Joint History Project - a good investment for EU funds in education

2017 kicked-off with another two regional launches of the new JHP workbooks in Zagreb on 17 January and in Sarajevo on 19 January.

With an audience consisting of members of the Diplomatic Core, International Organisations, CSOs, NGOs and history teachers, the two new JHP volumes were presented in Sarajevo. After introducing the books as a tool for students to sharpen their critical thinking skills thereby preparing them to become future active citizens who use dialogue in order to avoid future conflicts, Ms Zvezdana Kovac, Executive Director of CDRSEE gave the floor to panelists who began a fruitful discussion: “History should not be in the hands of politicians and teachers should be supported given their difficult task of teaching the recent past in a balanced and fair way”, said Ms Mirella Rašić, Head of the team for Political reporting and Policy Analysis from the European Commission Representation in Croatia. Mr Hannes Swoboda, Chair of the Board of Directors of CDRSEE, highlighted the importance of the workbooks in promoting dialogue on this period, while Prof. Neven Budak, University of Zagreb, Member of the History Education Committee of the CDRSEE and co-editor of the new JHP Workbooks, characterized the project as a peace initiative that doesn’t aim to relativize history but to promote critical thinking among students and the general public. Mr Krešimir Erdelja, Secretary of the Croatian Association of History Teachers – HUNP, spoke of the beneficial cooperation between the HUNP and the CDRSEE that made it possible for eight workshops to be implemented in Croatia and a regional conference to be organized in Vukovar.

At a symbolic venue - the History Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo - the launch of the new workbooks took place in a room packed with journalists, members of many international and civil society organizations, diplomats and teachers. Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, Head of the EU Delegation to BiH and EU Special Representative, reminded the audience that the people of the region have much more in common than they believe and that all stakeholders should provide more support for the next stage of the project, in particular, support for the translations of the workbooks into the local languages and support for the training of teachers. Dr Katz, Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for History University of Sarajevo and Source Committee Member, praised the team spirit that prevailed among those who produced the books and stressed its importance in overcoming difficulties. Mr Ibričić, History Teacher and Source Contributor, highlighted the importance of the regional JHP workshops organized by the CDRSEE given how they improve the skills of teachers and provides them with the opportunity to interact with counterparts from other countries in the region. Mr Tuzlić, Journalist and Coordinator for Joint History Project in BiH, expressed his appreciation of being a member of the JHP since its inception and urged all stakeholders to support the project given its potential in making a difference for future generations in Bosnia and throughout Southeast Europe. Lastly Ms Kovac, after providing a brief background on the JHP, expressed the importance of the Ministry of Education’s support and cooperation and how these are both indispensable for the running of the project.



Hrvoje Klasic recognised for improving Croatian Serbian relations

Starting our new year with some good news, the CDRSEE wishes to congratulate Croatian historian Hrvoje Klasić, member of the JHP source committee, on being the recipient of the ’Svetozar Pribicevic’ award for the improvement of Croatian-Serbian relations.

The award was given during the annual Christmas reception of  the Serb National Council, a body acting as a self-governing authority for  Serbs in the Republic of Croatia concerning the issues of their identity, civil and national rights.

During the reception speech Mr Klasić addressed the participants and said:

"In my hometown Sisak, as well as in Zagreb and Belgrade, I did not have Croat or Serb friends, but just friends. I have always succeeded in that. I'm glad that my friends from the SNC recognised these efforts, but for me it is more important to include in this quest as many people as possible. I am an historian, history cannot be changed, but we can learn and prevent the inhuman from repeating itself and recognise what is human. There were times we need to be ashamed of, during which inhumanity won, but there were many more times where we behaved like humans. I took two Bibles, one in Cyrillic and one in Latinic. I found neither the term ‘Croat’ nor  ‘Serb’ in either one, but I came across the term 'man'. I would be pleased if all Christians took in hand the Bible and began to read it with understanding”.


Priority given by stakeholders in Podgorica and Belgrade for the translation of the new JHP workbooks into local languages

Two Regional Launches of the new JHP Workbooks were held in Podgorica on 8 December, 2016 and in Belgrade on 20 December, 2016. Both were held in the respective Ministries of Education with representatives from the diplomatic core, international organisations, history teachers associations and other NGOs and CSOs participating in each of them. The panelists all agreed that the main aim of teaching history in schools should be to promote democracy, foster dialogue, and in so doing - overcome conflicts and promote peace. With the new JHP workbooks and its multiperspective teaching methodology which helps develop critical and analytical skills, students should be able to select and assess information they receive and, therefore, no longer be the victims of political and ideological manipulation.

