Bosnian court strikes down separate-but-equal schools

The high court of one of Bosnia’s ethnically determined regions has overturned the “two schools under one roof” system that separated Bosniak and Croatian students studying in the same school. Balkan Insight writes that the supreme court of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina ruled the current system is discriminatory for “organizing school systems based on ethnic background and implementing curriculums on ethnic principles, which divide children.”

The ruling, which will apply to all 50 separated schools of the federation’s 10 cantons, called for “common integrated multicultural education facilities,” Balkan Insight writes.

Education reforms in Bosnia’s Muslim- and Croat-majority federation are complicated by administrative issues and a lack of centralization. Although Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian, the languages of the country’s three main ethnic groups, are mutually intelligible, students are taught different curricula, according to their ethnicity. The curricula differ on subjects such as literature, history, and geography.

Mostar, a divided city between the war of 1992–1995, was the first Bosnian city to rule that “two schools under one roof” amounted to discrimination and to put an end to the policy in 2012.

The Mostar case set a precedent for the federation-wide ruling, but the lack of central control could hamper its implementation, Balkan Insight writes. Federation Education and Science Minister Damir Masic said responsibility for school reforms belongs with local cantons because the federation “doesn’t have mechanisms to influence this process” other than through advocacy and assistance.

One limited initiative brought Bosnian Muslim and Catholic high-school students together to study English in the town of Zepce, The Boston Globe reported in May. The U.S.-sponsored program included classes, field trips, and summer camps and opened space for meaningful exchanges because “English words are the same whether spoken by Bosnians or Croats,” according to a 17-year-old Muslim student.

The divisive rhetoric that still prevails in Bosnian society could prevent the newly made friendships from lasting. “I made good Muslim friends, but our parents were in the war and talk to us about religion. For this reason, we won’t be uniting,” Kristina Lovric, a 17-year-old Catholic, said.

This article was originally published by Transitions Online. Homepage image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. The author is United Nations Development Programme in Europe and CIS.


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