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Tracing (Dis)Continuities: Education Reforms in Socialist Yugoslavia and its Successor States

A review by

Komnenovic Bacevic From Class

Bacevic, Jana: From Class to Identity: The Politics of Education Reforms in Former Yugoslavia. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2014.

Contrary to what the title might suggest, this volume offers a compelling analysis of the correlation between educational policies and the wider socio-political context they stem from and partially shape. By examining three ˈcritical juncturesˈ from the (recent) past, i.e. the vocation-oriented education reform in socialist Yugoslavia, the introduction of religious and civic education in post-Milošević Serbia, and the establishment of ˈethnicˈ universities in post-conflict Sandžak, Kosovo, and Macedonia, Bacevic argues that some educational policies reproduced or even exacerbated existing divisions. This contributed to the creation of certain subjectivities and group identities.

> Table of Contents                                 


Education policies are never solely about education and they inform the future as much as the present. It is with these apparently simple, yet often forgotten considerations that the author approaches education reforms in (post-)Yugoslavia and challenges the well established ˈeducation gospelˈ according to which all kinds of issues can be solved through schooling. Education is often invoked as a universal remedy that can prevent conflicts, improve social mobility and enhance post-conflict development. However, former Yugoslavia and its successor states clearly contradict these assumptions: a country with considerable percentages of highly-educated people descended into war and gave life to divided societies where increasing social inequality seems to be the norm. Consequently, "the crux of this book is concerned with how education policies – intentionally or not – interact with political processes and thus contribute to the imagining of political subjectivities" (p. 18). In order to answer this and other questions, Bacevic resorts to an analysis of the implicit and explicit dimensions of policies that can sometimes seem irrational or paradoxical. By doing so, she defies simplistic explanations that interpret education either as an antidote to or the main cause and perpetuator of exclusivist discourses conducive to bigotry and war.


The book scrutinizes three "critical junctures" in (post-)Yugoslav history and three different levels of education: the introduction of vocational-oriented secondary education (VOE) in the 1970s and 1980s in socialist Yugoslavia; the introduction of religious and civic education in post-Milošević elementary schools; and the creation of ˈethnicˈ universities in Serbia (Sandžak), Kosovo, and Macedonia. With these three examples, the author describes the changes in the political context (from a one-party system to "post-liberal governance"), i.e. policy environment and policy focus (from class to identity).

A ˈproductˈ of the 1970s wave of reforms, initiated after the 1968-1971 unrests, the VOE reform did not achieve much: besides being bureaucratically onerous, it did not diminish unemployment or ameliorate the functional integration of education and labour industries. Aimed at eradicating class divisions and increasing the social valorization of manual over intellectual work, it actually cemented the existing divisions. Bacevic in fact argues that the most important (and, very likely, unintended) consequence of the reform was that it fixed once and for all the same principle embodied in the 1974 Constitution: the ˈcontainmentˈ of social and political life within the constituent units of the federation" (p. 75). Moreover, "Its anti-intellectualism provided the ideal setting for the conservative ˈbacklashˈ during the break-up of Yugoslavia" (p. 77).


On the other hand, the reintroduction (for the first time after 1952) of religious (and civic) education in post-Milošević Serbia is, according to the author, an evident example of pragmatism in politics. With the introduction of religious education into schools, the new government was hoping to acknowledge the support of the Orthodox Church in the opposition to Milošević and to minimize the reactions to potentially more demanding tasks on their agenda such as the extradition of the war-time leader to the Hague. Furthermore, the measure also had a symbolic meaning, i.e. the reconnection with the pre-WWII Kingdom of Yugoslavia, thus distancing the country from the legacy of the two previous regimes. The introduction of an "alternative subject" sanctioned the division between two Serbias: First (traditionalist and religious) and Second (civic and progressive), which was seen as natural, coherent and long-lasting. While the VOE reforms were addressing the sources of class conflict and advocating change, the introduction of religious and civic education promoted rights based on a historical belonging to a particular tradition or group. In this way, "class becomes conflated with identity" (p. 123).


The developments in the post-conflict areas of Sanžak, Kosovo, and Macedonia were characterized by a larger presence and involvement of international actors in education, but not without the mediation of local players. This interplay between international and local (f)actors created "hybrid political arrangements" (p. 189), such as the so-called ˈethnicˈ universities in the analyzed countries. Education policies in these instances were driven by identity, state and nation-building considerations more than any other. According to Bacevic, this represents the last phase of transformation from class-based to identity-based policies.


