Greek historians fight ideological indoctrination
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News
The final decision by the new conservative Greek government of Costas Karamanlis last week to withdraw the controversial sixth grade (VI Form) history book from Greek elementary schools, just days after elections, has created an uproar among some political and historical circles in Greece.
The left opposition accuses the government of succumbing not only to the pressure from the newly elected ultranationalist right wing Popular Orthodox Rally Party (LAOS), but also that of the Greek Orthodox church, a loud defender of patriotism in the media and culture. The "patriarch" of Greek music, Mikis Theodorakis welcomed the withdrawal of the book, which he claimed, was part of an "organized effort to destruct Hellenism and destroy the depth of our life as a nation." Theodorakis, like many others, believes that the book, which was approved by the Supreme Educational Authority (The Pedagogical Institute) before the election, was trying to hide the real history between Greeks and Turks, degrading the important role of the Greek church and trying to soften major tragic events such as the expulsion of the Greeks from Asia Minor in 1922.
Antonis Liakos, professor of history at the University of Athens, has been one of the strong defenders of the book and a cosignatory of protest declaration by scholars and academics against its withdrawal. It is his assessment that the decision of the new Education Minister Euripides Stylianides and the Greek government to by-pass decisions taken by the responsible educational authorities and order the withdrawal of the book was inconsistent to New Democracy Party's (ND) promises that they would respect the procedures regarding the re-writing and publication of the book. Moreover, he told the Turkish Daily News, that this indicates that the entrance of ultra-rightist LAOS affected the government in their decision.
"It is apparent that the election result and the entrance of the ultra-rightist LAOS in Parliament were weighted by the government in their decision," Liakos told the TDN in an exclusive interview last week. "The presence of an opposition from the right is pushing the political system even more towards the right, because there is no specific political delineation between the right and the ultra-right. The ideological roots are common."
Using psychoanalytical language Liakos explained that the ultra right expresses the "unconscious" of the ND. The book that is being withdrawn had been written after an official contest and after a long procedure during which it was judged and approved by experts, he said. "Now it is withdrawn by a ministerial decision. Is this the way democracies are operating?"
As an historian looking at the book, he explained that it follows contemporary approaches in education which hold that modern democratic citizens are formed by instilling in them critical awareness of historical stereotypes, so they can live peacefully with their neighbors. "As you know, all school books in Balkan countries, not excluding Turkey or Greece, are full of prejudice and one-sided approaches," he said. "It is not a violation of the historic truth to adopt a more critical and more logical stance." Nor does it mean that thinking critically means "we pull out pages of history" erasing the Greek-Turkish wars and the hostility between these two peoples. He explained that the re-writing was not a softening up of facts, but a more spherical view of history where next to hostility there is cooperation and more importantly a critical distance from the events. "The fact that there is hostility between the Greeks and the Turks or between the Greeks and the Bulgarians does not mean that it has to be cultivated and eternalized. The children have to know the terms of each age and the terms of our age, which requires cooperation," he said.
The aim is to help students place themselves in the position of the opponent, or someone with a different position. As every generation or age asks its own questions to history, today there is more interest in the social and technological history, the development of culture, the historic relation between people and the environment; not the fuelling of nationalism. "History must not be an ideological indoctrination," he said.
Just warming up
Now that the history book has been withdrawn one would expect the right and factions of the Greek Orthodox church to be appeased, with their "mission accomplished" as it were. Liakos leaves no room for such delusions. "They will ask for more. The hierarchy of the Greek Orthodox church wishes to become a co-manager in the policy on education and foreign affairs." Liakos said that Greece's own bishops are more interested in the history book and the name of Macedonia than say, the salvation of the souls and the message of the gospel. "Have you seen bishops putting up maps and suggesting how should one country or another call itself? They will ask for more and more." The government will find them confronting it in other issues, maintains Liakos, such as the name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), in the negotiations between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, other education related topics. "A few years ago when Costas Simitis' government took the decision not to include the religion of Greek citizens on their identity cards, it faced anationwide campaign organized by the church in protest."True Greek historians and scientists will remain undaunted in the face of the "emotional" debate, said Liakos: "These things cannot affect current historical research." Most universities are training historians according to international specifications engage in dialogue and exchanges with the international scientific communities they belong to "where this nationalistic nonsense does not get accepted." The University of Athens trains historians who originate from Turkey, and Greek students are often trained in Turkey as well.
"We are in cooperation with our Turkish colleagues who come and teach in our universities. This has been going on for years," said Liakos. "I could say that the cooperation between Greek and Turkish historians started well before the rapprochement between Greek and Turkish politicians and diplomats."
Last month Liakos took part in a history congress organized by Istanbul Technical University where he said he was given once more the opportunity "to admire" the critical eye with which many of his Turkish colleagues look at their own national history. "We also discussed how this critical approach should be transferred to education against those who think that the best service they can offer to their country is to cultivate hostility towards their neighbors. We hold the opposite view," concluded Liakos.
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Greek historians fight ideological indoctrination