CENTER FOR DEMOCRACY AND RECONCILIATION IN SOUTHEAST EUROPE

News

05Dec

Joint History Project- Back to where it all began

When war tore through neighbouring Yugoslavia, a group of diplomats, historians and businessmen from 11 countries vowed they would do everything in their power to make sure such tragedy would not happen again. This was not an easy task, as they knew, but the CDRSEE and its founding fathers have never veered from their mission to start at the grassroots level and promote reconciliation and genuine democracy - lived and nurtured by civil society, as a path to peace. Their findings though disappointing, were not surprising. History teaching in the region is ethnocentric, rarely covering the history of neighbours. The ‘other side’ is always to blame. They decided to create a collection of joint workbooks for all these countries. 

The collection’s added value lies in its new methodology, its multi-perspective approach and encouragement of critical thinking. The workbooks have struggled up a thorny path, from fierce resistance when they first appeared in 2004, to acceptance and recommendations to teachers from Ministries of Education in nearly all Western Balkan countries. The first four volumes, designed and written by the CDRSEE's History Education Committee, prominent experts from all over the region. covering the periods from the Ottoman Empire to World War II, have been published in 11 languages and have become an integral part of history teaching in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia. Pupils have the chance to see how ‘others’ perceive an event and examine different interpretations of a same event, to develop empathy and dispel prejudices. The second set of two books were published in 2016 and cover the Cold War and the transition in Southeast Europe up until 2008, thus including the Wars of the 1990s have just been published with the support of the Ministries of Education of all the aforementioned countries, thanks to the EU’s financial aid.

A crucial accomplishment, the CDRSEE has developed close working relationships with most of the Ministries of Education and Teacher Associations across the Balkans. Through these working relationships, the JHP provides on-going teacher training, outreach and media work. The number of teachers who have been trained to use the JHP materials and tailor the books and lessons to their classrooms continues to grow, and an estimated half a million students have been touched by the JHP over the years.

In addition to receiving positive feedback from teachers and students, the JHP has been recognized and funded by more than 25 donors since its initiation. In 2013, the CDRSEE was awarded the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Human Rights Award, in large part for the impact the Center has had on expanding multi-perspective education through the JHP. The European Parliament recommended the JHP in 2009 for its impact and effectiveness, and the EU Monitoring Report of April 2012 acknowledged the excellent work achieved by the JHP in terms of sustainability, effectiveness and impact. In 2010, a team from USAID published a very positive overview of the work and impact of the JHP.

"Internationally, the History Workbooks have become effective advocacy tools for further raising awareness and putting on the EU policy agenda the importance of multi-perspective history teaching in promoting reconciliation," the USAID report stated. "It is critical that the JHP work continue in order to sustain achievements and impacts, especially in the current context of nationalism that still exists in the region."

In its nearly two decades, the CDRSEE has touched the lives of millions, by creating and implementing a variety of civil society projects that help achieve what our founders knew were key: reconciliation, democracy and economic development. Change takes time and the results are now are now self-evident.

22Nov

Homage to Dr Busek, our former Chairman

Apart from welcoming Hannes Swoboda as our new Chair, we would like to pay our respects to our outgoing Chairman, Erhard Busek, who has steered the CDRSEE for ten years. These ten years in the 18 year-old history of the CDRSEE have indeed been most fruitful and successful. As a civil society organisation, we went from adolescence into adulthood and established ourselves as a highly respected and relevant NGO in Southeast Europe, especially in Education and the Media fields.

