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The Presentation of Europe and the Balkans in South-East European Textbooks:

The Albanian-language Textbooks Used in the 'Parallel' Primary and Secondary Schools in the Post-Autonomy Kosovo in the 1990s



The following analysis focuses on primary and secondary school history textbooks published and used in the teaching process in the so-called 'parallel educational system' set up by Albanians in Kosovo in 1992. The Serbian-Albanian conflict over the education system in Kosovo came to a head in 1991/1992. Henceforth, the province's education was divided into two administratively separate and spatially segregated education systems run by Serbs and Albanians respectively. A key development in the newly established Albanian-language education system in Kosovo was a revision of history curricula and textbooks. Two criteria were crucial in the process. They included the riddance of ideological (i.e. Communist) dimension and the assertion of the national perspective.

Publication of new history textbooks was not accompanied by a change in the teaching method. History remained an obligatory subject. The previous practice of 'content monism' continued as only one textbook was used for all students in each grade. The content is presented in units in chronological order, and in a prescriptive manner. Each unit is followed by a list of questions for which answers are provided in the text. E.g. "What was the economic situation in England after the Second World War like?" following a unit entitled England between 1918-1929. Also, many units are followed by excerpts from primary sources. These include passages taken from documents (e.g., an excerpt from the USA Constitution of 1787) or summaries of biographies of prominent figurers (e.g., Mahatma Gandhi and Mustafa Qemal Ataturk). Written records by contemporaries are also offered to additionally reinforce the points made in the text. These are often ambiguously quoted (e.g., on the campaign of Wifliam the Conqueror the source is quoted only as "a contemporary document"), or, alternatively, the source is not quoted at all. Notably, the additional readings do not encourage 'multiperspectivity.' On the contrary, the 'original' content is offered only is so far as it illustrates the points argued in the text.

Textbooks Analysed:

Two types of textbooks were used by Albanian students in the 1990s. The introduction of a course in national Albanian history in the 1990s was accompanied by the publications of textbooks dealing exclusively with Albanian history. The remaining textbooks combine international and national history. Chronologically, they are divided into those that include the overview of history from the 13th century and great geographical discoveries to the interwar period, from the interwar period until the present, or, as one does, the overview of the entire world history from the antiquity till today. There are no textbooks dealing exclusively with international or European history.

National, Regional and European Dimensions:

Much of a sense of geographical and political position of Albania and Kosovo in the Balkans and in Europe is derived by assumption. None of the textbooks examined contains a definition of Europe or of the Balkans. Instead, the history of Europe and of the Balkans as well is treated as a history of individual countries. Therefore, the section entitled "Europe from 11th to 15th Centuries" contains the subsections on the history of France, England, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, while their histories are described and treated separately. The approach to the Balkans is the same. For example, the section dealing with the "Balkans after the Second World War", focuses separately on the histories of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece.

Even though neither the South-East Europe (Balkans) nor Europe as regions are defined, some sense of their common heritage (if not destiny) can be obtained from brief overviews of the history of ideas (i.e. in the writing on Humanism and Renaissance in Europe). Similarly, the only sense of shared past and predicament is in a unit dealing with the rule of the Ottomans in the Balkans, entitled the "Characteristics of the Ottoman Rule in the Balkans" and the "Resistance of the Balkan Peoples against the Ottomans."

The chronological presentation of content consistently applied in all textbooks, and, in particular, the placing of units dealing with Albanians' history in given historical periods, provides the only linkage between the Albanians and European/world history. E.g., a section on the "Albanians between the Two World Wars" is inserted after the overview of the history of European countries in this period. The Albanian content in the history textbooks dealing with international history is given disproportionately more space that the total number of pages devoted to Europe or the US. E.g., the units dealing with Albania in the 19th and at the beginning of 20th century, take up 38 pages, the overview of US history in the same period takes up five pages, while as much space is singled out for Europe (or rather France, England, Gerrnany, Italy, Austria and Russia, respectively).

Conflictual Relationship:

The sense of the Albanians' territorial grievance is one of the main motifs in the Albanian history textbooks following the 1912 Declaration of Albania's independence. It is the dealings of the Great Powers in relation to the (lack of) integrity of the Albanian national state which provide the most explicit elaboration of the relationship between Europe (i.e. Great Powers) and Albanians. The Albanians are, hence, depicted as having suffered "the biggest historical injustice," as the Great Powers at the 1913 Ambassadors' Conference in London, convened to deal with Balkan issues after the First Balkan War (one of which was to decide Albania's borders), turned a deaf ear to Albanians' aspirations to include all Albanian-inhabited lands in a national state. Hence, a relevant unit was entitled "Great powers decide to dismember Albanlan lands." Therefore, the decisions of the Ambassadors' Conference are assessed as "anti-Albanian," having designated the northern Albanian-populated territories as a part of Serbia and Montenegro and the southern ones as a part of Greece:

These unjust decisions clearly show that the Ambassadors' Conference in London disregarded the national interest of the Albanian people. On the contrary, it gravely dismembered its ethnic lands, while thus fulfiffing the chauvinist demands of the Balkan aggressors. As a consequence, only about a half of the Albanian lands (about 28,000 square miles) and of the Albanian people were encompassed within the borders of the Albanian state, while another half was separated from the body of the homeland and dismembered among Serbia, Montenegro and Greece.

