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Threat to historians working for peace

An organisation that reshapes history teaching to build bridges between groups in Europe with a legacy of conflict is threatened with closure.

The Euroclio secretariat, based in The Hague, is short of some (100,000 (Pounds 68,000), a year or a third of its budget, after cuts by the Dutch government, which had been its main funder.

Joke van der Leeuw-Roord, director of Euroclio, said it faces a similar shortfall next year. "It is not about millions. People work with a lot of energy and not very big salaries."

Euroclio, short for the European Standing Conference of History Teachers' Associations, has developed textbooks, resources and trained history teachers, in the Balkans and former Communist countries for more than a decade. It also helps central and East European countries tap into project funds from organisations such as the Council of Europe.

Such work helps ensure the younger generation does not carry on past conflicts, said Ms van der Leeuw-Roord. "History is used as one of the weapons of war. We want it to be a tool for understanding."

Dean Smart, a lecturer in history and citizenship education at the University of the West of England has been a trainer on Euroclio's Russian project. He said it had been a powerful force for changing the mindset of history teachers. It was also "unique" as a pan-European subject organisation.

Ms van der Leuw-Roord said the organisation challenged nationalist perspectives that ignore ethnic groups or newcomers. "In almost every country in Europe history is taught from a national perspective of pride and pain - their pride and someone else's pain. It is a selfish way of looking at history, always concerned with our own problems which ignore how they cause problems for others." Such teaching ensures some groups remain disaffected for generations.

In the former Yugoslavia Euroclio "helps young people see that history is not driving them apart but it is a story they all share and communication is possible".

While common textbooks exist across Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia for maths and science, they use different history textbooks.

Euroclio's annual conference in Malta in March 2006 will focus on European citizenship which it hopes can be enhanced through teaching a common history of Europe. "Present European texts are all about war and dictators, we advocate moving towards ... common themes (such as)... industrialisation and women's emancipation," Ms van der Leeuw-Roord said. "Several thousand history teachers have participated in Euroclio training events over the years. These are long-term projects. In many states significant results are just becoming apparent but we don't know if we can continue next year."

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