History and Power 12

Today, an editorial in the Latvian daily Diena argues in favour of teaching the History of Latvia separately from History as such in the last years of lower secondary school. According to Diena, the reasons why History curriculum should be split to make room for an 'exclusive' curriculum on national history are twofold: a) this is the last chance for some students to learn the facts of history of their country and b) a good knowledge of the country's history makes people more patriotic. Both of these propositions are extremely naive to say the least, and in a moment I will explain, why.

Iesaki citiem:

First of all, it seems very unjust towards the students who may choose to go into vocational training after the 9th year of school to suggest that History lessons are the only source of knowledge about history for the rest of their lives. The media are full of references to recent history, and while those may not always be accurate, it is very arrogant to assume that all information gleaned outside the classroom if by default less reliable. It is, however, a more dangerous assumtion that history is about facts. While the dates of events and some of their circumstances are indeed known to historians and can be verified - and therefore translated into 'facts' which can be stuffed into textbooks - I have never encountered a History curriculum free of the elements of some 'grand narrative', be that a narrative of national destiny, of European integration or of something else entirely. All of such narratives are by definition the product of politicians, historians and publicists - and not, as it were, products of 'history' as such. In other words, History curriculum is always to some extent a product of the dominant ideology. If the ideological element in the curriculum increases to the extent that it becomes easily recognisable as such, this is likely to provoke resistance in at least part of the target audience. Witness the revulsion Soviet history books provoked. Making History curriculum more ideologically loeaded will produce more skepticism, not more partiotism in those students who are endowed with a modicum of critical thinking.

What does the shift from History as such to national history as a seprate item of curriculum signify for me as a historian and policy analyst? It signifies that the Latvian political and intellectual elite (including the editors of Diena) is drifting away from the European ideology and a more international outlook towards a more conservative ideology of 'protecting the nation-state'. This trend has been noticeable since the EU Accession in 2004 - with the conditionality of the accession process removed, there was no longer a need for the elite to profess their Europan orientation. The campaign against multiculturalism that ended in the cancelling of draft Integration Guidelines in 2008 was a typical example of the trend. Current discussions in the media about the need for political parties to consolidate along ethnic lines are another proof of this thesis. In the midst of economic decline, the populist appeal of nationalism will likely be exploited for the next parliamentary elections.

To Europe, this will be nothing new. Witness the spectacular success of the xenophobic Jobbik party in the European Parliament elections in Hungary. Witness the desire to rejuvenate the teaching of the recent history of Balkan wars in the style of national patriotism, actively lobbied since 2005 in Croatia, or the pressure to reimpose a more national narrative of history and culture in the Netherlands. It is an easy and tempting path, to assert the power of the state though school curriculum, by making all others learn history along the lines approved by those currently holding political office.

The fundamental weakness of this approach is that history taught in order to promote the nation-state's monopoly over the political narrative will inevitably founder when it comes under stress from the social and economic reality of increasing need for massive immigration. None of the countries mentioned here will avoid the need to open up within the next 20 years and to let in very many newcomers with their own histories and their own narratives. As Edward Hugh points out in his recent blog on the future of Latvia, the only alternative is the shrinking of economy and possibly the total demise of social welfare as we know it. The only way to prepare a country's citizens to withstand the challenges of global economy and an open job market is to teach them to be better citizens of the world, not to increase the defensive stance against any influence that comes from outside. Especially - in the case of Latvia - if this influence comes from the West, which we chose to re-join.

As future political narratives in Europe will not be possible without the active participation of newcomers from other parts of the world, narratives of history, too, will have to become more global. It is only a question of time.

Iesaki citiem:
Creative commons c6ae3e51884b139b45a669ce829ac99646bf0ceb328fc95963f1703a58a032d0 CREATIVE COMMONS LICENCE ĻAUJ RAKSTU PĀRPUBLICĒT BEZ MAKSAS, ATSAUCOTIES UZ AUTORU UN PORTĀLU PROVIDUS.LV, TAČU PUBLIKĀCIJU NEDRĪKST LABOT VAI PAPILDINĀT. AICINĀM ATBALSTĪT PROVIDUS.LV AR ZIEDOJUMU!

Komentāri (12) secība: augoša / dilstoša

5278633172 71b63f7fe4
Komentētājs

Tom Schmit 19.08.2009 13:04
Marija - could you please tell us where this integrated Europe is? In my travels and work, it seems that EU countries are as riven by division as any other part of the world. Do we create integration by ignoring differences and unresolved conflicts? I read a fascinating historiographical paper about reconciliation commissions and the mixed results and perceptions of them. Can LV resolve its historical disputes and problems by putting them aside (as you seem to advocate) or should they really be confronted in schools and in history classes?

