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Teaching the future’s past:history education from division to reconciliation in the ‘new countries’ of Southeast Europe

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Disciplines
  • Education
  • Law
  • Linguistics
  • Political Science

Abstract

According to the constructivist approach to nationalism, mass education systems not only constitute a key marker of modern state-ness, but also perform a crucial function within the nation-building process itself. Namely, state education is the apparatus through which a state’s societal culture is inculcated into the new gen-erations of citizens. The teaching of history in schools, in this respect, takes up the vital task of disseminating a state’s national, or official, history. An eloquent illus-tration is that of the ‘new’ countries emerged from the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation. Here, the willingness to do away with the socialist legacy, and the need to construct ‘new’ national memories to uphold each country’s engagement in the nation-building process, have resulted in deep changes in the content of education. In particular, the contents of history teaching – that is, what is written in the text-books – have been rearranged according to markedly ethno-centric perspectives, through both the retrieval and re-formulation of past events in a new national nar-rative and the endorsement of stereotyping. As a result, history teaching is very likely to promote intolerance and foster animosity between national groups. Re-markably, such phenomenon has found marked disapproval within the human rights discourse. International documents articulating the right to education, in fact, ascribe to the educational enterprise the fundamental task of promoting tol-erance and mutual understanding among peoples and nations. Drawing on this principle, the international community has carried out a number of initiatives aim-ing at reforming history education in the region of South Eastern Europe, in par-ticular through the revision of the textbooks.

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