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Segregated Education in Post-Conflict Bosnia: From the Battlefield to the Classroom

8 June 2017 - Dr Maja Halilovic-Pastuovic has secured EU funding to carry out a three-year project looking at the segregated education system which for over twenty years has been adopted as state policy in post-conflict Bosnia.

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Maja is Marie Skłodowska Curie Research Fellow at the Irish School of Ecumenics (which is part of the Confederal School of Religions, Peace Studies and Theology) at Trinity College Dublin and Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Her project ‘GATED’ has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. 

‘My first degree was in Psychology. After that I studied for an MPhil in Ethnic and Racial Studies in the Department of Sociology in Trinity. I completed my PhD there as well and taught sociology for a couple of years; following that I moved into the Irish School of Ecumenics at Trinity.’

While working on her PhD project around forced migration she spoke to a number of people who left Bosnia and are now living in Ireland. Having heard testimonies stating that many did not want to return to Bosnia, she asked why this was the case. Many cited the segregated education system as a reason why they did not want to return, and Maja decided to develop this into a proposal for a new project.

‘The aim of the project is to look at the impact segregated education had on young people in Bosnia and to determine whether changes that have occurred there have influenced radicalisation/nationalism of students ,’ says Maja.

While they may attend the same school, children in Bosnia are separated into different classrooms based on ethic groupings.  Students are taught different curricula depending on their ethnicity and are taught by teachers of their own ethnic group. Key subjects such as geography, history and language are taught differently, for example.

More than twenty years ago, when the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed to mark an end to the conflict in the area, segregated education was introduced to separate the education of Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims. Maja explains: ‘It was introduced to keep warring sides apart, and it did work as a short-term solution during the actual conflict. It basically meant that education could continue while the war was ongoing. But twenty years later it is causing disruption in society.’

The 20 year anniversary of the Dayton Agreement was in 2015 and Maja is now keen to speak to a whole generation of young people who have gone through both a segregated primary and secondary education, to assess whether segregation affects radicalisation of youth and if it increases the possibilities of future conflicts.This is particulary relevant at present as Bosnia is a neighbouring EU country, and an EU candidate country.

Speaking on the wider significance of her research, Maja has said that one of the main concerns of her research is security. ‘It’s important for security in Europe. Let’s not forget that the Bosnian conflict that happened only twenty odd years ago was the bloodiest conflict in modern European history.Today’s Bosnia is a very divided society - and also an extremely nationalistic one. We need to ensure that segregated education in Bosnia in not encouraging further conflicts in the area. ’

Maja is based in the Josef Korbel School of International Relations in University of Denver, mentored by Professor Timothy Sisk, for the first two years of her research project, before she returns to the Irish School of Ecumenics. In the Irish School of Ecumenics, she is working with Professor Etain Tannam.

Maja has also recently been awarded project funding from Horizon 2020 (EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation) as part of the consortium working on a project titled ‘PERICLES – Policy recommendation and improved communication tools for law enforcement and security agencies preventing violent radicalisation’. The PERICLES project studies violent right wing radicalisation as well as religious ideologies, via needs assessment and case studies. Professor Gillian Wylie, also from the Irish School of Ecumenics, is the gender adviser for the project. 

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