends to remain with them. I can't imagine it's easy to forgive or forget when a neighbor kills people you know and then you are just supposed to move forward. The students today have a chance to show that Bosnia has truly moved forward in the past 20 + years. One way of doing that is to integrate schools. I'm not saying it would be easy to do - especially in history class where you would have to find some way to show the war from all sides rather than "us vs. them." I have been to Bosnia and have met some of the people and they seem like really good people - it's hard to imagine what it was like during the war or how those same people acted back then - but you can not change the past. You can only account for it and make sure the same mistakes never happen again. While the war will always be a major part of Bosnia it should not continue to hinder its growth or prosperity. ^


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