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Extremists 'manipulate teaching of history'

Anna Leigh finds anti-Semitism a growing concern at the Education 2000 conference in Norway

European education ministers have condemned right-wing extremists for promoting neo-Nazi ideals and racism in the Continent's schools.

The move comes amid a resurgence of Holocaust denial. A recent survey in Sweden (see below, right) found that almost a third of young people doubted that the elimination of Europe's six million Jews ever took place.

Israeli authorities monitoring the situation claim similar attitudes have come to light in Britain, Canada, Germany, and France. They are also concerned at the emergence on the Internet of anti-Semitic websites which seek to minimise or deny the Holocaust.

Ministers from almost 50 countries attending the Council of Europe's Education 2000 conference in Kristiansand, Norway, rejected the idea of imposing a single, standardised curriculum to cover the history of Europe. But they agreed that history teaching should not be used for nationalistic myth-making or to create national or ethnic antagonisms.

The move was welcomed by Israeli representatives. However, Yitzchak Mayer, adviser to the Israeli minister of culture and sport, warned against "manipulating history into a benign record of mankind".

He said: "Europe has to tell its children what happened and to be firm about it. History should not have to be cleansed because it is not clean. Ninety-five per cent of history is tragedy.

"However, pupils should know it happened, that it was wrong and that it should not happen to anyone else."

The council's statement on history teaching forms part of a blueprint for European citizenship in the 21st century focusing on values in education and language learning. The conference was not attended by any of the British education ministers.

The year 2001 is to be designated the European Year of Languages, which will be marked by a series of festivals to celebrate the richness and diversity of Europe's languages, and promote interest in learning among young people.

The plans include the reinforcement of less-widely spoken national and regional languages, as well as those used globally such as English and Spanish.

The package of measures also include the greater involvement of pupils in decision-making to promote an ethos of democracy, and the fostering of a European dimension while respecting national identities. The resolution will be put before the Council of Europe's Strasbourg summit of heads of state and government in October, which is to tackle the teaching of citizenship, democracy and cultural diversity in all schools, as well as the creation of a parliamentary assembly for young people.

Norwegian education minister, Reidar Sandal, who chaired the conference, said the council's technological advances and financial investment in Europe's poorer countries were not enough.

"Our children must be taught about democratic values along with traditional subjects, and the democratic values must be practised in schools," he said. "Democracy must be taught and practised in every generation to make sure these atrocities cannot happen again." he added.

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