News 31 Oct 16

Albanian Textbook Row Still Affecting Pupils in Serbia

A long-running dispute over Albanian-language textbooks for ethnic minority pupils in southern Serbia has not been fully resolved despite officials’ promises.

Natalia Zaba
BIRN
Belgrade
Pupils at the Ibrahim Kelmendi school in Presevo. Photo: BIRN/Natalia Zaba.

A recent meeting between the Serbian and Albanian prime ministers and representatives of ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia offered hope that the longstanding problem of Albanian-language school textbooks could be solved, but local officials told BIRN that there had been no change in the situation in schools so far.

“The kids are in the same situation as in previous years,” Gazmend Selmani, the vice-mayor of Presevo municipality, told BIRN

Ethnic Albanian pupils in the southern municipalities of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja have not had a full set of textbooks in the Albanian language for many years, the result of a dispute about whether such textbooks should exist, and if so, what should be in them - particularly the books for teaching history, geography and other subjects that would touch on Albanian issues, which are highly sensitive in Serbia.

The Serbian authorities fear that the textbooks might promote politically unacceptable ideas such as the independence of Kosovo.

After the meeting in the city of Nis earlier this month, the Serbian government’s coordination body for the municipalities of Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja, which have large ethnic Albanian populations, quoted Presevo mayor Sciprim Arifi as sayiing that an agreement to solve the problem “had been reached for the first time”.

A memorandum to commission the textbooks was recently signed between the education ministry and the National Council of the Albanian National Minority, the state-recognised representative of Serbia’s Albanians, and a total of 134 million dinars, just over a million euros, was assigned to cover the cost.

But the National Council’s president, Jonuz Musliu, has refused to implement the agreement because he wants all the textbooks to be provided by the Albanian education ministry - even those on disputed topics like history and geography - which is unacceptable for Serbia.

Books for grades one to four have been supplied from Albania, but for the contentious subjects, teachers still have prepare notes from Serbian textbooks which they translate to Albanian and then dictate to the pupils during lessons.

Selmani said that after his party came to power in the Presevo municipality recently, it has begun attempts to use a different approach to solve the problemthrough cooperation with Albanian and Serbian state institutions.

“Since we took over the municipality, we recognised the textbook problem as a priority to be solved,” he said.

“We want to provide all the books with the help of Albanian education ministry and in cooperation with Serbian institutions involved in the process,” he added.

However no more progress has been made in the current school year, he admitted.

The issue flared up last year after the National Council of the Albanian National Minority appealed to Kosovo’s education ministry last year for a donation of textbooks.

The Kosovo education ministry sent a truck carrying a total of 103,222 textbooks, but they were eventually sent back because the Serbian authorities said their content was unacceptable.

That led Musliu to organise protests in the towns of Bujanovac and Presevo, accusing Serbia of violating the rights of its Albanian minority by preventing children from learning in their first language.

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