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.