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SAT, 07 APR 2001 01:12:31 GMT

Reform of the Montenegrin Education

History as A Perishable Good

Montenegro, which for the last four years has been trying to lay the foundations of a civil society, has finally realised that the long-neglected educational system needs to be changed. The loudest objections were made against the hitherto applying method in studying history.

AIM Podgorica, March 29, 2001

Did you know that "a civil war broke out in Yugoslavia in 1991 and 1992 which led to the disintegration of SFRY? Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Macedonia carried out a non-violent secession (separation) from Yugoslavia and became sovereign states". All this happened because "Germany and Austria repeated their 'Drang nach osten' (penetration into the east) for the third time in their history". Apart from the mentioned "dark" forces the disintegration of SFRY was also assisted by "pro-German elements in the United States, as well as Islamic countries which are trying to create an Islamic state in the centre of the Balkans and thus help the spreading of Islam in Europe". The share of "Vatican's policy in the Yugoslav syndrome" was not negligible. Through the Catholic Church and its fanatic followers it pursued the fight against Orthodoxy and Serb Orthodox believers".

This is not an excerpt from some impassioned newspaper article or "witty" analysis of some sharp intellectual from the times of Milosevic's rule. Secondary school graduates and eight-form elementary school pupils in Montenegro still learn this and similar "facts" about the disintegration of SFRY from their history and geography textbooks. However, this is just a crown of years-long study of the "teacher of life". Before this students have to travel across the arduous road in order to get "comprehensive historic knowledge".

Starting from the fourth-form textbook in civics textbook which teach children two units about Montenegro to the second-grade secondary history textbook published in Podgorica in 1997, which on its page 37 gives everything students should know about Serbia at the time of Nemanjics. In addition, there are also the following teaching units: The Independence and Uniting of the Serbian Lands; Strengthening and Spreading of the Serbian Kingdom; Serbia as a Great Power in the Balkans; The Old Serbian Library, etc. After studying Hungarians, Bosniacs, Croats, Slovenes, Dubrovnik, Bulgarians, Albanians and Romanians they come to a whole seven-page text about Zeta at the time of Balsics and Crnojevics!

If anyone there are any doubts about national feelings stirred up by such texts, the answer lies in the geography textbook for the final grade of elementary school printed in Belgrade in 1997: "At the time of second Yugoslavia, the status of a nation was granted to Macedonians and Montenegrins, and some time later to muslims (Muslims are written with a small initial letter, while Albanians are treated as Sqhipetars).

All the above presented leads to a logical conclusion that Montenegro, which has been trying for the last four years to develop a civil society, needs to change the obsolete and long-neglected educational system. The loudest objections refer to the current method of studying history while the basic demands concern the change in the treatment of Montenegrin history and traditions.

It thus happened that describing the state of education in December 2000, the Montenegrin Minister of Education and Science, Dragan Kujovic stated that "the denial of everything Montenegrin has been reflected for decades in education" pointing out that demands for the introduction of Montenegrin language should not be anathemised.

As if by a command, immediately after this Minister's statement, followed those of his assistants. The first to speak was Bozidar Sekularac, member of the coalition Social-Democratic Party. "Our children knew more about the war between the American North and South than about the battle in Carev laz. They also learned more about countries of the Far East, which is OK, than about their first state Duklja. Very few people in Montenegro can tell you the names of all eight kings of the Duklja Dynasty", said Sekularac. He was more specific than his Minister when he stated that the Ministry of Education and Science has set up a 15-member Commission with a task of organising a public debate on the history programmes and textbooks for elementary and secondary schools.

Assistant Minister Radovan Damjanovic presented a plan according to which a new history curriculum and textbooks will be introduced in elementary schools, as well as "possible new subjects dealing with religion, democratic civil society and universal values". Damjanovic also criticised the method of study applied until now: "This history is exclusively a history of wars, battles, victories and defeats, which means that children learn all the time about conflicts, divisions, the defeated and wining sides, enemies and friends".

Concerning the new history curricula Damjanovic said: "History and historic fact will not be altered, but only rid of some idealisations and ideologisations. Efforts will be made to bring into the open historic facts that have been hidden or avoided till now".

Since studying of history was not the only taint in the educational system of Montenegro, Ministry of Education and Science has launched a sensitive process of reforming this system. Consequently, in January 2001 the Council for Changes in the Education of the Republic of Montenegro (RCG) was set up with the task of analysing the situation in education, reviewing the strategy for its change and draft laws, as well as observing the European Union experiences and standards. Also, commissions for changing all levels of education, except University level, have been established. Also, this year work will be finalised on the preparation of "The Book for Change" which shall represent a basis for all further activities in the process of introducing changes in schools.

The fact that numerous foreign experts from the British Council, Soros Open Society Institute, UNICEF, etc. have been involved in helping this reform testifies of the seriousness of this endeavour. Also, the European Union's programme "Reconstruction" will include the Montenegrin school system.

However, there are many objections to the latest plans of the Education Ministry. They primarily come from the political parties which favour the union with Serbia. Thus, the National Party assessed that "Dukljanisation of Montenegro and erasing of all its connections with the Serbian culture and consequently the heritage of Petrovics is being carried out". The National Party simply did not miss the opportunity to fiercely attack every decision of former coalition partners - the DPS and SNP. When education is concerned it was of the same opinion as the Socialist National Party according to which "Milo Djukanovic's regime is introducing its separatist dictatorship not only in politics, but also in culture, education, science, etc.".

However, according to the plan of the Ministry of Education the school year 2002/2003 will be the right time to implement the new educational system. The current year will be decisive not only for education. By the end of this year it will become clear whether in the future some new students of history will just copy the text from the beginning of this story. "In this way the Assembly of Podgorica joined Serbia and unconditionally gave up the Montenegrin sovereignty thus enabling Serbia, after centuries, to get access to the Adriatic again and face with fait accompli all those domestic and foreign forces who fought for 'the Montenegrin independence' for the sake of their own individual interests. We shall soon see which version of history will prevail.

Predrag NIKOLIC

(AIM)