A statue of King Leopold II of Belgium was set alight and covered in red paint. Antwerp, 4 June 2020.
Whether in the context of the West reckoning with its colonial past or former Soviet states reconciling antagonistic historical narratives to recover or reaffirm their own distinct identities, over the past three decades, contested histories have increasingly served as a flashpoint for conflict.
Last Friday, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities issued a letter on symbols in public spaces to Ambassadors of 57 OSCE Participating States that underscores the importance of respecting the ways individuals relate themselves to history when attempting to resolve contestations around historical legacies. The institution of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities is an instrument of conflict prevention at the earliest possible stage. Its mandate involves containing and de-escalating tensions involving national minorities by providing early warning and early action where a situation has the potential to turn into a conflict.
In this letter, the High Commissioner highlighted his own experience engaging with groups throughout the OSCE region where opposing perceptions of history and their tangible, public representations have led to instability. It is understood that differing interpretations of historical legacies can exacerbate internal tensions and that the exploitation of memory can have geopolitical implications, spurring the involvement of kin-states in domestic issues of sovereign states. To contribute to greater societal cohesiveness and transnational security, the HCNM supports the establishment of consultative processes with clear mandates that include representatives from aggrieved groups.
The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation’s Contested Histories project understands that, in almost all cases, calls for the removal of statues, renaming of streets, and reframing of school or university curricula, are symptomatic of deeper divisions within societies. Confronted with public protests and social media campaigns, decision-makers often respond in haste, out of panic, and without the benefit of established principles, processes, or best practices. This results in inadequate, ineffective, or arbitrary remedies with unintended long-term consequences, including but not limited to ‘whitewashing’, i.e., purposeful public forgetting of traumatic events and contentious figures, through erasure (destruction or removal). This failure to engage society in critical discourse about historical traumas can fuel further conflict.
In recent articles published by EuroClio, Le Monde, and Novoye Vremya, the Contested Histories team presented possible solutions for such contestations over monuments, among them remedies that facilitate important educational discussions and contribute to raising awareness of historical wrongdoings. Placarding, additive elements, and counter monuments are just a few examples of remedies that can serve to contextualize historical legacies and foster debate and discussion. Removal and destruction are underscored as tools of last resort reserved for extreme cases. The CH team stands firmly behind the idea that erasure of scars on a community’s landscape alone cannot conceal or heal the influence of ones on the public’s psyche.
Read the full text of the High Commissioner’s Open letter on symbols in public spaces here.
About the Contested Histories project
The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation is a research center at EuroClio that works in cooperation with a range of public, private, and independent institutions.
The Contested Histories project seeks to identify, document, and examine cases of contestation around the world with the goal of identifying a set of principles, processes, and best practices that inform decision making. To this end, the IHJR has identified and conducted research on more than a hundred cases in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. At present, an interactive web platform that will host a digital map and related database is under construction and will soon be accessible to a wide range of stakeholders. Although each case is unique and underlying causes are context-specific, the CH team is confident that the aggregated materials will (a) provide insights that facilitate better-informed decision making in response to future contestations and (b) serve as a resource for educators interested in examining multi-perspective approaches to history education.
Follow the work of the Contested Histories project here.
Motivated by a natural curiosity and well trained instincts, Lamberto Zannier, High Commissioner for National Minorities at the OSCE, attended the meeting organized around the project Contested Histories in Public Spaces in Oxford, which reviewed several cases of controversial monuments and statues around the world. In this meeting, Mr. Zannier explained the applicability of these cases as a reference point for developing conflict prevention tools and guidelines, where “education is key”, he stressed.
The charming streets of Oxford have some controversial corners. In the historical center of the city, right in front of the prestigious All Souls college, a statue of Cecil Rhodes stands undaunted, in spite of the campaign run by students asking to remove it and not further celebrate his legacy, polemically linked to Britain’s imperialism. Therefore, this city stands as a paradigmatic example of the global phenomenon studied by the Contested Histories in Public Spaces project, which Task Force meeting was held at the same All Souls college thus welcoming more than 20 scholars into a debate about the past and its day to day repercussions.
This project, led by the institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR), in partnership with EuroClio and other organizations sharing similar missions, envisions a simple but rather ambitious goal: drawing useful guidelines and recommendations from the global phenomenon of contested statues, monuments and streets names, which are being challenged for their historical legacy, usually related to colonialism, slavery, human rights violations or fascism, among many others. From the Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa to the Captain Cook in Australia, from Holocaust memorials in Berlin to statues the Paraguayan dictator in Asunción, many are the cases found around the world -91 and summing up.
Even though this project is still on a development phase, it has attracted interest amongst relevant actors, such as university authorities, parliamentarians, as well as members of the international community. For instance, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and its High Commissioner for National Minorities, Lamberto Zannier, who flew from The Hague to the UK to join the discussion.
“The issue of memory politics is an issue that I keep finding as I travel through the area covered by my mandate. There are monuments, there are names of streets and symbols that I constantly find, where the interpretation by different groups differs and the difference of interpretation results in tension"
Lamberto Zannier, OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities.
