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23 Sep 10

New Books Seek to Challenge Balkans History

Four history books for teachers aimed at encouraging students to think critically about painful historical issues in the Balkans have been presented in Belgrade.

Bojana Barlovac

Delegates from the EU, US and Balkan Trust for Democracy were among officials presenting the books, entitled "Teaching Modern Southeast European History - Alternative Educational Materials," to the public at the city's Aeroklub conference hall on Monday.

Serbian Minister of Education Zarko Obradovic said: “An understanding of the past is a precondition for the future.

"It would be a shame not to open all the archives and speak out about the events that have marked the past, influenced the present and can influence the future.

"Truth may hurt some people, but one should not escape from it, because the facts have to be faced," he said.

Sixty historians from 11 countries in Southeast Europe took part in the project to compile the books, published by Dan Graf and the Centre for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe.

The four volumes tackle a range of controversial topics from the Ottoman Empire to the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 and the Second World War.

However, the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s were omitted due to a lack of historic distance, the authors said.

Historian Dubravka Stojanovic, the editor of the Serbian edition, explained history needed to be presented as “a discussion” and not as a single truth.

“There is no one history,” she said.

The new workbooks therefore do not offer a new, single “truth” about past controversies, but provide a variety of information and sources through comments, documents, letters and pictures, Stojanovic continued.

Together, these present a diverse picture about how the various nations have seen their common past through different eyes, she said.

The new workbooks require teachers to be trained in new teaching methods so they can successfully convey the content in class.

“Some 150 history teachers have been trained so far and another 120 are expected to be trained by the year’s end, which would be 10 per cent of the total number of history teachers in the country [Serbia],” Stojanovic said.

The workbooks have already been published in Albanian, Bosnian, Croatian, English, Greek, Macedonian, Serbian and Turkish.

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