Promise of Peace

By Ladika, Susan | International Educator, May/June 2007 | Go to article overview

Promise of Peace


Ladika, Susan, International Educator


Since the 1990s, Bosnia-Herzegovina has been recovering from war and has begun the process of healing. The higher education system shows potential to build a brighter future for country and colleges and universities from abroad are also helping to promote peace and understanding in the spirit of reconciliation and rebuilding. BY SUSAN LADIKA

EDITOR'S NOTE: In 2006 International Educator began a feature article series on international education and peace resolution in divided regions of the world faced with conflict. Articles in the series are published occasionally in the magazine. This article, the fourth installment of the series, focuses on Bosnia-Herzegovina (earlier articles were about Cyprus, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and Northern Ireland).

ALTHOUGH THE FIGHTING ENDED MORE THAN A DECADE AGO, Bosnia-Herzegovina's higher education system is far more fragmented today than it was before the war began. Universities have fractured along ethnic lines, and new universities have sprung up, either in a bid for power and prestige, or as a means to protect their own ethnic identities in a place that was once the poster child for "Brotherhood and Unity"-the national motto of former Yugoslavia.

Bosnia "had a culture that transcended the ethnic groups," says Keith Doubt, a sociology professor and department chair at Wittenberg University in Ohio, who taught for five months at the University of Sarajevo on a Fulbright Award and frequently has written about the country. "Bosnian didn't have to say 'multiculturalism.' They lived and breathed it." Marriages between the country's Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats, and Orthodox Serbs were common, and the groups lived together in mixed neighborhoods. But as former Yugoslavia crumbled in the early 1990s, so did many of the attributes that made the country-and Bosnia in particular-unique.

Now Bosnia is struggling to recover from the deep wounds it sustained during 3 ½ years of war. It was a conflict in which some war criminals had university ties, and even without their presence, the university system is in dire need of an overhaul.

At the same time, higher education has the potential to play a crucial role in mending society's scars and fostering peace and reconciliation. To Clifford J. Schultz II, professor at the Morrison School of Management and Agribusiness at Arizona State University, who has worked in Bosnia since 1992, universities continue to be "seen as a venue where there is still a place for understanding, tolerance, respect, and the betterment of individuals in society."

These concepts once were the bedrock of Bosnian society. In the aftermath of World War 11, the six republics of former Yugoslavia-Bosnia, Croatiwa, Serbia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Montenegro-lived in relative peace and prosperity under the rule of Josip Broz, known as Tito.

He carved out a unique position for the country, poised between East and West. Yugoslavia ultimately split from the Soviet bloc, and Yugoslavs had freedoms that other Eastern Europeans lacked. Tito maintained a balance of power among the six republics and imposed harsh measures in order to keep nationalism at bay.

But his death in 1980 eventually tore Yugoslavia asunder. Tito designated no successor, leaving an unwieldy eight-member collective presidency running the country. As head of Serbia's Communist Party, Slobodan Milosevic began stirring up ethnic tensions. As relations between Serbia and the other republics grew more strained, Croatia and Slovenia voted to secede, declaring independence in 1991. Slovenia emerged virtually unscathed after a 10-day war with Yugoslav forces, but Croatia's conflict continued off and on through 1995.

Unwelcome Conflict and an Ethnic Divide

Despite that fighting, few Bosnians believed war would strike there. Bosnia's Serbs boycotted the republic's 1991 referendum on independence from Yugoslavia, but early the next year they declared their own republic and proclaimed it part of Yugoslavia. …

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