School's past

The three-century tradition

Since the foundation until 1918

Centuries lasting Turkish reign caused Banja Luka to be an unprosperous small Bosnian town, inhabited at the end of the 19th century by no more than ten thousand people: petty merchants, traditional craftsmen, clerks, soldiers, clergymen and some teachers followed by their families. A significant progress could not have been achieved until the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878 that finally brought European spirit in every aspect of life, thus in education as well, in our part of the world. Even though, the Habsburg Monarchy did not totally guarantee full national and religious equality, their government meant greater legal security, economical prosperity and a significant cultural development. In such an environment Banja Luka gradually started changing its long-lasting oriental appearance in favour of a modern town. Although slow, European influence could have been seen in all areas, starting with clothing, diet, living conditions, new crafts and beginnings of modern industry and transport, as well as founding modern cultural and educational associations and institutions. One of those institutions was Velika Realka (technically-oriented grammar school) , founded on October 4th 1895, with a goal to prepare students for “forest, agricultural, chemical and other colleges”. In the beginning the teaching process took part in the building of former ruzdia (Turkish religious Secondary School), and on March 1st 1898 Realka (short for Velika Realka) moved into a new twofloor edifice that “with its amazing appearance” and “perfection […] of the architectural skills” had met all “the needs of strict pedagogical demands”. And much more than that: the Grammar School building was to become the pride and one of the main landmarks of Banja Luka. In the beginning, the school was reserved for young men only, while the female students gain the right to go to school in 1912 as part-time, and in 1919 as full-time students. During that time the number of students was constantly growing, and the staring number of 66 soon reached 430 (1917/18).

The first 12 students graduated in 1903. There were 15 subjects in eight grades, according to the curriculum made by the Habsburg government. In the beginning the most important subjects were mathematics, drawing and geometry. The gradual change of Velika Realka to Realna Gimnazija (both humanitiesand technically-oriented grammar school) changed the focus to languages (Serbo-Croatian, German and French) and history, and Latin as the sixteenth subject was introduced. The grades were from one (the best) to four (fail). Being a student of this school meant obeying strict rules: students wore special caps with their class number (excellent students had extra symbols as well) and they also had a curfew after seven or eight pm. Besides being a pedagogical institution, the Grammar School quite soon became cultural, scientific and even a national institution.

By the beginning of WWI, the Grammar School had a singing group, tamburitza and string orchestra, then a number of students’ organisations, including several illegal youth societies. Not only did the Annexation crisis (1908 – 1909) and the Balkan Wars alarm both students and teachers, but also caused greater suspicion of the Viennese authorities, creating overt, mostly anti –Serbian, discrimination at the outset of the WWI. At the beginning of the war several teachers and about thirty students were drafted, which was followed by suppression of students’ societies and the Cyrillic alphabet, as well as a great number of prosecutions against the supporters of the Yugoslavian uniting. The campaign reached its peak with the famous Banja Luka Treason Process during 1915-1916. The autumn of 1918 brought the 40 year long Austro - Hungarian rule to an end, allowing the new beginning for the Grammar School as well.

The kingdom of Yugoslavia period

Establishing The Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenians in 1918 created significantly different conditions for the Grammar School. War destructions, suffering, poverty, unification of the curricula and syllabi, lack of teachers and a number of other difficulties made the school face many problems and temptations. Changes were major and frequent. At the time of liberation, there were six grades of Realna Gimnazija and two grades (seventh and eighth) of Realka. The Cyrillic alphabet was immediately restored and since the very end of the war female students were granted the right to be fulltime students. Since 1920, after the third grade, bifurcation (branching) was conducted into two branches: humanities-based grammar school (Greek was taught there) and technically-based grammar school.

Three years later, a so-called Mala matura (exam taken after the first four years of education) was introduced and was taken as an entrance test after the fourth year. A new method of grading has been used since 1925: excellent (5), very good (4), good (3), sufficient (2) and insufficient (1). The Law of 1929 renamed the last two grades to poor (2) and bad (1) and treated them as ‘fail’. Since 1927 students’ grade booklets have been introduced, which were at that time used as students’ IDs outside the school. Even though the mentioned Law of 1929 finally regulated the work of the Yugoslav Secondary Schools and approved numerous changes, years to come, until the WWII would bring constant changes and innovations. Thus in 1935, and entrance test was introduced, including Serbian or Croatian and Mathematics. In the same year Lower Girls’ Grammar School was founded, which transformed into the Girls’ Grammar School in 1939. Due to the circumstances in Europe, as well as the changes in Yugoslav Foreign Affairs politics, Grammar School students were given the possibility to study English instead of German beginning with 1937; since 1939 the Italian language has also been introduced. In the meantime, the number of students significantly increased, so there were 836 students in the school year 1933/34.