The 1913 Ambassadors' Conference is presented as consistent with Western disregard of Albanians at the 1878 Berlin Congress which recognised Serbia and Montenegro as independent states, "enlarg [ing] them at the expense of Albaian lands." Nor was Albanians' treatment at the hands of the Great Powers any different at the 1919-20 Paris Peace Conference after the First World War. Albanians hoped that this Conference .would "justly solve [their] national demands." They included "not only independence of Albania, but also the correction of the injustice that was done at the expense of Albanian lands" at the Berlin and London Conferences, but these "were not accepted. " Instead, "Great Powers tried to satisfy the chauvinist demands of the Balkan countries, which were their allies during the war."

The history of conflict being the most explicit description of Europe's attitude to Albanians, coupled with a complete omission of a role Europe (and its institutions) as well as the UN played in standing up against the Albanian disenfranchisement in the 1990s, gave rise to an image of Europe as an obstacle to Albanians' national aspirations.

Western Focus:

The world presented in history textbooks is the Western world. Apart from the European countries, it is only the US that merits significant attention. The developments in Asia, Africa and Latin America are outlined only briefly. Consequently, apart from the national history, focus is on Europe, or, more specifically, on the history of Great Powers. The history of the Balkan countries is subordinated both to the Albanian national history, and to the European history, with the exception of the overview of the Yugoslav and Greek policies towards the Albanian minorities living outside the Albanian state. Similarly, a more or less detailed review of history ends with the Second World War. The overview of the post-World War history, therefore, is as best cursory.

Arguably, a focus on the history of Europe as the history of Great Powers coupled with a concentration on the pre-World War Two period provides little understanding into the contemporary world, and the interplay between the national, regional, European and global dimensions.

Contemporary Europe?

The post-World War Two history focuses on the division of Europe, into Western and Eastern blocks. Interestingly, even while emphasising the division, it is Western Eutope that gets much more attention. The overview of the contemporary European history ends with democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe. However, no implications for the geo-political or cultural transformation of Europe are worth considering.

Poignantly, the teaching of history in the Albanian-language schools did not equip pupils with any knowledge and conception of the European Union. The only information offered on the issue is contained in the history textbook for the 1st year of secondary school. The overview of its history takes up a half of one page, The information is provided on the European Coal and Steel Conimunity (1951), the Single Market (1957), and the drive for the Conirnunity's expansion. The community's economic strength is played up. The only reference to the future of Europe is a last paragraph asserting that a "creation of big Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals" will depend on the ability of this organisation "to speak with one voice on international affairs." Notably, this is the only passage referring to the political and geographic shape and future of Europe.

Elsewhere, like in the textbook for the 3rd grade of secondary school, attention is given to the Conference on Cooperation and Security in Europe and the Council of Europe, both of which are described in factual terms. Even though Albania was the only European country not to be a member of the CSCE, the organisation is described as a "big victory for the democratic force, because it played an important role in easing the tensions on the old continent, and helped the democratic forces in the countries of Eastern Europe to overthrow the Con-ununist regimes." This is a reflection of new ideological interpretation of past events.

Though the pupils might thus become familiar with the key organisations on Europe's political landscape, they, arguably, remain in the dark as to their function, relationship to each other, and, in particular, to the burning issues in Europe following the fall of the Berlin wall.

Roots of Europe?

Consistently with the chronological approach of the Albanian-language textbooks used in Kosovo, pupils will be made familiar with the Greek, Roman and Macedonian civilisations. Similarly, they will deduce a shared past, ideas and history on the European continent (even though the latter will not be explicitly mentioned) while reading on the respective history of Europe's Great Powers. However, even though they might obtaining patchy information about all stages of European history (with more detailed overviews of some countries), Europe as a geographic, political, cultural, or, even, perhaps, civilisational, concept will not have been problematised at all. Similarly, even though the Balkans is mentioned in the textbooks, it appears only a common name for several countries. Poignantly, the textbooks do not mentioned where this region is situated, let alone its origins and features, as well as its relationship to the rest of the continent. Much is left to pupils to assume and deduce from the information provided. This task is made even more difficult given the scarcity of maps offered as accompanying information to the textbook units.