But how comes that an organization dealing with security issues is interested in the public memory making through statues and monuments? Mr. Lamberto Zannier, in conversation with EuroClio, explained that his interest in this topic is tightly related to his mandate, which is primarily focused on conflict-prevention. “My mandate is to avoid or try to prevent tensions within society. Sometimes, I feel I need to dig a little bit more in-depth, and try to find out what is the source of these tensions. Very often this has to do with the interpretation of history”, he said. Awareness of this phenomenon, according to Mr. Zannier, did not come out of the blue. While traveling throughout the OSCE participating states -57 from Europe, Central Asia and North America- the High Commissioner has became aware of how salient this situation is for national communities. “The issue of memory politics is an issue that I keep finding as I travel through the area covered by my mandante. There are monuments, there are names of streets and symbols that I constantly find, where the interpretation by different groups differs and the difference of interpretation results in tension”, Mr. Zannier said, stressing that these dissimilar interpretations,combined with a lack of acknowledgment of the story of the Other, “affect the relationship between groups in society”.
That is how the High Commissioner for National Minorities of the OSCE became interested in looking how issues of this kind have been addressed in different contexts, and what are the lessons that can be retrieved from other cases around the world. In this regard, the mandate of the High Commissioner is matching with the project of Contested Histories in Public Spaces, which aim is to identify and research the decision-making process behind sometimes violent controversies over statues, monuments, and street names. What can a major of a city do when a statue is painted in red? What can a dean of a university do when the name of a hall is covered with pamphlets and banners? What can an activist ask for when a street name is considered offensive? Through practical guidance, the Contested Histories in Public Spaces project is aiming at addressing these questions in order to help future decision-makers and grassroots organizations.
“My job is to advise governments, and put forward an advice that is not only my own personal opinion, but that is based on things that worked before or against processes that resulted in failure. Look! Somebody else has tried this, and it was a disaster, so think twice before you do it, because you might apparently solve the problem tomorrow but then, the day after, you start finding out that you have a larger problem within your society”, said Mr. Zannier, explaining why he has decided to join the working group of this project. “I am exploring, and I do realize that this is a very sensitive issue”.
The role of education
Since its foundation in 1992, EuroClio has been raising awareness about the uses (and misuses) of history education for paving the way to a peaceful future. Even though the study of history is usually confined to academia, the role that it plays in the issues our societies are wrestling with today is rather prominent, especially for the emancipation of minority groups and social cohesion.
This situation is also clear for Mr. Zannier, who believes that younger generations are the key for conflict prevention. “If you want to have an integrated society you need to work on the young generations to make sure that people grow inside the society, and the diversity becomes well embedded in the society”, he said. Mr. Zannier also underlined the benefits of a well achieved integration, by which diversity can be at the service of society instead of being a problem. “You can free the government of the problem of dealing with diversity if you put this diversity at the service of the country. Then you really make the society more resilient to potential instabilities”.
Together with his interest to explore issues around history education, the attention paid by Lamberto Zannier to the role of history and memory in conflicts, represents a milestone for the international community. EuroClio and the IHJR welcome and appreciate his willingness to address such as sensitive but important topic, and believe that his path should be followed by other key decision makers.
This is the second part of a report made by Meena Pankaj Malhotra and Senada Jusic on their study visit to Colombia. It is the eleventh article in a series of blogposts and reports on all study visits made for the project “Dealing with the Past in History Education”. In this project civil society actors from different backgrounds, visit schools and institutions in countries that are struggling with a difficult past. For the first part of this report, please click here.
Pedagogy in the MNM
During our visit to Colombia, we learned that there are a number of ways and methodologies that are being used across the country to deal with the violent past. The theme across all methodology is to keep memory alive so that it never happens again. Here museums have a very important role to play to not only institutionalize memory but also to put structures in place that transform individual memories into collective memory.
One of the most important projects of the Centro Nacional de Memoria Historia is the plan to set up a museum. Land has already been acquired for this purpose and a call for the museums architectural design has been sent out. Catalina Orozco, through her presentation, explained in detail the plans and the pedagogical approach that the museum will use to educate citizens about Colombia’s violent past.
She began the presentation by outlining the objectives of MNM:
Asset function—Cultural and Environmental Collection
Memorial function—Recollection, Duel, Ritual, Commemoration
Catalina spoke in great detail about the very interesting project Volver La Mirada/Look Back. This is a very layered project where the process of dealing with the past happens in an extremely systematic manner. It involves every aspect of society from the individual to the entire community, and also includes the layered approach of several positions: victims, perpetrators, students and so on.
The pedagogical function of the museum promotes the creation of a community that understands the past and seeks to transform the present. It reflects on the conditions that made the Colombian armed conflict possible and the responsibilities of the actors who promoted it. It criticises the use of violence and sensitizes citizens to issues of violation of human rights while adapting a participatory approach to the defense of life and liberty, democracy, equity, and respect for difference.
One of the most important goals of this project is to educate for non-repetition. This is long term work and the process seeks to understand cultural and intergenerational dimensions from the position of various diverse actors. In order to achieve this long term goal, connections between museum, family, school, organisation, and media is essential. The priority prevent the repetition of violence. Learning for non-repetition is an approach that has two dimensions: emotive and analytical. The emotive approach uses art and the analytical approach uses historical memory. These diferent aproaches then lead to interdisciplinary research.
