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December 16, 2008
Bosnian schools teach reading, writing — and division

A school building in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, bears the scars of war.

The 1992-1995 war in Bosnia left 100,000 dead and divided Muslim, Serb and Croat communities.

Though the U.S.-brokered Dayton peace agreement brought an end to the war 13 years ago, the country remains divided, and officials worry that the peace agreement could soon collapse

Nenad Pejic, the director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty‘s South Slavic Languages Service, writes about one source of continued ethnic tension in Bosnia and Herzegovina — its schools. 

Bosnian Schools Teach Reading, Writing — And Division

The other day I was with my 6-year-old daughter at the international school she attends in Prague. She particularly wanted to show me the lunchroom, not because the food there is so good but because the ceiling is covered with the national flags of all of the students who attend the school. Fifty-eight flags, it turns out.

In my home country, Bosnia-Herzegovina, schools are completely different. But before I go into that, allow me to mention that Muslims in Bosnia are now celebrating Eid al-Adha (Kurban Bayram), and amid the festivities on December 8 came word that a mosque in the village of Fazlagica Kula, in the Republika Srpska (the Serbian-majority entity of Bosnia), burned to the ground.

Although the cause of the blaze is not known, there is widespread suspicion in the country that such a thing at such a time could hardly be an accident. Incidentally, most of the Muslim residents of Fazlagica Kula fled during the 1992-95 war and few have returned.

The roots of hatred and intolerance in Bosnia today do not only stem from the traumas of the war. After all, the fighting ended 13 years ago, which seems ample time for any competent leadership to at least begin the process of reconciliation. But this has not happened. Instead, each day, families and ethnically divided schools drive those roots deeper and deeper into the national psyche.

The mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Bosnia conducted a study of 230 schools there and documented an alarming national pattern. Many children are spending hours each day just going to and from school. Not because the more distant school is better, but because their parents want them to study in a school where their ethnic group dominates. In some cases, children even cross international borders to go to an “acceptable” school.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user cristophotos under a Creative Commons license.

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