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History after the war: Examples of how controversial issues are dealt with in history textbooks in Bosnia and Hercegovina(1)

Turn to any of the most recently published history textbooks used today in German schools, look for the term 'Balkan', and you will find that, in general, it is placed in the context of the 'Balkan question', 'Balkan wars' or even the shootings in Sarajevo as having triggered off the First World War.(2) In most German textbooks, the theme of the Balkans is usually approached from a Western European angle. The Balkan region is often seen as an area used by the great powers, as an extension of political actions or as a battlefield for resolving conflicts. More too often, little light is shed on the countries in their own right, both as far as their own historical developments as individual countries are concerned and also in their interaction with each other.

One textbook alone cannot of course tell the 'whole history', as there are a lot of different countries in the world and, more importantly, a lot of different perspectives, too. Textbook analysis becomes interesting when it pinpoints precisely which parts of history a society chooses to include or leave out in its learning materials.

What can we expect to find when analysing post-Yugoslavian textbooks?(3) Do they serve to consolidate the stereotypical view which is rife in many Western European textbooks, namely the idea of a 'violent Balkan region'? As could be expected, post-Yugoslavian textbooks do indeed differentiate a great deal more than other countries in their approach to South-East Europe. They include a great deal of information about this part of European history, which one cannot find in most of the Western European textbooks currently in use. This is where I see one of the most important challenges for textbooks published in regions other than in the Balkans, namely in the call for a more European or global view of history. But at the same time, there are great challenges for history education in Bosnia and Hercegovina, too. For, as far as I know, and almost without exception, the textbooks of this region seem to be committed to a certain concept of identity. This concept reproduces old traditional borders and old grounds for conflict, while at the same time creating new ones.(4) This concept of identity places national togetherness in the frontline of a modern codex of values and morals which require collective acceptance. Today's school textbooks are conceptualised to comply with the nation's point of view - a nation which saw itself, during the last war, confronted with the excesses of the 'opponent' or rather the 'others'. Thus, it is not only the idea of the nation's collective greatness, but also the violence of war suffered by the nation which has become central to the concept of identity.
The combination of a national identity together with the memory of the experiences of violence and their documentation seem to me to be the main reason for which current school textbooks from Bosnia and Hercegovina reflect and confirm those very stereotypes that are so often used by outside observers, namely the image of a 'violence-ridden Balkan region'.(5)

Dealing with controversial issues in history textbooks from Bosnia and Hercegovina is today a very special, challenging and often highly political undertaking. This is due to the complicated political and educational situation created through and after the 'Dayton Agreement'. Pupils in Bosnia and Hercegovina live and learn today in a 'quasi-divided' society. The history textbooks themselves are a mirror of this situation. There seems to be no common ground within these books for finding a common history. In the textbooks used, in particular by the Croats and the Serbs living in Bosnia and Hercegovina, the region of concern is not Bosnia and Hercegovina and, in almost all of the books, it cannot represent a region with common perceptions and experiences.(6) This could be merely a question of politics. However, it is also a question regarding the forms and the framework of a society's historical consciousness.

All history is selective. So, since the 1990s, the basis of history itself has been conceptualised as constructed and interpreted by historians, left unfinished and open to criticism. Textbooks are in this sense also 'constructions of history'(7) and should mention their perspective. But this approach to learning and teaching history has had little effect on post-Yugoslavian textbooks. Since it would not be possible to mention every single aspect in the textbooks which I personally find interesting or problematic, I would like to point out the more general tendencies of the didactical aims and conceptions of history as developed in the textbooks studied.

First of all, there is a strong tendency to make textbooks a key instrument for fostering national identities. The concept of the nation is, of course, a historical fact, which one cannot and should not deny. That is not the main point of my criticism. But if a country's history is presented only from the perspective of the nation, a lot of questions arise. At first, such an approach denies the importance of non-national identities. Identities, however, have always been things that can be changed or altered. The primary orientation towards an ethnic or national group, for instance, started in Europe at a later historical date, i.e. at the end of the 18th century. The terms 'nation' or 'ethnic' should therefore only be used and conceptualised to show historical development, since their meaning differs according to historical periods and regions. In this sense, historical conflicts of people living in Bosnia and Hercegovina cannot be seen exclusively as national or ethnic conflicts in the way they are often presented in textbooks. They are also, for instance, based on social or economic conflicts. The challenge here is to develop an awareness of historical identities with fluid frontiers which often undergo a change between the people of the region concerned.

