Go­ing to school in Balkans, seg­re­gated by eth­nic­ity

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ben­jamin, an eth­nic Al­ba­nian, and Luka, an eth­nic Serb, are young neigh­bors who share a school but meet only on the foot­ball pitch. One boy is taught that Kosovo is in­de­pen­dent and the other that it is a Ser­bian prov­ince. In the for­mer Yu­goslavia, es­pe­cially Bos­nia, Kosovo and Mus­lim-dom­i­nated ar­eas of Ser­bia, school­ing is of­ten de­ter­mined by eth­nic af­fil­i­a­tion. “In the long term this will cause so­cial dam­age and po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity,” said ed­u­ca­tion spe­cial­ist Duk­agjin Pupovci, warn­ing that Serb pupils in Kosovo risked liv­ing “out­side re­al­ity”.

Kosovo de­clared in­de­pen­dence from Ser­bia in 2008, a decade af­ter a war be­tween its eth­nic Al­ba­nian pro-in­de­pen­dence rebels and Bel­grade forces. Although more than 110 coun­tries now rec­og­nize Kosovo’s sovereignty, the eth­nic Serb mi­nor­ity in the for­mer prov­ince does not and is backed by Ser­bia and Rus­sia. In Palaj, on the out­skirts of Kosovo’s cap­i­tal Pristina, a slim ma­jor­ity of its 400 in­hab­i­tants are eth­nic Serbs who call the vil­lage Crkvena Vod­ica (“Holy Wa­ter”).

They share a school with the lo­cal Al­ba­nian com­mu­nity, but the name of the es­tab­lish­ment changes ac­cord­ing to class eth­nic­ity. In the morn­ing, when the school hosts around 50 young Serbs, it is called “Dositej Obradovic” af­ter an 18th cen­tury Ser­bian writer and philoso­pher. But in the af­ter­noon, when some 80 Al­ba­ni­ans take to their desks, it is known as “Fa­zli Graiqevci” in hon­our of an Al­ba­nian ed­u­ca­tion ac­tivist. Ben­jamin, a Barcelona fan, meets Real Madrid sup­porter Luka only when play­ing foot­ball.

“Ev­ery­one speaks his own lan­guage. When we do not un­der­stand each other we speak us­ing our hands,” 11-year-old Ben­jamin told AFP. Luka, 12, said there were rarely any prob­lems, and if they do oc­cur, “we solve them by our­selves, we don’t call our par­ents or teach­ers”.

No pol­i­tics, no prob­lems

While their par­ents of­ten speak each other’s lan­guage, a legacy of the for­mer Yu­goslavia, the two young boys do not. Ben­jamin can learn English and French at school, while Rus­sian is the pre­ferred sec­ond lan­guage for Serbs. “We are like two trains ar­riv­ing from dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions and meet­ing only briefly at the same sta­tion,” said physics teacher Se­jdi Preniqi. This is above av­er­age in­te­gra­tion for schools in Kosovo, where the two eth­nic groups typ­i­cally learn on com­pletely dif­fer­ent premises, with the Serb sys­tem and its teach­ers funded by Bel­grade. —AFP

PALAJ: A Kosovo Al­ba­nian stu­dent cleans a black­board at an ele­men­tary school in the vil­lage of Palaj. — AFP

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