Exploring Kosovo's Parallel Education System

Between 13/03/16 and 18/03/16 I visited Kosovo as part of a Bournemouth University funded Conflict Transformation Game project, more information here. As part of the agenda we were each tasked with investigating a specific past of Kosovo history, and my team was given 'parallel education'. 

Education - Memories of Civic Resistance and Identity Preservation

For our quest we were tasked with investigating and reflecting on the 'parallel education' system that occurred in Kosovo between 1990 and 1999. During the early 90's Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia introduced a new educational reform in Kosovo, to increase the influence of Serbian focussed teaching and education, and reduce and minimise the Albanian influence on the national curriculum, despite Serbians being the minority group and Albanians being the majority group in the country at the time. From stopping salaries for Albanian teachers, burning Albanian textbooks, and reducing the number of Albanian-run secondary schools by half, it appeared to become increasingly difficult for Albanians to have an educational system which wasn’t deeply rooted in Serbian systems and influence.

It is because of this that over 400 hundred independent and private schools in Kosovo were created without official acceptance and recognition to provide agency, control and ownership of the education that young Albanians would receive. They were based in family homes or other local private buildings and run by communities and individuals all from personal funding without any support or guidance from the Serbian-driven Kosovo government. When all Albanian schools were closed, these independent schools became the only available option for Albanian children and teenagers.

One of these very schools is where we visited for our quest; the only of the over 400 schools still remaining and used as a memorial to the ‘parallel education’ system. We were surprised to see it so underdeveloped, with only a basic roof but otherwise left open to the elements (and there was even substantial weather erosion in places). Constructed originally as a family home, in February 1990, it was converted to a private school for local Albanian high schoolers until February 1999, where Serbian pressure meant that it was no longer deemed safe for the building to be used as a place of education, so it became an asylum for refugees until March 1999, when it was attacked and mostly destroyed by Serbian bombings. The owner of the school had tweaked a radio system to the frequency of the nearby Serbian militant groups, heard over the airwaves about the planned attack, and evacuated the refugees residing there at the time with only 30 minutes before bombing began and the house was damaged.

What has been particularly interesting is how unknown this almost a decade of influential pedagogical history is to young Kosovars, at least as could be gathered from the Kosovar students attached to this project. Despite being only a generation behind them, this specific aspects of the conflicts of the 90's does not appear to be openly discussed. It raises the question of why one of the backbones of the civic resistance movement has either been silenced, or simply forgotten? Despite seeming to promote Albanian values as those of, for example, community, togetherness, strength in the face of adversity, it could almost be seen as regarded by many as a part of history that has want to be forgotten, or diminished. As only this one school remains, with the other examples either destroyed, renovated, or redesigned for a different function, this does not reflect a strong national motivation to bring the issues of the ‘parallel education’ to the international spotlight and awareness.

As the parallel system showed the universal value of the "freedom to think", we attempted to discover the authenticity of history. Who was authorised to record the history? Is it the one winning the conflict and initiating the narrative for their benefit, or to reveal the nature of the true event? In the circumstance on this abandoned shared schooling house, the task of reciting history was left to the daughter of the owner, who was in her twenties when the 90's conflict occurred. Understandably, her experience has left her with a strong anti-Serbian attitude, but one has to question the benefit of promoting such subjective views alongside attempts at objective history (if such a thing is even possible).

After interviewing her, we got a strong idea about how her father supported the school without international funding resources, even going so far to working in Germany for a time to send money across to fund the school. This particular school had the teachers earning a small salary, but this was rare for these privately run schools, and all of the other resources, like textbooks, stationary, furniture etc, was either personally sourced by the owning family, or donated by teachers and education workers in the community.

We also learnt of how for the last 16 years it has only been supported by the owning family, currently without funding from the Kosovo government or the EU, and how the Kosovo government was failing to recognise and officiate the site from the daughter, but later in the day learnt from another source about how the Kosovo government were currently struggling in negotiations with the family. This contrast of truth really draws attention to the aforementioned issues with "subjective history".

The Albanian "parallel education" was born to preserve not only the Albanian national identity during Milosevic's regime, but to also to preserve it's own language and maintain the Albanian "truth of history", due to the prohibition of Albanian-language publications and education in Kosovo at the time. One of the core elements of the Albanian "house schools" was the upkeep of Albanian language lessons, possible in great part to Albanian teachers who would photocopy Albanian textbooks under the cover of night to avoid detection of what would be considered a great crime.

Reviewing the traumatization of the remaining family still currently living next to the derelict "house school", we really have to carefully consider how to transform the war memories into tourism resources, whilst also not silencing the strong voices of the site's descendants.

- Thomas 'TJ' Matthews & Oliver Te-Chang Liu