Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Religion and Education in Bosnia: Integration Not Segregation?

Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Religion and Education in Bosnia: Integration Not Segregation?

Article excerpt


At the risk of attempting to identify a hierarchy of rights, two of the more significant fundamental human rights are freedom of religion1 and the right to receive an education.2 As basic as these rights are, the struggle to safeguard them is often at the heart of such destructive internecine wars as have occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina,3 Northern Ireland,4 and various locations in Africa.5

Located in the heart of Europe on the fault line where East meets West, Bosnia6 has played a crucial role in the history of Europe over the past century.7 In light of Bosnia's unique position, this article focuses on events in Bosnia resulting from the heavy damages inflicted on its elementary and secondary schools by the senseless war of ethnic cleansing8 that was based largely on religion. The war in Bosnia began in earnest9 on April 6, 1992,10 when Serbian provocateurs opened fire on a "peace and unity" demonstration taking place in downtown Sarajevo just across the street from the Holiday Inn that had been built to accommodate tourists for the 1984 Winter Olympic Games.11 Bosnian schools were particularly targeted since they played an essential role of integrating the country's three religious and ethnic constituent groups (Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians),12 into a society that shared a common system of schooling. Even now, almost five years after the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords,13 Bosnian schools have yet to fully recover.

While the war in Bosnia was not religious per se, the centuriesold ethnic and religious hatreds, which contributed to the vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing, were so inextricably interwoven that it is virtually impossible to separate the two.14 In addition, nationalist leaders, most notably Slobodan Milosovic, relied on rhetoric to exacerbate hard feelings and attitudes toward religion and ethnicity to fan the flames of war.15

In light of the damage that Bosnia's schools suffered because of the war, and the divisiveness that remains due to religious (and ethnic) differences, this article examines the role of religion in public education. Section II reviews the history and status of education in Bosnia before, during, and after the war. Section III briefly considers the status of religious freedom in Bosnia. Section IV examines the nexus between religion and education in Bosnia, especially as they interplay in the curriculum with the related concepts of ethnic segregation and lack of a national curriculum. In conclusion, Section V offers seven recommendations for educational leaders and policymakers who wish to integrate religion into public education in Bosnia.


A. Education in the Former Yugoslavia

The pre-war system of public education in the former Yugoslavia traces its origins to the times of Austro-Hungarian rule in the nineteenth century.16 Previously, education in private schools was almost exclusively offered by religious communities.17 However, since ninety-seven percent of Bosnia's population was thought to be illiterate in the latter part of the nineteenth century,18 the AustroHungarian provincial government devised a plan to open regular public education, in part to limit the influence of religious schools in the political arena. Following the dissolution of the AustroHungarian Empire in 1918, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, renamed the Kingdom Yugoslavia in 1929, continued to develop the system of public elementary education right up to the outbreak of World War II.19

World War II dramatically interrupted the educational process in Yugoslavia.20 In the aftermath of World War II, Yugoslavia had many needs to address, not the least of which was the serious depletion of its human and financial resources. Insofar as an injection of financial aid alone could not resolve these crises, the solution required a new approach to the structure and organization of education. Consequently, since Tito considered education "to be one of the most important activities for the reconstruction and development of the country,"21 he identified it as a key priority in the post-war period. …

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