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Teaching Democracy Is Tough After Four Years of War

April 1, 1996

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Bosnian students need to learn about democracy, American and European educators say, but Bosnian teachers insist that’s going to be difficult _ if not impossible.

Muslim, Serb and Croat authorities have introduced separate curriculums in schools in territories they control that stress differences rather than similarities between kids’ ethnic backgrounds. The curriculums differ in language, religion, history and geography.

International education experts say they fear that separate education systems will perpetuate perceived national differences in Bosnia and could lead to new conflicts in future generations.

Sixty-five Bosnian teachers and professors just ended three days with American and European educators who came with a host of model lessons to teach students about human rights, tolerance and democracy.

``You can teach civic education but unless you teach kids not to hate, it’s useless,″ said Geraldine Ferraro, U.S. ambassador to the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Commission.

Ferraro, a former New York City teacher, met Sunday night with the educators conducting the conference.

The encounter pointed up the difficulties of trying to bring democracy to a country where hard-line nationalist politicians thrive on ethnic division and often suppress Western notions of free speech.

``Nowadays in Bosnia you will find few people who dare say what they think and feel,″ said Salem Halilovic Halilovic, a school inspector from the eastern Muslim enclave of Gorazde. ``In our curriculum, there is not much room to talk about democracy.″

Still, he was impressed with demonstration of games that taught children about thinks like free elections.

Professor Hidajet Repovac, head of sociology at Sarajevo University, believes children can’t understand democracy until they live in a democracy _ and he’s pessimistic about the chances of Bosnia becoming one.

Freedom of choice, which is the basis of free education, does not exist in Bosnia and the education system is like ``a sick invalid″ because it still leans on the old Communist teaching system, he said.

Snjezana Vasilj, a university history professor in West Mostar, the Croat half of the divided city, said the influence of religion is stronger than that of democracy _ and children, especially in rural areas, are divided along ethnic lines at school.

Only Croat and Muslim educators attended because Bosnian Serbs from the northern city of Banja Luka got stranded in a snowstorm.

Penn Campbell of the United States Information Agency, which co-sponsored the conference, said the gathering was not political, but Repovac said everything in Bosnia has political implications.

``A lot of time will be needed in our educational programs and plans to radically change things if we want to teach children democracy and freedom,″ Repovac said.

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