Montenegrin textbooks: What do they conceal and reveal about the contemporary history of Montenegro?

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) today presented the study Montenegrin textbooks: what do they conceal and reveal on the contemporary history of Montenegro?, whereby CCE research team analysed history textbooks for primary and secondary education, as well as for several faculties of University of Montenegro, in the part related to presentation of the Montenegrin contemporary history in them, with the accent on war events in region. Additionally, the study includes the results of research on the extent of students’ knowledge on recent past of Montenegro and region. Finally, it provides the assessment on the current manner of teaching the history in Montenegro, along with the recommendations for the improvement and modernisation of teaching of history in order to contribute to more objective overview of historic facts, but also to reconciliation process.

Isidora Radonjić, CCE programme assistant, who worked on the analysis of history textbooks and course programmes, presented that part with a detailed review on primary, secondary and higher education. She emphasised that, based on the operative objectives for history, a significant portion of recent history of region and Montenegro is not envisaged for teaching process, especially the part related to war events, and that the entire period from the disintegration of Yugoslavia onwards is presented on five pages, including the accompanying photographs. “Students receive scant information on the developments in Montenegro, and only in the part of creation of new states… War on the territory of former Yugoslavia is also very briefly elaborated, with the note that it started with the intervention of Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) in Slovenia, and that the war events later aggravated in Croatia… Students are informed on the role of Montenegro in war events through one single sentence: “Reservists from Montenegro participated in the attack of YPA on Dubrovnik region””, clarified Radonjić. “Also, part related to developments on Kosovo and later NATO bombing, apart from the note that, “Serbia suffered human losses and mass destruction of military, transport and economy objects”, has no mention of Albanian and Montenegrin victims, background concerning the bombing, or the manner in which the bombarding was terminated”, she stated.

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Radonjić further stated that there are certain differences in secondary education in terms of the elaboration of these issues in gymnasiums and secondary vocational schools, as well as that textbooks are not harmonised with operative objectives of programme for history when it comes to this period. “In gymnasiums, this period is elaborated quite poorly on just three pages, with more or less identical information as in primary school, and course lesson ends with the information on the formation of State union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2003, meaning that there are no information related to referendum from 2006, because the textbook was initially issued in 2003, and since then it has been only printed, without being updated”, told Radonjić. She emphasised that students of gymnasiums can also inform themselves on the manner of participation of Montenegro in war events based on one single sentence, which is the same as the one already taught in primary schools, and thus that their textbook has the same flaws like the ones identified for primary schools. “Textbook for secondary vocational schools elaborates this period slightly more, on four pages, with more details in certain segments. However, the lesson ends with 1999, hence there are no information on future events. The position of Montenegro in the war is not mentioned, or its participation in any form. Also, there is no special information on the influence of NATO bombing on Montenegro”, Isidora Radonjić summed up.

By reflecting on general findings related to curriculums and teaching materials of higher education, she stated that history of recent Montenegrin history is not examined at any of three three analysed faculties of University of Montenegro – Philosophy, Law and Faculty of Political Sciences, by estimating that “this issue is particularly problematic given that department of history educates the teaching staff which should educate students, while that same staff lacks the formal education necessary to perform quality teaching. Also, at the Law Faculty of the University of Montenegro, where, amongst the other, future prosecutors and judges are educated, who are supposed to process war crimes, students learn the definitions of war crimes and functioning of Hague Tribunal, but without any specific examples of war crimes which took place on the territory of former Yugoslavia or Montenegro in particular. The situation is same also with future political analysts and journalists, noting that these issues are less present in their formal education”, concluded Radonjić.

