Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

The Role of Teaching History for a Nation-Building Process in a Post-Conflict Society: The Case of Macedonia

Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

The Role of Teaching History for a Nation-Building Process in a Post-Conflict Society: The Case of Macedonia

Article excerpt


The theoretical framework of this article is based on several published works whose content deals with history teaching as a key mechanism of justice in transitional societies.1 Then, it draws from the work of the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe and their project "Clio in the Balkans" and the Joint History Textbook Project. In addition, there are materials from interviews with Macedonian and Albanian history teachers, experts, and government representatives selected from the participants in the Macedonian project presented at a United States Institute of Peace conference in Washington, D.C. in November 2005.

Unite or Divide?

In societies recovering from violent conflict, questions of how to deal with the past are sensitive, especially when they involve memories of widespread victimization, death, and destruction. It is very often the case that, in the wake of violence, political leaders and others seem to prefer social amnesia to the study of their society's recent history, as they try to "move forward" and promote stability.

Therefore, the question arises of whether the teaching of history could help transitional societies become more democratic, and whether it can contribute to the development of empathy for, or even social cohesion among, former enemies in societies in which some groups were marginalized or were deprived of certain rights. Going further, can history teaching reinforce other transitional justice processes, such as truth telling and legal accountability for crimes that had been committed in the past? Finally, can teaching history promote belief in the rule of law, resistance to a culture of impunity, and greater trust in public institutions, including schools themselves?

The United States Institute of Peace conference convened on this topic in Washington, D.C. in November 2005 raised the issue of the content of post-conflict history education, which raised additional concerns about developing and adopting new history curricula. The issues to be considered include:

* Who decides what version(s) of history will be taught?

* What impact do those choices have on promoting stable, cohesive, and tolerant societies?

* What is the relationship between the (re)writing of history by academic historians and the development of secondary-school history textbooks?

* What impact do transitional justice processes have on the development of new secondary-school history textbooks and the way history is actually taught in schools?

One particularly problematic issue for post-conflict school systems in divided, multiethnic, and multilingual societies is determining which languages will be used to instruct schoolchildren. Although it is important for children in a multilingual country to learn the language (and, by extension, the culture) of other main groups of citizens in addition to their own mother tongue, having too many official languages in the schools can promote semi-literacy, poor performance, high repetition, and high dropout rates (as is seen in many African countries). At the same time, the rising importance of English as a lingua franca in the global marketplace is increasingly influencing language policies. Ethnic segregation or integration of schools also is an important structural aspect of education. When different ethnic groups are educated separately within the national education system, and especially when one ethnic (or gender) group receives more educational resources than another, such arrangements can convey important overt or hidden messages to students. Cole and Barsalou's report says that some educational systems (such as Macedonia's) permit the use of different history texts in ethnically segregated classrooms. In this case, history instruction in Macedonia is the same for Albanians and Slavs - but only in the sense that each group separately learns a remarkably similar history of victimization by the other, and each claims the same distinctions, such as a longer presence in the region. …

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