New History Textbooks in Greece
The chronicle of an ideological war on the national past

 History education in Greece at the beginning of the twenty first century continues to be under the asphyxiating control of the state and political powers. The Ministry of Education, which bears the characteristic title of Ministry of Education and Religion Affairs, and the organisations under its supervision, such as the Pedagogical Institute, through the analytical programme, school textbooks, circulars and guidelines which inundate schools, maintain the order of a single-dimensional, ethnocentric, event-based   historical narrative. This is full of ethnic stereotypes and myths which teachers have to teach and children have to learn parrot- fashion. It should be noted that in Greece there is a school book for each class and each subject which is published by the Organisation for the Publication of School Books, a state-run organisation supervised by the Ministry of Education. We should also emphasise the fact that in the analytical programme for History for primary education, world history is absent and references to European history are few and far between.  Children are repeatedly taught national history starting from classical Greece, passing through Byzantium, followed by the period of Ottoman domination, when the nation is saved thanks to the Orthodox faith and the church and it finally reaches the modern and contemporary periods.  The continuation of this national time, characteristic of the subject of History in other European countries also, until recently had suffered no substantial criticism as the newer approaches to the teaching of History were totally absent from Greek schools. Attempts to update the contents of the history syllabus in the past had met with insurmountable difficulties –books which had tried a different approach were withdrawn – and there was no methodological influence or workshop-based aspect to the class of history.

The New History Textbooks of sixth gradeDuring the present academic year 2006-2007, a new generation of school textbooks made their appearance. These books bore new, qualitative characteristics compared to the previous ones. The first improvement was the system by which they had been pre-announced and selected. Financed by large European programmes which the previous socialist government had pledged to follow for the modernisation of education, the new school books went through the process of an open competition with external assessment and judgement. Previously, the situation prevailed whereby the Ministry, through the Pedagogical Institute, allotted the writing of the school book to a writer or team of writers to their liking. According to the new procedure, candidates had to submit samples of their work which represented 20% of the total material. This sample was evaluated by a team of independent judges according to specific criteria. This change instigated considerable changes among which a) criteria were adopted for the evaluation of the samples from the teams of writers. These criteria were by necessity scientific. b) The opening up of the closed circle of writers who had monopolised school books for years, in direct connection with those responsible in the Pedagogical Institute. c) During the course of writing, the development of working conditions for the team which were independent of the state and officials responsible for the supervision of the book.

These processes, in combination with previous changes in statutory texts in primary and secondary education in Greece, made it possible to make considerable modifications to the form and content of the new school books, in some areas more than others. These changes provoked reactions, which were to be expected .However; the war broke out over the history book intended for 12 year-old children concerning modern and contemporary history . This book contained a series of innovations in relation to previous history books. We will endeavour to list them in order to make them clearer.

A) Basic changes in the historical content.

    The narrative texts are based on valid, common areas of modern history historiography and they use key bibliographic references.  The common areas of national, historical myth are not reproduced. Also absent are the idealisation of the Greek, the victimisation of Hellenism and the national myths and stereotypes which constituted the core of history teaching until recently. Respectively, the image of other ethnic groups was not denigrated and there is an attempt to present their viewpoint.
    The historical content is distanced from an event-based past, ‘l`histoire bataille’, of wars and peak political events and it projects aspects of the social, cultural past. Likewise, space devoted to classical heroes is reduced and the anonymous heroes appear everyday people.
    The presence of women becomes part of history. From exclusively natural beings- mothers and wives- women are incorporated into the historical narrative as historical subjects, beings who affect development through their actions.
    There is an effort to relate Greek history to European and world history in the general direction of broadening the Greek-centred perspective of the analytical programme.

B) Basic methodological innovations.

    New approaches for the teaching of the subject of history have been adopted with the inclusion of historical sources and the encouragement of a critical reading and processing of them. Children are not expected to memorise a text as they had to with previous books. On the contrary, they are asked to understand history through the critical examination of the sources and dialogue in the classroom. Thus, after a relatively small framework of narrative text, the learning of history follows.
    The multiplicity of historical sources is introduced. Oral accounts, various visual sources, maps and objects work together with the written evidence to create a multifaceted text.
    Cross-curricular education is introduced form of the application and recall of knowledge and skills which children have acquired from the various didactic objects in school.