As for this business of "one group says this... etc." That is absurd on its face. If we use this then we have to give equal weight to all views including (piemeram) holocaust denial. Not every view is equally valid.

5278633172 71b63f7fe4
Komentētājs

Jaņdžs 08.08.2009 10:54
I agree with Paul Verilio, the French philosopher and architect, that we live in times of what he calls endo-civilization, where militarism with its "deterrence" policies (re nuclear weapons) has for many decades now soaked up every country's resources to such an extent that we have for many decades lived in an environment of nondevelopment of our cultures and people as a whole.

According to Virilio, this situation is irreversible without us coming up with some way of using death as a weapon against the military, which has a monopoly on death at this time. The politics and politicians of our time are of course completely subject to the will of the military, yes, even in Latvia. This state makes history measured in decades irrelevant, except perhaps as a scan of certain trends through centuries or even millenia.

While there are only 9 nuclear nations, their monopoly on death has infected the whole of the world. Since Europe is where we live and since the western nations of Europe are so helpless to stop the swamps of slums from growing (perhaps Napoli in Italy is our best known example of the latter), there may be a role for smaller nations like Latvia to play.

As the latest bookburning occured in Latvia during the Janis Festival 2009, it serves as a prime example of everyone's lack of knowing anything about themselves, Latvians, or Janis, a name that also translates to Hans, Jan, Johann, Huan, Giovanni, Ivan, etc. In short, not only Latvians, but Europeans elsewhere have no idea of their "real" history, even as whatever remains of reality continues to be destroyed, burnt.

If the above paragraphs seem like pieces of fractured information, they are not, if Virilio's analysis is on target. If Virilio is right, then the only way to oppose the military culture of death (Virilio includes science as culpable in our race to death) is by not-violent* means. One not-violent means is for history (perhaps more as anthropology of social behavior)to find a foothold in a small country, grab hold of its ills (its dying) and fight for one's life with with the tenacity of a tick, using nonconventional, not-violent means that may in due course undermine the military complex.

The Latvian festival of Janis is a left-over from a very distant past. It is an event from before the perversion of history by the West in toto, a time when Anatoly Fomenkos analysis of the topology of history plays as a better analytical tool than what the books of today's historians offer us.

An example of ways to use Jānis as a not-violent tool of resistance is to rehabilitate him in Latvia, which rehabilitation would necessarily have an echo on Ivan in slavic countries, on John in anglo-saxon countries, Huan and Giovanni in romance countries, etc.

Sorry, this got a bit long, but if Latvians are to speak about history, I am not interested to know what everyone knows will be but a reshuffle of old jars in a near empty medicine cabinet.

*Not-violent = pacifist tactics, but such as are capable of provoking extreme anxiety; therefore, not excluding death of the not-violent pacifist.

5278633172 71b63f7fe4
Komentētājs

Artis (http://twitter.com/aristos) 02.08.2009 17:29
You claim that "making History curriculum more ideologically loaded will produce more skepticism, not more patriotism in those students who are endowed with a modicum of critical thinking." Now, there are two things one might conclude from this statement. First, taking into account that "authority is [your] greatest allergy", one can hardly see you disproving of students becoming more skeptical towards authority. Second, that you don't really believe that whatever little modicum of critical thinking our students currently posses would enable them to reject the jingoistic view of history being shoved down their throats. So which one is it? Your readers are left confused.

Now, in your second point therein lies a mistaken assumption but I will not elaborate on that since I've seen it being taken care of by Mr. Toms. You go on about how history "is always to some extent a product of the dominant ideology" and that Latvia is obviously wrong about the currently dominant narrative it not being nationalist but "ideology of European integration" instead. Basically, you displace one ideology with another. Herein lies the biggest blunder of both -- those who argue for more nationalistic approach and those who want us to be taught how to "be better citizens of the world". Namely, both sides seem to agree that of the role our schools should play in indoctrinating pupils -- you just don't agree which ideology they ought to serve.

Instead of arguing with Minister of Education and Science, Tatjana Koķe (ZZS) about the merits of a national history class, my proposal is an obligatory course of critical thinking and logic where students are thought how to use whatever free time they have left in between their prospective low paying jobs.

5278633172 71b63f7fe4
Komentētājs

Kalvis to Maria 02.08.2009 17:09
History is indeed more complex than any given narrative. Ideally history studies should involve extensive studies of all types of documents - and similarly trying to have students come up with their own conclusions and interpretations based on what they have learned.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to show this adequately, given the very limited time devoted to history in schools and heavily underpayed history teachers.

This, in particular, means, that the basis for history knowledge would come from some kind of history textbooks. And then it is up to the authors' choice - which examples and which interpretations they come up. It is possible to write textbooks about history in such a way that it does not offend independently thinking people.

