South-East Europe Textbook Network
States and Regions

Grupa (h)istoricara / povjesnicara iz Bosne i Hercegovine i jedna predstavnica Savezne republike Jugoslavije, boravila je, u organizaciji Danskog demokratskog fonda, na seminaru "Obrazovanje i pomirenje u BiH" u Askov Hojskole, u periodu od 14. do 24.01.2001. godine.


Appeal of the Participants

Project for the Coordination of Textbook Research, Development and Textbook Comparison in South-East Europe

short version in Croatian

Preliminary Remarks
Even before the Kosovo conflict, the Georg Eckert Institute had taken part in a multilateral project to investigate school textbooks in the Balkan region and identify the creation of stereotypes and images of the enemy and the perpetuation of national myths. The results were put together in a German-English publication that has since become a standard work on the way history is presented in the region.(1) In collaboration with several international organizations, including UNESCO and the Aristoteles University, the Georg Eckert Institute brought this wealth of information up to date for a conference in Thessaloniki in October 1998 (the corresponding publication has been published in Greece). In addition, under the Austrian Council of Europe presidency an initiative for a reform of secondary education in South-East Europe was started with a conference in Graz in November 1998, that led to a further conference (Enhanced Graz Process) in Sofia in November 1999. The Georg Eckert Institute was involved in this process by providing experts' reports on international school textbook research, and simultaneously taking on the responsibility for the program and the realization of an international conference held by UNESCO in September 1999 on history textbooks in South-East Europe, entitled "Disarming history. An International Conference on Combating Stereotypes and Prejudice in History Textbooks of South-East Europe". Here too, participants underlined the critical importance of intensifying European collaboration in the education sector, with equal rights for all parties concerned, and of initiating an on-going process of analysis and exchange of school textbooks and curricula in the region. In the Conclusions and Recommendations section, they asked the Georg Eckert Institute to take part in this process as a monitoring agency.

The main features of these activities and the accompanying publications can be summarized as follows:
1. The Georg Eckert Institute has collected almost all the school textbooks currently used for the subjects History /Civics and analyzed a representative number to establish

  • how the different nations and peoples present each other,
  • whether nationals and foreigners are portrayed differently and
  • to what extent the histories are presented from a European or from a purely national standpoint.
    2. Deficits and inadequacies of the presentation of history in the current textbooks, which would tend to perpetuate conflicts rather than helping to overcome them, are set out in the analyses.
    3. This provides a good basis for
  • initiating a process of revision and
  • mobilizing or using locally available resources to identify shortcomings and develop new approaches.

    Aims of the Project
    Since the Georg Eckert Institute has been carrying out intensive analyses of South-East European textbooks for a considerable length of time, the main task now lies in drawing together the experience gained from the international survey of textbooks in this region and putting it to use. In concrete terms, this will mean:

  • translating new scientific and didactic approaches recommended by school-book research into the development of new textbooks in the regions in question.
    From now on, the focus will be on Implementation. To achieve this, it will be necessary to forge two-way communication links with decision-makers in education politics, researchers and textbook authors, across national borders throughout South-East Europe, taking the findings of the previous analysis as a starting point. Through a variety of separate initiatives, continuous contacts will need to be built up in the region to ensure that the theories developed on a scientific level bear fruit by being put into pedagogic practice. In discussion with textbooks authors, researchers and representatives of publishing houses, the Georg Eckert Institute will sound out to what extent new ideas can be implemented in new text books. In addition, the results of research analyses will be passed on to the appropriate representatives in the ministries of education to eventually pave the way for an on-going reciprocal exchange of information.

    In the course of this process the Georg Eckert Institute will try to initiate a regular exchange of ideas on textbooks and curricula between the ministries of education or national pedagogic institutes and institutions responsible for the further training of teachers and for curriculum development.