The age of evil

The Second World War caused even greater suffering than the previous one. Bosnia and Herzegovina became a part of NDH (Independent State of Croatia), whose clerico-fascist oriented government ordered all the teachers, the ones teaching in Banja Luka Grammar School as well, to take an oath to the head, Ante Pavelić. Genocidal anti-Serb politics forced several Grammar School teachers to escape to Serbia while many former and current students and teachers had to trade thier classrooms and chalk for guns and forests. In the first year of the war, Teachers’ School and the Tradesman Academy moved into the Grammar School building. Thus, due to the War, there was a reduced number of techers and students of three Banja Luka schools sharing the same premises. But, not for long, since the Germans turned the Grammar School building into a barracks and a warehouse at the end of 1942, forcing the driven out the Grammar School male students use the mekteb (Muslim primary school) and the Firehouse Hall, while the female students were taught in madrasah (Muslim secondary school). Students went to school only three days a week due to the lack of classrooms. In the fall of 1944, because of even more significant reduction of students and teachers, both Boys’ and Girls’ Grammar Schools were reunited into one school. Besides, in September of 1944, aiming at the Ustashi stronghold at the Kastel, the Allied Forces hit the ‘Bastille’, destroying its roof and the physics laboratory. That was the state in which Grammar School was to witness the liberation of Banja Luka on April 22nd 1945.

From 1945 until the 1969 earthquake

Some twenty days after the liberation, on May 11th 1945, the Grammar School welcomed its students. However, recently finished four-year lasting cataclysm, along with the radical political and ideological changes, required lots of effort and funds to make the teaching process bearable at all. What is more, severely damaged building of old Realka needed thorough reparation and the improvised teaching was held in the building of former Građanska Škola (Buergerschule). In November of the same year, the Grammar School, previously known as Mixed, was divided into Boys’ and Girls’ Grammar School, immediately after the liberation announcing the expected changes and reforms that marked the entire postwar period. At the same time, students who did not graduate because of the war were enabled to attend a so-called ‘Partisan Grammar School’, which offered intensive courses so that the mentioned students could ‘catch up’ with their peers. In accordance with the political and ideological changes, Sunday schools and the German language were excluded from the curriculum, and some new subjects were introduced, such as Russian, which was taught for all eight years, Pre-military Training, and several years later Moral Education as well.

In the fall of 1947 the reconstruction of the ‘Bastille’ was completed and the classrooms were offered to the students of Boys’ and Girls’ Grammar School, School of General Workers’ Education (so called Evening School), Courses for the officers of Yugoslav Army, and since the fall of 1949 of Lower Mixed Grammar School, which was relocated to the Tax Administration building in the next school year. At the early fifties the situation, however, got better. Total number of students in Boys’ and Girls’ Grammar School was lowered to 1300. In 1954, two complete mixed grammar schools were founded, but the very next year they were transformed to Realna Gimnazija and an eight-year Primary School. That finally and lawfully made Banja Luka Grammar School a modern four year Secondary School, enrolling students who graduated from an eight-year Primary School. Students’ workshops (electrician’s, locksmith’s, tailor’s, carpenter’s), Debate and Esperanto clubs an Marxist circle were founded several years after the war. Mala matura (exam taken after the first four years of education) was not to be withdrawn until 1952 while the Velika matura (exam similar to A-level) was transformed to final exam in 1959, including the graduation paper, and since 1962 a SerboCroatian test as well.

After the earthquake

The 1960s indicated the age of relative prosperity, happiness, and general progress all over the country. However, it was not the case with Banja Luka, this time due to nature. Namely, a strong earthquake hit our town in 1969 and totally ruined thousands of companies, public facilities, buildings, houses, roads, bridges etc. One of those buildings was the Banja Luka pride – wellknown Realka. In the meantime, entire former Yugoslavia and a great number of other countries were willing to help. On the site of the former Medical School, in Zmaj Jovina Street, a new modern building, made of red brick, was to be built and ceremoniously opened on January 15th 1972.

Building today

The enthusiasts among teachers and students are to be praised for preserving the former School’s glory in the new building. Namely, there were several successful organizations and clubs in the Grammar School those days, especially the school magazine Orfej (launched in 1965), the school Choir (1971), Literary-Debate Club, the music EKG club (1972), Atelier (1978), musical and vocal group Klasovi Krajine (1978). All of them frequently performed quality programmes which were attended both by the Grammar School students and teachers and wider auditorium. As the celebration of the 75th birthday was obstructed by the earthquake, it was in 1975 that the 80th anniversary of the Grammar School was celebrated. The occasion was followed by the publication of a voluminous monograph entitled Banjalučka realka, written by the famed teacher and former headmaster Mato Džaja. And then, the eighties brought along another serous crisis. Unlike previous troubles, this one did not take human lives, but had consequences that were almost tragic as that. The mentioned trouble is a well-known ‘revenge of the failed’, e.g. the reform of the Yugoslav secondary school education that introduced a so called ‘oriented education’. The experiment proposed the common curriculum and syllabi for the first two grades of all secondary schools, after which students were oriented towards certain professions. This artificial ‘levelling’ mostly affected grammar schools since they were the elite secondary schools. All that was followed by a very awkward name: “The School for Educating Staff in the Field of Culture and Art”.

The reform had extremely negative consequences: many teachers became so-called surplus labor, and the interest in going to such a school suddenly dropped, so the school was rather lethargic, the state that lasted for the next several years. The situation improved when the name Grammar School was restored in 1985, and about that time the number of students increased, since it turned out that although following the curriculum for the oriented education, the Grammar School still offered the best basis for further education. Finally, at the end of the nineties, the Law on oriented Secondary School education was abolished and by the resolution of the Municipality Assembly in Banja Luka on May 8th 1991, the Grammar School was again officially founded.

Author: Zoran Pejašinović