Maria seems to support some kind of Wikipedia-like history (their guideline of NPOV - neutral point of view, which in politics/history means giving space to all the popular perspectives about the given topick). This Wikipedia-attitude may be the best way to reflect all types of facts and to give place for all types of external links/references about the given subject (like any encyclopedia).

On the other hand, schoolchildren should not be expected to reason like encyclopedias. And if the only positive value which we can teach with certainty is "non-judgmentalism" and "multiperspectivity", then it is also a specific ideology, which is not less objectionable or one-sided as nationalism or any other -ism.

To see the point, what happens if "non-judgementalism" becomes the official ideology - see the book review - http://www.newenglishreview.org/custpage.cfm/frm/12136/sec_i... . We can notice that discussions about history and politics in Western mass media etc. are no longer preoccupied with finding the truth. Rather they speak about "valid opinions". Everybody may have an oppinion and they are all sort-of equivalent (if they fall within certain limits of non-discrimination and political correctness). I believe, this kind of "cult of non-judgementalism" should be avoided - at least in the schools.

Here is a quote from the Th.Darlymple book review: "Many an argument about substantive matters of fact is now brought to an end by one of several of the disputants claiming, at a point of irreconcilable difference, “Well, my opinion is just as valid as yours.” No matter that one of the disputants among them may have made a special study of the question, has more evidence at his disposal and has constructed a logical framework for them, and that the persons who claim equal “validity” for their opinions on the matter have never given a moment’s thought to it and are thoroughly ignorant of all that is relevant to it. If nothing is certain, then what are facts anyway? They are opinions. Thus freedom of opinion becomes equality of opinions: for what is the use of freedom without equality?"

5278633172 71b63f7fe4
Komentētājs

Maria to Tom 01.08.2009 15:15
>It occurs to me that, if we follow your line of thought, we should not teach history of any kind. The narrative is always controlled in one way or another and it impossible to bias it in enough directions to serve everybody.
---------------------------------------------
Again, I beg to disagree. It is possible to teach history for participative citizenship based on permanent discussion of common goals, solutions and scenarios. The best way to teach history for that purpose is to introduce multiperspectivity (this is how some people saw it... and this is how other people saw it... and here are some versions from historians why they saw it like that...). That will not give students an unrealistic expectation that the point of view upheld in their family or in their class will be shared by everybody they will meet in their life; not will it teach them that those who hold different views are evil or somehow otherwise deficient.

5278633172 71b63f7fe4
Komentētājs

agd 01.08.2009 02:41
Nekorekti ir raksturot, ka "nacionālās valsts" ideoloģija kontekstuāli ir saistīt ar nacionāli radikālām ideoloģijām - tas ir tipisks progresīvā internacionālisma skatu punkts, taču patiesībā tas ir ļoti virspusējs skats, kas cenšas marginalizēt nacionālo konceptu vispārīgi. Tas ir kļūdaini.

5278633172 71b63f7fe4
Komentētājs

Tom 31.07.2009 17:14
It occurs to me that, if we follow your line of thought, we should not teach history of any kind. The narrative is always controlled in one way or another and it impossible to bias it in enough directions to serve everybody. As with so much else in the LV education system, it is much better to be involved in the process (help write the curriculum!!) than to sit outside and complain about the result.

5278633172 71b63f7fe4
Komentētājs

Tom 31.07.2009 16:55
"The only way to prepare a country's citizens to withstand the challenges of global economy and an open job market is to teach them to be better citizens of the world, not to increase the defensive stance against any influence that comes from outside."

Of course you hold to an immense assumption here. The assumption is that a LV history curriculum is in direct opposition or counterpoint to integration. Could you justify that? In Canada and the USA (piemeram) having a national narrative (however jingoistic it is at times) serves to create a nation. I must admit that, as an American, I was quite struck by how little LV history my 12 year old has been exposed to in school. Why and how do you see teaching the history of LV separately as (necessarily) being a point of division rather than as a possible point of integration and creating a common understanding? I am under no illusions as to some of the nationalistic sentiments of the parties holding power now, but in principle having a curriculum is potentially quite positive. Being a proud citizen of LV does not preclude one from being a proud citizen of the EU or the world.

5278633172 71b63f7fe4
Komentētājs

Pēteris 31.07.2009 16:50
I would like to thank Maria for sharing her views on the need of teaching more Latvian history. I agree with her that immigration (in combination with an industrial development) could be one of the plausible solutions of the poor economic state in Latvia.

I am though a little bit wary about Maria's optimism that it is just a matter of time until we will understand the need to open up our borders for labour force from abroad. It is by no means an objective economic or political trend. It is a political decision to change a country's immigration policy and I am afraid that in many European countries, particularly, in Latvia, the nationalist narrative has a strong, positive valence and such a decision might not be taken, despite the detrimental economic consequences of such an inaction.

