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Long-term Peace Threatened By Separate School Curriculums

December 27, 1995

GORNJI VAKUF, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ In the Croatian high school in Gornji Vakuf, children read Croatian authors, learn Croatian history and study the Croatian language. In a converted hotel three blocks away, Muslim pupils pore over Koran passages in the Bosnian tongue.

All the schoolchildren here once shared a Yugoslav curriculum. Then came the war, and Gornji Vakuf became a flash point of fighting between Croat and Muslim-led Bosnian government forces.

Now, an invisible but palpable front line still runs down a main street of the town in western Bosnia, and separate school programs stress the differences that divide the two communities _ rather than emphasizing similarities that could help them heal the wounds of war.

``At the moment there are two nations, two sets of ideas and two sets of history books,″ said Maj. Butch Maycock, the British commandant at the U.N.-turned-NATO base here, who has won friends on both sides by offering kids soccer and volleyball coaching.

``There’s absolutely no way I can get the Croat and Bosnian lads together even for a soccer training session,″ he said. ``They want a match against each other, but I want them to play together against a mixed team from another town.″

Maycock is under no illusions as to the damage that could be done over time. He served with U.N. peacekeepers in Cyprus where, as he puts it, ``rather than peace, there’s been a 22-year cease-fire″ between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

``Unless we get a joint school, there will continue to be two different versions of what happened,″ he cautioned. ``Then the anger and hate of this generation will be handed down to the next.″

Yet Gornji Vakuf, a town of 24,000 people about 30 miles west of the capital Sarajevo, has two elementary and two high schools to replace the single complex where all children aged 7-18 were schooled before the war.

So far, the schools can’t even agree on where to put a shared library _ a first step toward reintegration.

``Mine is a Bosnian school,″ said headmaster Zahid Sehic. ``It’s not Serb, Croat or Muslim. There is no ideology. We read authors from all ethnic groups.″

He said that children were taught the Bosnian tongue, the language he claimed was the oldest in the region.

But, he added, ``kahva, kava and kafa are all valid spellings in my school,″ referring to Muslim, Croatian and Serbian orthography for the word meaning coffee.

Just like Croats and Serbs, Bosnia’s Muslims are reaching back to their roots and reviving some archaic expressions that are supposed to distinguish their version of former Yugoslavia’s main language _ Serbo-Croatian _ from the others.

The trend is causing some Croats in Gornji Vakuf to cry foul.

``They are introducing Turkisms,″ protested Nada Matljanic, deputy head of the Croatian high school.

The program in that school is nearly identical to that used in Croatia proper, where children are taught that Bosnia is historically part of Croatia.

Croats view the 400-year Ottoman rule of Bosnia, where Muslims look with pride for their heritage, as a period of occupation when Roman Catholic Croats were persecuted.

``After so much blood, I don’t believe that if we had a unified school tomorrow, parents from either side would allow their kids to attend,″ Matljanic said.

But Sehic, the Bosnian school’s headmaster, sees no other option: ``If there’s no reintegration, we’ll have two peoples living here and there will be no Bosnia.″

On the day before Christmas break, Croatian children, accompanied by local nuns, sang ``God Protect Croatia, My Dear Homeland″ before rushing out into the snow.

In the Bosnian school, the mood was less joyful.

``How can I go to school with them or be friends, when they burned my house?″ Zijada Garaca, 18, asked ruefully. ``It’s better for us like this.″

``This is not one town, it’s two,″ said Refik Hajdarovic, 20, who returned to graduate this year after two years in the Bosnian army. ``Maybe in two or three years we can start getting back together again, but not yet.″

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