Military training in schools as part of the general militarization of Kosovo: What are Albanian children learning about Serbs?

Kosovska predsednica Vjosa Osmani i premijer Aljbin Kurti sa pripadnicia KBS, 28. maja 2021.
Source: RTS

“Violent extremism, by definition, represents the direct use, as well as the encouragement, approval, justification, or support of violent activities with the intention of achieving some political, ideological, religious, or social goal.”

Compiled by: Milos Garic

Of course, there are different ways to keep and educate a society in the spirit of extremism, militancy, and constantly heightened intolerance towards the immediate environment.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, during a meeting with the Albanian diaspora in Turkey a few days ago, spoke about his government's investments and boasted that the largest budget allocations are for the defense and security sectors. Kurti said that Kosovo's defense budget has doubled, spending on armament has tripled, while the training of soldiers and officers abroad has quadrupled. However, particularly interesting is his announcement that a subject on security education will be introduced in schools.

"We are introducing a subject on security education in schools. We are also working on comprehensive protection so that, if our homeland is threatened, every citizen has their role and function in defense and security. Therefore, comprehensive protection on one side and education on security in schools on the other are very important for our country, and our government has already started composing and implementing it," Kurti stated.

This initiative could indeed make sense if it focused on the dangers of mafia activities by Albanian drug gangs or those produced by radical religious fanaticism. However, Kurti's militarization of Kosovo relates to further raising tensions in relations with Serbs and the state of Serbia. In the already extremely strained inter-ethnic relations in Kosovo, which Kurti's government has brought to a boiling point in recent years, the educational policy he announces for school-age children will be like pouring gasoline on the fire.

Behind the Kosovo Facade

The strong influence of extremist groups in Kosovo after the 1999 war conflicts and the takeover of the southern Serbian province by former KLA terrorists and local gangs have borne terrifying "fruits" in the years following the NATO aggression on Serbia. Listing all the brutal attacks on Serbs and their property in the past 25 years would require much more than one newspaper article, but it is enough to recall March 2004 and the three-day rampage of more than 50,000 Albanian extremists across Kosovo. Western politics and the public did not react with much understanding of the scale of the danger, so 2012 and 2013 saw over 300 young people from Kosovo deciding to join various terrorist groups in Syria, including ISIS and Al Nusra. That did trigger some alarm bells, but evidently not enough.

Recent public opinion studies in Kosovo show that the situation has not significantly improved. Research organized by USAID and the UN found key factors contributing to growing extremism among the youth: disillusionment with Kosovo's executive bodies, a sense of isolation, the state of judicial institutions, identity crisis, extremist indoctrination, unemployment, poverty, especially a weak education system, and a lack of organized activities for young people.

In the article "Behind the Kosovo Facade," Balkan event observer Russell Gordon writes: "In many parts of Kosovo, young Albanians are converting to Wahhabism and are very noticeable, as they are characterized by short hair, beards, and ankle-length pants." Albanian children in Kosovo, besides that, grow up in an environment marked by strong anti-Serbian propaganda in the media and from the highest institutional levels, including school programs. This results in an extremely negative attitude towards Serbian neighbors, prejudices, and hatred.

If the narrative about the "danger from Serbs" continues within compulsory schooling through the security education Kurti speaks of, it is hard to expect any normalization of relations in the coming decades.

Historian Aleksandar Gudzic from Gracanica told Kontekst that Albin Kurti's messages are very concerning.

"These statements are worrying. Kosovo is already a militarized society, and this is adding fuel to the fire. According to some estimates, there are over half a million long guns in homes across Kosovo. With such statements, Kurti simultaneously mobilizes his electorate before the elections. He speaks on behalf of the most extreme part of Albanian society in Kosovo. Many children are already following bad examples and learning incorrect lessons about their neighbors in many subjects," says Gudzic.

All the Worst About Serbs

However, Avni Islami, a professor of security studies from Pristina, believes that Albin Kurti's idea of introducing a security subject in schools is correct and timely.

"As time shows, the security situation in the Western Balkans is not good, and there is a tendency for it to worsen. Therefore, it is more than necessary to introduce a security subject as compulsory in high schools. This subject does not only imply external security but also mobile security because there are many factors that threaten it.

Organized crime, drugs, smuggling, human trafficking, and many other factors endanger public life in Kosovo. Therefore, I consider the idea of teaching protection and security in schools a valuable initiative, although it is not easy to implement. It involves costs, which would be expensive for Kosovo's budget," explains Islami.

Political commentator and an excellent connoisseur of social conditions in Kosovo, Nexhmedin Spahiu, confirmed to Kontekst that Albanian children in schools learn many negative things about Serbs.

"As for the security subject, it is conceived as military training. Regarding national education, it goes through other subjects in the educational program, from history, literature, through music, and civic education. Unfortunately, children learn all the worst about Serbs there," emphasized Spahiu.

Political scientist Ognjen Gogic says that we cannot yet precisely know how the introduction of security education will affect Albanian students.

The Concept of an Armed People

"We do not know enough about what Albanian children in schools learn about Serbs because we do not study it. Unlike Albanians, who follow Serbian literature and press to a much greater extent, we simply do not study enough what happens in their educational system. In this regard, it is difficult to say how the introduction of this new subject in schools will affect Albanian children's attitudes towards Serbs. However, given that Kurti ties the introduction of security education in schools with the arming and raising of Kosovo's military capacities, it indicates that his goal is to create a general atmosphere of militarization. To make young people interested in attending military training and joining the army, it is necessary to instill that military spirit in them from an early age. This means that through education and upbringing, Kurti wants to prepare future generations for the concept of an 'armed people' or a highly militarized society, as he sees it," explains Gogic for Kontekst.

It is possible, he adds, that Kurti finds inspiration in forms of socio-political systems that once existed in our region, such as the one under Enver Hoxha in communist Albania.

"How instilling this military ethic would affect the attitude of young generations of Albanians towards Serbs is a significant question. Although it should not be assumed in advance that the entire concept is directed against Serbs, it should be borne in mind that Kosovo Albanians perceive Serbia and Serbs as historical aggressors who still pose a threat. Therefore, it can be assumed that Kurti's concept includes the idea of keeping the Albanian population in a state of permanent readiness for defense against the alleged threat from the Serbian side," concludes Gogic.