news 25 Jun 15

Bosnian Serbs’ Renaming of Language Angers Bosniaks

Bosniak officials, teachers and parents expressed anger after schools in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska changed of the name of their language without consultation.

Katarina Panic
An end-of-year school report.

A sudden decision by the Republika Srpska (RS) education ministry to instruct all primary schools in the entity to officially change the name of one of Bosnia’s three constituent languages from ‘Bosnian’ to ‘Bosniak’ has triggered strong reactions in the ethnically-divided country.

In some schools in Republika Srpska, the change of the name appeared in pupils’ end-of-year report books over the past few days, and in many cases, Bosniak parents refused to accept them.

Some Bosniak parents, teachers and officials complained that this was an attempt to drive the remaining non-Serbs from RS by humiliation and the denial of their basic human and cultural rights.

Other Bosniaks said this was yet another bid by the RS government to use hotly-disputed ethnic issues to divert public attention from economic and social problems.

“I think this is all about shifting the focus away from the hard social and economic situation,” Mirsad Duratovic, a Bosniak from the town of Prijedor, one of whose children attends a local primary school, told BIRN on Thursday.

Mirzet Mujcic, the director of the primary school in Kozarac where the pupils are mostly Bosniaks, told BIRN that he ordered his school administration to use the term ‘Bosnian language’ in end-of-year report books regardless of the instructions he received from the education ministry.

“No one has right to impose to us how we name our own language,” said Mujcic, who is also a Bosniak.

The dispute exacerbated already heightened ethnic tensions across Bosnia and Herzegovina. Tensions have risen over the past few weeks amid disputes over the upcoming commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Srebrenica massacres.

The change in the name of the language was first noticed on Tuesday at a primary school in Kotorsko, where most of Bosniak parents refused to accept their children’s end-of-year report books.

“The Republika Srpska Ministry of Education and Culture has violated the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina since it says that the official languages [in Bosnia and Herzegovina] are Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian,” the Bosniak deputy president of Republika Srpska, Ramiz Salkic, told journalists on Wednesday.

“It is time to stop the torture, discrimination and abuses in education as it could escalate at the beginning of next school year in September,” he added.

RS President Milorad Dodik responded to the criticism by reiterating his claim that the Bosnian language does not exist.

“The Bosniaks decided unilaterally that this was their language,” Dodik said on Tuesday.

However the RS education system used the term ‘Bosnian’ in textbooks and report books for years, until a decree was issued to all schools to change the name earlier this week.

But by Thursday the situation became more confused as some schools reported they had received the decree, while others had not and continued using the term ‘Bosnian’.

RS vice-president Salkic told BIRN on Wednesday that the problem apparently emerged because some lower-level officials in the RS education ministry issued a verbal decree to some schools, which was not accepted by all of them.

“There is no written instruction at all since it would be completely illegal and anti-constitutional,” Salkic said.

Senad Bratic, a Bosniak who is the deputy speaker of the RS National Assembly, told BIRN meanwhile that deputies from non-Serb parties in assembly will appeal to the constitutional court, claiming that the initiative was uncnstitutional.

According to the RS education ministry, among the 95,000 pupils who attended primary schools across RS in the 2014-15 school year, there were some 7,000 Bosniak children, as well as 400 Croats, a similar number of Roma children and 370 from other ethnic minorities.

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