The start of the week saw interesting news that surprised many. As reported by N1, Ivan Penava, the mayor of Vukovar, announced Croatian and Serbian classes and kindergartens could merge together.
Vukovar, often referred to in Croatia as the „Hero City“ for the heavy blow it suffered in the 90s war Croatians refer to as Homeland War, still has a lot of ruins as memories of that ugly past. In the light of national tensions among Serbs and Croats, the segregation of kindergartens and different shifts in schools for Serbian and Croatian classes seem to be a solution to keep the peace.
Good idea but more talks needed?
„In Vukovar, parents do not choose the model of education that is imposed by politics, it is nowhere written in public“, said mayor Penava, as reported by N1.
Penava, a former member of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), despite earning a new term in the recent local elections as an independent candidate, enjoyed support from Miroslav Škoro, runner-up candidate for Zagreb mayor elections, and the leader of the Homeland Movement (DP) supports Penava’s idea.
„I lived in America for a number of years, in Hungary, I traveled the world… what is the difference between Serbian and Croatian mathematics? Is Argentina in Serbian in the northern hemisphere, and southern in Croatian? I don’t get it“, said Škoro adding that segregation was done in malice with a tendency to divide children from the start.
„In Vukovar, the symbol of defense had priorities. Reconstruction of the water tower, and certain moves Penava did well in his last term (he wouldn’t win elections if he hasn’t), thinks that city needs to move on. I support him 100%“, concluded Škoro.
On the other hand, criticism is erected on national-level politics.
„I don’t think that local officials are the ones who need to determine a way in which minority education will be conducted. Political trade is clear here, and I’m glad there is no longer just Serbian-Croatian trading coalition, but also another one“, said Dragana Jecov, a Croatian parliament member from the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) referring to the accusations of the right-wing that current coalition of HDZ and SDSS and is vile political trade.
Interior Minister Davo Božinović also said that while we need to work on erasing national, social, and political tensions, but this is a question that needs to be discussed more seriously.
Additionally, as N1 reported, the Ministry of Education pointed out that different models of education for Vukovar schools exist, and parents can choose which they find most suitable.
Accepting national differences or nationalistic uniformity?
Some improvements have indeed been seen in the city infrastructure, but Vukovar still remains a challenging place to live. Partly due to the tough economic situation, but also because of discrepancies among Serbian and Croatian residents. Earlier in June, there was even a violent incident when a 30-year-old Serbian member of the Grobari football fan group physically attacked a Croatian 13-year-old boy in front of a bakery for having a medicine mask with Croatian symbols.
„Sadly, this kind of thing happened too long in Vukovar, where people attack each other because of national disputes. Media aren’t even introduced to some of these events. It is spread a lot, as evident by the constant police patrols around Vukovar high-schools where there are always police cars around“, said Vukovar police to Večernji List daily newspaper.
Such incidents, a misfortunate loose ends of the war, also come from the Croatian side. Earlier in May, a group of young men chanted anti-Serb slogans in Borovo Selo (close to Vukovar), a scene of heinous war crimes in the ’90s), sparking condemnation from both president Milanović and the Croatian Government.
In that light, integrated schools might finally bring positive changes in regards to tolerance and peaceful life for Vukovar citizens. But again, not everyone sees the glass as half full.
Index.hr columnist Gordan Duhaček agreed in his column that Serbs and Croats don’t need to go to separate shifts but warns how Penava isn’t the guy that should unite them.
„Penava doesn’t want to integrate Vukovar schools and end the troubling segregation in a way to ensure a better future for the whole city, but instead to impose his nationalistic, often anti-Serbian narrative as the official one. Penava wants that Vukovar Serbs bow down to his view of the Croatian state“, wrote Duhaček.
Duhaček also reminded the readership of the attempt and fail of the Danube International school that supposed to integrate pupils of both nations, an idea that spawned 16 years ago. But, the project failed, and Duhaček sees both Penava and SDSS leader Milorad Pupovac not feeling too sad about it.
Iconic Vukovar water tower, pixabay
Questions on details
At the end of the week, the situation seems more confusing than clear. Is class integration a good idea? Could it save money for the city financially? What are some actual details of merging Croats and Serbians into one class? Obviously, Škoro is right that 2+2=4 in any math class around the world. But, troubling questions appear in subjects such as language and history. Croats and Serbs sadly have their own, different interpretations of historical facts, particularly when it comes to the last war, and while the speakers of two languages perfectly understand each other, some words do differ, and there is a different accent and spelling in the two formal languages. So, how can these issues be resolved? Would those two subjects remain in different shifts while universal subjects such as biology, math, or physics will listen in one merged classroom? Or will there be a different curriculum that would present both Serbian and Croatian history, Serbian and Croatian literature in that way, making Vukovar pupils more knowledgable in those areas than other pupils in the country?
Or some curriculum consensus on history could be reached, one that would satisfy both the Croatian and Serbian sides and thus truly open a doorway to the better understandings of the two nations in the future in perhaps the most nationally torn city in Croatia?
Obviously, Vukovar city authorities have some tensions with SDSS, but the city also has an expert associate for the development of civil society and national minorities, Siniša Mitrović in one of the City’s departments. Did Mitrović manage to gain input from the Serbian minority in Vukovar about this merge? And how fast could the whole thing be realized? This autumn or maybe a bit later?
These are important and interesting questions that can only be answered either by mayor Penava himself or perhaps Josip Paloš, the director of the Vukovar City Education Department.
„Mayor Penava is in a lot of meetings and on fields, and his schedule is full. We will sadly not be able to answer you by your Friday deadline, but we will contact you at the earliest convenience“, said the lady at the Vukovar City PR service when I called them (and E-mailed) with a wish to arrange and conduct a brief phone interview.
While this article may present the current issues surrounding segregated education in Vukovar, this TCN reporter hopes mayor Penava will share more details about his plan on ending segregation in Vukovar schools and kindergarten with joint classes. If done right, this move can indeed be the way to a better, more peaceful future for Vukovar citizens.
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