JOHN DEWEY IN THE BALKANS

 

This issue of our journal is focused on the International Scientific Conference on
Multicultural Education, which took place last December in Tetovo, North
Macedonia. It was organized by the Tetovo based NGO LOJA Centre for
Balkan Cooperation, in partnership with KURVE Wustrow Centre for Training
and Networking in Nonviolent Action.

“Loja” means “game” in the Albanian language, and is derived from the
corresponding verb, which means “to play”. However, it is not an ethnic
Albanian organization. The composition of its staff and of its many volunteers,
mostly youngsters, reflects the plurality of the country. Most importantly, as is it
describes itself, this organization is “dedicated to the improvement of the
cultural and social life as well as inter-ethnic relationships in Macedonia and the
Balkan region”. It is an outstanding example of intercultural dialogue, of building
bridges between the Others in an especially sensitive context. It is significant
that, besides local youth, volunteers are coming from different countries of the
world: the reputation of its interesting experiences has reached beyond the
scope of our region. It cooperates with several important organizations and
institutions of European countries.

The activity of LOJA Centre is very intensive, and it lies mainly in the fields of
education and culture, consisting in arts festivals, exhibitions, dance, stage
performance, cinema, film and video production, or computer courses, capacity
building for staff members and partners, etc. Playing is an essential component
of its modus operandi. John Dewey in the Balkans?

John Dewey, the great American philosopher of the first half of the twentieth
century, conceived the revolutionary pedagogic doctrine according to which the
combination of working and playing was crucial in the educational process. It
was meant especially for schoolchildren. Now, in the case of the activity of
LOJA centre, it needs the following two qualifications. In the first place, we are
creative in as much as we preserve a certain heritage from childhood, which is

creativity. Let us remind of something from a philosophical poet, the playwright
Friedrich von Schiller: “the human being plays only when he is fully a human
being, and he is fully a human being only when he plays”. Second, John Dewey
conceived his theory in a quite different context. It did not address the problems
of inter-ethnic relationships; the concept of multiculturality had not even
appeared. LOJA centre, instead, applies playfulness in its endeavor to
overcome stereotypes and promote intercultural dialogue.

The International Scientific Conference on Multicultural Education was one of
the most relevant events organized last year by LOJA Centre for Balkan
Cooperation. An additional merit is that it was successfully organized in these
very difficult times of the pandemics. Scholars from different Balkan countries
and from other European regions participated in it, either onsite or online. Being
a scientific exchange of ideas, its modus operandi was not playfulness in action;
however, while analysing problems of education, it was done by a scientific
approach to that modality as well. John Dewey was implicitly present. A whole
range of diversity of experiences where shared, from primary school education
through higher education. In the presentations and in the subsequent debates,
fundamental theoretical concepts were discussed: multiculturalism,
interculturalism, culture as such, as a common treasure of the humanity, the
relation between education and culture, etc. Besides, difficult questions were
focused upon, as for example that of the necessity of multilingual education in
ethnically plural landscapes such as that of North Macedonia and of other
similar countries.

From the many contributions in the conference, we have selected some of them
for the special dossier of this issue of our journal, in a shortened version. We
are publishing also two of the keynote speeches in the section “The Gaze of the
Other”. The full version of all the contributions will be published soon in a book
that is being prepared by LOJA centre.

*  Gratitude to LOJA Centre for Balkan Cooperation and to KURVE Wustrow Centre for Training and Networking in Nonviolent Action