How do we teach the history of communism in Eastern Europe? International Conference

September 27th  – 28th 2012, Hotel Ramada Majestic Bucharest

The association Respiro Human Rights Research Centre and the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile, together with the association Militia Spirituala and with the support of the Soros Foundation and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, organize the international conference Education for Human Right through the History of the Communist Regimes in Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Union. The event, which will take place on September, 27th and 28th 2012 at Hotel Ramada Majestic Bucharest (Calea Victoriei 38 – 40, I.L. Caragiale Hall), aims to discuss challenges and opportunities with regard to the education for human rights through the history of the recent past. The workshop’s objectives are, on the one hand, presenting, testing and improving educational tools already existing in the region and, on the other hand, sharing expertise, including practices that could be applied in other countries. The workshop will thus help to evaluate the main challenges and constrains and identify solutions to improve the study of the recent past from the perspective of education for human rights.

Participants from 18 European countries will address the further topics: a) The current situation of education about the history of communism in the region (curriculum, textbooks, approaches); b) Methodological challenges of teaching the history of communism; c) Good practices of teaching the history of communism (teaching and learning tools for the classroom; professional development for educators and other adults; extra-curriculum activities).
The conference is part of a bigger project that includes the creation of a platform and a handbook of good practices in the field of teaching the history of communism in Eastern Europe.

MORE INFO: Programme_Conference 27-28 September 2012


The Study Centre for National Reconciliation, the Municipality of Kamnik, and the Society Demos from Kamnik have jointly organized a memorial commemoration in remembrance of August 23 – the European Day of Remembrance for victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. The commemoration took place on Monday, 27 August 2012, at Ursuline monastery in Mekinje near Kamnik.

This year the ceremony was dedicated to the memory of Slovenian man and boys, who were forcibly mobilized to the German army during World War II.

The keynote speaker was prof. dr. Janez Juhant, Slovene theologian, philosopher and educator, a member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts. In his speech he stressed the importance of finding historical truth “that will liberate us”. Dr. Juhant also emphasized the importance of respecting each human life. It is necessary nowadays to establish the system requirements for the rehabilitation of the victims and for our common future.  The speaker also pointed out that a common characteristic of all totalitarian regimes was ignorance of human destinies. Human life in totalitarian systems had no price, people were just numbers with little chance of survival. He also shared with us his personal experience and destiny of some of his family members.

Other speakers at the memorial commemoration were prof. Janez Žmavc, president of Association of prisoners in war camps – stolen children, and Leon Janežič, president of the Association of Slovenians, who were mobilized into the German army from 1941 to 1945.

In a video message, the audience was welcomed by Tunne Kelam, MEP, and Göran Lindblad, president of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience. Both highlighted the pain and suffering of millions of Europeans who have been exposed to totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, and stressed that it is necessary to deal with historical events and continue the search for truth.

The speeches were followed by a short documentary film “Soldiers letter”, a story about Slovenian man and boys, who were forcibly mobilized to the German army. The film was produced by the Study Centre for National Reconciliation.

Many of the highest representatives of Slovene secular and church authorities attended the commemoration: Janez Janša, Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia, Ljudmila Novak, Minister for Slovenians Abroad, Aleš Hojs, Minister for Defence, Vinko Gorenak, Minister of the Interior, Zdenka Čebašek Travnik, Human Rights Ombudsman, dr. Milan Zver, Member of the European Parliament and other representatives of Slovene political and cultural life. The memorial commemoration was very well-attended and received wide media coverage.

By commemorating August 23 we tried to contribute to the European remembrance of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes and emphasize the importance of respecting fundamental human rights, freedoms and the rule of law.


The Russian writer Victor Jerofeyev describes communism, created by Stalin. People in this dreadful system were only abstract material. According to Jerofeyev many Russians do not believe in »bad Stalin« and see him as a »good guy, the saviour of Russia and the father of the great nation«.  The Russian case is not an exception, Ceausescu, Tito, Hitler etc. are recognized by many young people as good guys.  There are lots of examples of reaffirmation of totalitarian symbols, names, actors, monuments, positive evaluation in curricula and textbooks, i.e. in SloveniaIn 2009 one of the main roads in the capital Ljubljana was named after the bloody dictator Tito.  The chief of the secret communist political police has been given a state award and the archives of the secret political police UDBA are to be more closed by accepting the urgent law.


Some questionable school projects have been launched that raised lots of hot public debate.
The 2 Euro coin was issued with the symbol of the communist star in the memory of one of the very controversial partisan commanders.
SCNR was attacked in the media by the historians that served before 1990 as the Marxist scientists in the Central Bureau of the Communist Party.
We are still not capable of civilized burial and remembrance of people, who were killed in mass murders after the WWII.
I could go on presenting examples of the so-called »damaged mentalities« that would have been beyond our imagination twenty years ago.

Democracy demands informed and critical, thinking people. Are new European democracies supported by enough critical, informed and active citizens?