Albanians in Europe

The fact that Albanians are a European nation is yet one more fact that is assumed in the Albanian-language textbooks. Notably, these textbooks were written in the period after Albanians were disenfranchised in Kosovo and declared the independence of the Kosovo Republic in the early 1990s. Consequently, the national dimension is prominent in all textbooks, primarily in the treatment of national history. Unlike the Romanian textbooks that make the point of Romanians being a European nation and stressing their Europeanness, the historical argumentation of the Albanian textbooks is geared towards reinforcing the Albanian claim to Kosovo. Therefore, the sections on the Illyrians, pre­Roman population of the Balkans, take up a significant part of the content in history books (whether they cover international or national history). Asserting a direct ascendance from Illyrians, Albanians claim to be original settlers in the Balkans, i.e. of being there before the Slavs' arrival, and, hence, having a claim to the territory as being its first occupants. The contemporary dispute over Kosovo is also reflected in the presentation of the history of the Serbian-Albanian relations. It is presented exclusively as a history of conflict, thus undermining any possibility of coexistence. As a result, the Albanian claim to Kosovo acquires a key significance. In other words, to prove that Albanians belong to Kosovo emerges as an issue of a higher priority than proving their belongingness to Europe.


The content change in the Albanian-language history textbooks in the 1990s Kosovo was exclusively directed at the national content. Hitherto limited by the ideological constraints, the history textbooks were transformed into a tool for the celebration of national identity and the assertion of the national cause in Kosovo. A shift in content, however, was not coupled by an effort to rethink the methodology of presentation of the new and old content. As a result, the abundance of factual information contrasts starkly with a lack of general themes that would place the detailed data into context. In addition, much of the information, such as for example, the notion and geography of Europe, is assumed, and, hence unclear. While the national content is given primary importance (and hence most space), only to be followed by the Balkan and European history (itself presented as separate history of individual countries), and the global dimension (with the exception of US history) comes last, the interconnectedness and interdependence among all these levels remains equally unclear. At one at the same time, historic arguments are presented in a prescriptive manner, while a lot is left to be assumed. Consequently, the answers to the questions concerning the European dimension, the relationship between national, regional, European and global, and, the knowledge that the pupils will obtain, will greatly depend on their assumptions which will necessarily have to complement the prescriptive, yet insufficient information they are offered.



Gani, Agron et al., Historia pėr klasėn e dytė tė shkollave tė mesme [History for 2nd grade of secondary schools] (Prishtinė: Enti i Teksteve dhe i Mjeteve Mėsimore i Kosovės, 1996) (Abbr. Historia II).

Gani, Agron et al., Historia pėr klasėn VII tė shkollės fillore [History for 7th grade of primary school] (Prishtinė: Enti i Teksteve dhe i Mjeteve Mėsimore i Kosovės, 1996) (Abbr. Historia 7).

Jubani, Bep et al., Historia e popullit shqiptar pėr shkollat e mesme [History of the Albanian people for secondary schools] (Prishtinė: Enti i Teksteve dhe i Mjeteve Mėsimore i Kosovės, 1996) (Abbr. Historia e popullit)

Kuri, Vilson et al., Tė njohim historinė e popullit tonė 4 [Learning the history of our people 4(th grade)] (Prishtinė: Enti i Teksteve dhe i Mjeteve Mėsimore i Kosovės, 1994) (Abbr. Historia 4).

Kuri, Vilson et al., Historia pėr klasėn VI tė shkollės fillore [History for 6th grade of primary school] (Prishtinė: Enti i Teksteve dhe i Mjeteve Mėsimore i Kosovės 1995) (Abbr. Historia 6).

Kuri, Vilson et al., Historia pėr klasėn V tė shkollės fillore [History for 5th grade of primary school] (Prishtinė: Enti i Teksteve dhe i Mjeteve Mėsimore i Kosovės, 1995).

Mezini, Adem et al., Historia pėr klasėn e tretė tė shkollave tė mesme [History for 3rd grade of secondary schools] (Prishtinė: Enti i Teksteve dhe i Mjeteve Mėsimore i Kosovės, 1997) (Abbr. Historia III).

Myzyri, Hysni et al., Historia pėr klasėn VIII tė shkollės fillore [History for 8th grade of primary school] (Prishtinė: Enti i Teksteve dhe i Mjeteve Mėsimore i Kosovės, 1996) (Abbr. Historia 8).

Rexhepi, Fehmi and Isa Bicaj, Historia pėr klasėn e parė tė shkollave tė mesme profesionale [History for lst grade of professional secondary schools] (Prishtinė: Enti i Teksteve dhe i Mjeteve Mėsimore i Kosovės, 1997) (Abbr. Historia I).


Denisa Kostovicova

Wolfson College

Cambridge CB3 9BB

The analysis was presented during:

Summer School "Balkans in Europe"

24-30 September 2001


Celler Strasse 3

D -38114 Braunschweig