These conceptual guidelines define the museum content, the languages, the educational programming, the activities, and the principles of interaction.
The pedagogy is transverse and transcends the educational, which is reflected in:
The public area
The exhibitions serve as a social space shared with family, friends, and colleagues, facilitate different approaches towards disseminating information, reach out to different audiences in different ways, taking into account the various ways to build knowledge create intellectual, emotional and sensory experiences, offer the opportunity to engage visitors in everyday life, connect to a variety of sources that allow multiple readings, and offer a moving and mobilizing experience.
However the challenge with exhibitions as a medium of educating about the past is the short duration of interaction. Hence it is important to build motivation before and after activities around the exhibits.
Catalina then shared with us how they plan to counter this challenge and maximise the depth of experience for the exhibition visitors. The plan is to appoint educators and mediators at the museum. These will include victims to sensitize and inspire empathy and local interpreters to translate and establish identities thereby linking the worlds of the exhibits and the visitors as well as artists to bring creativity to the entire process.
Observatorio de Paz
One of the highlights of our study visit was meeting and interacting with Vera Grabe Loewentherz who founded Observatorio de Paz in1996. Vera Grabe Loewentherz was a member of the Guerilla group M19—the only urban guerilla group and one that was formed by highly educated and intellectual people. Here we were interested in listening to two perspectives—the personal and the professional. We requested Vera to narrate her story and the journey of the organization she founded. In 1990 M19 surrendered arms, and Vera initially was a member of Congress in the parliament. Later she became a part of a group for human rights at the Colombian embassy in Spain. 1996 was the turning point when she began to focus all her energies towards peace building and peace education. Having seen first-hand the breakdown of an ideology she firmly believed and the damage that it left in its wake, she now very passionately believes in promoting and invests all her energies into promoting peace. The journey from ex guerilla to peace builder has not been an easy one, she said. But she has been determined and also thought it was necessary to acquire an education on peace building so she first earned a PhD in the subject before commencing her work in this area.
Observatorio de Paz works with women in the villages and remote rural areas that were deeply affected by the armed conflict by using the powerful medium of the arts to intervene and educate the community on the values of peace. Their approach is very different, Vera says. They look at the entire process through a reverse lens by looking at conflict and violence from the spectrum of peace. She is opposed to teaching conflict and violence. “Teach peace,” she says, and through the teaching of peace, understand the context of conflict and violence.
Very often in memory work we focus too much on the negatives—it is important to focus on all the perspectives.
Observatorio de Paz's runs several projects, most of them with ex guerilla soldiers and victims. The goal is to develop the understanding that although their backgrounds and vantage points are different, they share the same issues and problems particularly pertaining to Colombian society, simply by virtue of being women. This approach helps in building an initial connection within the group. The other important issue they deal with is the circumstantial nature of life and the fact that we all may be compelled by circumstances to play multiple roles. The perpetrator can easily become a victim too! Understanding the fact that conflict and violence affects every single person in the community helps in making an individual’s role more meaningful in the work for peace.
“It empowers you!” Vera believes. “Talking about violence only breaks you. You constantly feel like a victim.”
Observatorio de Paz uses diverse methods and tools in dealing with the subject of violence—different games, role play, and other activities rooted in the powerful medium of theatre.
The well designed and thought out process has several steps: conflict is studied as a scientific phenomenon, the difference between conflict and violence is understood, and the final step is teaching peace. This process is followed up by active engagement in the community.
Role play invokes empathy and helps overcome self stigma. Another important pedagogy is reconstruction. Individuals are asked to reconstruct their lives on a timeline in small groups. This helps in acknowledging other life stories, comparing them with their own, and creating bonds.
Another very important process is the use of Japanese pottery, exploiting the therapeutic powers of working with clay. In groups of 30, women work together to make pottery products which are then exhibited.
The intergenerational approach involves the sharing of life experiences, a cleansing process which is called “Irene” after the Greek Goddess of Peace. The aim here is to overcome prejudices and gain self respect and respect for each other.
Observatorio de Paz runs Peace Schools that are approved by the Ministry of Education and award their students a Bachelor degree in Peace Studies. These schools are very flexible. With their foundation based on peace, they work on preventing violence especially within violent families.
Observatorio de Paz has covered a very wide rural area with their work, but there are challenges. The most important one being funding and impact assessment. Arts intervention is a process that brings about a very deep change in individuals and society, but it is also a process that is slow, takes time, is intangible and hence difficult to assess in short durations. One very tangible outcome is the fact that the women Observatorio de Paz has worked with have become active within their communities helping take the organisations work further. Their active involvement with peace building and peace education is proof of success.
Inspired by their work, we enquired about the possibility of their pedagogy becoming a state policy in the future. Vera is quite cynical about that because she feels the state focuses on signing peace treaties rather than working on transforming attitudes of violent culture in society.Introducing these methodologies through the education system is also difficult because of the decentralized nature of the education policy in Colombia.