In Podgorica, the panel consisted of Mr Radovan Popović, Director - Ministry of Education, Mr Emile Mabita, Head of Financial and Contract Section of the EU Delegation in Montenegro, Mr Dragutin Papović, Historian and member of the History Educational Committee and Mr Rade Vujović, President of the Montenegrin History Teachers' Association. In Belgrade, keynote speakers were Mr Mladen Šarčević, Minister for Education, Science and Technological Development, H.E. Ambassador Michael Davenport, Head of EU Delegation in Serbia, Prof. Dubravka Stojanović, Vice President of the History Education Committee and Mr Aleksandar Todosijević, President of the Association for Social History – EUROCLIO. As in the previous launch events, Ms Kovač was the moderator of the panel.

As the books are currently only produced in English, all stakeholders expressed the importance of translating the books into local languages - the next logical step in the project - so that teachers can be trained in the new teaching methodology and materials and given the opportunity to use them in classrooms.


The Okruženje’s show ‘Balkan states’ European Dreams’ and promotional event resonate loudly throughout the region

Belgrade, 14 December 2016:  The recording of the last show of the fifth season of ‘Okruženje/Vicinities’ enjoyed unprecedented publicity and media coverage. The special episode entitled ‘Balkan states’ European Dreams’, which concluded the fifth season of Okruženje, featured the former president of Yugoslavia and Croatia, Stjepan Mesić, former Prime Minister of Montenegro Milo Djukanović, the Chairman of the CDRSEE, Hannes Swoboda and Executive Director of the European Fund for the Balkans, Hedvig Morvai.

Okruženje wrapped up its 5th season with a look at the EU and the European aspirations of the Balkan states. In the show, the guests discussed the future of the European Union; whether in the following years the crisis within the bloc will deepen, how can Europe restore its unity and vitality and whether the countries of Southeast Europe are tired of Brussels’ ‘enlargement fatigue’.

The live recording was open to the public and journalists and the positions taken by the participants of the shows were ’prominent’ news items on almost all the media in the region. The media attention has exceeded our own record (which was also a Southeast European record)  when in the final episode of the 4th season of Okruženje for the first time ever, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama came together in the same studio.

Before the live recording of the show, the promotional event which celebrated five successful seasons of ‘Okruženje/Vicinities’, (the recent recipient of the Jury Award in the ‘Media Initiative of the Year’ category at the European Citizenship Awards 2016), took place.

The path undertaken by Okruženje so far was presented in front numerous guests who were able to see how Okruženje developed and took shape over five years of broadcasting from an initial limited production to today’s high-value broadcast, from a few broadcasters to the current 11 public and commercial television broadcast today, from the regional Okruženje to the Vicinities Europe up until the award for media initiative of the year at the ’European Citizenship Awards’.

Participating in the promotional event, were Mr Axel Dittmann (Ambassador of Germany to Serbia), Mr Hannes Swoboda (CDRSEE Chairman), Ms Hedvig Morvai (Executive Director of the European Fund for the Balkans), Ms Zvezdana Kovač (Executive Director of the CDRSEE) and Mr Vladimir Šestović from the European Civic Forum.

Hannes Swoboda, said he was looking forward to the new episodes of Okruženje and hoped that in future we would be able to say that the concept of Okruženje was a good way to bring the region closer to the European Union.

For Hedvig Morvai, Executive Director of the European Fund for the Balkans, which has been supporting Okruženje for the past five years, this project is a real civil society initiative which was able to open the large doors of the media, to step through that door and establish itself in the region and beyond as something truly valuable because, as she pointed out, the quality always finds its way.

The German Ambassador to Serbia, Axel Dittmann said he would be happy to continue supporting Vicinities, as he considers it an excellent format where people discuss  all issues, not with the intention of convincing each other of their point of view but to examine and understand different perspectives, in order to reach a compromise. "Regional cooperation is not something based solely on the efforts of governments and international institutions, but it is vital that people talk to each other, and that there are exchanges between civil societies, which is of crucial importance," said Dittmann.