Before the book had been published and distributed to schools, the archbishop of Greece, Christodoulos, learnt about the content of the book to be published and protested strongly about the absence, as he claimed, of the role of the church in the preservation of Hellenism during the period of Ottoman domination, as well as the ethnic awakening. And this is despite the fact that the reaction of the patriarchate towards the revolutionary struggles of the orthodox population against the Ottoman authorities is absolutely verified. The archbishop’s reaction was followed by others who came chiefly from nationalistic circles. A moribund network which comes back to life every time national rights are ‘at risk’ undertook the co-ordination of actions calling for the withdrawal of the book on the grounds that it was nationally unacceptable and treacherous. This network, having access to the media  and politicians who belong to all political parties ranging from the traditional right wing to the communist left, raised the matter of the book to a major national issue. Public demonstrations, press campaigns, radio and television programmes, a barrage of questions in the parliament and an electronic web-site collecting signatures for a petition  all spread dangerous rumours and succeeded up to a point in terrorising public opinion. Their basic framework was an assertion that this constituted part of a worldwide plot against Hellenism and its national history, which served globalisation and national obliteration. The aim of this conspiracy was the loss of historic memory in order to facilitate the plans for enslavement woven in the centre of globalisation. Many also claim that  the team of writers were executing a pre-arranged deal, part of a higher agreement between the governments of Greece and Turkey for the change of the school history books or that they were even paid by Ankara  in order to ‘de-Hellenise’ Greeks and make Turkish plans possible. Equally, with differentiated arguments, some intellectuals anxiously asked the writers and the group of historians who publicly supported the book, ’What do we do after there is no nation?’ Did the book perhaps project a post-national history for the benefit of globalisation in the end?

The nationalistic rhetoric affected wide levels of Greek society and activated developments on the central political scene. The creation of a new patriotic party by K. Papathemelis, an MP who co-operates with the party of New Democracy, followed the increased support for Karatzaferis’ extreme right wing party. LAOS. In an attempt to face the reactions without losing votes from the right, the government asked for the official opinion of the Academy of Athens. This is an institution which, apart from its inadequacy to judge school books, has plenty of dark areas in its history, the most significant of which was its positive attitude towards the dictators during the military dictatorship in Greece (1967 -1974). Basically, its official opinion adopted many of the points of criticism against the book and proposed corrections. At this stage, the Cypriots woke up too as the book is taught in Greek Cypriot schools. They considered unacceptable the presentation of the Cypriot Question and through the Ministry of Education of Cyprus, they demanded changes toward the dramatisation of the conditions in which Greek Cypriots have been living since the Turkish invasion of the island. In reality, they wanted the book to ignore the partition of the island which has existed since 1974 on the grounds that the partition itself is the central point of Turkish propaganda. Consequently, they demanded that the book should be aligned with positions of external Greek Cypriot policy by accepting politically correct language which refers to the Turkish Cypriot state as occupied territory and invokes the negation of the partition while it is in fact in force.

The team of the writers of the book received from the Ministry and Pedagogical Institute all the criticisms that had been levelled and declared expressly that they would study them carefully and accept whatever was considered expedient, valid and compatible with the philosophy of the book. This has been done.  A new version of the book was submitted by the team of writers with a view to its republication for the next school year. After a lengthy wait, along with the general public, the mass media, the political world and the educational and scientific community for the government’s decision, the green light was given for its reprinting for the coming school year. The ministry of Education Mrs Marietta Giannakou in her press conference and the Prime Minister him self have declared that the book will continue to be taught in Greek schools and will be –as the other textbooks taught in schools- evaluated by the teachers.

Unfortunately, this is no the end of the story. The History textbook of 6th grade was finally withdrawn by the new minister of Education just after the general elections of 16th September 2007 following the reactions and pressures of the extreme right wing party of LAOS which for the first time is represented in the parliament with 3.5% of votes.  The second edition of the textbook, with the same historiographical and pedagogical viewpoint, is published by its authors.  In this second edition, certain points have been corrected as they were considered to be provocative for collective memory and had become the object of political exploitation. However, another round of reactions is expected on history in general as the battle over the history textbook manifestly showed that nationalism wears many costumes and penetrates across the political board. It also manages, by spreading dangerous rumours, either through the old extreme right wing or leftist arguments, to stir up public opinion and to push it in the direction of conservative –non-historical- historical schemata. This phenomenon highlights the importance of the study and attention which the community of historians should demonstrate in public aspects of history. This is where people’s historical perceptions are formed, perceptions which determine their relation with the history taught in schools.

Maria Repoussi
Ass. Professor of History and History Education
Director of the 6th Grade History Textbook
Faculty of Education
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

Repousi M. ,  Andreadou C., Poutachidis A. and Tsivas A, "In Later and Contemporary Years", Ministry of Education and Religion, Pedagogical Institute, Schoolbook Publishing Organization, Athens 2006. (in Greek)

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