Unabating Influence of Ethnic Power Plays on The B&H Educational System

ucionicaBy: Medina Malagić

The last place that discrimination is expected to occur is in schools. Unfortunately, the grim reality in B&H is such that not even the education system is immune to the institutionalized ethnic political structure of the country. In fact, it is the educational system that directly reflects this reality in B&H.

Turmoil Ensues Over ‘National’ Subjects in Konjević Polje

In the village of Konjević Polje near Bratunac municipality in the RS entity of B&H, the parents of Bosniak children have boycotted classes since the beginning of this school year on grounds that their children did not have the option of attending classes in their own ‘national’ subjects, which in B&H is typically comprised of language, history and geography. Parents contest that their children would be incorporated into the Serbian school curricula, which differs from their own curricula by holding Serbian language classes instead of Bosnian language classes.

Bosniak parents from Konjević Polje have become embroiled in a protracted dispute and have held protests in front of the OHR building in Sarajevo for 14 consecutive days. After the RS Ministry of Education did not accede to the demands of parents, they re-directed their complaints to international institutions in B&H. Parents held a meeting today with the Head of the OSCE Mission to B&H Fletcher M. Burton, who said that he would become engaged in resolving the issue. In addition, another meeting with Special Representative to B&H Valentin Inzko is expected. Parents continue to assert their claim that their children have a right to attend classes in their own ‘national’ subjects.

The RS Minister of Education and Culture Goran Mutabdžija informed the media today that if a solution is not reached, then he would consider shutting down the school in Konjević Polje. According to him, an adequate agreement was reached to have two Bosniak teachers from neighboring municipalities to hold lectures to Bosniak children from Konjević Polje, but blames Bosniak parents for exacerbating the situation and ignoring the reached agreement.

Attempts to Solve Problems in B&H Are Perpetually Centered on Confines of Ethnicity

‘’Ethnic identity training in Bosnia and Herzegovina begins in the classroom’’, writes Aleksander Hemon in his 2012 essay entitled ‘National Subjects’. He writes that ‘’Once they (nationalist parties) are elected-repeatedly, catastrophically, tragically-the representatives protect what’s ours (whatever it is, whoever we are) from the state that is supposed to be a common homeland, a vestige of common life. As elected bureaucrats they undermine the state they’re supposed to work for. If this centralized chaos with three different ethnic centers) is to operate legitimately as state politics, all integrationist impulses would have to be quenches. All forms of identity other than ethnic would have to be vanished, so as to allow the rise of the perfectly ethnicized subject, who would never wish to be a citizen demanding from the government what ought to be his or her basic rights. The process of ethnic training begins early and never ends’’.

The nascence of ‘ethnic training’, as Hemon succinctly describes it, is in the classroom. It provides the fertile ground that is needed for ethnic divisions to perpetuate. Children will pass through an educational system that, through the exclusive learning of their own ‘national’ subjects, implicitly frames the ‘Others’ as not belonging to their own group and thus, not sharing their interests. In this way, all sense of commonality and affinity in local communities in B&H is crushed. Just as alarmingly, it allows for political elites, who have been the primary beneficiaries of this power-sharing system, to continue along the same path since 1995.

It is understandable and expected for parents to request that the same rights be granted to their children as to other ethnic groups. The logic proceeds as follows: If the ‘Others’ have the right to attend classes in their ‘national’ subjects, then the denial of those same rights to our group is tantamount to blatantly treating us as second-class citizens. However, what is truly disconcerting in this entire conundrum is that the issue is being addressed, and subsequently attempted to be resolved within the narrow confines of ethnic interests. The right to education for all children, regardless of their religion and ethnic background is not addressed. Problems in B&H are solved, or facile attempts are made, one ethnic issue at a time, but this is not true progress. When or if an agreement is reached on this issue, it will only be the illusion of incremental progress.

In this way, without any space afforded to initiating integration, where the primary focus will be on the quality of education for all children, this vicious cycle will continue unabated, as each side will struggle to obtain their rights, which have been framed in the context of serving as a bastion for the preservation of their ethnic identities. As a result, the trauma of the conflict of the 1990’s is transmitted to children who were born after the war, children who hold no memories of the brutal reality that engulfed this region 20 years ago. Mechanisms are not being put in place for children to learn and internalize universal values that could serve as the potential to break the internal divisions in this country. This would directly pose a threat to the firmly entrenched status quo in which political elites thoroughly thrive.

Another thing that should be pointed out is what will happen to the ‘Others’, those who do not fit neatly into the clearly defined package of the constituent nations in B&H that all benefit from a power-sharing system that has proven to be detrimental to an even rudimentary functioning of the state of B&H? The result is further exclusion and the continuing crystallization of identities as singularly ethnic ones, leaving no room for independent and critical thinking. As Hemon put it, in effect the ‘purely ethnicized subject’ emerges.

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