Sunday, February 25, 2007

European universal history book

Annette Schavan, the education minister of Germany - the country that will lead the EU until the end of June - has proposed something that seems to be a typical bureaucratic mission creep, using British politicians' terminology, and an example of the unrealistic imperial ambitions of certain people in the EU. She wants all children of the EU to learn from the same history textbook. Not even a German chancellor who reigned in the 1930 and 1940s was able to do something like that in his empire.

What she wants is a synchronization, forcible coordination, making equal. German readers know that the correct translation to German is Gleichschaltung.

It would be much easier - although not easy - to unify the education of mathematics or physics although it's not quite clear what such a unification would be good for. But Schavan is more ambitious so she chooses the subject that is clearly the most difficult one to be unified: history.

In my opinion, that's a sign that she has no sense of reality.

The European Union has 27 member countries and this number keeps on increasing. However, a normal history teacher spends about 1/2 of her time at school with their own national history. It is completely correct that they do so. Who should know the Irish history if the Irish don't? There are two things that Schavan can mean: it's only the universal history that she wants to unify; or it is all of history.

I have very good reasons to think that she wants the latter. After all, the European history overlaps with every national history so there would be a lot of redundancy if the students learned the European history including their nation after or before they learn the national history. Fine, so she means the latter.

What does it mean? She effectively wants to eliminate nations from the intellectual map of Europe. For example, she wants to reduce the time dedicated to the Czech history at Czech schools by a factor of 13.5 or so - and this ratio will be increasing. I have deliberately chosen an average EU country so that the calculation is easy.

How the hell are they gonna learn the history of the Czech Kingdom during Charles IV's reign or Hussites or National Revival or anything else if they have 13.5 times less time to learn? She clearly wants all young citizens of Europe to know 13.5 times less about their nations than their parents. It's just so mad that I would immediately become a huge opponent of the Czech membership in the EU if this were approved.

It's not just about eliminating national histories: the different interpretations of events are another major issue.

Although there are many historical events that are described in a similar fashion by many countries, it is certainly not all of them. An attempt to unify history textbooks - the "Histoire Geschichte" project - has already occurred but it only included France and Germany: about 13.5 times easier task than the full EU task. Of course, it didn't work at the end because the French morons wanted to be critical towards the U.S. and friendly towards the communists after the Second World War. This part of the textbook remained different in the two language mutations.

Other two "details" where the French and German historians disagreed were the Christian church ;-) and the French colonial history. See the Telegraph.

The French would try to insert pro-communist, anti-American propaganda to the textbooks of other countries. Armies could no longer be celebrated - or described in an intriguing style - as long as they fought against someone else in Europe which is what 90% of them did. There are roughly 26 issues that are similar to the French example and that I don't even know at this moment.

The British and the Poles oppose it. I hope that others will give a proper thrashing to this proposal, too.

What will have to be unified

In the textbook, we will probably learn that the U.S. entered the war by occupation of Normandy in 1944 but the Yankees were finally stopped by heroic allied French and German forces near Pilsen, my hometown. ;-)

This one was easy. There will be more subtle chapters.

It will be interesting to read the universal truth about the contributions of Czechoslovakia to the Munich Betrayal, the voluntary merger of Austria with the Third Reich (Anschluss), Germany being attacked by Poland or the Soviet Union, and the war reconstruction of London using the V2 bombs.

A chapter - one that the Slavic students would appreciate - could be dedicated to the Slavic expansion to the West against the dovish Germanic tribes. A politically correct team of historians will tell us nice stories about the friendly collaboration during the battles of Waterloo, Leipzig, Austerlitz (Slavkov), and Verdun. We will probably learn that John Huss has burned himself in 1415 and Joan of Arc was a heretic, after all.

The French and the English will finally reach harmony about the Hundred Years War. The Britons and Spaniards will finally agree whether the Undefeatable Army was undefeatable. The Germans and the Poles will agree about the triple split of Poland. The textbooks could finally recommend the Britons to return Gibraltar to Spain.

Czech and Polish historians will happily report about the Polish attack on the Czech lands and the subsequent happiness of the Czechs who saw the Poles being chased away by the Germans.

Marxists and Leninists had a hard time to create semi-unified history textbooks whose only goal was to make the working class look nice in the light of the historical events. I am very curious how the proposed textbook will present the history as an example of the European unity, especially if 95% of the history is about the European non-unity.

And that's the memo.


