“I have learned this in school” was the answer I got whenever I asked Serb participants who were talking about Albanians during a program for the Western Balkans Peace Ambassadors, held in Belgrade four years ago.
In a nutshell, the program had a focus on the topic of reconciliation and dealing with the past. We talked about facts, beliefs and feelings for people with whom you had a problem in the past. I liked the fact that everyone felt free to speak their mind and tell me why they thought my people (Kosovars) were responsible for certain issues, why they were victims, why they thought that Kosovo cannot be a state and other things. Not everyone had such thoughts. Many were pro-independence of my country, as they felt guilty of the crimes committed against the people of Kosovo. However, I was more interested in the motives of those who were thinking differently.
It is simple - any thought or belief we have has a source and a motive. It may be based on what you have learned in school, on what has been told to you in life, on following stories across generations or even on personal experiences, and sometimes even a combination of all. The root of convictions exists somewhere, and that was what I was interested in. Understanding what an important role the subject of history at school plays in the formation of those beliefs, I realized that almost everything starts there.
For instance, children who were born after the end of the war were not present when the atrocities happened and homes were burned. Any information that they have, is taught to them when they start to study the subject of history at school. Of course, one who has lived through this particular era might ask: How neutral and real is information portrayed in books? How much is politics involved in the curricula? How many long term calculations were done to plant information, which will reflect in tomorrow’s potential leaders? Consequently, this idea I processed, turned out to be more important than I thought in the beginning.
While discussing the matter, we started to suppose how much things would change if history books would be reconsidered jointly in all Balkan countries. For example, it would be wonderful if groups of experts, like historians from Balkan and also foreign countries, and governments would be able to achieve this. Now, I am aware that this sounds very idealistic and hard to achieve, but it would be the most effective solution. Pupils of the Serb minority in Kosovo, whose schools have the same curriculum as Serbian schools, learn completely different things in history classes than pupils who go to schools with the Kosovar curriculum. So even though they live in the same country, they have different perceptions of its history. The same applies to for example Albanians living in Serbia, and other minorities in Balkan countries.
So, an approximation of historic facts, an approximation of the things we pass forward to our children and youth, would enable a better understanding among all. As a result, it would lead to a progress toward further improvement of relations, leading in this way to regional stabilization and keeping the peace.
Author: Migjen Krasniqi