They say that failure always has one parent, while success has many. These last years have been extremely successful for the CDRSEE and parents are aplenty – several generations of our project coordinators, our project partners, the state institutions we cooperate with. And, neither last nor least, our Board of Directors which has created the strategies and formulated our policies and activity fields. At the Center, we often compare ourselves to a ship’s crew which takes care of both the boat and cargo and ensures that it arrives safely into the designated harbour. We have always seen the Board of Directors as the owner of that ship managing the cargo and determining the destination. Luckily for the crew, the owners have always been an amazing group of people coming from different fields of life but with a common goal – to make Southeast Europe a better place for its citizens. On our Board we have had US Congressmen and Turkish doctors; Croatian political philosophers and Kosovar human rights activists; Greek businessmen and women and Dutch bankers. The human capital assembled in the CDRSEE Board has always been and is today an immense and a treasured pool of knowledge and experience from which we draw from. In such a pool, it is always difficult to single someone out, however Dr Erhard Busek does stand tall in that distinguished group.

So, what makes Erhard Busek so special? A former colleague of ours who worked closely with Dr Busek says it is his style of leadership: “A good leader makes sure that everyone feels included and taken care of. A great leader actually does care. A good leader is precise when telling you what needs to be done. A great leader inspires you to figure out what to do. A good leader does his/her job well and makes sure you do the same. A great leader creates an atmosphere in which everyone wants to give their best. A good leader offers and asks for respect. A great leader makes you want to earn and give that respect. Erhard Busek is a great leader.”

And there’s more... He was famous for working breakfasts at 7 am, occasionally his generous consent to have it at 7.30. Needless to say, coming from the Balkans, we had an issue with time, but we loved the opportunity for the challenging intellectual exchange which was always there. Erhard Busek also has that rare capacity to examine details but never to forget the big picture. To grasp the complexities of the Balkans and empathise with our sorrows, sins and pains. To work tirelessly for a better life in our region no matter what his current office was. For that, it is not just the CDRSEE which owes him a debt of gratitude, but the entire Balkan peninsular. And let us end a list which could go on and on by adding that he was kind, generous and great fun to work with. For all of this - and so much more - thank you Dr Busek.

21Nov

Nomination of Dr Hannes Swoboda as new Chair of the CDRSEE’s Board of Directors

It is with great pleasure that we announce the nomination of our new Chair of the CDRSEE’s Board of Directors, Dr Hannes Swoboda. Dr Swoboda has been a member of the CDRSEE’s Board of Directors since 2014 and is currently also Chairman of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, President of the Vienna-based International Institute for Peace, and President of the Architekturzentrum Wien (AzW).

We would like to congratulate Dr Swoboda on his appointment and to applaud our previous Chairman, Dr Erhard Busek, for his exceptional representation and guidance of the CDRSEE during the past 14 years.

16Nov

History of the future: JHP II - Launch of the two new workbooks (1944-2008)

‘It is high time to disarm history’ was the battle cry at the launch of the new Joint History workbooks at the European Parliament

The event which launched our JHP II workbooks at the European Parliament in Brussels on 15 November gathered more than 100 people and was hosted by Ms Ulrike Lunacek, Vice President of the European Parliament together with fellow MEPs Mr Eduard Kukan, Ms Tanja Fajon, Mr Knut Fleckenstein, Mr Giorgios Grammatikakis and Mr Ivan Jakovčić.

The attention of the audience was riveted by Mr Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations, who proudly declared that the European Commission funds provided to the CDRSEE for the books was money well spent for "building highways for education". He also explained how the JHP grew out of the contribution and stubbornness of citizens and scientists and congratulated their tremendous efforts.

He was followed by Mr Goran Svilanović, Secretary General, Regional Cooperation Council who expressed the belief that ‘business as usual’ is the wrong attitude where the sensitive topic of history is concerned. Mr Erhard Busek Chair of the Board of Directors, CDRSEE, and Executive Director of the CDRSEE Ms Zvezdana Kovač, both conveyed the urgent need for the project to continue. “We are not done yet” were their final catchwords.

The members of the History Education Committee concluded the event with a few words from Prof. Dr. Christina Koulouri, History Professor, Chair of the History Education Committee and Series Editor of the workbooks, who declared that it was "time to disarm history" followed by Mr Costas Carras, Historian, Rapporteur to the CDRSEE Board for the JHP, who stressed the importance of critical and analytical thought - the founding principles of the Joint History Project - when reading history and how the books themselves should be read with distrust - a natural qualification that every student should possess.

