Academic unity closer but legacy of war lives on

August 1, 2003

Eight years after the Dayton peace agreement ended the war in Bosnia, the first tentative steps towards a unified higher education system are still being taken.

Enes Pelidija, president of the University of Sarajevo's history faculty, remained optimistic, at least as far as his sensitive academic discipline was concerned. "The European Union is trying to create an education history for all the country. It is the most positive step so far. We have had little contact with the Serbs in the University of Banja Luka, but the EU will unite historical programmes from elementary schools up to universities. We must respect each other and base our history on facts, not myths."

The EU removed "hate speak" from the history syllabus, and the 1992 war was left off the curriculum because it was too fresh in people's memories.

History and languages, with the Serbs writing and learning Cyrillic and the Muslims and Croats having their own Serbo-Croat near-dialects, have been the main sticking points in a unified curriculum.

Dr Pelidija taught Croat and Serb students and, although there were minor disagreements, he said he stuck to the facts and based his sources on the internet and articles from the West.

He spent the war teaching in Sarajevo. He had his first contact with Serbs four years ago, when he spoke to Croat and Serb professors about the 60th anniversary of the founding of Bosnia-Hertzegovina at a meeting arranged by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. "There were no insults. Everyone listened quietly to one another."

The optimism was less apparent among students. Economics student Djenan Cigura said: "There is 40 per cent unemployment here, and many students don't see the point in studying. There is too much theory and not enough practical (lessons) about business - there is no business here anyway.

There is no communication with teachers who are old. Many still think like communists."

Ena Zercovic, a part-time business student, worked for the EU to finance her studies. She studied at six different universities during the war, including the so-called War School in Sarajevo, Croatia; Zenica University in central Bosnia; and the Croatian haven of Kesiljak, sandwiched between the Serbs surrounding Sarajevo and the Muslims defending it.

"I am proud of what I achieved, but I and many others are asking what is it for. Sarajevo is a dead town now. It is the same as it was five years ago.

Many graduates have left, as have the best professors. Those who stay either sit around just talking in cafes or get into crime."

History student Salmedin Mesihovic said he spoke to several foreign students who came to visit on exchanges. "They say we work very hard, and I feel this is a mistake - it is not good for our psychology. Some professors put strange ideas to us and point out many conflicting complex details.

It's too confusing after everything that has happened."

Student Melisa Foric attended three conferences organised by the OSCE in Banja Luka, Sarajevo and Pale during 1997. "We need to have agreement and talk with Serb students," she said.

"The Germans accepted that the Nazis committed many atrocities during the second world war, and we have documents proving the existence of concentration camps in Bosnia, but the Serb students don't accept this. So at these conferences, we just insulted each other."

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