This is however not the case in, for instance, Sweden. Here the state has already formulated a very liberal immigration policy last year. A residence permit is granted to anyone who have an employment contract with a Swedish employer. It does not mean that the nationalist narrative is dead here. The narrative is, however, more subtle (unlike in Latvia) and the elites seem to have entered a certain consensus that immigration is good for the country in the long run. I hate to say it, but maybe Latvians should look at how their neighbours live and learn from the positive and (also) the negative example. (Oh, yes, there are also a bunch of problems with immigration in Sweden, too.)

5278633172 71b63f7fe4
Komentētājs

Kalvis to Maria 31.07.2009 16:41
There definitely is that kind of ideology as well - but it we cannot readily assume that this one will become the leading narrative for the textbooks of national/European/world history.

Furthermore, it would be funny to describe, say, World War I in the terms of European integration (E.g. "British, French and Belgian nationalists fighting the progressive vision of German Keiser and his efforts for a single, unified Europe").

I read the Edward Hugh's blog entry - he actually makes a more limited statement: a growing and competitive Latvian economy may need massive immigration (from Central Asia or Subsaharan Africa) in order to pay back the debt. It seems as a specific solution for a specific problem - rather than more general attempt to prevent aging through immigration (which would seem to be a absurd).

Still, we all could hope that we never get to the point, where the choice is as he writes: "Productive capacity needs to be increased substantially. This means increasing the labour force, and this means (as outlined in the World Bank Report, From Red To Grey) facilitating large scale inward migration. Given the serious political implications of encouraging ethnic Russian migration into your country, I see only two viable source regions, the Central Asian Republics in the CIS, and Sub. Saharan Africa. Possibly this solution will not be widely popular with Latvian voters. Well, they do have the right to choose. Your country can take the measures needed to become sustainable, or you can watch it die, as the economy shrinks, and the young people leave. That, I think, is your choice."

It is a kind of stark choice - as if cannibals could ask us - when you die, do you want yourself served with white source or rather - with a red sauce? I would still want to live in my country. And we have only 59% of ethnic Latvians, so there is not much room for decreasing that number and still having a nation-state with a single dominant language.

This means that we would need ethnic nationalism - and pretty much of that ethnic nationalism in the near future. Because the other alternatives are different versions of "choices offered by cannibals" - souces and such.
Pēteris

5278633172 71b63f7fe4
Komentētājs

Maria - to Kalvis 31.07.2009 10:26
>First, let us notice that there is no such thing as "the European ideology".
------------------------------------
I beg to disagree. There is an ideology of European integration (ever closer union) that has been very manifest in the 1990s but started ebbing after the European Constitutiona failed to be accepted in France and the Netherlands. This ideology is nevertheless not dead, and one can even envisage its return at some point.

5278633172 71b63f7fe4
Komentētājs

Kalvis 30.07.2009 22:29
>>> It signifies that the Latvian political and intellectual elite (including the editors of Diena) is drifting away from the European ideology and a more international outlook towards a more conservative ideology of 'protecting the nation-state'.
============
It may be true that history as taught in a school is based on some kind of narrative. At that level it is not easy to teach history entirely as an academic discipline and science (working with sources, archive documents, etc.). And the school subjects of world history vs. Latvian history would likely lead to two separate history narratives.

But why should the narratives for the world history (Latvian history) be bad or misleading? First, let us notice that there is no such thing as "the European ideology". European politics has all kinds of ideologies - from extreme communists to extreme liberals and everything else in between. Every major political force (and also - every major European nation) would offer its own narrative of European and world history.

In the same vain the history of Latvia may illustrate various narratives. It may be the Marxist narrative of class struggle, or, say, narrative of how the laws and customs were changing over time. Or the mutual influences between inhabitants of what is now Latvia and their neighbors. It can be anything! And what it is - is largely dependent on the personality and interests of the history teacher. Well, unless the state-level standards of history require teaching some jingoist (extreme, agressive chauvinist) interpretations.


>>>> The fundamental weakness of this approach is that history taught in order to promote the nation-state's monopoly over the political narrative will inevitably founder when it comes under stress from the social and economic reality of increasing need for massive immigration. ... As Edward Hugh points out in his recent blog on the future of Latvia, the only alternative is the shrinking of economy and possibly the total demise of social welfare as we know it.
========
This is very misleading chain of reasoning. Immigration can quickly fill some country with people, but it cannot effectively stop the aging of population. Because immigrants (unless they stay not-integrated with totally different demography dynamics) will become old as well. And they would need social welfare exactly like everyone else. The only sustainable way to keep the dependency ratio (economically active people vs. the retirees) within reasonable limits - is increased birth rate. Or just not worrying about this - and having a shrinking population for some time.

Citi autora darbi