It seems people take democracy for granted as if it was timeless. But historians of democracy warn us that democratic institutions and ways of thinking are never set in stone. Future of democracy depends upon the past, which is always at work in the present. The key problem of the democratic spirit is the lack of historical consciousness. People inevitably misunderstand the present when they live in ignorance of the past.

Young generations learnt at school about the crimes of Fascism and Nazism but according to the Swedish and some other surveys they knew very little about the Communist violations of the human rights.

90 percent of Swedes between the ages of 15 and 20 had never heard of the Gulag.
22 percent considered communism a democratic form of government.

ONE in 20 British schoolkids thinks Adolf Hitler was a German football coach (2009).
The same number thought the Holocaust was a celebration at the end of the war.One in six youngsters believed the Auschwitz concentration camp was a theme park.

The crucial question is: What can we do?
My opinion is that much is to be done in the field of politics, which is responsible to continue the creation of the conditions for the reconciliation process. And I thank you the organizers of this public hearing that I see as an important step in the European reconciliation process and the continuation of many previous events.
When in 2004 the new member states entered the European Union the debate on European identity and common heritage deepened. Let me remember only some of them: public hearings in 2008 under the Slovenian Presidency and in 2009 under the Czech Presidency, The EP Resolution on European Conscious and Totalitarianism, The Declaration on Crimes of Communism,  The 2010 Closa Montero Report,  the report of the EC etc.
But the fact remains, that there are EU states that have never been able to condemn their communist totalitarian past. To overcome that Europe needs to define a common policy to the crimes of all totalitarian systems in Europe in the 20th century.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I will not focus on Law and Historiography as the main question today is:

What is the role of education? How can the dark side of history be presented?

Attendants of the 1st Public Hearing on Crimes of Totalitarian Regimes, organized by the European Commission and the Slovenian Presidency, April 2008, Brussels, agreed: EDUCATION IS THE KEY QUESTION!
I would like to emphasize that I am speaking to you not just as a director also as a history teacher and the president of the school section of the Slovenian History Association.
Education, when addressing culture, has a strong impact on the creation of the so-called software of mind. School is an institution which plays a special role in socialization. Its purpose is to equip young people with adequate values and behaviour patterns.
In my opinion, the important task of education policies in Europe is to form the new curricula of tomorrow, which should be more comparable in terms of values orientation.
Europe is really based on cultural diversity, which creates a plurality of views, including historical views. However, because Europe is also a spiritual community, with its own identity and similar values created through history, the least we can expect is that it would evaluate key events and processes in a similar way.
Once again, It is not possible to claim that Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Tito and other dictators are positive characters in the twentieth century European history; nor is it possible to evaluate the gulags, massive executions and the like as positive. Certain fundamental elements of history have to be evaluated equally, regardless of the different cultural, ethnic, religious, racial, political or other circumstances and affiliation of different European nations.
In this respect: the history education plays especially important role!

We must be aware that historical facts are not objective phenomena in themselves. They are written by new generations through the prism of given cultural environments, values and understanding. History education is one of the most powerful elements in the formation of historical consciousness and memory. It is also one of the most important elements in the acquisition of values. History education is therefore an important element in socializing a young person. It gives young people tools for lifelong learning that enables them to realize and determine their position in the world, and to become active participants in democratic civil society.
The misuse of history education was common in the recent past, especially in totalitarian regimes.

In Slovenia till 1995 history textbooks were ‘persuasive interpretations of the past’. School history was crowned as a precisely accurate image of the past, as dogma. The language of history textbooks served in spreading of stereotypes and bias.
The education system was changed in the middle of the nineties. The new curricula were introduced and the new school textbooks were published,
History education does not play anymore one of the main roles in ‘building of the new man and new society’.
The current curricula, which proved through every day practice and some researches still very much “ideologically contaminated”, have been modernized in the period 2006 – 2008. Modern European trends have been followed and the autonomy of the teacher has been emphasized. That enables the choice of topics, modern and more balanced teaching of history. The new curricula give students possibility to practice the key historical concepts like continuity and change, chronology and narrative, causation and it develops the key historical skills (formulating relevant questions, examining historical issues, evaluation of sources, structuring of information, critical analysis, reaching some conclusions etc). Curricula for primary schools are more chronological, whereas the curricula for secondary schools are more thematic. Important themes like: war, peace, democracy, human rights, revolution….
The new curricula were implemented in 2008 in the first grade of the grammar school, whereas in the primary school due to some “terminology problems” at the moment have still been blocked.
But the problem remains: how to discuss the themes that hurt, the themes of totalitarian crimes. Teachers are not equipped with the tools that would enable them to feel more competent in dealing with these topics.
Is a common European textbook and other teaching materials the right solution?
My personal opinion goes against policies that would ‘prescribe’ common European history curricula. We all know that national educational policies determine national curricula. In this sense, the initiative on common European history textbook by the German minister Ms Schawan is to be used as an idea to shed light on and to reveal the key historical processes, events, phenomena and personalities that shaped the common European past, which should be reflected and evaluated through common European values such as human rights, freedom, equality, democracy, tolerance, solidarity, respect, multiculturalism etc.

