News 10 Dec 15

Serbia-Kosovo Textbooks Row Hits Pupils’ Education

Belgrade officials are continuing to ban the use of Kosovo Albanian schoolbooks in southern Serbia, claiming they are politically unacceptable, but locals say children’s education is suffering.

Ivana Nikolic
BIRN
Belgrade
Serbian Foreign Minister and PM Ivica Dacic and Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: Beta

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said on Wednesday that Serbia respects minority rights, but cannot let textbooks claiming Kosovo is an independent state be used in schools in the country.

“You want textbooks from Kosovo or Albania to be used in Serbia, and you want [pupils in Serbia] to be taught that Kosovo is independent… That will not be possible,” Dacic told parliament during a discussion about Albanian minority rights in Serbia.

According to a deal reached on September 10, Pristina was supposed to supply school textbooks to Albanian communities in Serbia while Belgrade was supposed to do the same for Serbs in Kosovo - the first time that the two sides had come to such an agreement since the war ended in 1999.

However trucks that were transporting around 100,000 elementary school textbooks from Kosovo to Serbia’s Presevo Valley, which has a large ethnic Albanian population, were then held up by the Serbian authorities at a customs terminal.

Since the beginning of the school year, ethnic Albanian pupils in the Presevo Valley have been without textbooks and have had to learn by taking notes from their teachers’ dictation, said Jonuz Musliu, head of the National Council of Albanians.

“This [ban] is for political reasons. But you cannot ban someone from learning about their own people. This is not the time of [former Serbian leader Slobodan] Milosevic anymore,” Musliu told BIRN.

The Serbian government believes the textbooks teach history from a Kosovo Albanian perspective, which it says is politically unacceptable.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said recently that textbooks describing late Kosovo Liberation Army fighter Adem Jashari as a national hero cannot be used in Serbian schools.

Jashari – who was killed in March 1998, along with 50 others when Yugoslav forces laid siege to his family home in Prekaz – is widely considered by Kosovars to be a hero of their struggle against Serbian rule.

“The relevant school inspectors will decide on the usage of the textbooks in Albanian,” Vucic said.

Ethnic Albanian pupils and teachers have held several protests in southern Serbia, arguing that the Serbian education ministry is obstructing the agreement.

Musliu said the National Council of Albanians has tried to solve the problem several times by alerting the education ministry.

“The Serbian education minister [Srdjan Verbic] was already informed about the donations [of books from the Kosovo education ministry] on January 15 [2015]. We also asked to have a meeting with him but we have not received a response yet,” Musliu said.

He also said that the new textbooks were needed because the old ones lacked sufficient information about Albania and Kosovo.

BIRN contacted Serbia’s education ministry for a comment but received no answer by the time of publication.

According to Serbia's 2002 census, 61,467 Albanians live in Serbia. Most Albanians boycotted the 2011 census, so the current number is unknown.

A significant number are thought to have emigrated to Kosovo or to Western Europe in recent years. But they make up the overwhelming majority of the population of Presevo and are the largest community in Bujanovac in southern Serbia.

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