Stop to Teach History or More Multiperspectivity? EuroClio Ambassador Klaus Bjerre Reports from Skopje Conference on Historiography and History Education

This report below written by EuroClio Ambassador Klaus Bjerre (Denmark) 

History in the Balkans is dominated by political history. The nation is often seen as a collective agent that has aspired to freedom, sovereignty,and welfare since the very beginning of history. Some aspects of élite culture are included in textbooks, but social and economic history are mostly marginalized. Social history can show that the ethnicities in the Balkans have a lot in common, but textbooks tend to be seen as an instrument for strengthening national consciousness, rather than something that should help young people to have knowledge and values that can help them to live in a multicultural society. Common to the narratives is the claim that the now existing nationalities originated at the time of the birth of humanity, and that the in-group is a victim, the out-group a perpetrator. THEY occupy – WE liberate; WE inhabit – THEY colonize.

Historiography and History Education in the South Slavic- and Albanian-Speaking Regions was the theme at a Conference held in early June in Skopje. The organizers were the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research (Braunschweig), the Institute for National History (Skopje), and the Institute for Spiritual and Cultural Heritage of the Albanians (Skopje). (ed. Conference is part of this project)

The central theme was Slavic narratives about Albanians, and Albanian narratives about Slavs, in textbooks as well as in academic literature. Narratives from both Albania and Serbia were included, but as the conference was in Skopje, it was natural that Macedonian and Albanian narratives from Macedonia were in focus (Albanians constitute more than a quarter of the population in Macedonia).

Dragi Gjorgiev, from the Macedonian Institute for National History, stated that history teaching in Macedonia lacks a critical dimension, as well as pupils’ activity and involvement. He referred to Joke van der Leeuw-Roord’s report from 2012 “A Key to Unlock the Past, History Education in Macedonia” (ed. which was part of a EuroClio/ANIM Project on History Education) and said that much too little had been improved in recent years.

Teachers in Macedonian schools must choose chapters from the textbooks in order to limit the contents. The result is that ethnic Macedonian students are told an ethnic Macedonian narrative, while Albanian students are told an Albanian narrative (the schools are segregated). Since the 1990s, most derogatory terms have been removed, but the texts still harbor lots of implicit stereotypes and prejudices. Teachers are not allowed to teach any period after 1991.
A lot of time in lessons is spent on “questions and answers”, memorizing the textbook, instead of on discussion or inquiry within the subject matter.
The history curriculum is the only Macedonian curriculum that has not been changed in the last decade. There is a so-called ‘moratorium’, because the issue is politically sensitive.

Textbooks in Albania are ethnocentric as well. Most are written by the same authors who wrote the textbooks in the era of Enver Hoxha. The ideological content has been altered, but much of the structure is the same. The Illyrians had state traditions before the Romans came, the Slavs were barbarians who colonized the Illyrian area and assimilated the northern Illyrians, etc., etc.

At one point, a participant asked rhetorically “Wouldn’t it be better to stop teaching history?” This may reflect widespread pessimism, but one positive aspect was that the participants in the conference unanimously agreed on the need for improvement in history teaching. More multiperspectivity. More social history should be included in textbooks. The tradition of reproduction and learning by heart should be changed. It may be hard work to change textbooks and curricula but, as professor Eckhardt Fuchs (Georg Eckert Institute) said in a concluding remark: use your influences wherever you are, speak out and form strong networks.

The full overview of the project’s activities and outcomes can be found here: https://albanianlanguagetextbooks.wordpress.com/

New Free Teaching Resource by EuroClio, English Language Version Available

On 3rd April 2014, during the EuroClio Annual Conference in Ohrid, Chief-Editor Bojana Dujkovic-Blagojevic had the pleasure to publicly launch the first English-language edition of the teaching resource “Once upon a time…We Lived Together. Joint work in a multiperspective approach. 23 Workshops on 1900-1945”. The language editions are now receiving their final edit in Albanian, Bosnian, Croatian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Serbian and Slovenian, and those will be distributed to history teachers associations during national teacher training events in August-October period. The book can be freely downloaded from this location.

Roundtable: How to deal with the Past of the Western Balkans?

On the 11th of January 2013, a roundtable event was set up by EuroClio in order to discuss the question of ‘How to deal with the past of the Western Balkans?’. The roundtable was part of a five-day workshop of history educators from Former Yugoslavia with the presence of professional experts Chris Culpin and John Hamer and signifies one of the last phases of the History that Connects programme which seeks to address issues in the sensitive periods in the shared history of the Balkans that were left unaddressed in previous work of the history educators. The project aims to develop through collaborative writing inclusive and multi-perspective ready to use class room teaching material with a focus on the history of the region from 1900-1945.

The roundtable offered people interested in reconciliation and history education the opportunity to attend a discussion with the history educators of Former Yugoslavia and listen to presentations on reconciliation through or with history (education). Speakers were Anna Kiebert, Program Officer at The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR), Saša Obradović, currently a legal adviser of the Embassy of the Republic of Serbia to the Kingdom of The Netherlands and Claske Vos, historian, researcher and teacher at the University of Amsterdam who presented her findings and experiences concerning “A Study of the Regional Heritage Programme in Serbia as a ‘Vehicle of Europeanisation” .