  1. Hey, long time no write.

    Well Lubos your "average" EU country happens to be the one you are from eh. Sure no bias there. :-)

    I can relate to what you really fear your history will not be done justice as your nations kids are taught how great it is to be english, french or german. (perhaps even turkish in the future?) I can relate because this has happened here in the USA. Very little black history is taught. Basically no history of the Native Americans other than that they died of small pox (makes it sound nice and natural:-? ) As a matter of fact I can see how that "European History" book would look in about 50 years. The only mention of your country would be that part of it was given to Hitler.

    You can't fight the tide "Europe" is going to basically become either one big confederation or become irrelevant.

    Here is the solution for your problem. A Czech history month. Just like Black history month here in the USA. With 27 and soon more countires it could not be every year. Perhaps every other year or something like that. Think about it all of Europe for at least one month finding out that there is more to know about the Czech republic than that it used to be Czechoslovakia and was given (betrayed) to Hitler by other countires.

  2. Dear hfarmer,

    welcome here again. It is no bias. The Czech Republic is, by population, the 12th largest country of the EU out of 27 - see this table - which simply makes it an average country of the EU whether you like it or not. OK, it is 2 steps above the real average country which is #14 Sweden but I suppose there is some freedom in defining the word "average".

    I understand your comparison with Native Americans etc. even if I could find it a bit insulting. The difference is that there have been no real schools of Native American history before the unified U.S. education took over. That's different from Europe because the countries of Europe have had their national education for 500 years or more and our first universities were founded 300 years before the first U.S. colleges. The goal of the German plan is to destroy a part of something that already exists which is wrong.

    If you think that it is a good analogy to compare nations of Europe that have been civilized for a millenium to primitive Indian tribes, then we really disagree about a lot.

    "You can't fight the tide "Europe" is going to basically become either one big confederation or become irrelevant."

    I have no idea what you mean by the word "irrelevant" and why you think that someone "can't fight". Whether or not Europe is more unified or less unified has no easily justifiable correlation with its overall relevance even though some demagogues would often like people to think otherwise. And the previous sentence is even more obvious in the case of history education. What does the unifiedness of history teaching have to do with the relevance of a continent? I think that if this is what you wanted to say, it is completely silly and irrational.

    Europe has been so relevant a continent partly because of its diversity.

    I don't accept the existence of any "tide". It is completely silly. There are people who are trying to impose a new kind of political correctness involving Europe, but they are losing their battle. There is no tide.

    On the other hand, if we're talking about the relevance of some central government somewhere in Brussels, indeed, I don't want such a government to be overly relevant and I know that I am probably a part of a majority.

    I wrote this article as an example of the stupidity and lack of realism that some people in Europe have. Be sure that this proposal won't materialize. So let me treat your suggestion about the appreciation months to be what it is, namely a silly joke.

    The black history month is a typical silly example of political correctness and the European nations certainly don't need anything like that. The point here is not to force others to learn things that they find irrelevant. The point is to have the freedom to learn the things that are relevant.

    I don't care whether the Irish learn how exactly the British and French "peaceful" chicken littles betrayed their allies and joined with Hitler and Mussolini instead. There is nothing to be excited or proud about - for anyone - here. The more someone understands history, the more he knows what happened, but I don't know what it's good for if the Irish know any details of this particular painful story.

    It's important for leaders and nations today to know what can you expect if someone betrays his allies against tyranny, but there exist other examples of it, too. The history of the Munich Betrayal could also be relevant in some possible new controversies that would involve the same nations but I just don't feel that we should be reviving these things in any kinds of "appreciation months".

    I don't think that there is any contemporary military threat for Czechia or others from Germany. Unified textbooks are the closest thing to it but they can be dealt with in the normal way - and it will be stopped simply because many people disagree and it is really impossible to make such a unification as every realistic historian knows. Attempting to settle all the controversies is effectively equivalent to reviving all the previous wars.


  3. Let me say one more thing.

    Whether an uneducated American has a big feeling when we say "Europe" is completely irrelevant for me.

    Most Americans can't tell the difference between Slovakia and Slovenia, and I would say that most of them have even deeper ignorance about geography. But it's not my problem. It's not a problem of any European person. Who cares about some simpletons on a different continent.

    Most Americans are simply uneducated as far as geography goes. Instead of learning some facts, they spend a lot of time at school with meaningless politically correct brainwashing such as black history appreciation months.

    There is another thing that you seem to suggest: that people should have an interest to be a part of a "big bloc" or a "big nation". I think that people who are thinking in this way are stupid, too. We could also create a global nation. Great. Would it be good just because such a nation is large? I can't imagine how could I ever be biased in this direction. Such an inclusive concept would be clearly vacuous.

