The recognition of language in schools is viewed as an important milestone for Bosniaks in Serbia.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 01/03/13
Schools in four Serbian municipalities are conducting classes in Bosnian. [AFP]
Serbia marked a significant step for minority rights as 12 primary and secondary schools in the Sandzak region began conducting classes in Bosnian.
Located in southern Serbia, 70 percent of Sandzak's citizens are Bosniaks. According to the Serbian constitution, a minority's language may become official if the minority group constitutes 15 percent of the population in a municipality.
Bosnian language instruction will be offered in all schools in municipalities where authorities have declared Bosnian as the official language. Currently there are four: Novi Pazar, Sjenica, Tutin and Prijepolje.
Zoran Milosavljevic, director of the Novi Pazar Gymnasium, told SETimes that Bosnian language classes in literature, art, music, culture and history will be available for the remainder of the school year. He said that students will be able to choose whether to attend classes taught in Serbian or Bosnian starting with the 2013-2014 school year that begins in September.
Bosniaks are Serbia's fourth-largest ethnic group (2.02 percent according to the 2011 census) and are the last one to start exercising its language rights. Eleven other languages are recognised in Serbia's schools.
"Bosniaks, finally, have enough strength to start this process, which should have been started a long time ago, but numerous legal bureaucratic issues were stopping it, as well as that for the first time, the state was a real partner," Elijas Rebronja, a teacher at Novi Pazar Gymnasium and president of the educational board of the Bosniak National Minority Council, told SETimes.
Although there are still numerous issues facing Bosniaks in Serbia -- such as insufficient participation in government, problems obtaining public sector jobs and recognition of faculty diplomas from Sarajevo -- the teaching of classes in Bosnian is viewed a positive sign.
"In the whole chain of problems, the introduction of Bosnian language in schools is a good example, and, for sure, a message that the state is ready to be a partner to Bosniaks," Fahrudin Kladnicanin, co-ordinator at the Forum 10 academic initiative in Novi Pazar, told SETimes.
Esad Džudžević, president of the Bosniak Democratic Party of Sandzak, said the classes will improve Bosniaks' quality of life.
"Education in Bosnian language will raise self-respect of the members of Bosniak ethnic community and reduce the ethnic gap between the Serbian majority and the Bosniak ethnic minority," Džudžević said.
Mustafa Baltić, president of the Municipal Assembly of Sjenica, agreed.
"This … has double importance for all people who are living in the Sandzak region, as well as in the rest of Serbia," Baltić told SETimes. "For the Bosniaks in Sandzak, this is the highlight of the last 100 years. It makes us equal with other citizens of Serbia."
Rebronja said the official recognition of the language will benefit students, who previously had to attend schools that were not recognised by the state in order to receive instruction in Bosnian.
"The real challenges for us have just started," Rebronja said. "We work with children and responsibility is huge. Our team works on books and that part is finished, but we have to follow evaluation and quality standards, so this is just the beginning."
Correspondent Bojana Milovanovic in Belgrade contributed to this article.