This concludes the the report of a study visit to Colombia made by Meena Pankaj Malhotra and Senada Jusic. This study visit has been a part of the project “Dealing with the Past in History Education”, supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. For more information on this project, please visit the project page.
This is the first part of a report made by Meena Pankaj Malhotra and Senada Jusic on their study visit to Colombia. It is the tenth article in a series of blogposts and reports on all study visits made for the project “Dealing with the Past in History Education”. In this project civil society actors from different backgrounds, visit schools and institutions in countries that are struggling with a difficult past.
For over five decades Colombia has experienced intense violence associated with multiple unresolved social and political conflict—a violence that has been changing its characteristics over the decades with regards to its agents, motivations, intensity and mechanisms. Hundreds of thousands of fatalities have occurred by massacres and assassinations. Over and above that, innumerable Colombians have become victims of forced disappearance, forced displacement, abduction, extrajudicial executions, unlawful recruitment, torture, abuse, and sexual violence. Resistance to suffering is inherent in human nature. Today in Colombia one sees a strong sense of this resistance—in political will, in civil society, in individuals. Our study visit intends to highlight some of these efforts by individuals, civil society, education institutions and the state.
Our hosts, CNMH, had selected two Colombian schools (one public and one private) as case studies for our research on dealing with difficult pasts in post conflict society. Our first visit was to the public school — Colegio Leonardo Pozada Pedraza followed by a vist to the private school— Colegio Campoalegre. Both the schools have their own approach to confront their difficult violent past along with the reality in which they live. Their approaches and methods are different, but in accordance with the needs and background of students who attend these schools.
Colegio Leonardo Pozada Pedraza uses art, literature, film and theater as a medium to educate and sensitize students about what is happening in society and how peace can be restored. Teachers Adriana Abaunza, Diana Beltrán, and Bibiana Seguro took personal initiative along with a group of students interested in the subject of human rights education to think about how school, literature, and history in Colombia have contributed to the construction of falsehoods and realities regarding human rights in the country. Looking at the concerns of young people together, they intended to propose and carry out an inter institutional forum, which would enable them to investigate and understand students' thoughts not only in the Leonardo Posada Pedraza School but also involve students from other schools and places for an open and frank dialogue in order to unearth diverse voices on the issue of human rights, Colombian literature, and school. Art is one of the most powerful means of expression and also one of the most powerful means of therapy. Engaging students in art and literature helped with dealing with individual internal conflicts, too.
They were convinced that perhaps the only way for their country to find a promising future in which citizens can have a dignified life and develop fully is through education in Human Rights. It would encourage them to relate to their environment and thus reduce intolerance and levels of violence. However, this process of educating in human values must be initiated at home and it must be strengthened in the school if it were to have far reaching consequences. This important realization has made the government and public educational policy makers’ work with greater focus and invited Colegio Leonardo Pozada Pedraza for human rights training .The project has been very successful and the work continues. In 2016 another new project began— Youth Thinking about Peace (Los jovenes se piensan La Paz). The goal of this project was to recontruct the past to develop critical thinking by researching and writing about all the actors of the conflict including the perpetrators, the victims, the para military, and the guerillas. We interacted with the students and found that they welcome this activity and enjoy working on the project. They were extremely interested, curious, articulate, and active during the dialogue session as well.
The other visit to a private school Colegio Campoalegre was a very different experience. In every imaginable way the two schools were different from each other. At Colegio Campoalegre the first impression was that of affluence. Set in an extremely picturesque surrounding with mountains you could touch by simply leaning out of the classroom window, this school simply took our breath away at first glance. The physical difference aside, after interaction with the students, we found the same level of interest and passion in the projects they were involved in as the students of Leonardo Posada.
The project being implemented here is based on the premise of lived experience that brings about a genuine deep change from within. Developed and led by the individual passion of just one teacher, Ana Maria Duran, it involves students travelling to El Salado, a village that was deeply effected by the conflict in 2000 and living there for a period of a week to ten days and interacting and working within the community of survivors. This first hand experience for students coming from privileged backgrounds proves to be a very valuable education.
The group that we interacted with had recently returned from their visit to the town that had been battered with violence. During their visit they helped build four dry toilets on sidewalks that do not have access to water supply. They donated school desks, soccer uniforms, and other useful items. They interacted with members of the community, learning about their traditions and culture, their music, and their very difficult past. The students were received by the locals as if they were old friends and Lucho Torres, icon of the town, personally accompanied them around town, telling them the history of this corregimiento where 1500 people live and are with great resilience building a future on the ashes of their difficult past.
Late February 2000 the town experienced almost two weeks of torture, beheading, and rape of an undetermined number of defenseless peasants, including a six-year-old girl and a woman of 65. Perpetrated by at least 450 men belonging to the paramilitary group that also destroyed the houses and the commerce of the population, this is one of the ugliest massacres in the country's violent past.
