Some schools are more equal than others. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, that can even apply when the schools share the same building: in a state-sanctioned set-up, Croatian Catholic children are schooled apart from their Muslim Bosniak peers.
The division is starkly apparent at the high school in Travnik, a town 90km west of the federation’s capital, Sarajevo. When Croat Catholic children arrive each morning, they head towards a well-maintained, carefully painted building and climb a set of clean, weed-free steps. Metres away, on the other side of a ragged but effective wire fence, Bosniak pupils cross an unweeded yard to approach part of the same building. Their section is crumbling and graffiti-scarred. At lunchtime the Bosniak children make do with snacks from a kiosk; the Catholic children file into a canteen. The Croat pupils enjoy modern facilities and equipment paid for by the Croatian government; the Bosniaks worry about their smashed windows.
Across the country, this scene is repeated in scores of schools, across all age groups: Save the Children estimates that 62,500 pupils lead a divided life, a separation that did not exist before the war. The situation was formalised after the 1995 Dayton Accord ended the war in Bosnia – the move was intended to allow the Croatians in the federation a measure of independence. Now, as children grow up familiar with division, it could also be said to distract from a soaring unemployment rate.
“It’s difficult to talk about the problems we have,” one Croatian parent in the town of Vitez told Olivia Arthur, who took the photographs on these pages. “Someone is always going to come out of that conversation in a bad light. That’s why people don’t talk about it, they just accept it. And that’s why the kids don’t notice much that the other children are being treated differently.”
Save the Children is launching a programme in the region this month to encourage inclusion. Its local co-ordinator, Danijel Hopic, said that at one divided high school many Bosniak pupils, teachers and parents immediately set up liaison groups and elected student reps, while only one of their Croatian counterparts attended the first briefing.
“I don’t know much about the pupils in the other school,” said Djenana, a 15-year-old Bosniak girl in Travnik. “I don’t have any Croat friends. I’ve never really thought about why we have separate schools; it’s just the way it is.”