05 July 2011

Strawmanning BiH Schools

Is it a school, or... an ethnic cleansing training camp??

Schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is an obscure topic. Who knows anything about schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Who the hell wants to??

And jet they can not go without a mention in the Western press for long. Major news outlets will periodically take time off from reporting on blondes missing in the Bahamas to say things about schools in Bosnia. What about them?

They are segregated abominations, that's what! *Shivers!*

The most recent of such pieces, NYT's Bosniaks and Croats, Divided in Class and at Play starts of with:
"Every morning at the local grade school formerly known as Brotherhood and Unity, the Catholic Croat children head to the right, and the Bosnian Muslims head to the left."

"The Croats study in the school’s cheerful looking main building, which was recently renovated. The Muslims attend class in the crumbling, dingy annex next door."
Why if this isn't Birmingham, 1963 all over again!

Advancing through the article further we get more of what poses as a measure of the place. The school is on the front lines of ethnic divisions and kids get into fights. These people are hateful little bastards, those Croat types especially. They have a local war criminal guy who was convicted in Holland. And they renovated a hotel, and it has spacious hallways.


How credible is the article? Well, the "about" section on the website of the elementary school in question, says:
"In August 2009 the search for a concrete solution of this problem was intensified. Consent of the Government and Ministry for a project of restoration of foundations as the first phase of extending the school building was secured."
"In early 2010 an internal and external restoration of foundations of the building was carried out. With this all conditions for extending the building with an additional floor were met."
"We expect the building of a second floor to follow the planned course and that the Government, that is, the Ministry will secure additional means so the project may finally be realized. To this end the necessary paperwork calculating the funds needed has been delivered to the Ministry."
The expectation is for the "crumbling, dingy" annex to be extended with a second floor in the near future. The foundations have already been restored to make the plan feasible and the paperwork filled.

The reporter makes a point of contrasting appearances of the two school buildings, but leaves out the fact the shoddier of the two is about to have mayor work done on it. Suppose mentioning that part would hurt the intro's whole Birmingham, 1963 vibe.


The article places the 34 "divided" schools in the context of hatred and "ethnic divisions" it highlights. Their proposed unification is put in the context of overcoming hatred.

In reality the "divided" schools are a manifestation of pluralism in a multi-national state. The reason two parallel systems exist is because Croat parents and Muslim parents have different ideas on what their children should be taught. Instead of continuously fighting over what shape a unified curriculum should take there are two curriculums to chose from. So actually "divided" schools serve to ease tension.

An actual problem is that there are not enough of these schools. Choice is confined to areas that were in the war held by Croat forces. These areas saw good rates of return of people expelled in the war. Subsequently Muslim returnees are numerous enough they can not be pushed around and were immediately able to enroll their children to classes with curriculum designed by themselves

The rate of return to areas that were held by Muslim (and Serb) forces has been far lower. Influence of Croat returnees in Muslim dominated areas is marginal. They were not accommodated by being provided a choice, as public schools in Muslim areas carry only one curriculum. Fortunately where demand for an alternative is strong the Roman Catholic Church has stepped in and founded successful private schools to alleviate the problem.

Initially the material conditions for education of children of Muslim returnees were rather poor, and in a few cases, like in the one the NYT article highlights, such conditions endured for much longer than they should have. But surely the greater injustice, and outrage, is that Croats in a similar situation are not provided schools at all, whether housed in "crumbling, dingy" buildings or otherwise.


There are any number of angles Bosnia and Herzegovina can be covered from, but the Western media has been unflinchingly devoted to retelling one and the same story over and over again. It is the report on "ethnic animosity". Bosnia is Western media's go-to place for "ethnic" hatred.

These stories are really feel-good pieces. Their function is enable its readership to feel good about itself on the account of things that are utterly unremarkable. Have you recently been to an ethnic foods restaurant, and you didn't punch the waiter in the nose? Then tap yourself on the back for not being consumed by ethnic hatreds like those primitive people in Bosnia.


Peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina have valid and serious political issues at stake. The politics of the place are heavy on recognizable topics of centralism, federalism, pluralism, unitarism, even national self-determination and anti-colonialism. But because Bosnia is a vehicle for Western self-congratulation the usual approach to deciphering politics is abandoned, replaced by a caricature where everything is simply about hatreds.

Since it is not possible to understand hatreds, indeed no attempt should ever be made to understand them, it is perfectly acceptable, even desirable to be utterly clueless about why this or that group of Bosnians ever wants anything. Also when convenient the striving of any of Bosnia's nationality for any political goal may safely be dismissed as illegitimate produce of irrational hatred.

This is all fine and dandy in itself but a problem arises when Westerners cultivating this willfully ignorant approach to 'understanding' the place then decide to interfere with it.


  1. According to a 2003 report by the Justice Department, 10.4 % of the Black male population of the USA aged 25 to 29 was incarcerated. When it comes to ethnic tension, some places just need a little more feel-good than others.

  2. I am unsure in what context are Black Americans best understood. I know there is Black nationalism, but I don't know how influential it is. Perhaps they are like mid 19th century Ukrainians - in the process of national formation. Or will they assimilate?

    The point is that comparisons to ethnicities within the US largely fails. A Scot-Ulster American and a Swedish American hanging out together in Branson, Missouri is completely unremarkable and does not represent any kind of precedent for Bosnians and Herzegovians to learn from.

    Croats, Serbs, Muslims are not "ethnicities", they are nationalities. Having a unified elementary school program for Croats and Muslims makes no more sense than having one for Canadians and Americans (who also share a common origin and language).

    I'm sure you see that wouldn't go down well. Canadians have little interest in learning about Benjamin Franklin and John Paul Jones, Americans less about the valiant Canadian heroes of 1812 who burned down the White House.

    Imagine if Slovakia under the guise of ethnic tolerance and overcoming segregation cracked down on Hungarian schools for its 500,000 strong Hungarian minority and introduced a unified curriculum – in Slovak. There would rightfully be an outrage, but for internationals that is the PC policy for Bosnia.

    Frankly when it comes to nationality politics Eastern Europe is far more along than the Anglo-Saxon world whose understanding of it is primitive and state-centric by comparison. When it comes to nationality politics Bosnians are actually more sophisticated than their Western would-be social engineers.

  3. No, you're quite right - the situations are in no way similar, and the black population of the USA is more or less completely assimilated although it does seem to receive a good deal more attention from law enforcement than does the white majority.

    I meant to highlight merely that, as usual, the west is a good deal holier-than-thou when it comes to such situations, and eager to implement solutions where its help is neither solicited or welcome.

    Actually the shift in our cirriculum is fairly recent - when I was in school, I learned American history; mentions of Canada were relatively peripheral, and I didn't learn the burning-of-the-White-House story until I was studying a Canada-specific history document for a military exam.

    The whole Bosnia thing has been much downplayed in the western press, and only ignited any sort of passion when the NATO bombing was ongoing. After that the narrative suggested things were more or less settled although it remained a "restless region". I'd bet not one in fifty could support the position that Milosevic got a raw deal, or could tell you anything of what's going on there now; what they read is mostly, "nothing to see here - move along".

  4. Well the whole Bosnia thing was always an elite thing. The masses didn't know what that was all about even when it was taking place. But liberal elitist took it on as something to define themselves by. It remains important to them and they have a lot invested in it. Just look at how they are trying to recreate in Libya.