Personally coming face to face with a history that they had so far only learned about objectively made the students introspective and encouraged them to actually analyse what they came back with. One of the students who was the daughter of a military member recounted how throughout childhood she felt deprived because her father was always away on work. Her father had eventually been killed due to the conflict, and she carried deep feelings of anger due to this loss. The visit to El Salado, she said to us, made her understand the true meaning of forgiveness. She realised there were hundreds like her who had experienced loss, and who was to judge and decide what justice meant under circumstances of this nature.
This project which is implemeted as part of the Social Responsibility and Social Pedagogical approach of the school has been extremely successful and they plan to continue this with each group of Grade 10 students.
MINISTRY OF EDUCATION
One of the visits on our study trip was to the Ministry of Education in Bogota, Colombia. We spoke with a group of seven people who work directly with the Minister of Education on formulating policy, pedagogy processes, best practice etc.
We began the meeting by explaining the background of our visit and why we chose Colombia. Senada and I come from a background where working with government is really not the easiest of options. Having already been exposed to the workings of civil society and education institutes over the past two days we were extremely curious about the realities in Colombia. Our primary question to the ministry related to the symbiosis between the government and civil society. We enquired about the structures that are in place and interestingly Professor Chaux said he could not think of structures—he preferred thinking about people. He went on to admit that Colombia has achieved a level of cooperation between various stakeholders that surprises the world and is quite admirable. His colleagues in Canada express wonder over the ease with which researchers and the ministry function together. He has been helping the ministry for thirteen years.
We also learned about the autonomous nature of the workings of the Ministry. While this can be a very useful reality, in Colombia this is actually a cause for concern as it is leading to a huge gap between state policy and actual classroom practice. Peace Studies was made mandatory across the country and across all stages of education. However, lack of proper material and lack of any policy or guidelines related to textbook publishing have led to an overall disarray in peace and human rights education. Currently this is the ministry's prime concern and to overcome the problems in this area, they are working towards bringing together NGO's and local secretariats of education. However, because the education secretariats are decentralized, the ministry has implemented a policy of direct collaboration with civil society in order to speed up the implementation of new policies. The civil society organizations design and develop pedagogical materials based on policies and make them available for classroom use. In some cases they are also directly involved in classroom implementation. Also, teachers have taken great initiative and created many networks across the country enabling them to work together and share ideas and resources.
Colombia is very decentralised. The government does not develop a single national level curriculum. The schools do. Government has developed some guidelines which are strongly recommended, but not mandatory. The students undergo a national test that measures how they are faring in terms of the recommended guidelines. In 2004 the government developed standards for mathematics, language, natural science, social sciences, and for citizenship competencies. Students undergo tests in 5th, 9th and 11th grade that test competencies of pluralism, good citizenship, and democratic values based on the standards. The schools, local secreteriats, and NGO's are supposed to develop tools that promote competencies stated in the government guidelines. There is substantial work being done in this area but definately not enough. There is a need for many stakeholders to work harder in this area. In 2013 a new law was implemented that made it mandatory for schools to work on preventing aggression, violence, and bullying. Those who do not are liable for legal action taken against them by any citizen. And for private schools, if protocols are not adhered to the government can revoke the school's licence. However, so far no legal action of this nature has been taken against any institution. This was followed by another law that made peace studies and human rights education mandatory since 2015. However this law was implemented without the consultation or support of the Ministry of Education, and there is a big gap between the state policy and what is actually happening on the ground. The proper tools for implementing this most recent law do not exist.
The discussion on autonomy brought us to the question of textbooks, and we discovered that there is a huge problem in this area. Schools are prescribing their own textbooks with publishers deciding what to publish in the textbooks. But often within the same region there are no similarities in what is being taught. The Ministry offers extra materials but there is no guarantee on how these materials should be used. Usage of these materials is up to individual teachers.
And finally we came to the most important question—what is the Ministry's policy with regards to Colombia's conflicted past. In a post conflict society, where a classroom has students that have personal histories of either being children of victims or perpetrators, how does one deal with this and how does the history teacher deal with this? The answer according to Olga is two fold; one is the teacher's competencies. Teachers themselves have been through the violent past and in most cases have been affected by the violenc and they have lived the history they are teaching. They have to build the strength and resilience to be neutral and take an unbiased position. The other aspect is the tools, material, and pedagogy. The Miniistry has yet to develop these to help the teachers.
In 2015 the ministry held a series of interactions with teachers to suggest how recent difficult histories may be approached in the classroom and one of the major suggestions was to start with the point in time that the students were living at the moment and then connect it backwards to the past.
This is a struggle still because the peace accord is very recent—2016—and there is development in best practise related to teaching the recent difficult Colombian past. Centre for Historical Memory has done some wonderful work in this area and the Ministry is hugely inspired by the work that Facing History And Ourselves is doing and plans to pilot projects based on their approach. They hope to contruct bridges between the recent and distant past by studying social dynamics and how identity plays a role as well as how prejudice functions. Their goal is to not just look at conflicts from the past but also at the stories of peaceful positive resistance.
However despite all these efforts by all stakeholders concerned, the discussion on how much to teach of the recent past and where to start continues. They have not arrived at a consensus yet..
There is a lot creativity happening in Colombia! And yet how to deal with the difficult past is not an easy question to answer. In Colombia it is currently an ongoing movement involving some very dedicated passionate people.