A second characteristic for most post-Yugoslavian textbooks is the principle of a 'fragmented memory'.(8) In 20th century's history, this relates to the history of the socialist Yugoslavian State. This principle means that, by denying any common history apart from a common political history, the post-Yugoslavian textbooks produce a kind of 'cleaned up' version of history. Thus, in almost all of the books, Yugoslav history is treated from the perspective of the role of one's own nation in this history, not as the common history that all Yugoslav nations have shared for a certain amount of time. Political history, which obviously has to reflect common institutions and developments of the State, is often presented to show only negative effects. Some Croatian textbooks, for instance, reduce the history of socialist Yugoslavia to a history of permanent national oppression. The textbooks do not offer the chance to look into the diversity of developments within the frame of the former common State.

The third point I would like to mention is closely linked to the second one. Not all the textbooks but some (especially those for the 20th century) are obviously based on experiences of violence and war during the 1990s. These books paint a picture of the last decade when the home nation was a victim of outside aggressions. The suffering of people from all sides during the war is not mentioned, nor is the use of violence in defending so-called 'national interests' questioned - instead it is readily accepted. One could speak of a kind of asymmetric perspective on history, where empathy for those who suffered in wartime is exclusively reserved for one's own group.

The last point I would like to mention briefly refers to the didactical concept of history itself as presented in the textbooks. With all the above-mentioned in mind, one can say that the concept of history is that of a finished historical painting, not open for critical dispute. At the centre of this picture we find the nation as the main goal of historical development. In this context, searching for patterns indicating how current textbooks in Bosnia and Hercegovina regard both their own nation as well as others, one could add that the areas where the two come into contact appear to be mainly in situations of conflict and confrontation. With the national collective central to the presentations, there seems very little room for looking 'beyond' this perspective and even less room for including a perspective 'from the outside looking in'. Analysing conflict situations in society thus ends up with monocausal texts which search for those to be 'blamed' or the 'guilty party' in ethnic or national 'otherness'.

I would now like to present some examples of how controversial issues are dealt with in history textbooks. I have chosen three short examples from textbooks in Bosnia and Hercegovina to show how they deal with controversial issues in different ways.

The first example relates to modern history - the history of the war on Croatian territory in the 1990s. In a Croatian textbook entitled "Croatia and the world in the 20th century", I found some photographs relating to this topic - Croatian soldiers, Croatian flags in war, destroyed Croatian houses. Even without referring to the text of this chapter, one can already see on the photographs how the last war is dealt with. The use of violence seems to be accepted for stated national interests, the victims of war from the other side - women, children, ordinary men - are not even mentioned. The translation of a text related to the same chapter of this textbook confirms this thesis: "The Croat defence, in possession of more weapons and heavier ammunition since early 1991, caused a great deal of damage to their aggressors: they succeeded in destroying not only their supplies but also their tanks and war planes. The Croat army demonstrated its heroic feats in a long and hard battle over Vukovar, which will be long remembered in Croatian military history. [...] In serving to defend their homeland, our Croatian soldiers have displayed exemplary bravery and the highest degree of unity. Croats both at home and abroad have joined their feeling and thoughts into patriotic powers. Croatia has become a country where there is no longer any political emigration! Croatia's reputation, having defended her freedom and her right to sovereignty, has grown throughout the world."(9)

Another example is taken from a history textbook which was published in Sarajevo in 1996. The book is used in the fourth year of secondary school and has almost the same content as the book used in the eighth year of primary school, which was published in Sarajevo during the war in 1994.(10) The interesting thing is that the first book leaves out the catalogue of questions meant for the pupils which deal with national or Yugoslav history, while in year eight they are included. The disappearance of these questions could be interpreted as a reaction and reflection of today's situation. In this post-war society, it is a great and often painful challenge to discuss issues like the history of the common Yugoslavian state which preceded the war, the history of one's own collective group, the interactions with other groups. A lot of controversy could arise, since different national groups were conflicting parties during the war. Since the wounds of the war are still fresh, it will need time to find new and meaningful ways to answer these questions. But, on the other hand, one cannot deny the importance of raising these questions, especially because today's pupils have a right to receive answers from their teachers.