    A normal, rational person has all kinds of identities. He belongs to a village, town, city, region, profession, nation, continent, political party, gender, race, owners of a particular hair color, and so on, and so on. At any level, the portion of the identity is only relevant if there are other, alternative identities.

    Europe has been a dominant continent at least between 1000 AD and 1850 AD. It has had more disunity and diversity in its history than unity. I am clearly proud about being Europeans in many ways.

    But I don't have any secret goal to create a bipolar world with Europe being one of the poles. This fact has many reasons. First of all, I don't believe that Europe will ever be 1/2 or more than 1/2 of the world as measured by the importance again. This era has already ended and the importance of other regions e.g. in Asia is obviously gonna increase now.

    Second, I don't believe that the European identity in such a fictitious bipolar world is anything better than the average global identity. Such a European identity, if it became important, would inevitably swallow various anti-American sentiments and values, and they're clearly wrong, not only in my opinion.

    It's a general feeling in Central and Eastern Europe and probably beyond that the trans-Atlantic alliances give the countries more prestige than obedience to some bureaucrats in Brussels. I certainly share this sentiment.

    Third, the European identity is way to fuzzy for me. 90% of things determining the system of the world as it works today has been taken from Europe, mostly due to its past ability to expand and occupy. The European identity is essentially the same thing as the global identity - it is nearly a vacuous concept. Except that it could eliminate the few things in the world whose source was not in Europe, and I have no interest to define myself to be against these things (such as traditional Japanese culture).

    If some stupid Americans are expecting others to be trying to "beat" America, it's just not my problem. I don't care about it. They're stupid but they don't affect my life in any way. Most people in Europe are not trying to create any empire that would try to humiliate America. Most people in Europe realize that the military and other importance of Europe is guaranteed to become relatively low even if we decided to increase it.

    While European countries should become more self-contained as far as armies go, I see absolutely no reason why they should try to match or surpass the U.S. On a military front, Czechia is an example of a country that feels, because of the history, to be much more closely affiliated with America than with Germany, France, Italy, or Britain.

    I don't think that we gain anything by strengthening the second type of ties while weakening the first type.

    And unification of cultures? I just see absolutely nothing positive about it. We've had these things many times in the past, and they were always sold as a great thing. Influence of Germany and Russia were the two most dominant influences but they never became terribly important.

    I am sure that people in other countries would view these EU attempts to unify as a modern analogy of various occupations in the past, too. They are occupations by more diverse and politically correct forces ;-) but I am not sure whether this small difference itself makes the consequences better.

    There is just nothing wrong to be a part of groups that are not a majority or one of the largest groups, and so forth.


  4. One more short comment. You seem to misunderstand completely who is in charge of the countries in Europe.

    The countries are still led by their national governments. So the analogy with the Native Americans is incorrect because of power considerations, too.

    The whites had to defeat the tribes in various confrontations. Nothing like that has occurred in Europe so far ;-). I assure you that everything about the countries' membership in the EU is voluntary, and if it were not voluntary, it couldn't work.

    For example, you can only add Poland to the unified history education if Poland is gonna agree with it. Be sure it won't. You seem to be thinking that the European bureaucrats have a similar control over the territory of Europe as the whites have over the U.S.

    Be sure it's not the case. You effectively expect something equivalent to the colonization of the Native American territories or the re-unification with CSA but without the battles and without the Civil War. It can't work this way. You can't get things that only result from big wars without these wars.

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  6. Wow what a response.

    All I was saying was that I can relate to what you would be feeling about having other people tell your history. What you said about Native Americans and Black people there proves my point. You have been told a version of history where Black people are better off as slave and the natives were all pure savages. That's not the whole story, just the one that justifies the actions of the powerful.

    That is the danger of having Germany, France, and England tell your countires history. Within Europe Slavs are and eastern Europeans are treated like crap (i.e. though some slaving states are EU members there are special restrictions on their citicenzs movement. what BS)

    I wouldn't trust another race to tell my history neither should you.

  7. I am not sure what you mean with "national histories". Do you mean the history of each member-state of the EU? Or do you mean the history that has been used for establishing national identities? The second one is what is typically taught in schools and it is history written for a specific purpose: To boost the nationalistic feelings of the people. It typically includes mythological events, emphasizes the suffering of the own people, presents some "continuity" theory, etc. Usual motives for the "national history" of all countries, from Spain to Russia and from Greece to Finland.

    From the last part of your post, one might assume you find it good that every country teaches its own version of the events, even if such versions are contradictory. I understand that the "unification" might be difficult, or even unrealistic, but teaching lies is by no means preferable.