This concludes the first part of the report of a study visit to Colombia made by Meena Pankaj Malhotra and Senada Jusic. This study visit has been a part of the project “Dealing with the Past in History Education”, supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. For more information on this project, please visit the project page.
This is the first part of a blog post about a study visit to Cape Town, South Africa. It is the second article in a series of reports and blog posts on Dealing with the Past in History Education. A report of the visit to South Africa, written by Khaled El Masri, is available here. For more information about the project, visit the project page: Dealing with the Past in History Education.
It is after 9 PM, and I have just arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, for the first time. I am met at the airport by a driver that was arranged by my hotel, Frank Mountanda, a smiling, lively, funny, man who also happens to be an immigrant from Congo. As he took my luggage and was putting it in the trunk of the car, I walked up to get into the car, and he started to laugh and said, “You are welcome to drive it you want.” Without thinking I had walked up to the driver’s side of the car, which is on the opposite side of where it is in the United States. I had just done what was normal for me to do, proving that we humans definitely are creatures of habit.
The word "habit" is an interesting word. Its meaning is simple enough: it is something you regularly do that is often times hard to give up or change. It is needing to brush one’s teeth every morning before work, biting one’s finger nails, smoking cigarettes, or benignly walking to the wrong side of the car. Habits are not inherently bad; many are good, but they are most certainly difficult to change. We get used to doing a thing, and it becomes common practice. It is just what we do.
What if you grow up in a society where the social norms dictate that you separate yourself from people who look different than you, perhaps a place where white people don't use the same public buses or bathrooms as black or colored (mixed-race) people? It is just normal life. How does a society go from changing the mindset of its people so that one group is not superior to all other groups? This has been the challenge of South Africa since ending apartheid— institutionalized racial segregation laws and practices— in the early 1990’s.
While I was visiting the South African Jewish Museum, I talked to Roz Von Zaiklitz, one of the museum’s tour guides and experts, as she reminisced about a story when she first came to South Africa from nearby Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). While standing in front of a sign on the wall entitled "Facing Reality," she tells the story of when she was a young student, barely 18, waiting for the first time for the bus in Cape Town. When the bus stopped in front of her, she did what she always did back home, she started to board it. However, the driver stopped her and said, "Sorry but my job is more important to me than letting you get on this bus." Roz was confused by the driver’s reaction, because all she wanted was to ride the bus to the university. She then saw the driver point to a sign. It said in Afrikaans, "SLEGS NIE-BLANKES," or in English "Non-Whites Only." Roz was trying to board a bus for non-whites, and this was against the law in apartheid South Africa. This was her welcome to South Africa’s reality.
Years after trying to board that bus, in 2000, Roz was standing in line with other museum employees at the opening of the South Africa Jewish Museum. They were in line to welcome their guest of honor, Nelson Mandela, as he was there to officially open the museum. Roz recalls how excited everyone was to meet the great Madiba, the name South Africans use for Nelson Mandela. She said, "We were all crying and smiling" to meet this "larger than life hero" of South Africa.
This brings me to the purpose of the trip to South Africa, which was to interview several South Africans in order to gain some understanding of the important role education plays, particularly history education, in helping the people of South Africa, young and old, deal with the difficult past of living in a post-apartheid South Africa. Joining me on this task was Khaled El Masri, a history educator from Lebanon. Our job was to pose the question, "How can history education help with dealing with a difficult past?"
Our first stop was the IJR, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, where we had the pleasure of working with and interviewing Cecyl Esau, Senior Project Leader for Building Inclusive Societies, and Lucretia Arendse, Project Leader for Education for Reconciliation. Both of them work in IJR's Sustained Dialogue Programme. Essentially, their jobs are to put into practice the essence of our proposed question. Their work / projects revolve around dealing with South Africa’s difficult past and how to bridge the divide that apartheid created between people of different races.
"Make way for the uncle."
In our first conversation with Cecyl Esau, he relayed a recent story of himself visiting the market. Telling his story, he started by clarifying what he meant when he said "Black South Africans." He stated, "When I say black people in general, I mean black Africans, and coloreds, and Indians." He said in the past "we (meaning Black South Africans) were not spoken of with familiar terms."
I wasn't quite sure what he meant when he said "familiar terms," but as he continued with his story it made perfect sense. While walking through the grocery store he recalls a white mother telling her white daughter to "make way for the uncle." The term "uncle" is used as a respectful term for older South Africans. In the past a white person would almost never have referred to a black person as "uncle." It would have been, in Cecyl's thoughts, too "familiar."
It is not just young white mothers with children changing attitudes toward blacks. According to Cecyl, older whites will now make "small talk," whereas in the past they would be more likely to ignore the black person standing or sitting next to them. Cecyl ends his story saying, "There is some movement when it comes to making overtures to other people, unlike under apartheid."
These are just a few small indications of the positive strides made in South Africa in the past twenty years, but the work Cecyl, Lucretia Arendse, and all the others at IJR do on a daily basis helps to ensure that these small, positive stories translates to a more "fair, democratic, and inclusive" society, as their vision statement states.