My last example is taken from a history textbook for the second year of secondary school, published in Sarajevo in 1994. The passage refers to the history of Bosnia and Hercegovina during the later Ottoman period, 16th-18th centuries: In areas where there were diverse religions, it was possible to overcome differences by nurturing a sense of good neighbourliness. Instead of seeking solidarity in their ethnic or confessional background, the Bosnians, Croats, Serbs and Jews in Bosnia and Hercegovina cultivated the notion of 'Komšiluk'.(11) The idea that the law of 'komšiljsko' was stronger than any family ties was widespread among the people. Whatever ties the people felt for each other are rooted in this.(12)

We find here one of the rare examples of fostering an 'inclusive' identity. In other words, trying to overcome the historical interpretations which deal exclusively with the aspects of ethnic divisions or identities. Integration of history is possible even without denying the existence of different experiences or perspectives. Any integration means above all using and accepting more than one perspective when analysing historical developments. The more issues (social, national or other) involved in historical events, the more different the views on these events. This should lead to more perspectives being piled on for their own sake. What is more important is the connection and overlapping of all these possibly different perspectives. These, for instance, could be underlined in textbook descriptions of the daily life of ordinary people during wartime. Hence, the example from the Bosnian textbook could be a beginning in developing an approach to the history of the Serbs, Croats, Bosnians and other peoples living in this area, which could reflect the different problems and characteristics of this intercultural region.

When the Georg Eckert Institute is invited to international textbook discussions on this particular area, we are often asked to bring examples from the German-Polish or German-French textbook consultations. These are considered models for resolving protracted conflicts successfully on a transnational and intercultural level. Although the German-Polish textbook talks took longer than the German-French ones, in the end a way was found to formulate shared responsibility as part of the bilateral conceptions developed for textbooks.(13) I would like to underline that these bilateral discussions took about 15 years! That means that it will be necessary to pass through some 'intermediary stages' before we can hope to achieve similar results in this region. One of the most important challenges in these talks has been, for instance, to tackle those passages in textbooks which portray the same event but use sources from opposite sides to illustrate it. This will also be a great challenge in the Balkan region where source material could illustrate how - besides the one partner nation portrayed - 'third' or 'fourth' party material reflects certain links and events in history. In this region, in particular, where different people used to live together in a multicultural and multiethnic environment for centuries, this principle of multiperspectivity is necessary for the development of historical understanding and critical thinking.

Problems arising where memories of history are controversial is an important theme for the entire post-Yugoslavian region. These problems have culminated in Bosnia and Hercegovina. For, in such a country, which has to work with three different curricula along three ethnical divisions, it is hardly possible to conduct controversial debates in a constructive way as long as the didactic aim of the curricula and textbooks is to impart and encourage an ethnocentric national identity which excludes any acceptance of others. What is necessary in Bosnia and Hercegovina is not only integration on a current political, social and economic level. As regards textbooks, one could even speak of the need for 'catching up' on historical integration or integration which encompasses a consciousness of history. Accepting responsibility for history means not only presenting it with a sense of self-assurance, but also looking into and presenting one's own part played in history with a critical approach. This is, however, nigh on impossible in these books, since controversial passages are simply withdrawn from the books.

The latest initiative of the International Community and the Ministries of Education in Bosnia and Hercegovina to revise the textbooks and to remove offensive material produced a strong reaction in these countries. This is understandable, since controversial and offensive material is often intermixed so that sometimes a clear definition is impossible. For instance, the war in the 1990s on Bosnian and Herzegovinan territory has different names in textbooks - the Bosnian Serbs see it is a civil war against being dominated, whereas the Bosnian Croats refer to it as a homeland war in the defence of the home territory, and the Bosnians feel it was a war of aggression.(14) What is the 'true' definition, what is controversial and what is an offensive explanation? Is there more than one 'truth', could they be presented side by side to the pupils or is it better to blacklist the material until new books are written?