11Nov

Support for the Joint History Project from the High Representative Vice President of the European Commission

It was a great honour for the CDRSEE to receive a letter of support from Ms Federica Mogherini, High Representative Vice President of the European Commission. As the day of our JHP’s new workbooks’ launch approaches, an encouraging letter like this motivates us to continue promoting the need for moving forward by re-examining the past.

Embarking on a new phase for our Joint History Project, it is our pleasure to share an excerpt of Ms Mogherini’s letter:

“This project will, I am sure, recognise both the shared suffering and the achievements of the region. In this way, I believe it can provide a valuable contribution to overcoming the painful legacies of the past, and to helping newer generations understand the importance of moving forward together towards the EU.

We believe that the EU perspective is the driving force for reform and stability in the region. Many Western Balkan countries have clearly shown willingness to embark upon these fundamental changes. However, alongside and linked with the political process, the human perspective is equally important. Perceiving history more  positively does not mean we should deny its painful memories and violence but instead that we open an opportunity to put an end to the destructive narratives of each other’s histories.

Creating a common historic language and strengthening ties amongst the people in the Balkans is therefore extremely important and a valuable means to continuously improving co-existence in the region.”

 

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Photo credits(Homepage slider): Reuters

09Nov

Upcoming launch of the two new JHP workbooks

The two new workbooks of the Joint History Project are due to be launched on November 15 in the European Parliament, Brussels.

Ms Ulrike Lunacek, Vice President of the European Parliament together with fellow MEPs Mr Eduard Kukan, Ms Tanja Fajon, Mr Knut Fleckenstein, Mr Giorgios Grammatikakis and Mr Ivan Jakovčić will host the event at which a new phase of the Joint History Project will start.

With the keynote speakers Mr Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations, Mr Goran Svilanović, Secretary General, Regional Cooperation Council and Mr Erhard Busek Chair of the Board of Directors, CDRSEE, the event will include an open discussion, moderated by the Executive Director of the CDRSEE Ms Zvezdana Kovač.

The members of the History Education Committee will participate in the presentation of the two new workbooks and discuss the process of preparing these books with historical sources from all the countries of the Balkan region.

We will keep you updated about our upcoming event!

 

08Nov

#CDRSEE at the #WorldDemocracyForum

Two days of the World Democracy Forum were dedicated to citizenship, democracy and education and all the possible ways that education can bridge inequalities instead of perpetuating them. CDRSEE’s Executive Director Ms Zvezdana Kovac attended workshops between 7-9 November 2016, that addressed all the common challenges for humanity in today’s divided world.

Working with the Joint History Project and now entering the second phase, it was crucial to listen and exchange opinions on how education is instrumental in the process of community-building and the shaping of national identity and is a vital factor in building social cohesion and a sense of belonging to society.

The ‘Pop-Up Agora’ which took place during the Forum had as an aim, to reimagine public space as an arena for democratic debate and decision-making. A unique gathering space was set for debate and speeches in an informal setting.

It is through dialogue and conversation that new and innovative ideas can be born for the future.

24Oct

The CDRSEE welcomes Commissioner Avramopoulos

As the CDRSEE’s work is becoming more well known in the region and our projects are increasingly recognised as creative and practical responses to current issues, we had the honour of hosting the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Mr. Dimitris Avramopoulos at our premises. Together with Mr. Andreadis, Chairman of The Cultural Society of Entrepreneurs of Northern Greece and Mr. Efthymiadis, Vice Chair of the CDRSEE, Mr. Avramopoulos visited the CDRSEE to discuss the complex issues of refugee integration.   

During his visit we had the opportunity to talk about our current projects and discuss in detail our plans to embark on new projects on social inclusion of refugees and community acceptance, through education.