Writing Cyrillic and Reading Latin
Schools in the Brcko District and eastern Bosnia show that children from three ethnic groups can attend classes together despite different curriculums.
Brčko first-grader Zerina Alilović studies Latin letters first while her classmate David Gavrić starts with Cyrillic. (Photo: CIN)
By The Center for Investigative Reporting
Milica Juric’s 17 first-graders at Brcko’s Fourth Elementary School are copying words their teacher wrote on the classroom’s blackboard.
The blackboard is divided in two—Latin letters on the left and Cyrillic on the right. Children aren’t confused though. They are busy writing down the letters, and only occasionally glance at the blackboard. Some of them look at the left, others to the right.
“Everybody writes in their own writing and speaks in their language, and I try speaking all three languages (Bosnian, Serb and Croat),” Jurić tells reporters from the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN).
When parents enrolled first-graders in Brcko school last fall, they chose the language and writing for their children. The Serbs mostly picked Serb language and Cyrillic, while the Bosniaks and the Croats mostly chose Bosnian and Croat and Latinate writing.
However, children don’t pay attention to the curricula and study everything. Jurić says that many of them already know both scripts and help each other.
“Filip helps Kristijan with Cyrillic. Meliha gets her work done in Latin letters and then helps others with Cyrilic. And they’ve been in school for just half a year,” says Jurić.Bosnia’s sole district has 20 elementary and secondary schools. The disctrict’s government representative for education, Mara Matkić, says that the Brčko model is unique because it took the best elements from the three education systems inBosniaand combined them.
Sead Šadić graduated from a high school in Brcko nine years ago. He was a high school student when refugees started returning to town. Now 27, he recalls with a smile how Serb students attended the morning sessions and Bosniak students attended the afternoon ones. One Friday a fight broke out in which Serb students beat up a Bosniak. Protests ensued and classes were cancelled. Then negotiations on reforming the education system followed and a new model of education was born. The next generation was enrolled in “mixed” classes.
Although Šadić’s classes stayed the same, he says that a positive vibe was in the air. “We went together to the excursion and the prom night,” he says.
Matkić taught Croat language and literature at the time. She remembers that teachers took precautions against ethnically motivated conflicts among children when the new model was first applied. “In fact, we were more afraid than those young people,” she says.
“Today, they protect one other. Believe me, love happens. There are no obstacles or barriers.”
Down here in Bosnia
Before the war, children inBosniashared a single curriculum and everyone learned Cyrillic and Latin letters both. After the war, language and writing became tools for deepening ethnic divisions in the country. Politics has tainted education and most Bosnian schools have imposed the majority people’s curriculum on minority groups. Or schools divide and teach children according to ethnicity even in the same building..
“Such an education system raises children to operate in a closed, claustrophobic community,” says Nenad Veličković, professor atSarajevo’sSchoolofPhilosophy.
Veličković analyzed primary school literature textbooks from the three curricula inBosnia. In his book “Školokrečina“ he concluded that textbooks were being for ethnic indoctrination. Veličković says that literature is the fertile ground for promoting nationalism, since writers don’t have to stick to the facts. A writer can use subjective approach to portray one nation as victims, or heroes, and that will have an impact on the students’ perception of the ethnic groups they don’t belong to.
Two sides of a coin
In places where the politics divides people, the only hope for children to meet one another is teachers or non-governmental organizations that push unity. CIN found such places in Kravica and Konjević Polje near the town ofBratunac. The teachers from Petar Kočić primary school in Kravice are fighting against the divisions in the education system.
Some 100 students attend classes in Kravica—where the parentschoolofPetar Kočićis located—according to the Serb curriculum. The school has a branch in Konjević Polje, where around 140 students attend classes after the Bosnian curriculum. The two buildings are 10 kilometers apart.
They have the same administration and teachers. But, although the students attend the same school in name, they rarely meet and know little about each other. To change that, theNansenDialogueCenterfromSarajevoorganized afterschool activities, some in the parent school, some in the branch. Since the school failed to provide transport, the principal and the teachers started bringing children in their own cars to classes in computer science, English, folklore and sport. The activities switch over between two schools.
“Our common interest is a better coexistence of the population. We want to show that coexistence is possible here and that there is no survival without it,” says principal Savo Milošević.
Politicians aren’t supportive. They insist on division of school administration. Some parents support them in this. Both places suffered casualties during the war and that has left deep scars on both communities.
If the politicians were to succeed, Milošević says the out-of-curriculum activities would come to a halt and with them the contacts between the children.
“An educational ghetto would ensue,“ said the principal.
Students from both schools say that there were mutual provocations early on, but now there’s less and less of it.
Lejla Čehić, an eight-grader from Konjević Polje, came to Kravice to learn English. She said that the topic of war is given a wide berth.
“We weren’t born then and we have no right to talk about it. It is our history and we have to respect it, but we cannot now fight against one another because it happened. That is water under the bridge”, she said.
Bojan Mlađenović, an eight-grader, and Ibrahim Osmanović, a seventh-grader, attend folklore activities together. Those are the rare moments they spend in school together, because Bojan attends the school in Kravica and Ibrahim attends the school in Konjević Polje. They have been best friends for several years. Both live in Sandići, near Kravice. After school, they play football together. Bojan fetches drinking water from Ibrahim’s house, because water isn’t drinkable at Bojan’s house. They don’t talk about the war.
“It’s water under the bridge,” they say while catching their breath – Bojan in traditional pointy-toed shoes of the Serb and Ibrahim in the colorful embroidered vests of the Bosniak people.