TOWARDS A CULTURE OF PEACE IN EUROPE

Inge Eidsvag, Headmaster

The Fritjof Nansen Academy, Lillehammer, Norway



The headline of this lecture may seem to imply that a culture of peace in Europe is something unknown, something for the future only. As a teacher of history myself, I can easily see how such a view is justified. The first Greek historians, Herodotes and Thucydides were both writing about wars, trying to find human reasons for why they were fought. Why have wars always attracted historians? They are dramatic, they bring about abrupt changes, they create heroes, they establish visible signs in the past.

The 20th century has been the bloodiest in all European history, where unparalleled atrocities have been committed - and it seems as if it is not yet over. Srebreniza and Gorashde are names that these days have to be added to Verdun, Guernica and Auschwitz - just to mention a few landmarks in the history of man's war crimes.

I want to show another perspective today: I will argue that teaching history is - and should be - a crucial part of peace education. Let me start by stating a fact: Most people that have lived, have never experienced war. Even though they lived during a war, they never personally had a feeling of the battles and the murders. If history is teaching about ordinary people's lives in the past, we have to admit that wars play a minor role. That does not mean that ordinary people's lives were dull, unimportant or undramatic. On the contrary, I think we may say that fighting the everyday hardships were often tougher than the life of a soldier. Our challenge as teachers of history is to show this.

We know that it is easier for a pupil to identify with a child of its own age living an ordinary life - than identifying with soldiers, kings or statesmen. The history of the child is now being written in several European countries, even though it has taken a long time since the French historian Philippe Aries opened this field of research at the beginning of the sixties.

This does not mean, of course, that we should omit teaching about wars. But we should ask other questions than are usually asked:

What was done to prevent the war from breaking out, and why did these efforts not succeed? How did ordinary people live during war? What about women, children, old people? It wasn´t until 8 years ago that a comprehensive work about daily life during the Second World War was published in Norway. This is a tremendously rich source for a teacher of history.

What was done - besides the fighting - to end the war? Did there exist a non-violent movement which contributed to the ending of the war? And what about the reconciliation processes after the war? We know that such processes will be crucial to establish a lasting peace in the former Yugoslavia as well as in Northern Ireland. Reconciliation always has to relate to history, as well as relating to the concepts of truth, justice and future. We have to accept the past, deal with the past, but turn to the future, trying to identify common interests. Which arenas do we have in post-war societies to pursue these common interests?

Teaching history often turns out to be the description of an inevitable process. Things happened as they did, and there was nothing to do about it. Impersonal, historical forces moved people around like sleepwalkers. And we leave out of the account the fact that history moved people around like sleepwalkers. And we leave out of the account the fact that history is made up of millions of crossroads. People have always had choices. And it is very important that we train our pupils to ask questions like: What would have happened if...

Asking such questions will encourage our pupils not to take things for granted, not even in their daily lives. And it also shows them how important individuals are in history, thereby strengthening the conviction that they themselves are important, and that little "me" - together with others - may be able to change "the course of history". The writer George Bernard Shaw once said: " You see the world as it is and ask: why? I see the world as it could be, and ask Why not?" Our obligation as teachers is - together with our pupils - both to ask why and why not.

My experience as a history teacher is that what attracts pupils' attention most, is good stories about individual human beings. And we know that the teacher's narrative skills have often been exploited to portray war heroes, brave and full of action, courage and strength. Are we as teachers of history able to find peace heroes, couragous women and men that have contributed to peace in a way that children will admire, people that may serve as role models for our pupils?

A well known Norwegian professor of history wrote in a newspaper in 1898: "The man who has prevented one single war, is a greater man than the man who has won 100 battles". There are more peace heroes than war heroes in history. Our challenge is to become aware of them and describe them in such a way that pupils are attracted by them and want to identify with their values.

