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Meet the students at an integrated Bosnian high school

And you thought your high school cafeteria was tough.

Darija Coric, a second-year Croat student, had never gone to school with Muslims before she came to the Gymnasium. Now, she said, she has Muslim friends and even knows of a few relationships that cross ethnic lines.

But she’s never been to a Muslim student’s house and says she doesn’t like to go out at night in the Bosniak half of the city. “I would like for Bosnia to be united and everyone to be equal, but I don’t know if that’s possible,” she said. “Even when I introduce myself and say I come from Mostar, people ask what side I’m from.”

But Armin Pekusic and Voljen Gubeljic, who became friends at the school and are now finishing their last year, said their time there has made ethnicity less important.

“We thought when we hung out with each other there would be problems,” said Pekusic. “But we found out it was easy.”

The current principal, Bakir Krpo, is a Muslim who graduated from the school when Bosnia was part of Yugoslavia. He said that during the war he was imprisoned in a camp by one of his former students, a Croat, and for a while, he despaired that Bosnians could live together again.

“We thought, ‘were we bad teachers that our students could behave this way?’ But now there are friendships, dating. They’re on the debate team together, the newspaper,” he said.

He had hoped that when the Gymnasium proved integration worked, other schools would follow. But so far, it remains one of the only integrated schools in the country. And politicians sometimes talk about closing it. Only time can heal Bosnia’s wounds, Krpo said.

“In essence, I’m an optimist,” he added. “But it will be very slow. I don’t think I will live to see it. Maybe my grandchildren.”

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify that the Mostar Gymnasium is not the only integrated school in the country.