Difficult Conditions for a New Beginning
(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 104-105, Note the Copyright!)
As well as being the title of a Johann Strauss polka, “Under Thunder and Lightning” could well be the motto for the beginning of the first Waldorf School in Croatia. The “Waldorfska Skola Sv. Jurja” was inaugurated in Zagreb on 12 September 1993 to the accompaniment literally of thundering cannon and exploding grenades. Sixty children in three classes came together with six teachers for this “Enterprise of Hope”. Three years earlier, Croatian and Slovenian teachers had asked the Austrian Federation of Waldorf Schools whether they would set up a training course in the education. The result was an international faculty of teachers who gave weekend courses and intensive study weeks in Ljubljana, Vienna and Zagreb between 1991 and 1993. The Slovenians founded their school in Ljubljana after two years, while the Croats preferred to wait until they had finished their training. By then parents were urging them to found the school for their children who had been attending the kindergarten founded by Nada and Mladen Maljkovic while the Communist regime was still in power.
Experimental school in the public domain
From the beginning the teachers wanted the Waldorf School to be not a private school but one belonging in the public domain. The consequence was that the Waldorf School was obliged to adopt the title “Public primary school with an experimental programme”. This title brought with it the offer of free premises and wages for six teachers (at Euro 150 per month). The experimental status meant that a commission (consisting of school inspectors, teachers from ordinary schools and Waldorf teachers) would be set up which was supposed to evaluate the project. By 1996 this commission had still not been set up, and thereafter it was given a different function which had nothing to do either with an observatory or an advisory function.
During 1994/95 the school was subjected to various attacks from the Ministry for Education and the Catholic Church. These were followed by a number of representations addressed to the Ministry for Education by the international Waldorf School movement all of which remained unanswered. On the other hand, several positive reports in the media meant that the school attracted increased interest on the part of many Zagreb parents.
During the year 1996/97 the bullying aimed at both the school and the teachers increased. Finally, in April 1997 the Ministry for Education informed the school that on the basis of the second inspection report and an investigation by the education commission (which had not conducted any such investigation) the assessment of the experimental programme was negative. The fate of the “Waldorfska Skola” appeared to be sealed. If it were to continue at all, the Ministry said, the school would be subject to strict conditions and could only function as a private school without any financial support from the public purse. And anyway, the school had not submitted a proper application for registration nor had it, in fact, been registered.
In this way the Ministry had provided itself with a basis on which it could close the school at any moment. However, the Ministry’s statements were incorrect. The school had of course submitted its application in 1993 and had been duly registered as a school with eight classes; so it took the Ministry to court.
A new wind in the sails of the Waldorf School
In spite of these difficulties the 1996/97 school year began very hopefully with 29 pupils in Class 1 and the promise of a large donation from abroad. This encouraged all those fighting for the little school with its 150 pupils in eight classes to redouble their efforts towards the Ministry for Education and their attempts to generate some warmth for Waldorf Education from public opinion. But the strongly nationalistic climate of the country did not support their efforts on behalf of an independent education system in any way, in fact they experienced it as an icy counterblast.
Having continued to function as a virtual “outlaw” for a year the school then met with a change of direction in the summer and early autumn of 1997. First of all it received the gift of two Nissen huts which solved its now untenable space problems for several years to come. And then, in September, word was received from the Ministry (which had seen a change of minister in the spring) that the “Waldorfska Skola” had of course fulfilled all the conditions required for its work permit, and there was no need to reapply for permission, since this had already been granted in 1993. Would the college of teachers therefore please withdraw its case against the Ministry. Furthermore, the Ministry for Education would be instructing the newly-founded “Institute for School Development” to arrange for a professionally constituted commission to accompany and evaluate the Waldorfska Skola for a further year.
Evaluation and educational recognition for the Waldorf School
This new evaluation process took an exceedingly positive course not least because of the tireless and selfless help given by Professor Slavica Basic, an education scientist at Zagreb University. It is her intention to fight for the recognition both in the academic and public realm that Waldorf Education deserves. Finally, in January 2000, on the basis of the expertise applied, the school received from the new government the official legal and educational recognition it needed, which will also be crucially important for any future Waldorf School founded in Croatia.
Still no funding flood
Although the icy blast from the Ministry had gone, even a mild spring rain of financial support failed to materialize. The Ministry did promise to consider the matter of finance - but it is still considering. It is not that the good will is lacking: the previous Education Minister even did without his official car in order to give the money thus saved to the Waldorf School instead. But the huge national debt and the urgent need to clear up war damage is leaving the Finance Ministry very little room for manoeuvre. So the school, now grown to 170 pupils and 18 teachers (all Croatian), remained dependent on aid from abroad.
Other Waldorf initiatives
A second school was founded in Rijeka in the autumn of 2000, prior to which two kindergartens and an “out of hours” school had been practising Waldorf Education for three years. In Split, privately owned premises in a former chapel have been lovingly renovated for a kindergarten, and in Dubrovnik preparations for a kindergarten have also begun. Also in the autumn of 2000 a 3-year state-recognized in-service and in-study training for Waldorf teachers for Croatia and Bosnia started up in Zagreb, Split and Sarajevo. Croats, Dutch people, Germans, Bosnians and Slovenians are all working together at Nadomak Sunca, a social education establishment in Oprtal, Istria, to help children orphaned or uprooted by the war begin a new, dignified life in family units.
Since 1992 children with special needs have been devotedly cared for at Ozana, an all-day centre in Zagreb.
So what’s so special about all this?
In my well-considered opinion all these activities in Croatia are special because so many positive inner qualities in this country have been unable to flower owing to the ideological, political and military battering they have been subjected to. Thunder and lightning have been attacking tender shoots, leaving some terrible traces. So any efforts in this country, however tiny and delicate, must be regarded as healing impulses for the future.
Waldorf teacher and school adviser in Zagreb. Teacher training in Croatia and Vienna.