As a teacher of history I have often asked myself: How shall I be able to give young people a vision and a hope for a more peaceful world, if I am not able in my teaching to show examples of peaceful conflict resolution in the past. If the history of conflicts becomes the history of violence, then I am afraid that violence will get a cosmic legitimacy. The notion of man as "the killing ape" is near at hand, and a peaceful future is not very much to hope for.

I have spent much time myself finding examples from Scandinavian history of peaceful conflict resolution. In Norse mythology the vision of the new world after Ragnarok, the final battle, is a vision of a peaceful world. It is not only a world where "unsown fields will grow", but it is also a world where people will live in harmony with nature, and where the evil-doer and the victim live together. It is one of the most beautiful visions of peace that I know of. That tells me a great deal about the people who created it. In my research I have also - even in the history of the vikings - found examples of peaceful conflict resolution. I have to admit though that it was not easy.

Some of the most interesting examples of peaceful conflict resolution in the Scandinavian countries, are the secret peace treaties between farmers living in the border areas between Norway, Sweden and Denmark in the 16th and the 17th centuries. The Scandinavian kings were frequently fighting each other. They crossed the borders, burning farms and destroying crops. From one day to the other good neighbours were supposed to be enemies. They didn´t accept that, and signed a number of peace treaties where they promised to warn each other against attacks. They even refused to serve as soldiers, and the kings therefore had to hire mercenaries, that is professional soldiers from other European countries.

Another example of peaceful conflict resolution is the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden in 1905. We had been in union with Sweden for 90 years. Both Swedes and Norwegians may be proud of the fact that this union was dissolved without shedding blood.

I think that one of the most important things that teachers of history can do, is to study the textbooks critically. We know that history as a school subject followed in the wake of European nationalism in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. The teaching of history often became a means of legitimising the national authority and developing loyal citizens. The school textbooks were propagating a view of history as a body of reliable knowledge, which became a kind of unchallenged ´public property´. This kind of nationalistic history teaching aimed at creating a feeling of national, racial, religious and cultural superiority. Very often it lead to hatred, violence and oppression.

"History is the most dangerous product which the chemistry of the intellect has ever evolved, because it renders nations bitter, arrogant and vain", said the French writer Paul Valery (1871-1945), and I think there is something in it. The Portuguese Foreign Minister Mr. Joao de Deus Pinheiro was even more decisive when he commented on the frustration of peace negotiations in former Yugoslavia by saying: "Forbid history teaching in schools for the next fifty years".

It may be needless to mention here, but nevertheless: All history is selective. The past can never be totally reconstructed, it always has to be interpreted - and therefore the study of history is always unfinished. The teaching of history should therefore be, on the basis of a variety of perspectives, explanation-seeking instead of transmitting a body of knowledge. We should train our pupils to think critically and be constructively sceptical. History teachers should also emphasize that, for many people, the nation is not the basis for identity. The region, the culture or the dialect may be more important. We should also draw attention to the bigger picture, the world context and the mutual influences between regions, religions and ideas. The world of today needs people who identify themselves not as national citizens but as members of the human species.

True, historians have developed scientific tools for working with the past, tools that to a certain degree make it possible to reach intersubjective agreement. But more often, I am afraid, the historian and the teacher of history have been loyal servants to the political authorities and what is conceived of as national interests. The great German historian, Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886), once said that the only task for the historian was to show "wie es eigentlich gewesen" - "how things in reality have been". The 19th century was the century of facts in the science of history. When the first volume of the Cambridge Modern History was to be written, Acton wrote to his contributing editors that "our description of the battle of Waterloo must be accepted both by the French, the Germans and the Dutch".

Today we know - and we have known for a long time - that things aren´t as easy as that. History is a hermeneutic discipline, where we always study the past in the light of the present. History therefore always has to be written again and again, and the discussions about "wie es eigentlich gewesen" should never stop.

Teaching history should also of course include the history of the peace movement. Because there is a peace movement history, which is as important as the war history. The only problem is that this history, in its full extent, is not yet written. There are very few organized archives of the peace organisations, there are even fewer peace museums, there are very few professional historians that have shown an interest in the history of the peace movement.

