Education International
Education International

Concrete examples of reconciliation

published 20 September 2005 updated 20 September 2005

For the past few months, the Missouri branch of American union NEA has been helping an interethnic school in Kosovo. After several consultations, EI suggested that the program might focus on the Fazli Graicevci primary school (in Albanian, or Dositele Obradovic in Serbian) in the village of Palaj (Vodice in Serbian), a few kilometers away from the capital, Pristina. “Members of NEA Missouri wanted to support Albanian and Serbian teachers who taught together,” explains Joanne Eide from NEA's international department. Most of the time, the schools are divided, pupils and teachers do not use the same classrooms, or at different schedules. Since 1999, over 300 pupils from three communities have been attending the school: Albanians, Egyptians and Serbs. All 48 teachers are taking part in the sponsored project, whose purpose is to provide the school with a common documentation center. Pupils and teachers have committed themselves to this project from the outset, when equipment was bought (shelves, tables, chairs) and books for all communities were chosen. Both teachers' unions, SBASHK and SOK, were very enthusiastic about this project that shows in a concrete way what a reconciliation process is about. “EI is very proud to have helped turn this nice idea of teachers in Missouri into reality. This project makes it possible to build bridges between the communities,” explains Nicolas Richards, EI coordinator for development cooperation.

A new multi-ethnic union center is set to open soon in Kosovo after many years of union work to bring closer together the Albanian and Serbian communities. EI is also coordinating a reconciliation program in Vukovar, Croatia. In Kosovo, EI has been working with two teachers' unions: the SBASHK, which gathers teachers from the Albanian, Turkish and Bosnian communities of Kosovo, and the SOK, the Serbian teachers' union, whose local branch represents Kosovo's teachers from the Serbian enclaves. Since 1999, EI, in cooperation with the AOb of the Netherlands and Norway's UtdanningsForbundet, has continued to help the SBASHK to develop and has provided the SOK with communication tools which have contributed to bring the teachers from the Serbian enclaves together and to bring them out of the isolation caused by the political situation in the region. The aims of this union cooperation program were to help the unions to develop their organisational skills and to empower them to promote the right to education. The multi-ethnic union center "To open a trade union center that will organise bilingual training sessions for teachers is a victory for tolerance,” exclaimed Nicolas Richards, EI coordinator responsible for development cooperation. Working with other union officials involved in development cooperation, such as André Dumont of AOb Netherlands, Nicolas is proud of the progress achieved by Kosovo's Serbian and Kosovo's activists. Distrust was paramount and resentment persistent. Today, dialogue is possible between the teachers. The training center, whose location is not yet determined, will include other minorities such as Kosovo's Moslem Serbs (known as “Goranis”), the Roma and the “Egyptians”. The multi-ethnic center benefits from financial support from EI and AOb Netherlands. Reconciliation program in Vukovar, Croatia After the war at the beginning of the 1990s', the relationship between the Croatian and Serbian communities remained tense for many years. In association with GEW of Germany and AOb of the Netherlands, EI has cooperated with the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) to organise seminars in the Vukovar region, the Croatian town besieged in 1991. Twenty-odd Croatian and Serbian teacher, in equal proportions, have been meeting since 2002 at Osijek's peace center. Three week-ends per year, they devise modules together on which they will be able to work with pupils and school communities. The purpose of these seminars was to prove that it was possible to live together while defending the rights of minorities in the region. This pilot project is a great success.