The promotional event was also attended by Vladimir Šestović, member of the jury for the ’European Citizenship Awards’, who pointed out that many members of the jury outside the region voted for Okruženje and that this initiative contributes to mutual understanding through dialogue, and that such programmes are necessary not only here, but also throughout Europe.


'Teaching for Learning' workshops, 9-12 December 2016, Kolasin, Montenegro

The CDRSEE successfully concluded two consecutive ‘Teaching for Learning' workshops within the framework of the ePACT project in partnership with EUROCLIO and which aimed at training school directors, inspectors, pedagogues, psychologists and teachers in a new active learning methodology whereby students are encouraged to develop their critical and independent thinking skills across disciplines. The workshops were led by the expert trainers Zoran Lalovic and Radoje Novovic from Montenegro’s Bureau for Educational Services. Also present was Rade Vujović, Representative of the History Teacher Association HIPMONT, who helped coordinate the event and actively participated in both workshops.

The workshops were designed around the guiding principle that democratic practices and competencies can only be learned in a school system that reflects democratic values. This starts with the classroom climate and ends with understanding the importance of alignment - a student centered approach which is the basis for educating democratic principles.  Schooling has the important mission to transfer competencies that are needed for constructively dealing with conflict and for uncovering any attempts of indoctrination and manipulation. Active learning is the methodology through which these competencies can be gained and it needs educators trained in this methodology and who sufficiently understand the wider societal importance of their profession.

The workshops were highly successful with both participants and trainers enthusiastic about the positive outcomes and implications of applying the new methodology in classrooms and efforts will now be made to create an webplatform whereby the results of the workshops will be diffused, discussed and the training material made available for further knowledge-sharing and capacity-building.


Strong support from the Ministries of Education in Pristina and Tirana reconfirmed for the JHP

The first two regional launches of new JHP workbooks have been successfully completed in Kosovo (2/12/2016) and in Albania (5/12/2016) with the participation of more than 100 people.

In Pristina and in Tirana, both Ministers of Education Mr Bajrami and Ms Nikolla - keynote speakers at the respective panels - reiterated their full support for the Joint History Project and highlighted the need for the subsequent translation of the books into Albanian and the implementation of further workshops for history teachers in order to familiarize them with the new teaching methodologies and to be able to use the books more effectively within classrooms. Minister Bajrami, who also participated in the launch in Brussels, pointed out how the project is a good initiative for reconciliation in the region and mentioned the importance of EU support for the project. Ms Nikolla expressed her conviction that it is time for history teaching to move away from absolute truths that foster nationalism and build stereotypes, to a new era where it will prepare democratic citizens to be able to resolve potential conflicts with dialogue and respect for each another. She emphasized how the JHP is an excellent tool for this particular purpose.

Also present as panelists at the Pristina launch, were Mr Sedar, Political Adviser to the European Union Special Representative (EUSR) in Kosovo who expressed the support of the European Commission for the JHP, Mr Pupovci, Executive Director of the Kosova Education Center – and a long standing partner of the CDRSEE in Kosovo - who highlighted the importance of listening to the opinion of others (even if these are different) as only then may we begin to understand alternative points of view and have a meaningful dialogue.

Present at the launch in Tirana that took place at the Center for Openness and Dialogue, was also the newly-elected Chairman of the Board of Directors of the CDRSEE, Mr Hannes Swoboda, who raised the question of whether one can learn from history. He expressed his belief that this is possible if one wishes this to be the case, and those who refuse to learn from history are bound to relive mistakes again. Also present as panelist, was Ms Valenting Duka, member of the CDRSEE’s History Education Committee (HEC) who stressed the importance of good relations between the members of the HEC – a relationship which enabled them to produce the 6 workbooks. Lastly, Ms Fatmiroshe Xhemali who represented the Albanian History Teachers Association – and our partner organization for the JHP in Albania - informed the audience of the progress of the JHP in Albania over the years and expressed her hope that the workbooks would be translated into Albanian soon and that the workshops would commence.

Ms Zvezdana Kovac, Executive Director of CDRSEE, was the moderator for both panels and presented the JHP briefly, introduced the guest-panelists and moderated the discussion with the audience and the questions from the journalists.


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.


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.