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History lessons for the Balkans

The goal of new elementary-school history textbooks for Balkan countries is to downplay the inevitability of ethnic and religious conflict in the Balkans. Greek nationalists burn the books in Thessaloniki in protest.

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The new Greek textbook seems a sensible attempt to match the teaching ofhistory to current Greek reality. Among its goals is to downplay the inevitability of national/racial/religious conflict in the Balkans, to reduce the sense of Greek victimisation by hostile outsiders and to weaken the myth that Greek national independence is a gift of the church

 

 

Thousands of young Greek university graduates wait ten years on a roster for appointment as a schoolteacher. The pay is miserable, and they start their career in a remote village. If they looked more carefully at the Greek history they aspire to teach, they might well opt for another profession.

 

The Iraq on our television screens resembles late Ottoman Macedonia a century ago. When Greek, Bulgarian or Vlach freedom fighters arrived in the village in 1907, the schoolteacher was the first person they murdered. Today, Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish militias, with equally untidy beards but deadlier weapons, eliminate Iraqi teachers for the same reason.

 

Murdering schoolteachers is a token of respect for how dangerous they are. Winning the battle for Macedonia required persuading illiterate peasants that they were not humble taxpayers of the Ottoman Empire but rather patriotic sons of the Greek/Bulgarian Nation. The Nation, however, was a recent import from Europe, one prudent peasants viewed with alarm. To mobilise village children to kill and die for politicians in Athens or Sofia required giving them a nationalist education.

 

This is the context in which to understand the impulse of the Church of Greece, the nationalist bullies of Chrysi Avgi and a few Thessaloniki (ed. note: Salonica) politicians to burn the new sixth-grade Greek history textbooks. Mystical nationalism was a successful ideology for Northern Greece in the early 20th century. Perhaps it will be again. At the moment, however, people do not benefit when politicians and priests assure them that history proves God smiles on their hatred of the neighbours.

 

This does not mean Greek schoolteachers should force their pupils to memorise, for example, the 1821 massacre of Muslim and Jewish women and children at Tripolitsa. The object of teaching history is not to give our children nightmares or to harden them as fut

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.
Filed under education, nationalism, greece, Democracy and Human Rights
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