Tamara Milaš, CCE programme associate and spokesperson of Coalition for RECOM in Montenegro, explained that CCE aimed to determine the level of knowledge of high school pupils and university students about the recent past of region and Montenegro. But, that CCE has not been able to get the approval for research from the competent Ministry of Education. “After months-long obstruction by the Ministry of Education, we received an answer which showed, though indirectly, that education authorities are aware of the flaws in the existing textbooks and the influence of such textbooks on the knowledge of students, or lack of the same, but also that they are not prepared to research their effect. Hope remains that things will change, because we are surely not solving the problem by sweeping it under the rug”, assessed Milaš.

cgo-cce-udzbenici-istorije (2)field research, which was conducted from 6 to 11 May 2016, encompassing 120 Montenegrin students, from three faculty units of University of Montenegro. More precisely, 40 students from undergraduate studies of Law faculty, Faculty of Philosophy, from the departments Sociology, History, Education of teachers and Geography, as well as from the Faculty of Political Sciences, courses International relations, Journalism, European studies and Politicology were interviewed.

Findings indicate that the majority (56.7%) of students did not have the opportunity to learn about recent Montenegrin history within their formal education, 40% claims they did, and 3.3% of the respondents did not provide an answer to this question.

In the case of recent history of former SFRY republics, 12.5% of interviewed students admitted that they are not familiar with it, 58.8% has minimum and 28.4% specific extent of knowledge, while 3.3% did not provide an answer. Still, when that knowledge is tested, it turns out that 50.8% of respondents do not know the number of republics and provinces in former SFRY, 40.8% knows, and 3.3% did not answer. When asked to list former SFRY states which are internationally recognised today, 62.5% of respondents did not know the exact or complete answer, 6.7% did not give an answer, and slightly less than one third (30.8%) knew to list every state which derived out of the former SFRY. Even 85% of interviewed students from the Faculty of Political Sciences were not able to list all internationally recognised states that once used to be part of the SFRY.

Based on three offered options, half of the interviewed students (50.8%) marked correctly the year when the referendum, which was the basis for the creation of FRY, was held by stating that it was 1992, 40% did not give the correct answer, while 9.2% did not provide any answer. 86.7% of the students knew that Serbia and Montenegro – nowadays both independent states – made the FRY.

When it comes to reasons behind the disintegration of SFRY, answers differ. In so, the students of Faculty of Political Sciences primarily state the following: “influence of foreign powers”, “poor policy of political leaders from the region”, “desire for secession, primarily of Slovenia and Croatia, which did not want to stay in federation”, “strengthening of nationalist ideas of leaders, but also of religious differences between the nations”, as well as the “fall of communism” and “economic weakening of member states”. Their colleagues from the Law Faculty estimate that those reasons are mainly: “Tito’s death”, “influence of Western powers”, “strengthening of nationalism”, “influence of USA”, “hatred among the nations”, as well as the “economic crisis”. The ones from the Faculty of Philosophy mostly note “the fall of communism”, “influence of foreign powers”, “hatred among nations”, “nationalism”, and a number of them stated that they don’t know the reasons which led to disintegration of SFRY.

When asked why war occurred on the territory of former SFRY, 57.5% responded by stating the following key causes: “aspiration for the secession by certain republics”, “secession of Slovenia”, “aspirations of Croatia and Slovenia for independence due to the unequal position within the SFRY, which later occurred”, “unconstitutional separation of Croatia and B&H which neglected the constitutional status of Serbia”, “disagreements between the then leaders of republics”, “political and hegemonic aspirations of then leaders of republics”, “political regime of Slobodan Milošević“, “religious and national animosity among nations”, “hatred among the nations”, ethnic, religious and national divisions”, “nationalism”, “influence of foreign powers”, “the West”. Number of those who did not know, or did not wish to answer this question, was significant.

Majority of Montenegrin students (54.2%) consider that Montenegro participated in the war from 1991 to 1995, almost a third of them (30.8%) claim otherwise, while 9.2% did not know the answer to this question, and 5.8% refused to replay. Thereby, highest percentage of students from the Faculty of Philosophy stated that Montenegro participated in the war – 62.5%, the least of them is from the Faculty of Political Sciences – 45%, while the respondents from the Law Faculty are in between with 55%.

Almost two thirds of students gave the wrong answer among offered options when asked about the year when an armed intervention was perpetrated on Dubrovnik and Dubrovnik region in general, and slightly less than a third of students (30.8%) claims that this event occurred in 1991.