  • A continuous analysis and comparison of materials by cross-regional working groups could gradually unearth the existing potential for reconsideration of concepts and for a better mutual understanding.
    Up to now, textbook authors, historians at universities and curriculum planners have been unable to even conceive of a workable cross-border textbook research, much less organize it. The Georg Eckert Institute will therefore lend its experience, particularly in the didactic field, to the implementation of this process. To this end, the Georg Eckert Institute published a "Guidebook on Textbook Research and Textbook Revision" late last year in collaboration with UNESCO, which introduces the methods and procedures of comparative textbook research and should help by bringing positive experience gained in other countries to bear on the Balkan situation, and by highlighting critical points from the outset.

    Regional Focus

  • The Georg Eckert Institute will concentrate primarily on the countries Bosnia-Herzegovina, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Croatia.
    Together with today's Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which only recently has joined the stability pact, the histories of these countries have become interwoven through their having held joint nationality twice in the course of the 20th century (first Yugoslavia between the two world wars and later socialist Yugoslavia) and through the conflicts of the 1990s. As a result of this, parallel tendencies and similar problems can be made out in many of the textbooks used in the above countries today. One trend is the attempt of individual countries to present only those parts of history of the former Yugoslavian states that serve to illustrate the suppression of and discrimination against their nation within the federation. However, the fact that there are concurrent overlappings and intersections in the histories of the southern Slavonic peoples, and especially of the peoples of former Yugoslavia are increasingly ignored in recent texts. This applies not only to history books on the 20th century but also to those covering longer periods of history, for example from the Middle Ages to Modern Times. Similarities in their historical development, which should form a core part of any modern European nation's understanding of itself, are played down in the Balkans as much as the differences between individual countries and regions are emphasized.

    The de-ideologization of teaching materials, originally aiming at eliminating Marxist concepts was accompanied by a renewed political instrumentalisation that was then tuned to each country's own new national constitution. To legitimize their new political structures, constructions providing evidence of national continuity reaching back to the Middle Ages were drawn up and presented in history books and other literature in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia. The former Marxist historical outlook was virtually replaced by a purely national perspective, in which an unbiased view of historical developments is the exception.

    From a didactic standpoint, what is striking about the textbooks of all three of these countries is that they hardly ever present history in a controversial or multi-facetted way. The histories are mostly presented as a straight path culminating in the emergence of each state at the end of the 20th century. The period of Ottoman rule and the founding of Yugoslavian states are regarded simply as "deviations" from this main path. To put it in broad terms, there is a scientific concept behind this that sees history as a discipline which will lend its scientific methods to establishing and giving authoritative weight to so-called indisputable "objective truths". Under these premises it becomes impossible to discuss the fact that such scientific analyses and even history teaching itself are always based on a certain and for obvious reasons necessarily limited perspective.

    Thus, with regard to didactic approach and factual content, there are many points which underline the necessity for concentrated, long-term efforts to implement new approaches to history teaching in the countries in question. Moreover, use can be made of the fact that the region in which the Georg Eckert Institute would be operating is one relatively large language area, which is by no means uniform, but throughout which the closely related Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian and Macedonian tongues can be understood by all parties concerned.

    Concentrating on this region should, however, not distract from the fact that many of the problems and deficiencies detected in the textbooks of newly founded independent states emerging from the former Yugoslavian federation are also common in the history books of other South-East European countries. The main problem so far seems to be the focusing in historical textbooks on national history, that often takes up as much as 60% of the entire contents. In this process, not only is the history of neighbouring countries often reduced to a few paltry dates and facts but there is an equally glaring lack of developing a sense of an overall European context. Though links to and membership of Europe are strongly emphasized in each country's postulated conception of itself, it hardly plays a role either in a historical or a current context in textbooks. However, the Balkans are and always have been an integral part of Europe, and as such they are bound to Europe by a complex web of historical alliances formed and broken. The question, to what extent and in what manner these complex relations should be covered in history textbooks offers an excellent starting point from which to restructure accounts of national histories within the broader European context.

  • In the near future, a new balance between European, national and regional topics will need to be achieved in the textbooks, reflected not only in a quantitative apportionment but also in a more intensive treatment of European integrative processes.

