Going to school in Balkans, segregated by ethnicity
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