One part of Lucretia Arendse’s work deals with creating curriculum for teachers to use in order for them to have these difficult conversations with their students about the apartheid past. The purpose of such lessons is the hope that it will help with achieving the IJR’s mission of promoting reconciliation and applying "human-centered approaches to socio-economic justice."
Teachers need to ask themselves: "What wounds are you carrying that make it difficult for you to be accepting to the other?"
While presenting to teachers, Lucretia and others from IJR became aware that the teachers themselves found teaching lessons about apartheid and reconciliation to be difficult and emotionally challenging. Since most of the teachers grew up in an apartheid South Africa and knew first-hand the cruelty and injustice apartheid inflicted, many of them simply did not have the ability to teach to their students what was meant to seek reconciliation.
Lucretia recalls what teachers would tell her, "We can't give what we do not have."
Lucretia then posed the question, "What wounds are you (the teacher) carrying that make it difficult for you to be accepting to the other?" In order to teach reconciliation, teachers had to face their own "woundedness." Teachers would need more specific training on how to go about dealing with the difficult issues they would face in their classrooms. They needed to practice scenarios that they would face and possible solutions they could enact.
Walking with anger
It is not just teaching teachers in order for them to teach their students. The reality in South Africa is that the student’s parents have the same difficulties and challenges that the teachers face in dealing with their own wounds attributed to the apartheid past. As Lucretia Arendse stated:
There is that inter generational trauma that is passed from parent to child and you wonder why children are prejudiced? How do you, as a school, get your parents on board to come along side you…you are teaching one thing in the classroom and they go home and parents are teaching them another thing.
Create an awareness.. you need to get your parents involved.
Creating a school culture where parents are an integral part of the learning process is not as easy as creating curriculum for teachers. It will require structural changes in school districts and schools to find ways to best meet the needs of their diverse student populations. It will require school leaders and community leaders to work together to find ways to bring all stakeholders together in ways that will help all involved deal with their difficult past so that the future will be one of corporation, mutual respect, and peace.
Lucretia Arendse answered our question on the importance of history education this way:
We have to understand where we come from in order not to go back there. If you are walking with anger or you are walking with shame as a white person then how does that transfer to children. This has to be taught in all subjects. We want learners to understand what was the past, an inclusive perspective of the past.
The past in South Africa just cannot be forgotten or ignored. It is the past that impacts their present and continues to frame their future. For South Africa to reach the reconciliation, hopes, and dreams of the rainbow nation it must be with confronting the difficult history of the past with tough courageous conversations in the schools, in the homes, and in the communities.
This is the first part of a blog post about a study visit to Cape Town, South Africa. It is the second article in a series of reports and blog posts on Dealing with the Past in History Education. A report of the visit to South Africa, written by Khaled El Masri, is available here.
On July 14, more than fifty educators, historians, civil society actors and other interested persons joined EuroClio, the Anna Lindh Foundation and the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation in Rotterdam, at the Erasmus University, for the symposium "A Multiperspective Understanding of the Past: The Elephant in the Room of Diverse Societies?". In the following report, you can read all about the events of this day.
On Friday, July 14, 2017 EuroClio convened a symposium in conjunction with the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (the IHJR) and the Anna Lindh Foundation, with support from the Robert Bosch Foundation, and the Konferentie Nederlandse Religieuzen. History educators, public servants, and civil society actors gathered in Rotterdam to learn from one another’s experiences teaching and studying difficult histories in diverse societies through a lense of multiperspectivity. The day opened with remarks by EuroClio Director Jonathan Even-Zohar who introduced the topic for the day, the mission of EuroClio, and the Anna Lindh Foundation.
First panel session
In the first panel discussion, IHJR Director Dr. Timothy Ryback, National Committee for the 4 and 5 May Representative Niels Weitkamp, and Assistant Professor of Education and Pedagogy at Utrecht University Bjorn Wansink opened a dialogue about dealing with difficult historical legacies in the Netherlands with a global perspective. Dr. Ryback introduced his work for the IHJR on contested monuments and historical artifacts that have been causing controversy over the past few years, bolstered by social media campaigns, global protest movements such as the Rhodes Must Fall movement, and calls for the removal of Confederate monuments and symbols in the United States. It is in this context that he explained sensitive issues in the Netherlands surrounding the colonial legacies represented by the Golden Coach, the subject of his recent article for the New Yorker. Mr. Weitkamp expanded on the issues of contested legacies in the Netherlands with his presentation on the development of commemorations and remembrance of the World Wars in the Netherlands. He touched upon the challenges of crafting a commemorative culture that includes all members of a diverse society in these ceremonies. Professor Wansink closed the panel by offering strategies for using multiperspectivity in history education. His presentation was followed by a lively question and answer session with many new insights thanks to the diversity of experiences and expertise represented by participants of the symposium.