Discussions on textbook development in Bosnia and Hercegovina are an on-going process. What is important now, however, is to revise the concept of the history textbook itself. Until now this concept has dealt with the presentation of historical facts and not with the aim of developing a critical consciousness of history among pupils. This not only calls for an open academic debate with an interdisciplinary approach, but requires more than anything, on the part of the decision-making elite in each country involved, a political willingness to co-operate.

(1)I presented this paper at a seminar, Teaching controversial and sensitive issues in history at secondary school level, organised by the Council of Europe, that took place in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina, on 19-20 November, 1999.
(2)Cf. Jörg Hansen, Wars in Textbooks - A Didactical Perspective, in: Wolfgang Höpken (Ed.), Öl ins Feuer? Schulbücher, ethnische Stereotypen und Gewalt in Südosteuropa, Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, Studien zur Internationalen Schulbuchforschung, Vol. 89, 1996, pp. 137-142.
(3)I sometimes use 'post-Yugoslavian textbooks', sometimes 'textbooks in Bosnia and Hercegovina'. These versions are partly congruous, because Serbs and Croats in Bosnia and Hercegovina use textbooks published in Belgrade or Zagreb for the pupils in Serbia or Croatia. Both during the war in Bosnia and Hercegovina and after, the Bosnians developed their own textbooks, published in Sarajevo. Today, the Serbs and Croats in Bosnia and Hercegovina have also started to develop their own textbooks, but textbooks from outside are still in use.
(4)For more details on my analysis of post-Yugoslavian history textbooks, cf. Heike Karge, Geschichtsbilder im postjugoslawischen Raum, in: Internationale Schulbuchforschung, Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, issue No 4/1999, pp. 315-337.
(5)With regard to the stereotyping of the Balkans from a Western European perspective, cf. Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Asking for more responsibility from different parties involved in Southeast European social history and how they create images of the Balkans, cf. Holm Sundhaussen, Europa balcanica. Der Balkan als historischer Raum Europas, in: Geschichte und Gesellschaft 25,1999, pp. 626-653.
(6)For similar tendencies in the current curricula, cf. Volker Lenhart, Anastasia Kesidou, Stephan Stockmann, The curricula of the 'national subjects' in Bosnia and Hercegovina. A Report to UNESCO, Heidelberg, 1999.
(7)Cf. Wolfgang Höpken, How can history textbooks help to promote democratic values and tolerance?, unpublished paper, presented at a symposium, organized by the Council for Europe, Council for Cultural Co-operation, about History, democratic values and tolerance in Eastern Europe: the experience of countries in democratic transition, Sofia 19-22 October, 1994. (8)Cf. Wolfgang Höpken, Textbooks and Reconciliation in South Eastern Europe, in: Association for Democracy in the Balkans, Culture and Reconciliation in South Eastern Europe (International Conference Thessaloniki, Greece, June 26-29, 1997), Thessaloniki, 1997, pp. 67-80.
(9)Ivo Peric (ed.), Hrvatska i svijet u 20. stoljecu, Zagreb: Školska Knjiga, 1994, p. 212 f. Mustafa Imamovic and Muhidin Pelesic (eds), Historija IV. razred gimnazije, Sarajevo: Ministarstvo Obrazovanja, Nauke, Kulture i Športa, 1996.
(10)Mustafa Imamovic, Muhidin Pelesic and Muhamed Ganibegovic (eds), Historija 8. razred osnovne škole, Sarajevo: Ministarstvo Obrazovanja, Nauke i Kulture, 1994.
(11)It is not possible to translate this word exactly. It means a very good atmosphere between neighbours.
(12)Cf. Enes Pelidija and Fahrudin Isakovic (eds), Historija II. razred gimnazije, Sarajevo: Ministarstvo Obrazovanja, Nauke i Kulture, 1994, p.169.
(13)Cf. Rainer Riemenschneider, Transnationale Konfliktbearbeitung, in: Internationale Schulbuchforschung, Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, issue No 1/1998, pp. 71-79.
(14)Lenhart, The curricula of the "national subjects" in Bosnia and Hercegovina, p. 4.

Heike Karge
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Phone: 49 (0)531-59 0 99 62
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