Only elementary common evaluations of historical milestones can lead to mutual understanding and reconciliation, which ensure stable peace and coexistence.
In my opinion a common history teaching materials (i.e. textbooks, workbooks, films, online multimedia tool etc.) are not only possible, but necessary. Some good examples already exist (i.e. projects of the Council of Europe , the Euroclio projects, international and national projects, the German-French textbook, the Baltic textbook, the project of the German-Polish textbook, the Human Rights and History Education project, the project ).
These tools must not entail enforced unification and a monopoly on truth; they must not be offensive or marginalise. They should be accessories with which European teachers can voluntarily extend their databases, deepen and extend the European dimension in their teaching. They are to be applied as optional recommendations and not as a new mega-curricula. This could be projects of the expert groups, involving different experts and history teachers.  I see these set of tools as an added value, an aid or voluntary tool for developing the competence of mutual understanding and applying it in the educational process.

As a base for this set of tools for teachers I suggest a general European survey on what young Europeans know about totalitarianism. This research should direct further steps in preparation of education for democracy.
Polish historian Bronislav Geremek said that Europe is a construction of the future, which has to know and understand the lectures of its sad history. Knowledge and understanding are of vital importance if the common European democratic future is to be successful.

• Ed. Martin Roberts, After the Wall, History Teaching in Europe since 1989 (Hamburg: Körber-Stiftung, 2004).
• Education for democratic development and stability in south-east Europe (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 1999).
• Ed. Joke van der Leeuw-Roord, History for Today and Tomorrow (Hamburg: Körber-Stiftung, 2001).
• Ed. Peter Jambrek, Crimes committed by totalitarian regimes (Ljubljana: Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, 2008).
• Robert Stradling, Poučevanje evropske zgodovine 20. stoletja (Ljubljana: Zavod RS za šolstvo, 2004).
• The misuse of history (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 2000).
• Towards a pluralist and tolerant approach to teaching history: a range of sources and new didactics (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 1999).
• The role of history in the formation of national identity (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 1996).
• The Reform of History Teaching in Schools in European Countries in Democratic Transition (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 1995).
• Ed. Joke van der Leeuw-Roord, The state of history education in Europe: challenges and implications of the »youth and history« survey (Hamburg: Körber-Stiftung, 1998).
• Judith Torney-Purta, Rainer Lehmann, Hans Oswald, Wolfram Shulz, Državljanstvo in izobraževanje v osemindvajsetih državah, (Ljubljana: Pedagoška fakulteta, 2003).
• Joke Van der Leeuw-Roord, History Changes, Facts and figures about history education in Europe since 1989, (The Hague: Euroclio, 2003).
• Andreja Valič, History for the future. Europe 70 years after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, 144-150, (Vilnius: Margi Raštai, 2009).



20 Years after the Fall of the Iron Curtain

The Study Centre for National Reconciliation and The National Museum of Contemporary History invite you to the international scientific conference

20 Years after the Fall of the Iron Curtain

The conference will take place on November 9, 2009
in The Knight’s Hall of The National Museum of Contemporary History, Celovška 23, Ljubljana, Slovenia.


8.45 – 9.00
Registration, press releases

9.00 – 9.30
Opening address

Jože Dežman, Director of The National Museum of Contemporary History
Andreja Valič, MA, Director of The Study Centre for National Reconciliation
professor Lovro Šturm, PhD, Former Minister of Justice and Former President of the EU Council

9.30 – 10.30
Discussion with Count Nikolai Tolstoy. Discussion will take place in English.

10.30 – 10.45
Coffee Break

10.45 – 12.00

Tamara Griesser-Pečar, PhD: Register of Totalitarian Regimes and Occurrences in Slovenia
Jernej Letnar-Černič, PhD: Searching Normative Answers to Totalitarian Crimes
Damjan Hančič, PhD: Outline of Revolutionary Terror in the Kamnik Area from 1941 to 1945
Renato Podbersič, MA: Revolutionary Terror in the Primorska Region
Andrej Zorko: Mobilization to the German Army

12.00 – 12.30

12.30 – 13.30
Lunch break, The National Museum of Contemporary History

13.30 – 14.15
Pavel Jamnik: Awareness of a Crime
Mateja Čoh, PhD: “Gangs” – Terrorist Groups or Provocation of “Udba”?
Milko Mikola, PhD: Evictions from Place of Residence in Slovenia from 1947 to 1949

14.15 – 14.30

14.30 – 14.45
Coffee Break
14.45 – 15.30
Andreja Valič, MA: History for the Future
Monika Kokalj Kočevar, MA: Personal Stories from Second World War
Jože Dežman: Disintegration of Taboos and Transitional Justice in Slovenia

Information: The Study Centre for National Reconciliation, +386 1 230 67 00,