As the above-mentioned examples show, the author presents her arguments in a clear and coherent way: she convincingly argues education is neither emancipatory nor reproductive. Her nuanced explanations transcend the frequently cited uni-dimensional accounts on the break-up of Yugoslavia, the subsequent transformation of education policies in the region, and the often preached "Europeanization-cum-communist-legacy construct". Education does not merely suffer the consequences of a conflict, but also shapes and creates them. In order to be truly transformative, the author concludes, education policies after Yugoslavia call for a critical self-reflection and a "utopian imagination".


The selection of case studies is well founded and thoroughly explained. However there are limited references to the war period, as the author explains, because "during the worst of conflicts in the 1990s formal state policy in the domain of education hardly existed" (p.21). Nevertheless, even limited references to the revocation of the VOE reform in most successor states in this period would make a meaningful addendum to such an analysis. In sum, this volume is a valuable and refreshing contribution to the study of education policies in former Yugoslavia and the correlations between conflict and education in general; an inspiring piece of writing crucial for anyone interested in the region and/or the topic at large.



Bacevic, Jana: From Class to Identity: The Politics of Education Reforms in Former Yugoslavia. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2014. 235 pages, broschiert, 55 Euro. ISBN: 978-615-5225-72-7


Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Introduction

1.1. Education, conflict and former Yugoslavia

1.2. Situating education policy

1.3. Education in former Yugoslavia: between “Communist legacy” and “Europeanization”?

1.4. Beyond transition: (re)politicizing policy

1.5. Scope, methods and structure of the book


Chapter 2. Vocationalizing education: Conflict, cohesion and dissent in Socialist Yugoslavia Introduction

2.1. The reform

  • 2.1.1. Education and the Marxist personality
  • 2.1.2. Education and economy
  • 2.1.3. Education and the labor market
  • 2.1.4. Education and class
  • 2.1.5. Education and decentralization
  • 2.1.6. Education and production
  • 2.1.7. Education and the value of labor

2.2. Power and failure

2.3. 1968-1971: dissent and non-cohesion in Socialist Yugoslavia

  • 2.3.1. Belgrade 1968
  • 2.3.2. University of Prishtina
  • 2.3.4. Croatian Spring

2.4. From Spring to Fall

2.5. Vocation-oriented education reform: solution or palliative education?

2.6. Conclusions Chapter


3. Religious education or civic EUcation? Education policy and transition in post-Milošević Serbia Introduction

3.1. The state of transition

3.2. Blitz policy

3.3. Religious and civic education: a policy paradox?

3.4. Building consensus: changing narratives on religious education

3.5. The name(s) of numbers

3.6. Two subjects, two Serbias?

3.7. The State and the Church

3.8. Policy in context

3.9. Conclusions


Chapter 4. Higher education and post-conflict development in Sandžak, Kosovo and Macedonia Introduction

4.1. Post-conflict higher education: a policy paradox?

4.2. Kosovo: education at war

  • 4.2.1. The early years: from 1968 to 1990
  • 4.2.2. Parallel worlds, parallel systems
  • 4.2.3. The Milošević-Rugova agreement
  • 4.2.4. After 1999
  • 4.2.5. From 2004 to independence
  • 4.2.6. After independence
  • 4.2.7. Universities: hostages to the nation-state(s)?

4.3. Sandžak: Dueling Universities

  • 4.3.1. A brief history
  • 4.3.2. After regime change
  • 4.3.3. The International University of Novi Pazar
  • 4.3.4. The State University of Novi Pazar
  • 4.3.5. The puzzle of dueling universities
  • 4.3.6. Conclusions: Divide et Impera

4.4. Macedonia: Between Peacebuilding and Ethnic Polarization?

  • 4.4.1. Ethnic politics
  • 4.4.2. The issue of higher education in the Albanian language
  • 4.4.3. University of Tetovo
  • 4.4.4. From legal to political solutions
  • 4.4.5. Planning the Southeast European University
  • 4.4.6. The conflict and the Ohrid Framework Agreement
  • 4.4.7. Southeast European University
  • 4.4.8. University of Tetovo Reloaded
  • 4.4.9. After 2004: two universities, one town
  • 4.4.10. Shifting concepts of minority education
  • 4.4.11. Conclusions: Separate and (un)equal?

4.5. Conclusions: from education to fragmentation…and back?


Chapter 5. Conclusion: education after Yugoslavia

5.1. Shifting framework: from government to governance

5.2. Shifting focus: from class to identity

5.3. Continuity and change

5.4. Beyond Yugoslavia: what is to be done?


© bei der Autorin und bei KULT_online