Second panel session
In the second panel session, team members from EuroClio’s Dealing with the Past project shared their experiences traveling and completing study visits to schools, civil society organizations, and government agencies in different countries with difficult histories. They then relayed the insights they gained from these visits which have helped them to impact teaching in their own countries. Meena Malhotra from the Peaceworks Organization in India travelled with History Educator Senada Jusic of Bosnia and Herzegovina to Colombia, where they learned about efforts of Colombian history educators and NGOs to approach violence from a perspective of peace, working backwards to see how peace devolved into violence in order to better understand their history and facilitate healing. Olesya Skrypnyk of Ukraine shared insights from her visit to Croatia, where she learned about the difficulties facing Croatians teaching modern history in relation to World War II and the Yugoslav Wars. Khaled El Masri of Lebanon discussed his trip to South Africa, where he learned about the country’s efforts to teach and deal with legacies of Apartheid.
Following the panels and catered lunch, participants chose to attend two out of four practical workshops offered by workshop leaders with experience in the areas of history education, social cohesion, and multiperspectivity.
Stanley Iwema and Melik Keskin led a discussion group on their work for the IHJR Social Cohesion project that brought Armenian and Turkish Youth organizations in the Netherlands together with scholars to discuss the sensitive histories between the two groups. The discussion focused on how this program could be replicated to create a wider impact or in relation to other difficult historical issues that still cause tension in society today.
Ineke Mok and Els Schellekens presented their graphic novel Quaco, Leven in Slaverij, inspired by an 18th century diary. The graphic novel intends to shift away from the typical narrative Dutch students get about slavery as the trade triangle by instead focusing on the life and experiences of a young boy named Quaco. The educational aims of the novel are to combine historical facts with a story that piques students’ interest in the topic.
Karen Polak and representatives from the Anne Frank House presented an interactive site they have developed as a teaching tool for multiperspectivity called “Stories that Move.” Students can explore video stories about other young people who share their experiences with discrimination and prejudice in order to understand and learn about different perspectives.
Antheun Janse led a discussion group on the concept of “Global Citizenship” and how teaching global history can serve to incite students’ interest in national history. He discussed how history ought to answer for students how and why the world is the way it is today.
To conclude the day, the European Commission’s Pavel Tychtl offered some final remarks connecting back to the main topic of the “Elephant” in the room. He suggested that for effective development of mutual understanding and respect, Europe must work to find a balance between distance and proximity to the “zoo” that is European history.
EuroClio would like to thank the workshop leaders and speakers for making the day extraordinary with their intriguing contributions. Participants also offered engaging comments and questions, adding invaluable insights and expertise to the day’s atmosphere of exchange and multiperspective learning.
Once again EuroClio, The Anna Lindh Foundation, and the IHJR are grateful to the Robert Bosch Foundation and Konferentie Nederlandse Religieuzen for making this event possible.
Dealing with sensitive histories through intercultural dialogue
Dutch society is diverse, and Dutch citizens express in everyday life their multiple identities and perspectives. However, Dutch society has also seen plenty of controversy when a one-sided view on history and heritage has inflamed public debate. We need to get to the root causes of this kind of conflict, radicalisation and polarisation. Could people's interpretations of the past be one of these root causes?
Whereas every society has its own peculiar struggle with 'dealing with the past', there is an emerging understanding of common challenges.
On the 14th of July, the symposium "The Past: The Elephant in the Room of Diverse Societies?" will bring together views and experiences of civil society activists, including educators, cultural workers, and engaged citizens, from The Netherlands, as well as Bosnia-Herzegovina, India, Lebanon and Ukraine.
What can you expect?
We will start the day with a critical look at Dutch society from the perspective of an outsider and an insider, introducing relevant debates surrounding the Golden Coach and Black Pete controversies. Dr. Timothy Ryback, contributor to The New Yorker and director of the Institute of Historical Justice and Reconciliation, will share his view on the ethics of facing historical legacies of the past. In particular, the discussion will address difficult issues of identity, belonging, and polarisation. It is clear from the public debate in The Netherlands that radically opposing views on these matters challenge social cohesion.
Global perspectives, including those from Colombia, Croatia and South Africa, will be introduced by leading history educators who have traveled across the world to share their experiences and gain new insights. Their personal and professional journeys demonstrate the difficult nature of dealing with the past in divided, post-conflict societies. Often the recent, violent past has directly and immediately impacted their lives. How have they transformed their experiences into a catalyst for positive change?
The afternoon will explore in practical terms how civil society initiatives are finding ways to address sensitive histories for a range of societal purposes, including reconciliation, intercultural dialogue and social cohesion.
We hope to meet you during our symposium and to learn from one another, in the Netherlands and across the world, whether we are frank enough about the elephant in the room.
The symposium is organised by EuroClio - Inspiring History and Citizenship Educators, the Anna Lindh Foundation Netherlands Network and the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation, and the event is made possible by the generosity of the Robert Bosch Foundation and Konferentie Nederlandse Religieuzen.
Date: Friday, 14 July 2017 @ 09.30 Location: Mandeville building Erasmus University Thomas Morelaan, 3062 PA Rotterdam
There is no fee for this symposium. A lunch will be provided.
10.00 Panel discussion: “Sensitive history in the Netherlands”
11.45 Panel discussion: “Dealing with the past: a global perspective”
14.00 First round of workshops
15.30 Second round of workshops
16.45 Conclusions, reflections and closing remarks
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” .