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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 September 2006, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Bosnia tries multi-ethnic education
By Nicholas Walton
BBC News, Mostar, Bosnia-Hercegovina

Vlado, a Bosnian Croat (left) and Serdjan, a Bosnian Serb
Vlado and Serdjan are friends in a multi-ethnic school
A new educational project has begun in Bosnia-Hercegovina, aimed at ending ethnic divisions in the country.

"Mostar? There are only Muslims and Croats there - no Serbs! You're going to hate it!"

That was the reaction of Serdjan's friends when he told them he was one of the first intake of students on the new multi-ethnic educational project in the city of Mostar.

But Serdjan, a 17-year-old Bosnian Serb from the town of Zvornik, seems to be enjoying life with his new friends from all over the country.

He swaps jokes with Vlado, a Bosnian Croat, in the house they share with other students.

The sounds of a guitar come from the next room, where other Serbs, Muslims and Croats are getting ready for the next school year.

'Three histories'

It is not like this for most Bosnian students.

Students in Mostar and teacher Mirna Jancic
The project is aimed at broadening students' horizons

Since the 1992-95 war, education has been ethnically-split. Each community organises the schooling for its own children, setting a separate curriculum for subjects as contentious as history and as universal as mathematics.

In the few remaining ethnically-mixed parts of Bosnia this leads to the situation known as "two schools under one roof".

Children from different ethnic backgrounds can find themselves using separate entrances to the same school buildings.

Sometimes everything changes at lunchtime, with one group's students, teachers and textbooks swapped for those of a different group.

Some students think the system works well.

Velislav and Darko are students at the Gimnazja in the Bosnian Serb east of Sarajevo.

"We must accept the consequences of the war," argues Velislav. "We now have three histories in Bosnia and must accept it."

"Serbian history and education is important to us because we are Serbs as a nation," agrees Darko. "Every nation has a separate view of what happened to them in the past."

Studying together

But not everyone agrees.

"First and foremost, they learn to grow apart and to perceive each other as strangers," says Mirna Jancic, the development director of the new multi-ethnic school project in Mostar.

students in Mostar
Students from all over Bosnia take part in the project

"The dangers are not so much that you will have people, future leaders of Bosnia, who will disagree on what happened, but they will have been educated according to a principle that denies the possibility that what they believe is wrong," Ms Jancic says.

"Children are educated never to question authority or the truth of what they're being taught."

The project that Mirna works for, run by a charity called United World Colleges, aims to provide an example that will put an end to this division.

It mixes students from all over Bosnia, irrespective of their background, with a sprinkling of others from overseas. It also imports its teaching system, called the International Baccalaureate, from abroad.

Judging by the experience of Vlado and Serdjan the project will be successful in showing that students can live and study together no matter what their backgrounds.

Divided city

But success in its wider aim of providing a multi-ethnic model for other Bosnian schools to follow will be much more difficult.


Critics say there is insufficient money in the Bosnian educational system to copy much of what the project is doing.

And, as so few post-war Bosnian communities are mixed, very few students would ever experience sitting in a genuinely multi-ethnic classroom.

Even the project's location in Mostar hints at how deep rooted ethnic division is in Bosnia.

The city is deeply divided between Croat and Muslim halves.

Over the summer, an argument over a football match at the World Cup quickly deteriorated into an armed ethnic riot.

On patrol with Sarajevo police
19 Jul 06 |  Europe
Country profile: Bosnia-Hercegovina
18 Jun 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Bosnia-Hercegovina
15 Mar 06 |  Country profiles

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