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5.2.

Identity, History and History Teaching in Romania

Romanian history and language represent the most important support of identity, state the authors of a guide for teachers teaching the history of the Romanians in primary schools. 1 In fact, an important part of Romanian society still perceives national history as one of the most important tools for the education and preservation of Romanian identity, an identity expressed mainly by historical characters and political events charged with symbolic significance. The debate, which took place in the last year around the curricula and history textbooks, expressed the conviction of a significant segment of society that the most important task for history teaching should be the construction and the reinforcement of Romanian national identity. In this respect we can understand why all attempts to include Romanian history in World history in the teaching process have failed in the face of widespread resistance from Romanian cultural and political media. These proposals to integrate Romanian history into world history were perceived by a significant part of the media, and also by a lot of history teachers, as an assault against the "sacred" value of the national past. Now, in Romanian school, history is taught in:

Type of Grade Type of Historical Period school History th Primary 4 History of Romanians Gymnasium 5th World History Antiquity 10-11th Century Gymnasium 6th World History 10-11th Century till the beginning of the 19th Century th Gymnasium 7 World History 19th-20th Century Gymnasium 8th History of the Romanians High 9th History of From Ancient Times till the 15th School European Century Civilization High 10th World History 15th Century till the beginning of the School 19th Century th High 11 World History 19th-20th Centuries School High 12th History of the School Romanians

H/week 1h 1h 1-2 h 1-2h 1-2h 1-2h

1-2h 1-2h 1-2h

In the Romanian school system, the renewal of history schoolbooks has passed through several stages during the 1990s.
1

Liviu Burlec, Liviu Lazor, Bogdan Teodorescu, Istoria Romnilor, clasa a IV-a. Ghidul nvtorului, All Publishing House, Bucuresti, 1998, p.4.,

At first, soon after the revolution of December 1989, the Ministry of Education decided to reprint without any change the Romanian history schoolbook written by Petre P. Panaitescu at the beginning of the 1940s. But it was an aborted experiment the Panaitescu schoolbook was practically not used in schools. A few months later, it was accepted that the schoolbooks of the late 1980s should still be used, avoiding the parts which had been too outrageously perverted by the official ideology of the Ceaucescu regime, (for example the chapters about the Romanian Communist Party and the whole period of communist rule). Then in 1991-1992 there were published a new series of schoolbooks for Romanian history, written in an old-fashioned narrative style, with long and boring texts, charged with useless data and facts. The third phase was that of the alternative schoolbooks authorized after an audit and an auction according to Western standards and co-financed by the World Bank. The process of evaluating the new textbooks is coordinated by the CNAM (The National Commission for Schoolbook Approval), which appoints specialized evaluation teams consisting generally of secondary school teachers and exceptionally some university teachers. The CNAM selects according to quality/price criteria 3 history textbooks for each gymnasium grade, and approves an unlimited number of schoolbooks for high-schools. Minister Andrei Marga speeded up this process in the case of history textbooks, so that in 1999 new schoolbooks were introduced for the whole high school, based on new curricula. For the high-school, the study of World/European history was enlarged to three years, previously being studied in two years, the place of the history of the Romanians being reduced to 1 year from two previously. In the vision of its authors, the high-school curriculum for Romanian history (12 grade) should provide a thematic vision focused on the main aspects and significant issues. Considering that in the gymnasium the children have already learned the history of the Romanians, the authors of the curriculum believe that it is not useful to repeat the same information in the same way. They prefer to concentrate on the general aspects of Romanian history, especially on the last two centuries. In a terrible time of stress and various pressures, in AugustSeptember 1999, the responsible committee (CNAM) approved 6 schoolbooks for the 9th grade (ancient and medieval world history), 5 schoolbooks for the 10th grade (early modern world history), 1 schoolbook for the 11th grade (world history of the 19th-20th centuries), and 5 schoolbooks for the12th grade (Romanian history) 2 . Shortcomings were unavoidable, yet the most striking fact was that the scandal was occasioned not by the worst schoolbook, but by that which departed the most from the established way of presenting national history, a schoolbook written by several young historians from Cluj and published by the Sigma Publishing House 3 . At the same time it must be said that the authors of the textbook failed to take into account the resistance to the renewal of the teaching of history, and social sensibilities over the issue of identity/identities. The authors really provoke some readers by using titles such as The invention of the modern nation or Ethnogenesis: how the Romanians imagine the Origin of their People. It is difficult to believe that the new theories of Benedict
2

For this school-year, the number of textbooks for high-school has increased, new textbooks being approved for each grade. 3 Sorin Mitu, Lucia Copoeru, Ovidiu Pecican, Virgiliu ru, Liviu ru, Istoria Romnilor. Manual pentru clasa a XII-a, Sigma publishing House, Bucuresti, 1999.