    Another important point is that the national histories of several South-East European countries were and still are being intertwined through processes of migration and demographic movements across frontiers producing ethnic minorities in each country. Throughout South-East Europe today the schooling of ethnic minorities and their representation in the textbooks of the majority population constitutes a critical problem. Both segregation and multicultural integration have a long tradition in the region. Autonomy with regard to education, often laid down in a country's constitution tends to reinforce divisive and segregative tendencies which are reflected in the continued stereotypical and enemy-oriented presentation of history in textbooks. Today, this situation is particularly acute in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but the problem is beginning to arise more and more frequently in Macedonia and Rumania too.

    A minority, who throughout South-East Europe has scarcely acquired basic educational rights, are the Romanies or European gypsies. Their own education and their rightful inclusion as a people in the history of South-East Europe as taught in schools is a pressing issue, of which education ministries are now becoming aware.

  • To deal with deficits, a multilateral approach, setting up and promoting communication across national boundaries, would appear to be indispensable.
    The comprehensive analysis of school textbooks carried out by the Georg Eckert Institute for this purpose as part of the Council of Europe project "Learning and teaching about the history of Europe in the 20th century", has already produced a series of practical recommendations.(2) In addition, a broad range of factual material and didactic experience in relation to cross-border textbook surveys has been amassed from work in East European countries(3), where historical periods, areas and ethnic majorities and minorities were - as in many South-East European countries - redefined in textbooks in terms of the new national constitution after the end of the socialist state system. The basis for a stable cooperation with the other South-East European members of the stability pact has already been laid down in the form of scientific and institutional contacts, which should help to reinforce this multilateral approach.

    The project is to be closely coordinated with the activities of the Council of Europe for reform of history teaching in South-East Europe. As emphasized by the ministers of education in their final declaration(4) at the conference "Education for democratic development and stability in south-east Europe", the aim of the project will be to overcome old rivalries between enemy states, thus following the tradition of the Georg Eckert Institute and European Parliament with regard to the revision of school textbooks and curricula since World War II. The Georg-Eckert-Institut acts as the Council of Europe's clearing house for the exchange of textbooks and information on textbook projects.

    The project should also help to implement the recommendations of the committee of education ministers

  • to take practical steps to facilitate and steadily intensify dialogue between politicians responsible for education in the region and their partners in the rest of Europe.
  • to promote the exchange of information and create practical links at all levels of the educational system in order to improve coordination.

    The next step in the realization of this project is the setting-up of a network structure between the academic and political institutions working in the textbook sector. In cooperation with the UNESCO, the Georg Eckert Institute is therefore presently working developing an Internet forum relevant for textbook projects in South-East Europe. The forum will serve to make announcements and provide information about up-coming events as well as to facilitate work on different projects even about communication in the Internet. With the active participation of textbook experts from South-East Europe as well as from other countries, this Internet forum can develop into an informational and professional medium that is up-to-date despite great geographic distances. The Georg Eckert Institute will be responsible for the contents and technical maintenance of the South-East European network.

    The Georg Eckert Institute is simultaneously striving towards establishing closer contacts with the curriculum planners, textbook authors, publishing house representatives, and representatives from the ministries of education of the different countries and ethnic groups. The South-East European countries themselves should also get involved in the process of getting to know one another. The Georg Eckert Institute hopes to involve all South-East European countries in this process while maintaining the regional focus.

    Thus, depending on the general political framework in each country, the focus should be the commencement of structured communication with the corresponding partners not only in the main regions but also in the other South-East European countries. This entails:

  • Initiating a continuous exchange of curricula, textbooks, and computer-based materials, where applicable.
  • Familiarizing textbook authors, curriculum planners, etc. with the methods of textbook analysis and textbook comparison.
  • Offering the possibility to introduce new theories in the didactics of history, which examine the representation of conflicts and prejudices in history as well as the different approaches to the topic "Europe" in history books.
  • Developing and mutually assessing new textbooks and materials for specific topics as well as
  • Eventually setting up cross-border workgroups to compare new textbooks and curricula over a longer period of time and/or develop materials together.

