Catholic schools an oasis in Bosnia's ethnic strife

Wed Nov 25, 2009 11:25am EST
 
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By Daria Sito-Sucic

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia (Reuters Life!) - You'd never guess at first glance whether Bosnian teen Tanja Bekic is Muslim, Serb, Catholic or from a mixed marriage and that's the point of attending a Catholic school.

The 17-year-old's secondary school in Banja Luka is one of seven Catholic schools that have become islands of multiculturalism in the deeply divided society of Bosnia.

Bekic is in her third year at a school which is referred to only as the "Catholic Gymnasium," in a building without signs and where public spaces lack the usual crucifixes and portraits of the Virgin Mary found in Catholic schools the world over.

Even the entrance is a little hard to find at first.

To see Bekic and her school friend Tanja Savic, dressed in their jeans and wearing make-up, one could not distinguish them from typical students anywhere in central and eastern Europe or most other places in fact -- and that's the way they like it.

They say the Gymnasium's deliberate ethnic blindness helps free them from the constant focus on ethnic and religious differences that has pervaded Bosnian society since Yugoslavia's bloody break-up in the 1992-1995 war which blighted the region.

"I am really happy to be here," Bekic said. "Most students here are from mixed marriages, we can learn how to accept more easily members of other ethnic groups."

State schools in the country became segregated into mono-ethnic institutions after the war split Bosnia into two autonomous and ethnically based regions -- the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb Republic.   Continued...

 
<p>Pupils leave their classroom after their lesson in a Catholic school in Sarajevo, one of seven Catholic schools that have become islands of multiculturalism in the deeply divided society of Bosnia, October 16, 2009. REUTERS/Danilo Krstanovic</p>