Anderson on the concept of the nation are generally known to the majority of the public. So, the scandal began with a public intervention in the Senate on October 5, 1999, demanding the public burning of the Sigma schoolbook, and continued for about one and a half months on at least three battlefields: the political sphere, the historical profession, and the media. In the political sphere the highlights were two special meetings of the united education committees of the two chambers of the Romanian Parliament. This led to a motion against the government demanding the revision of the history curricula and the withdrawal of the incriminated schoolbook; the motion had to be discussed in the plenum of the Chamber of Deputies, and was rejected by vote on November 15. In the historical profession the debate exposed to the public the divides, the different standards, and the diverging sensibilities amongst professional historians. While most of the historians working in the history departments of the universities from Bucharest and Cluj defended the schoolbook, and even more strongly freedom of opinion in writing history, the Romanian Academy and some of the history departments from smaller universities established after 1990, attacked the schoolbook authors, the new curricula, and the Education Ministry. Instead of discussion on the lacks and mistakes of all the textbooks, in order to improve them, the debate centred on the so-called attacks on Romanian national identity in the curricula, and this textbook. The arguments were about the small part accorded to the ancient and medieval history of the Romanians, the accent put on modern and contemporary history, the small place accorded to the principal medieval rulers. Such attacks were particularly welcome by most history teachers working in the secondary schools. Underpaid and feeling stressed because of the new curricula and because of the cutback in teaching hours 1 hour/week being more than inadequate and inefficient -, they elected one of the most vocal critics Ioan Scurtu, professor at Bucharest University and former general director of the National Archives - as president of the Society for Historical Sciences. This revolt occurred in spite of the clear opposition of the representative of the Ministry and of his colleagues from the History Department of the Bucharest University, who controlled the Bucharest branch of the Society. Even more spectacular was the unfolding of the debate in the media. Most of the TV channels, newspapers and journals took part in the debate, and made it a media event. Major journalists did not hesitate to write editorials about this issue, and to express their opinion about how historians should write history. This was combined with more general assaults against the politics of the minister Andrei Marga and against the whole process of approving alternative schoolbooks. Yet, the press could not maintain the issue on the front pages after the defeat of the motion against the schoolbook, soon other themes prevailed and relegated the schoolbook issue to a marginal significance 4 . What has happened in the field of the history textbooks during the last year, now that the history textbook scandal has itself become history?
4

For more details about the scandal see Mirela-Luminia Murgescu: Between Nationalism and Europeanism, or How to Adjust Two Concepts for One Shoe? Remarks about the debate on national history and textbooks in Romania, paper presented at the conference The image of Europe between globalization and national consciousness: traditional concepts and recent developments in the teaching of history, geography and civic education in the countries of the European Union, Eastern Europe and the Balkans, Torino, May, 2000, in print).

First of all, three new alternative textbooks for the 8th grade were published, but this time without raising any significant questions or debate. More important seem to be the adjustments made to Romanian history textbooks for high schools. One of the main criticisms of the new curricula and textbooks was the lack of interest in Romanian symbolic characters, which were only mentioned in the new curriculum, and not given major attention. It is obvious that for a significant part of the society, there is no national history without a description of the life and facts of the chief Romanian historical heroes. So, the Romanian historical heroes have returned and reoccupied their place in the textbooks. The Sigma textbook was revised and the delicate parts were changed or rearranged in a more conformist and social comfortable style. Instead of the reproduction of a picture from 1848 representing Romania and of a sculpture by Constantin Brncusi, the publishing house placed on the cover the portraits of Alexandru Ioan Cuza and King Ferdinand, as symbols of Romanian unity. The title referring to the invention of the modern nation became The Modern Nation, and probably, to avoid any other critics, on the back-cover we find mentioned the names of 29 university professors, some of them members of the Romanian Academy, who had contributed to the betterment of the present edition, by written recommendations or during the public discussions. Very significant seems to be the addition of a lesson on the Crusade Politics of the Romanian Rulers: Mircea the Old, Alexander the Good, Iancu of Hunedoara, Vlad the Empaler, Stephen the Great, Michael the Brave. The authors of the textbook coordinated by Ioan Scurtu 5 seem also to welcome the comeback of a more traditional way of presenting Romanian history. In the revised edition of their textbook, they insert the lesson The Romanians in Europe (demanded in fact by the curriculum, but lacking in the first edition of their textbook). The authors claim proudly and underline with bold characters that by their ancestors, the Geto-Dacians, the Romanians are one of the most ancient peoples in Europe, the Romanians are born Christians, and they have defended Christianity against the invasion of Islamised pagans. The pages devoted to the heroic and victorious battles of the medieval princes, remind us of the statement made by a journalist in the period of the debate on school-textbooks: without illustrious deceased, without myths, traditions, legends, a country falls apart even in the absence of any external enemy 6 . Faced with economic difficulties, with disillusionment and lack of hope, an important part of Romanian society is comforted by a sense of national values represented by a glorious and notable past. To a present offering few things to be proud of, the medicine seems to be a beautiful national past with its magic greatness. The schoolbook debate revealed how difficult it is for Romanian society (and not only) to find a balanced way between its own national identity and the European one. Some professional historians and teachers perceived the trend represented by the new curricula as a way of diminishing national identity. In the most recent issue of Studii si articole de istorie, the Journal of the History Teachers Association, we can find in an article the expression of this opinion. About the country,
5

