HOW A PROFESSOR LOST THE WAR AGAINST THE SYSTEM, BUT NURTURES HOPE FOR THE NEW GENERATION
By Stefan Jermann
Nestled in a quiet corner of Marijin Dvor, I meet Professor Kenan Vucijak, the principal of the primary school of this tiny neighbourhood that was once the hot spot during the siege of Sarajevo. People who lost their homes found refuge to hide from bullets, shelling and the killing cold winters. Despite that, lessons were held, but at times only 20 minutes a day, because the danger was just too high. Kenan welcomes us with a smile and warm handshake, an instant trust and sense of hospitality is established.
Kenan comes across as a caring and fatherly person of the school, he is a man who is grounded and one who knows his past, but also sees the present and the future less bloomy than younger generations to come: „You know, this school was built in 1959 and during the construction, every citizen had to bring at least one brick to build it. It is also the only school in Bosnia which is named after a jewish writer.“ There is a total of 76 primary schools in Sarajevo, but his school is one of the few that is very mixed and hosts pupils from over 13 countries.
Education is the door to a better world and the parents are well aware of that, explains Professor Vucijak. However, before the war, the parents were happy that children were looked after with discipline, now they complain about the faculty when their kid gets a bad grade. He says that with a smile, but also knowing that times have changed.
When we ask him about the future perspectives of his pupils, Kenan sighs and remains silent for a moment to reflect: „The unemployment is disastrous — there are six hundred thousand people without a job du to the bad economy, I’d like to give you a different answer, but the perspectives for our young people bad. Nonetheless, the kids fortunately remain positive and they tend to believe that things will change by the time they are adults.“
One of the major problems in this tornado of turmoil is the nationalist party, they seem to be much more interested in business, instead of education. The money that is budgeted by the ministry of education never seems to make it all the way to the school:“We are missing infrastructure, chairs, desks and heating in the winter time“ explains Mr. Vucijak. The only way to cover the expenses is through help with NGO’s that support the school at times. And another problem has surfaced which is the safety of the school, thus its pupils:“Each of the parents is contributing 1 Mark per day to employ a security guard in order to protect the school.“
It feels a bit like this war has never ended. Even though the fighting is now over, this professor is hopelessly fighting against a monster of bureacracy, corruption and politicians that care more about putting money in their own pocket, instead of supporting education that should breed future leaders of this country. Kenan doesn’t feel powerless, but he knows the realities that govern his country.
Kenan lights up another cigarette and takes a puff. While he reflects and looks out the window, I ask him how life is now different to before the war. He tells us in all honesty:“During the war, people were close, we always met at this same bar where it was save to go. People cared about each other, we were interested in each other’s problems and thoughts, it felt like we were all a little family. We participated in the culture life and we pretended like this war is not happening. That made us strong and it kept us going. Now, I don’t even see my neighbour for months at a time, everybody only cares about themselves, the social interaction is really poor.“
Professor Vucijak elaborates that he expected war to come, but then as it actually happened on May 26, everybody was surprised and terrified:“We expected everything to be over in seven days. At first I just fired my gun at the aggressor, then it got more organized. I was fighting for three full years and then in 1994 I came back to school to teach.
After we talked about for an hour, I realized that despite the somewaht hopeless situation of this school and the system, Kenan is a deeply loving man who cares for his „children“ and wants to provide a better future, no matter what measures he has to take. As I am about to put my notebook and camera away, he comes over to me and whispers: You know, I might have a title for this story: „This is how I lost the war“.