Schmidt Mária

Teaching history in Central Europe

What is special about teaching Central European history?
Teaching history used to be a monopoly prior to the change of the political regime. It was the one-party system and the interests of its propaganda that dictated what to teach, and how. The methodology and the textbooks were designed through concealment and by falsifying history. For example, when teaching history in secondary schools, a disproportionately large emphasis was laid on antiquity, while the post-1945 period was given less attention. It is an unfortunate fact that the Marxist ideology remained to stay, even though its terminology was weeded out from textbook texts. Considerable efforts are still needed in order to introduce a history teaching method that is truly focused on values and interests, and it does not start out from a „black-and-white” approach. In my capacity as a university professor as well as the founding director of a museum, I have worked out and managed the concept for numerous projects that can help history teachers in picking up the new approach (applying the „oral history” method in teaching history, educating the general public about the concealed or falsified past in the form of extraordinary history classes etc.). Within the framework of a pilot project, for instance, we have developed a multimedia course book module to be used on modern tablets that represents an up-to-date approach and speaks a new language. I hope there will be a demand for its further enhancement as this was the very approach and vision that, together with the knowledge of young people’s language and audiovisual culture, resulted in the historical concept and success of the House of Terror Museum.

„Proper” and „improper” ways of using our history
Due to the nature of dictatorship education, and within this, mainly history teaching is to serve propaganda purposes. Since history had been taught according to the aspects of Russian interests in this region for a long time, it is high time to switch over to a kind of history teaching that places our national interests into focus. Obviously, we need to indicate in all instances that other people’s interests justify a different viewpoint. It is our huge responsibility that those generations for whom freedom is so natural now learn what a great price their predecessors paid for it. The identity of nations in this continent can only be strengthened through a profound and simultaneous knowledge of the national and collective European past, and in the meantime it helps to create a stable European identity. Of course, all this requires another important factor: a solid moral background must be given to the upcoming generations.

Can we turn our enemies into friends if we change the historical narratives and the way we tell history?
I do believe in that. We, the nations in Central Europe, must learn from our common history. No matter how much great powers liked/would like to play off neighboring countries against each other, we at last must realize that we are each other’s allies. What we share is much more than what divides us from each other. I’d be happy if we could take advantage of the Soviet occupation and our forced participation in the communist experiment, and if we could use it as a common historical experience and a connecting point. It is also to be kept in mind that we can understand each other’s problems by relying on this experience, and this is how we can pinpoint the common challenges that we face. All in all, our region must join forces to win the 21st century, and if we fail, Europe cannot succeed, either. For instance, our international conferences are of a great help in changing the old narratives. At the same time, we also need to present the sacrifice that has been made. We have our common heroes, who are tangible proofs of the fact that we belong together. This is why our public foundation established the Petőfi Prize as early as in 2009, on the twentieth anniversary of the political turnaround, as a sign of recognition of the sacrifice and the achievements made for the freedom of Central European nations. There were many of us to whom we have to say thanks. We must not be ungrateful.