News 19 Jun 17

Bosnian Kindergarten Overcomes Ethnic Divisions

A recently-opened kindergarten in Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje is the only educational institution in the town at which Bosnian Croat and Bosniak children spend time together.

Igor Spaic
Children at the Zvoncic kindergarten. Photo: Zvoncic/Facebook.

The Zvoncic kindergarten in Gornji Vakuf, the 'Croat' parts of which were named Uskoplje during the 1992-95 war, has managed to overcome the ethnic divisions in the education system in the town - one of the Bosnian municipalities in which schools have two separate curriculums, one for Bosniak and one for Croat children.

Bosnia and Herzegovina's 'two schools under one roof' system has been repeatedly criticised by international rights organisations as it effectively segregates pupils along ethnic lines.

But the system does not affect more than 60 children who attend the Zvoncic kindergarten, which opened five months ago with the help of international donations and support from the local government.

Zvoncic's director, Tijana Barnjak, told Federal TV that the kindergarten is doing so well, it already has a waiting list.

Its "biggest problem" is with a boy named Petar (considered to be a Croat Catholic name) who wants his newborn brother to be named Mustafa (a Bosniak name), because that is what his best friend at the kindergarten is called.

"We are happy that we have 'problems' of this nature," Barnjak said.

"Children are not the problem, nor will they ever be. The only problem here could be grown-ups," she added.

Divisive politics are the reason why, prior to the opening of Zvoncic, the town did not have a kindergarten for 15 years.

"It was a political problem," Barnjak told BIRN.

"There were a lot of separated institutions, and the local kindergarten became rundown by 2002, without any support," she said.

Barnjak said that Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje is not as ethnically divided anymore as media like to portray it sometimes, and that the new kindergarten is an example of this.

However, when the children begin to attend school, they will be separated along ethnic lines and be taught either the Bosniak or the Croat curriculum.

"We are preparing for it, [thinking about] how to explain this best to the children. We know from the parents that the children have such questions, so they will explain it at home," Barnjak said.

For now, this is not a problem, she added.

"This is all new for these children. They are all only focused on the kindergarten now, since there wasn't one for 15 years," Barnjak said.

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