Students in Serbia and Croatia are taught to dislike each other

More than two decades after the war, former Yugoslav countries still have no consensus about their difficult past. What they have in common is teaching their students partial history.

Lidija Pisker
Lidija Pisker NewsMavens, Balkans
Students in Serbia and Croatia are taught to dislike each other - NewsMavens
School kids. Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

education, politics

The youth in Serbia and Croatia are taught to dislike each other, German news agency Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA) stated in the recently published analysis about school textbooks in the two countries. 

The conflict of the 1990s is usually presented through a simplified "black and white" perspective, where the other side is always guilty and any brutal crimes of the fellow-countrymen are played down as "acts of revenge," Index.hr has recently reported on DPA's explanation of the tone of history textbooks in the two former Yugoslav states. 

It turns out that Croatian and Serbian students used to study the same history when they were living in one country. But the 1990s conflict established different versions of truth. Today, those post-truths are used to indoctrinate students to perceive their neighbors as enemies. 

The Operation Storm, the last major offensive in Croatian war, provides an excellent example. According to the Croatian textbooks, it was an act of “liberation of occupied territory”, while Serbian textbooks call it a “planned ethnic cleansing of Serbs”. 

"A lot of time will pass before we become friends," the Croatian President, Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, summed up the antagonisms during the 26th anniversary ceremony of the fall of eastern Croatian town of Vukovar, held on November 18, last year. 

The other countries of former Yugoslavia cling to the legacy of the 1990s as well. 

In Bosnia, Gavrilo Princip is portrayed either as a terrorist or as a hero, depending on which part of the country the school is situated in. For Bosnian Serbs, he was a freedom fighter but for Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks, Princip was a Serbia-supported political assassin. 

Many textbooks are oriented exclusively around one particular ethnic group and thus contribute to segregation in an already ethnically divided country, the series of reports "What do we teach our children?" found. The reports, which analysed the content of the so-called "national group of subjects" (mother language, geography and history) in Bosnian textbooks, claim that many textbooks serve to develop a sense of belonging to other countries (such as Croatia or Serbia) instead of Bosnia.

Political divisions that are maintained in schools across the Balkans can negatively impact the stability of the region, experts say. 

Is there a hope for a peaceful future? Not as long as textbooks embed prejudices of the past in the minds of new generations. 

Details from the story:

  • A 2015 analysis of history textbooks by Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center revealed that war crimes committed by Serbs during the 1990s is a "taboo" issue in Serbian textbooks. 
  • Republika Srpska's leader, Milorad Dodik, told the media in June last year that teaching about the Srebrenica genocide and the siege of Sarajevo in schools is wrong and unacceptable. The Sarajevo siege and the Srebrenica genocide have been included in some history textbooks in Federation BiH and can be used by Bosniak students in schools they attend in Republika Srpska. 
  • In September 2017, a review of a Serbian history textbook written by Radoš Ljusić noted that it refers to citizens of Montenegro as ethnic Serbs and claims that "many Bosnians became "fanatics" after accepting Islam in the Middle Ages," etc. 
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