“There are increasingly tight links between the Bosniak nationalists and the Islamic community.” But no worries. The Muslims in the Balkans are secular, moderate, and Westernized, and they love America — right? Right?
(An unrelated note: there is, by the way, an oddly un-idiomatic usage of the word “infants” in this article, as if it were translated ineptly from French or some other language. Have non-native English speakers now taken over the editorial positions at the Guardian and Observer?
“Nationalists triumph as ‘Grandfather Frost’ banned in Sarajevo infant schools,” by Peter Beaumont for The Observer, December 21 (thanks to Peter):
To Bosnia’s Catholic Croats, he is known as Djed Boinjak (Father Christmas) and to Bosnian Serbs as Boic Bata, the Christmas Friend. To the Muslim Bosniak population, he is known as Deda Mraz, Grandfather Frost, the figure that for the past 50 years has been welcomed into infants’ schools to distribute gifts at Christmas and new year.
But Deda Mraz will not be appearing in the largely Muslim state-run kindergartens of Sarajevo after being banned by the director of pre-school education on the grounds that he plays no part in Bosniak tradition.
The controversial attack on the close Bosnian equivalent of Santa Claus – a figure much in evidence in Sarajevo’s shop windows and at private schools last week – is the culmination of a long history of unsuccessful efforts by nationalists with Islamist leanings to write him out of the country’s history. The struggle first emerged in the aftermath of the Bosnian war when the wartime president, Alija Izetbegovic, attempted to declare Grandfather Frost a communist-era ‘fabrication’.
While Izetbegovic’s efforts were blocked after a public outcry, the moves this time by Arzija Mahmutovic, director of the Children of Sarajevo group of public nurseries, appear to have been successful as increasing ethnic and religious polarisation in schools reflects rhetoric in the country at large.
“A visit from Grandfather Frost was a tradition in my time,” said Srecko Latal, who works with the NGO Balkan Insight. He believes the latest decree from the city’s education department illustrates the way education – even for the very young – has become increasingly politicised and sectarian in Sarajevo. “The first row was over the decision to make infants study religion. Now she has caused uproar again by saying the children won’t be having Grandfather Frost. Usually it is a play organised by the kids, or a company brought in with presents and singers and dancers. Originally it was Roman Catholic but it became part of the history of Sarajevo especially, and Bosnia more widely.”
“I think ordinary people need to be asked what they want out of their public schools,” says Valery Perry, deputy director for education with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which still has a role in monitoring the education system and has been concerned over a lack of transparency in how religious education has been introduced for infants.
Like Latal, Perry believes the battle over schools has come to reflect the deeper divisions and struggles within Bosnia’s society: “There are increasingly tight links between the Bosniak nationalists and the Islamic community. The political atmosphere is divisive.”…