Teaching War. How Croatian schoolbooks changed and why it matters

Today, textbook authors across the Balkans face the challenge of explaining wars and war crimes, fascism, communism, ethnic cleansing and systematic violations of human rights in their recent past

Guests

Gerald Knaus, Director of European Stability Initiative

Chaired by

Vessela Tcherneva, Programmes Director at ECFR

Gerald Knaus and the European Stability Initiative published in September 2015 a report, entitled “Teaching War. How Croatian schoolbooks changed and why it matters”. This report describes how the clash between different approaches to history education has played out in Croatian history textbooks. Until 2000, there was only one nationalist textbook in use, presenting a one-sided image of Croatia's war history, both in the Second World War and in the conflicts that followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia. By 2013, when Croatia acceded to the EU, teachers could choose between four textbooks, which offered a much more nuanced picture. This reflected wider changes in how Croats viewed themselves, how they defined citizenship and how they saw their relationship with their neighbours and their Orthodox Serb minority.

Today, textbook authors across the Balkans face the challenge of explaining wars and war crimes, fascism, communism, ethnic cleansing and systematic violations of human rights in their recent past. Some Balkan countries still use textbooks telling stories of a nation surrounded by enemies, with national heroes and foreign villains, periods of suffering and victimhood alternating with military triumphs. Such textbooks transmit distorted ideas of citizenship; and signal to adults the limits of a nation's commitment to human rights and fundamental values, in peace time and in war.