ASHDOWN'S EDUCATION MANIFESTO
VIEWPOINT FROM LONDON
by Brian Gallagher
The Croatian Herald, Australia No. 987 - 10th October 2003
Paddy Ashdown's manifesto commitments and his writings
whilst he was leader of the Liberal Democrats in the
United Kingdom shed a lot of light on his policies in
Bosnia-Herzegovina. In particular, the details on
education are of great importance, as that is a major
issue right now in BiH, especially for the Croats. And
Ashdown's views are very close to the Croats.
In BiH, reform of education is being debated by
parliament. There is a push by the Organization for
Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to place
education on the entity level away from the local
level. In the Muslim-Croat Federation this would mean
control passing to the education ministry in Sarajevo.
Croats are very concerned about this; not unreasonably
they wish their children to be taught in their own
language and about Croat culture, which they are able
to do now at local level. They believe this may be
compromised if it is placed at entity level; the
Croats are significantly outnumbered in the Federation
by the Bosniaks.
If a solution is not found, then Paddy Ashdown may
impose one. If one considers his political track
record then in theory his solution would be something
Croats find agreeable.
In an interview for the Guardian last year, Ashdown
stated that he is implementing the 1992 Liberal
Democrat manifesto in BiH.
So it seems that Ashdown is drawing on his party
policies as leader in running BiH. The 1992 election
manifesto is very clear on education: Under "Putting
education at the heart of the community" they discuss
the independence of schools and colleges and their
pioneering local management. They want education
within a "democratically accountable framework of
local education authorities". Local education
authorities in the UK roughly translates into cantons
in BiH, rather than the entities.
The manifesto also says that education is an area that
"should be devolved from Whitehall (central
government) and brought nearer to the people they most
For Ashdown's 1997 manifesto - which I personally
campaigned for - previous ideas are built upon, with
more power to be given to schools. The "valuable role"
of church schools is recognized, and where there is
substantial community support, the major faiths can
establish publicly funded voluntary schools.
Furthermore, the role of national culture and language
is also regarded as important. The 1997 Scottish
Liberal Democrat manifesto under "A new deal for
Gaelic and Scots culture", states they "will support
and maintain the diversity of Scotland's linguistic
and cultural traditions." Specifically they will
support and develop the provision of Gaelic in
education and that they will "Promote a greater
emphasis on Scottish culture in the mainstream
It is obvious from all this that Ashdown's commitments
as party leader were to local control of school and a
strong recognition and support of religion, language
and culture. The positive implications for Croats are
In 1994 Ashdown wrote a book entitled 'Beyond
Westminster - Finding Hope in Britain'. Essentially he
traveled across the United Kingdom, including
deprived areas, spending time with the diverse people
of the country.
In East London, he speaks approvingly of Saturday
schools run by and for ethnic minorities which "teach
their religion, preserve their language and culture
and supplement mainstream education". Croats of course
are a constituent people, not an ethnic minority. They
expect mainstream schools to do their job rather than
having to organize separate schooling themselves. And
East London is extraordinarily multi-cultural in
contrast to BiH. The situations are very different.
But the critical point here is that Ashdown supports
the preservation of people's language, culture and
In Beyond Westminster's conclusion Ashdown declares
his belief in local communities and people providing
solutions - not centralized government.
In total, it is very clear that Paddy Ashdown's
manifesto commitments as Liberal Democrat leader and
his own words lean towards local control of education,
an appreciation of religion in schools and supporting
the development of local language and culture. This
certainly would benefit Croats - but it also benefits
Serbs and Bosniaks as well. No one group should be
able to dominate another in any field in BiH under the
guise of unity - Serb domination in former Yugoslavia
was hardly a good idea.
Croats should set about reminding Paddy Ashdown of his
manifesto commitments - and use them right now in
support of their case for their schoolchildren and
students to be taught in their own language and about
their own culture.
If Ashdown has to impose a solution, it will be
interesting to see what he does; I am sure many
observers in Britain will be keen to see if he sticks
to his principles.
© Brian Gallagher
My 'Viewpoint from London' column appears fortnightly
in the Australian 'Croatian Herald' and thereafter at