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Year 2000,
International Year for
the Culture of Peace

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DISARMING
HISTORY

International Conference on
Combatting Stereotypes and Prejudice in
History Textbooks of South-East Europe

Visby, Gotland, Sweden
23 - 24 September, 1999

 

Conclusions and recommendations

The participants

Note with great interest the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, adopted by the United Nations 53rd
General Assembly on 13 September 1999, encouraging, inter alia, "revision of educational curricula, including textbooks
bearing in mind the 1995 Declaration and Integrated Framework of Action on Education for Peace, Human Rights and
Democracy for which technical cooperation should be provided by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization upon request",

Consider the Visby Conference as one of the first steps towards the implementation of that United Nations Programme of
Action, which should be followed-up;

Recall the perspectives for international co-operation in the field of improving curricula and textbooks for the teaching of
history, historical research, bi- and multilateral revision of textbooks and the co-production of textbooks by two or more
countries, outlined in UNESCO’s Medium Term Strategy 1996-2001 (document 28 C/4, paras 158 and 159);

Note with appreciation that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe proposed, on 21 September 1999, a new
co-operation agreement between the Council of Europe and UNESCO, which would cover, inter alia, the reform of the
education systems in South-East Europe, including curricula and textbooks;

Having shared information on a number of interesting experiences and ongoing projects presented during the Visby Conference
by UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the European Union (Stability Pact, Royaumont process) as well as
Non-Governmental Organizations and institutions such as the Georg Eckert Institute, EUROCLIO, CIVITAS, Central
European University, Association internationale d’études du Sud-Est européen (AIESEE) and the Joint History Textbook
Project , and governmental as well as non-governmental experts from the South-East Europe subregion,

A. Express concern about

(i) the political and economic situation of South-East Europe, causing a crisis of public expenditure on education;

(ii) ongoing problems of living together of people with different cultural backgrounds in this region;

(iii) existing tendencies of emphasizing, in history teaching, the national identity at the expense of the identity of others;

(iv) the contents of many history textbooks, placing too much emphasis on national aspects at the detriment of international,
regional and local dimensions of history, and reflecting the history of wars and violence to the detriment of givng due account of
periods of peaceful coexistence, co-operation and cultural exchange, of mutual enrichment between different groups as well as
between nations;

B. Agree on the following principles and perspectives:

(i) History textbooks should be used, among other instruments, for the shaping of understanding the past and present and for
developing open-ended perspectives for the future; they should give space to the development of the multicultural world of
today, as outlined in the Report of the World Commission of Culture and Development (Perez de Cuellar Report "Our Creative
Diversity");

(ii) History teaching should foster individual judgment and critical thinking through, inter alia, presenting a number of sources
open to interpretation and giving access to the perspectives of various actors in history and at present from different
perspectives and different interpretations, based on concepts such as "learning to live together" and "education for pluralism",
outlined in the Report of the World Commission on Education for the 21st Century (Delors Report "The Treasure Within") and
the Recommendation No. 1283 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (1996);

(iii) History teaching should contribute to fostering media competence of young people, supporting their ability to understand
and select information from the various sources of information competing for their attention;

(iv) Educational curricula and teacher training should provide for innovative interdisciplinary approaches to history and
literature, foreign language teaching and other subjects;

(v) The commemoration of days and events that create feelings of national antagonism should be transformed into opportunities
for addressing the need for reconciliation, understanding and co-operation;

C. Recommend to the Director-General of UNESCO, in co-operation with the European
Union (Stability Pact and Royaumont process) and the Council of Europe, to

(i) develop further the perspectives on history teaching, as they are outlined in UNESCO’s Medium Term Strategy, into a
coherent strategy for inter-agency and institutional co-operation and also for co-operation with NGOs;

(ii) update existing ways for dissemination of experiences, ideas and proposals and for networking, making full use of the new
information technologies and including the dissemination of results of relevant research such as the "Youth and History" project;

(iii) identify a number of best practices in history teaching;

(iv) promote research and evaluation in this field;

(v) elaborate a specific plan of action for the South-East Europe subregion, aiming at, inter alia, fostering the process of
establishing and further developing partnerships between governmental and intergovernmental institutions; innovation in teacher
training; involving UNESCO’s Associated Schools Network in the development of new materials and methods of history
teaching; recognizing best practices in history teaching which can contribute to the transformation of negative feelings into
reconciliation; adaptation and large-scale implementation of such examples of best practice; encouraging innovation in history
teaching through a number of pilot projects; encouraging experiments with bi- or even multilateral co-production of
supplementary educational materials and certain modules of history textbooks; facilitating access to innovative materials and
methods through the Internet; providing support to initiatives which its Member States of South-East Europe may wish to take
in carrying out a bilateral or even multilateral revision of school textbooks so as to remove any prejudices or stereotypes they
might contain vis-à-vis other nations or groups.

D. Recommend to the Member States and their National Commissions of South-East Europe to

(i) provide, wherever possible, for a number of different history textbooks among which the teachers can choose;

(ii) facilitate the use of supplementary materials such as texts provided by UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the European
Union or selected in projects conducted under the umbrella of those intergovernmental institutions and organizations as well as
non-governmental organizations working in the field of history teaching such as the Georg Eckert Institute and EUROCLIO;

(iii) introduce, into teacher-training, methods for using additional textbooks and supplementary materials;

(iv) facilitate evaluation and research on history teaching;

(v) ensure intellectual freedom for textbook authors and link textbooks to the curricula, setting up teams of authors of history
textbooks who should include practitioners and have access to textbooks from other countries as well as information provided
by international organizations;

(vi) facilitate and encourage contacts between professional organizations of historians and teachers of history at national,
regional and international levels;

(vii) include, into bilateral agreements on cultural cooperation or on the agenda of relevant regular meetings in this context, the
exchange of curricula and textbooks and other educational materials;

(viii) seek co-operation with UNESCO or European intergovernmental institutions and organizations in preparing pilot projects
for bi- or multilateral coproduction of history teaching materials.

E. Recommend to the other Member States and their National Commissions of the Europe Region to

(i) take note of the results and proceedings of the Visby Conference;

(ii) provide support to subregional activities in South-East Europe in the area of reforming history teaching and designing new
textbooks and teaching materials;

(iii) invite experts from South-East Europe to relevant meetings in other parts of Europe;

(iv) make available information on bi- or multilateral experiences in history textbook revision to countries of the South-East
Europe subregion.

F. Recommend to specialized institutions and professional associations and organizations to

(i) participate in UNESCO’s Network for International Textbook Research and, in particular, share their experiences, ideas
and proposals with the other members of that network;

(ii) develop proposals and innovation and further develop international co-operation in history teaching to be submitted, through
governmental channels, to UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the European Union (in the frameworks of the Stability Pact
and the Royaumont process) as well as non-governmental organizations working in this area;

G. Recommend that UNESCO, the Council of Europe, the European Union, governments, non-governmental institutions and
specialized institutions support and assist

(i) the Georg Eckert Institute in its tasks as co-ordinator of the UNESCO Network for International Textbook Research and
as the Council of Europe’s clearing-house for the exchange of textbooks and information, to develop a specific section on
South-East Europe, inter alia through providing updated information and materials for the website of that network, and
completing the stock of relevant history textbooks for the centre;

(ii) EUROCLIO in strengthening the learning and teaching of history and in promoting innovation in this area.

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