When asked who performed the armed intervention on Dubrovnik, and on Dubrovnik region in general, for which there were four possible answers, with an option to choose more than one answer, 61.7% of students marked that the intervention was perpetrated by the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA), 24.2% believes that it was done by the members of Territorial Defence (TD) of Montenegro, 10% believes that it was done by the members of Ministry of Interior of Montenegro (then RSIA – Republican Secretariat of Internal Affairs), and 25% believes that the intervention was carried out by paramilitary formations. When asked about the reasons behind the armed intervention which was performed in Dubrovnik, and in Dubrovnik region in general, one third (33.3%) of interviewed students responded by spontaneously stating the following reasons: “national conflicts between Serbs and Croats, and persecution of Serbian population from the territory of Croatia”, “militarist tendencies of political leaders of Croatia and Serbia”, “conquering of Croatian territory, i.e. the annexation of Dubrovnik, the so called “war for peace”, while the number of those who do not know what caused this event is considerable. When asked about the death toll of members of YPA from Montenegro on Dubrovnik battlefield, 50% of the students answered correctly, based on three offered options, that there ware 165 Montenegrin members of YPA, 28.3% did not answer correctly, and 21.7% did not give any answer.

When asked which proceedings were conducted before Montenegrin judiciary for the war crime cases, Montenegrin students marked the following out of the offered options: “kidnapping of passengers from the train Belgrade – Bar in Štrpci“ (35%), “camp Morinj” (30.8%), “Bukovica” and “attack on Dubrovnik” (25%), “deportation of refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina” and “Kaluđerski laz” (15.8%), “genocide in Srebrenica” (15%), “camp Lora” (9.2%), “siege of Sarajevo” (5%) and the “Assassination of family Klapuh” (1.7%).

When it comes to territories of states where the war events took place, students stated that the war was waged on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina (74.2%), Croatia (71.1%), Kosovo (49.2%),

Serbia (35%), Montenegro (15.8%), Slovenia (14.2%) and Macedonia (8.3%). Lowest number of students from the Law Faculty thinks that war events also took place in Montenegro (7.5%), slightly more at the Faculty of Political Sciences (15%) and the majority of them is from the Faculty of Philosophy (25%).

When asked to say what they know about Srebrenica, Vukovar and siege of Sarajevo, 55.8% of respondents replied briefly, whereby their answers varied greatly, thus they knew the most about Srebrenica, slightly less about the siege of Sarajevo, while it was apparent that they knew the least about the events from Vukovar. Srebrenica is mainly described as “genocide”, “genocide against Muslim population”, “crime against humanity”, “massacre”, “war crime”, “worst crime since World War II”, by assessing that “Serbs are most responsible for this crime”. While the majority of students from the Law Faculty and Faculty of Political Sciences agree that it was the case of genocide, nobody from the Faculty of Philosophy described this crime as a genocide. Siege of Sarajevo is described as “the longest siege in modern history”, “siege conducted by the army of Republic of Srpska (ARS)”, “event with highest number of victims”, “ethnic cleansing”. In case of Vukovar, they mostly say that it is “a place on the border of Serbia and Croatia where siege and mass destruction took place”, “crimes which were defined as genocide or ethnic cleansing were committed there”, “bordering city where mass destruction took place, because it was considered to be a part of Serbian territory”.

40% of the students heard about Srđan Aleksić and his heroic act, after whom a street was named recently in Podgorica, while 38.3% did not hear about him, and 21.7% of respondents did not provide an answer to this question.

When asked which politician was most responsible for the civic war which took place on the territory of SFRY, 58.8% of students listed Slobodan Milošević, 47,5% Franjo Tuđman, 30,8% Radovan Karadžić, 27,5% Alija Izetbegović, 14,2% Milo Đukanović, 10,8% Momir Bulatović, while Milan Kučan and Kiro Gligorov got each 6,7%. Montenegrin students mostly agree with the assessment related to responsibility of political leaders from former SFRY states for war events, but there are differences when it comes to Radovan Karadžić and Milo Đukanović. Namely, while 50% of respondents from the Faculty of Political Sciences deem Karadžić responsible for this crime, that number is drastically lower among the students of Law Faculty and Faculty of Philosophy ranging from 20 to 22.5%. Also, 22.5% of students from the Faculty of Philosophy state that Đukanović is responsible, while that percentage is twice lower at the Faculty of Political Sciences (12.5%), and on Law Faculty it is lower by two thirds (7.5%).