    To facilitate the realization of this program, several events have been planned:
    1. The Georg Eckert Institute intends to implement 2 workshops within the space of two years in which textbook experts from different countries or nations can meet and exchange ideas.

  • The first workshop is planned for 2000 and will address the education and textbook situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). This is in reaction to the still strained relations in BiH, which are reflected in on-going segregation also in the educational system. Representatives of the three peoples of BiH communities, the Bosniacs, the Serbs, and the Croats are invited.
  • A second workshop will address either the question of minority education in South-East Europe and their representation in textbooks or choose a topic that is a continuation of a topic from a previously held summer school.

    2. Furthermore, the Georg Eckert Institute is planning the implementation of a summer school, which will be open to participants from all of South-East Europe.

  • The summer school will address the topic The Balkans and Europe. Traditional national historical concepts will be augmented by regional and European aspects. Special weight will be placed on the representation of the changing relations between the Balkans and Europe. Experiences from other regional and European-based collaborations of the Georg Eckert Institute and the Council of Europe will be beneficial in this endeavour. Particularly experiences gathered from the Council of Europe project "Learning and teaching about the history of Europe in the 20th century" from the textbook analysis edited by the Georg Eckert Institute "The European house of the 20th century - its image in history textbooks for secondary schools" offer ample material for this purpose.
  • Using concrete examples, the participants will develop new structures for the arrangement of the material and for the methodology of the textbooks.

    • Creation of the South-East Europe Internet forum accompanied by on-going support (UNESCO)
    Aug.-Oct. 2000
    • Planning of the cross-border workgroups
    • Exploratory talks for the first workshop
    Nov. 2000
    • Workshop with representatives from Bosnia-Hercegovina about current textbook and curriculum problems in Bosnia-Hercegovina
    • Extension of the Internet forum to a virtual South East Europe Textbook Network (Braunschweig/Zagreb)
    Jan.-May 2001
    • Preparations for the summer school
    June 2001
    • Summer school at the Georg Eckert Institute/Braunschweig on the topic: The Balkans and Europe
    Oct.2001-Feb. 2002
    • Planning of the next workshop
    March 2002
    • Workshop with an open topic. The topic "The representation of minorities in textbooks" or a topic arising from the results of the summer school is favoured
    July 2002
    • Evaluation of the status of textbook research, textbook development, and textbook comparison in South-East Europe and of the perspectives for a continuous cooperation with the regional textbook industry in all of Europe

    (1)Wolfgang Höpken, Ed., Öl ins Feuer? Schulbücher, ethnische Stereotypen und Gewalt in Südosteuropa / Oil on Fire? Textbooks, Ethnic Stereotypes and Violence in South-Eastern Europe. (Studien zur Internationalen Schulbuchforschung, vol. 89), Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung 1996; Christian Schölzel, Brücken und Brüche. Streifzug durch die deutsch-jugoslawische Beziehungsgeschichte (Studien zur internationalen Schulbuchforschung, vol. 99), Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung 1999.
    (2)Falk Pingel: The European house of the 20th century - its image in history textbooks for secondary schools. Council of Europe, Strasbourg 2000.
    (3)Isabelle de Keghel/ Robert Maier, Eds, Auf den Kehrichthaufen der Geschichte? Der Umgang mit der sozialistischen Vergangenheit. (Studien zur Internationalen Schulbuchforschung, vol. 97), Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung 1999. The Georg Eckert Institute has been working since 1997 on a three-year project devoted to history and civics textbooks of the non-Russian CIS-states between national self-awareness and international orientation.
    (4)Informal Conference of Ministers of Education from south-east Europe, Final declaration, Council of Europe, 2-3 December 1999, Strasbourg, p.10.

    Heike Karge
    Celler Str. 3 D-38114 Braunschweig
    Phone: 49 (0)531-59 0 99 62
    Fax: 49 (0)531-59 0 99 99


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