Continued Ethnic Cleansing Through Education?

The cumulative results of the divided education system in BiH have been an attempt by local political elites to continue ethnic cleansing through education. The phrase ‘continued ethnic cleansing through education’ builds directly upon the notion of ‘political violence on education’, as outlined by Pasalic-Kreso (1999). In 1999, Pasalic-Kreso stated, ‘what could not be done in war continues to be attempted in peace by nationalist differentiation of education’ (p. 1). Although by no means entirely successful, the divided education system has created three separate ethnic cylinders in which children are educated. In 1994, UN Security Council Resolution 780 defined ethnic cleansing as ‘a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas’ (UNSC, 1994). In addition to the physical removal of an ethnic group, ‘ethnic cleansing is usually accompanied with the efforts to remove physical and cultural evidence of the targeted group’ (‘Ethnic Cleansing’, 2016). The divided education system in BiH has acted as a tool for the removal of the cultural evidence of opposing ethnic groups and encouraged the continued physical separation of ethnic groups.

The phrase ‘continued ethnic cleansing through education’ was presented to many of the participants during interviews, and reactions differed markedly based on position and affiliation. When the phrase was presented to independent policy analyst Roberts, he responded ‘really, that’s an accurate term’. Roberts further explained that ‘the whole point of the exercise of ethnic cleansing was to remove traces of an undesired population from your midst and to redefine history and to redefine your landscape literally—like blowing up mosques’ (Roberts). Roberts’ agreement with the phrase was also echoed by many others, including many of the Bosnian academics interviewed.

Conversely, the Bosnian education officials interviewed bristled at the phrase and cited the many laws that outlaw any form of discrimination based on religious and ethnic divisions, including the use of ethnic symbols in schools. As a counterpoint to the denial that education was being used to continue ethnic cleansing, some participants cited the practices of naming schools after historic ethnic war heroes, the use of religious sayings such as ‘Salaam Alaikum’ in schools, and/or the posting of photos of indicted war criminals. ‘There’s a photo of Ratko Mladic hanging in one of the classrooms. There’s a blackboard and above the blackboard, there’s a photo of Mladic’ (Smith).

Like ethnic cleansing during the war, education in the post-war era has at times served to cleanse and/or vilify the cultural and historical presence of opposing ethnic groups. When presented with a survey, high school students in Banja Luka were confused by the term ‘Bosniaks’ and asked,

‘What do you mean Bosniaks?’ They were confused by the idea of a separate constituent people in their country called Bosniaks. ‘I thought they were just messing with me, but it came up in a couple of different classrooms’ (Smith). Moreover, other researchers have also encountered children in the RS that have no knowledge of Bosniaks. ‘They have no idea about Bosniaks. We have to break that isolation’ (Hodzic).

Furthermore, like ethnic cleansing during the war, education in the post-war era has served to physically divide the population. When asked if laws were acting to physically separate students, one Bosnian education official stated the separation was due to the fact that people ‘self- segregated’ after the war, leaving for Serbia or Croatia or parts of BiH controlled by Serbs or Croats, resulting in ethnically separate schools. Some of this separation is indeed voluntary, but it stems from being educated in ethnic cylinders:

If you are child from a Croat background, you go to school according to Croatian national group of subjects. In the beginning of your textbook, it is written Zagreb is your capital and Josipovic was your president and so on. You are eight or 12 years educated in that atmosphere, and your intention is to go to Croatia to study. And you go to Croatia. This is new, without blood, ethnical cleansing. You go voluntarily. But you become kind of apartheid. You live in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but you don’t belong to Bosnia- Herzegovina. But you think you’re from Zagreb or Belgrade. (Zoric)

Moreover, where students go to school and live in a community separated by ethnicity, they cannot interact even if they wanted to. ‘It’s not that we don’t want to be together. There’s no place for us to be together that isn’t ethicized. This is the Bosniak side of school, that’s the Croat side’ (Smith). For some students, it is not until the university that they truly get to interact with students from different backgrounds. As recounted by Zoric, ‘in my class a Muslim girl, sitting with a Croat from Zepce, and maybe a Serb and we talk about cultural differences and they say We liked that course. We didn’t have chance to meet other ethnic groups before.’

The efforts to use education for cultural and historical cleansing of opposing ethnic groups and physically divide students along ethnic lines has not been universally successful in creating divisions. ‘I have been amazed and very pleasantly surprised that despite all the efforts to divide people here, they certainly have been partially successful, they haven’t been completely successful’ (Roberts). When asked about segregation, some high schools students in Vares questioned the practice: ‘This is stupid.

We all go to school together in high school anyway. It’s really stupid for us to be separated by floor in the elementary school by ethnicity’ (Smith).

What follows in Chap. 6 is a review of the IC’s involvement in education in the post-war era.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >