Balkan countries build bridges through education

04/02/2014

Education has an important role in intercultural communication in the region, project participants say.

By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 04/02/14

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More than 600 students in the region have participated in a human rights programme since 2012. [Facebook/Build Bridges not Walls]

A project initiated by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights is successfully developing human rights and intercultural understanding through education and will help smooth post-conflict relations, programme participants said.

Build Bridges not Walls: The Role of Universities in Peacebuilding was launched in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Kosovo and Serbia in 2012, and will run through 2017.

According to the project, the main goal is to "build the competencies of the universities/partners in the programme that will enable them to educate students in a way that will contribute to the development of democratic culture based on the values of human rights in the Western Balkans. With this knowledge as an integral part of the educational system for relevant professional groups in the region, they will be promoters of values at their future workplaces."

Five universities in the region participate in the project: Džemal Bijedić University of Mostar, the universities of Tuzla and Pristina, the International University in Novi Pazar and the Faculty of Legal and Business Studies in Novi Sad.

The project is supported by Buskerud University College in Norway, the Helsinki Committees in BiH and Serbia, Nansen Dialogue Centres in Mostar and Sarajevo, the Sandzak Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Community Building Mitrovica in Kosovo. It is financially supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Since the project's initiation, 600 students and 50 teachers in the region have attended classes, conferences and webinars focusing on intercultural understanding, human rights and reconciliation. Students have taken part in cultural exchanges, and visited universities in each other's countries.

Lela Malićbegović, a journalism student from Tuzla University in BiH, said the project has given her a view into different cultures through travels to other cities and learning others' traditions. She said she also has the opportunity for open and free dialogue with students from other countries under the programme.

"A university, as an educational institution, should be a place to meet students from other countries to exchange knowledge and experience. Its role is to create an ambience where students of all nationalities can communicate," Lela told SETimes.

Hadis Karatasi from Prizren studies psychology at Pristina University and public administration at the International Business College in Mitrovica. Karatasi said the most important part of the project is the chance to talk with other students from the region about current issues and to get answers from experts.

"The project creates a network of students from various countries who speak different languages and belong to different cultures," Karatasi told SETimes.

He said universities in the region have a crucial role in both domestic and regional relations.

"By promoting human values and stability and development in the region, universities are a basis for the beginning of the development process. There is no doubt that regional development depends on good relations between neighbours in the region," he said.

"The role of a university and the purpose of education, by acquisition of adequate knowledge, is to provide a chance for meeting others," Sanja Merzić, a teaching assistant at Džemal Bijedić University of Mostar, told SETimes.

Merzić took part in classes on the peace-building process and intercultural dialogue within the project.

"Active participation in the teaching process and creating dialogue are just few of benefits we have had from the project. This experience will definitely lead to better and more equal relations," she said.

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Enver Djuliman, the head of human rights education department at the Helsinki Committee in Norway, said the best result from the project is the fact that human rights, intercultural understanding, truth and remembrance are being addressed, which is not the case in other post-conflict societies.

"The right to freedom of expression means to have the right to the truth about what happened as well as the right to remembrance. The right to education means the right to fair education," Djuliman told SETimes.

"Knowledge about these issues is a social resource and necessary for peace and development. Through this resource every society should build its educational institutions," Djuliman said.

What other sectors can be focused on to develop human rights and intercultural understanding? Tell us your thoughts below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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