Even though the issue of NATO bombing is still highly present in Montenegrin public, only 27.5% of students are aware of the fact that there were seven victims during NATO bombing in Montenegro, 55% answered incorretly, while 17.5% of the students did not provide any answer. Among the spontaneous questions related to key causes of NATO bombing, 58.3% of the students who gave an answer mostly stated: “the impossibility of finding a solution for the situation in Serbia and Kosovo”, “unwillingness of Slobodan Milošević to abide the UN demands”, “final stage of war in Kosovo and Metohija”, “conflict between Serbia and Kosovo”, “violation of rights of Albanians from Kosovo, their unfavourable position, Serbia’s attack on Kosovo”, “threat of humanitarian catastrophe on Kosovo”, “Slobodan Milošević’s policy”, “Kosovo”, “YPA’s aggression against Kosovo”, “US interests”, “State’s refusal to join the NATO”.

«These information indicate on concerning effects of negligence of recent past issues of Montenegro and region in our formal education system. Hence it is necessary to amend the existing textbooks and update these. But, persons in charge of this task should have the integrity to resist compromises with authorities on the manner in which Montenegrin contemporary history should be presented, history already marked by those who are still high on the political ladder of Montenegro”, concluded Milaš.

Miloš Vukanović, historian and coordinator of EUROCLIO (European Association of History Educators) for Montenegro pointed out that education on history always played a specific role in the education system of some state, due to the immense potential to influence the formation of one’s opinion on personal identity, personality and society. “It is not easy to answer the question whether the history teaching is more shaped by new scientific findings or the change in national status and ideology. Unfortunately, for the significant part of European countries, history education evolved based on the principle of development of patriotism, precisely due to the interference of national ideologies, which led to the creation of history of “pride and suffering”. Such history education cannot yield many positive outcomes, since it creates fetched pictures on someone’s national significance and wrong assumptions on the position of one’s own state in terms of regional and global historic processes”, clarified Vukanović.

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As far as the history education on contemporary history in Montenegro, he emphasised that “even though operative objectives are based on the idea of understanding of political changes during last three decades, it is safe to make the judgements on social changes which influenced the formation of society in which we live today. Also, it is impossible to evade the war events in region and role of Montenegro in them as topic, because these still cause conflicting opinions and divide the population. Consequences of such relation towards contemporary history can be profound and catastrophic. By creating the gaps in the history education of pupils, we leave room for that void to get quickly filled with non-historic education imposed by social environment”, warned Vukanović.

“However, models of contemporary and innovative history education slowly gain on momentum in region, even in Montenegro. Those models primarily relate to change of methods in terms of the history education from a practice based on the transfer of knowledge to a teaching based on the development of abilities of students. Such history education has been designed as a mean of prevention of abuse of past through the promotion of complexity and multi-perspective of history, as well as a mean of critical thinking development. Furthermore, such history education has no intention of conveying the unique truth from the past. But, it does aim to get closer to historic truth as much as possible based on facts and qualified evidence, thus striving to objectivity. Finally, it aims to deconstruct historic myths and stereotypes by placing the traditional historic approach of “pride and suffering” through different aspects, by providing the support to educators and students to question their own cultural idioms. All of these are opposite to traditional pattern composed around the principle of suffering of one’s own nation, on one hand, and national pride, on the other side, but neglecting to underline the damage done to others, as well as the history of those areas which are not connected to national narration”
, concluded Vukanović.

This analysis is part of the activities of Centre for Civic Education (CCE) within the sub-programme Transitional justice.

Svetlana Pešić, programme associate