Belgrade, October 22-24, 2021 – The First Development Meeting
Teaching about wars has always been a tough mission. It is even more so in the countries of former Yugoslavia, where the memories of wars are still alive, and reconciliation has not been fully achieved. Not only does each of these countries follow a different history curriculum, focusing on a different approach, but they also have to face an ever-changing myriad of public attitudes and governmental policies. Understandably, such a whimsical environment poses a serious challenge for history teaching, as well as for our project – to the point that one of our participants, due to the sensitivity of the topics, has unfortunately had to drop out.
Recognising this challenge, one of the main endeavours of our project is to tackle the following crucial issue: ‘How to teach students the history of recent wars – wars that have yet to be considered ‘history’, but are being remembered in so many different ways, and have been investigated in great detail in the context of transitional justice?’
In Learning History that is not yet History II, teachers from six republics 一 Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and North Macedonia 一 have gathered to create 12 ready-to-use educational materials, which will be used for teaching the recent history of Yugoslavia’s dissolution and the 1990s Yugoslav Wars. The lessons will be available in all of the local languages. A Teachers’ Guide will also be developed, which provides instructions on how to address controversial and sensitive historical issues. Having met many dedicated teachers and history educators in Belgrade, I can say that these works embody their common aspiration: to foster, through history education, indispensable qualities such as critical thinking, cultural awareness, tolerance, and versatility.
Reciprocity and Collaboration are the Key
Our first day began with a delightful and captivating ice-breaker. The questions and answers that we exchanged revealed that we have many things in common, such as rock being the favourite music genre of many participants. One confusing question put me at bay – ‘What does 42 mean in the meaning of life?’. I figured that it was finally time to read ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams.
Having worked hard together, the teachers presented to us four learning materials that delved into various aspects of the region’s recent history.
- ‘Experience of War’ by Igor Jovanović, Marija Naletilić and Aleksandar Todosijević;
- ‘Heroes of War’ by Miloš Mrvaljević, Emina Živnović and Nikica Torbica;
- ‘Horrors of War’ by Melisa Forić and Josip Naglić;
- ‘Legacies of War’ – whose other, more eloquent title is ‘Make Burek, Not War’ – by Bojana Dujković-Blagojević, Nataša Kostić and Vesna Kovacevic.
All participants, with their constructive opinions and valuable insights, have discussed how these learning activities can be used in the classroom.
I managed to participate in the workshop Experience of War presented by Aleksandar Todosijević – also known by the alias Aca. My limited understanding in Serbo-Croatian languages did not impede me from enjoying the workshop. Aca’s teaching activity revolved around a familiar and mundane subject – basketball – which however, as one of the strengths and most widespread sports of former Yugoslavia, had many meaningful impacts on the minds and hearts of the people in the region. Seeing the breakup of Yugoslavia through the lens of sports offered many new perspectives on an already-known history. The teaching activity contained many pictures and examples of the Yugoslavian basketball war before and during the dissolution, with well-posed and thought-provoking questions to stimulate the pupils’ curiosity and deepen their knowledge about the influences of sports on national identity.
Aca presenting Experience of war
During one of the sessions, we asked a participant’s daughter – a young pupil in secondary school – to share her thoughts on history teaching and its limitations nowadays. She said,
“…We need to see things and history from many points of view to make our own opinion of it. And definitely [we need] to hear more stories about how people lived.”
The wishes of young people like her, looking forward to greater quality and multiperspectivity in history education, testify to the importance of our project. This is the reason we all gathered in Belgrade, striving to find a novel approach to history education – one that would keep the subject compelling and relevant, prioritise truth-seeking, and recognise the variety of viewpoints and opinions entangled in our multifaceted past.
Our day ended with an amusing pub-quiz, followed by everyone dancing and singing to Yugoslav songs. We share a firm belief in the power of what we do, and the positive impacts it will bring to the world.
Pub Quiz. Team: Miro’s Angels