BLOG
Look at the History Text Books
01 November, 2014
If you want to see what a nation really thinks about its neighbors, look at its history text books. In fact there is even a name for it in East Asia. They call it "the text book wars". China looks at Japan's text books very carefully and when they don't like what they see there are street demonstrations. In general Japan is less honest than it could be about what it was doing in China and Korea in the 1930's
and during WWII. This causes huge friction with China. But the Chines and Taiwanese, Koreans and Japanese all look at each others text books and find fault.

At their best text books can show common interests, can get young people to think in new ways about neighboring nations, can mix up different historical narratives so that the young people themselves can make decisions and defend those decisions. History books don't have to be boring and don't have to focus on the drama of fighting enemies in order to make themselves interesting.

What do Georgia's text books say about how Georgians feel about Muslims, Armenian's, Iranian's or Russians? In text books, does the history look the same? What are the differences? Who are the heroes and for what reason? Are there primary sources? Dissenting views?

A year or so ago, I asked Krzysztof Stanowski, the head of the Solidarity Fund in Poland what the biggest problem facing Poland was. I figured he would say something like jobs, the economy, security, or the usual things people say. But he said their biggest problem is that in Poland there are two ways to become a hero, the first way is to kill some neighbors. The second way is to be killed by some neighbors. He said that is a big problem, the biggest. What does it mean to be a Georgian historical martyr? Is it the same in surrounding countries or are there differences?

In Georgia more than anywhere, identity drives what the government and parliament does. In any question the state has, whichever answer is seen to be the most Georgian, will win. So what defines Georgianness is very important. Is it in contradiction to the West? Is it in contradiction to Islam? Or to Europe? Or can it contain all these things? What does it go hand in hand with? What exactly is it against and a more important question, what is it in favor of?

We will keep putting the same myths in our text books that have always been there. But now we have a chance to break that cycle, by respecting the views of our neighbors and understanding their points of view and putting them in our text books and maybe they will do the same.
Print