Ioan Scurtu et alia, Istoria romnilor din cele mai vechi timpuri pn astzi, manual pentru clasa a XII-a, 2nd edition, Petrion publishing House, Bucureti, 2000. 6 Cristian Tudos Popescu, Cte istorii are Romnia?, Adevrul, nr. 2903, 6 octombrie, 1999, p.1.

what can we talk about? The competences, the values and the attitudes designed for the history of the Romanians match also for the history of the Birmanese. In the Education Lay (no.84/1995), modified and republished in the Monitorul Oficial of Romania no.606, part I, from December 10, 1999, at article 4 there is written that schooling guarantees the cultivation of love towards the country, towards the historic past and the traditions of the Romanian people. Maybe the formulation, classic and unadorned, devalued by abuse, about the love for the country was perceived by the authors as outpassed, antiquitated, inadequate in this era of globalisation. It may be, but it is a part of the law, and the law is not to be discussed, it is to be obeyed. After 1990, some decision-makers from Romania understood that the love for the country is opposed to the love for Europe, that our youth are too nationalist if they learn to cherish and to defend the national values. And the same author continues by stating that: naturally, through the national history textbook we further mainly the national education.... Even if some of our refined intellectuals nowadays still feel something in this respect, of the love for the country, historic past, traditions, they shamefully avoid these notions, they consider them old, worn out, outclassed, non-European. From this most of them have understood that the pupils should not learn any more about the fatherland, about the ancestors, about sacrifices, about survival, about the beauty of the native soil and about the duty to love and to defend it 7 . This is a largely shared point of view. We are curious to see if the editors of the journal will publish in future issues also different opinions, but there are serious reasons to doubt that. And we face the danger that the readers most of them history teachers - understand that this is the only approach accepted by the History Teachers Association. It is necessary to say that in the last decade Romanian historiography has avoided a concrete, open-minded, unprejudiced and reasonable discussion about the characteristics and the ways of expressing Romanian identity. We can find only parallel discourses, - some of them strengthening the idea that the national identity should be articulated basically on national heroes and spectacular and glittering facts, while another trend is trying to move the accent more on to cultural aspects. And there still remains as in many other European countries - the problem of the relationship between the national and the European identity. Romanias integration in the European Union does not mean the gradual demise of the national identity. For the knowledge of this identity, the Romanian language and the Romanian literature, as well as history, remain fundamental disciplines, it is argued in another article from the same journal8 , expressing in fact a widespread opinion. Finally, it has to be said again that the schoolbook debate has shown that in spite of widespread pro-European lip-service, there are significant dissonances in conceiving the relationship between national and European history. The need for clarifying debates is acute, not only for the history teachers in the secondary schools, but also for the professional historians working in universities and research institutes. Such debates should renew the theoretical framework of conceiving identity issues, and allow thus a more balanced adjustment to the current evolutions of historical science, as well as to the changing social requirements of the 21st century. Dr. Mirela-Luminita Murgescu : Bucharest University, History Department, Romania.

Ioan-Aurel Pop, Programa i manualele de istoria romnilor. Cteva consideraii, , Studii i articole de istorie, 2000, LXV, p.169, 172. 8 Dinu C. Giurescu, Despre planul de nvmnt, programe i manuale, Studii i articole de istorie, 2000, LXV, p.180