As teachers we should ask for this. Very few of us have either the time or the qualifications to do research ourselves. But as teachers we may demand such material. We need it, and we need it now, if we are to take our work as teachers seriously.

Why is history so important for a culture of peace in Europe? Simply because our conception of the past is crucial for our attitudes and values of today. We always understand the present in the light of the past. For example: our interpretation of the Nazi ideology and The Second World War, will to a great extent form our judgement of similiar movements today. The one who controls the past, easily will conquer the future. Every dictator knows this. In his famous novel 1984 George Orwell has shown us, once and for all the importance of controlling history - which means controlling the mind.

But history is something that should never be controlled by one person, one party or one nation. History has many faces, many voices. It is like a huge mountain. You walk around it, and you see it from different angles. Each description may be equally true.

If I had at my disposal just three words to describe the essence of the European culture, I think my answer would be: the permanent dialogue. It has been a dialogue between the JewishChristian and the Greek and Roman culture, between science and belief, between man and God, between reason and feelings, between the German and the French, the British and the Russians, the Norwegians and the Swedes. There has in European culture been a critical and a self-critical tradition, that has kept this dialogue alive. A dialogue that implies that we are in constant search of truth, but will never reach it.

This implies plurality and respect for the many different voices. This diversified unity is constantly threatened. We do not have to reach back to The Second World War to find peoples or parties, who see themselves to have the god given right to impose their views and values on other people and who see ethnic cleansing as an answer to the challenges of modernity.

Combined with this tradition of permanent dialogue, we should not forget - and how can we these days - that we also have a tradition of aggression and self-destructiveness. Cues for this part of our history may be: imperalism, colonialism, nazism, fascism, nationalism and racism.

The importance of dialogue in peace education, can not be overestimated. We always join in a dialogue in order to learn, change and grow; not to force changes on others. That is propaganda. Dialogue is not to search for agreement, but for understanding. My dialoguepartner and I may together discover something neither of us had known before. In a dialogue I have to see my partner and to recognize him. By doing so I have taken responsibility for him This recognition implies commitment. In Martin Buber's words: "Once one ceases to regard the other as merely an object of observation and begins to regard the other as an independent being, then we have the beginning of the I-Thou relationship".

Today nationalism, racism and intolerance are gaining strength throughout Europe. Now that "the red peril" has disappeared, we are often urged to belive that it has been replaced by a green Muslim threat. I fear that this image will be exploited to reinforce a feeling of European unity, forgetting that Europe is - and always has to be - characterized by pluralism and diversity. In that perspective I see the Islamic community integrated in Europe as a positive contribution to European culture. I see it as a bridge between Europe and the immigrants' countries of origin. We need many such bridges today. There should be a multi-faith religious education in all schools. Pupils should not be segregated into different groups according to what religion or belief they belong to. Such segregation may encourage what Professor John Hull (University of Birmingham) has called religionism. Religionism is the kind of religion which involves the identity of the believer in such a way as to support tribalism and nationalistic solidarity by furthering negative attitudes towards others.

It is the duty of the school to give children access to religion in all diversity and with its contentions. A teacher of religion should keep in mind the double perspective: religion as a critique- and the critique of religion. The hermeneutics of the sacred - and the hermeneutics of suspicion.

"Plurality is the law of the earth", the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt once said. Plurality must be the law of European culture as well. The "hidden curriculum" in our sehools should be the teaching of tolerance. Not the kind of tolerance which relativizes all moral issues and eventually leads to indifference. But the kind of tolerance which makes our pupils able to discern and evaluate, and at the same time respect the right of other people to hold beliefs different from their own.

Our challenge as teachers, is to remain faithful to these best elements in European culture: the dialectical way of teaching, the multi-dimensional explanations, the beautiful vision of tolerance, freeedom and peace.

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