, Malcolm MacLaren

Challenge History (2017)

„Challenge History“ ermöglichte es Jugendlichen aus Bosnien-Herzegowina, Serbien und dem Kosovo, sich gemeinsam mit der jüngsten Geschichte des Westbalkans auseinanderzusetzen.

Einen detaillierten Bericht finden Sie im Rundbrief vom November 2017

Vom 16. bis 21. Juli 2017 fand in Mostar, Bosnien-Herzegowina, die erste "Challenge History"-Sommerschule statt. 20 Schülerinnen und Schüler aus Serbien, Kosovo und Bosnien-Herzegowina nahmen daran teil. Unter der Leitung ausgewiesener Experten aus der Region befassten sie sich mit Geschichtsbildern, Erinnerungsarbeit und Vergangenheitsbewältigung im Westbalkan. Das Projekt "Challenge History" wurde von der SHV in enger Zusammenarbeit mit verschiedenen Partnerorganisationen aus Serbien, Kosovo und Bosnien-Herzegowina organisiert. Sein Ziel ist es, Schülerinnen und Schülern aus den genannten Ländern eine gemeinsame und kritische Auseinandersetzung mit Geschichtsbildern zu ermöglichen.




1. Background/Analysis of situation

Torn apart by the violent ethnic conflicts during the 1990s, the societies in the Western Balkans are still far away from full reconciliation. Most countries of the region, especially Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, are still facing numerous disputes and tensions among them. 20 years after the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, crucial problems remain unresolved in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with ethnic polarization resulting in political deadlock and a high risk of conflict. Despite progress in the EU facilitated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, both sides continue to be deeply divided on key issues regarding namely the status of Kosovo. The cycle of violence and hatred has not been broken completely and the path towards lasting reconciliation remains complex and uncertain. Political stability in the region very much depends on whether societies will be able to cope with the legacies of the violent past. In the Western Balkan countries, education is often used as a tool to promote nationalistic myths and negative ethnic stereotypes. Although progress has been and is still being made, history textbooks in Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as in other countries of the region tend to present historical events in a way which underlines the differences between countries and ethnic groups. In many cases, the induced opposition between “us” and “them” perpetuates nationalism and the expression of negative opinions about the so-called “other”. Furthermore, the post-war educational system is characterized by ethnic segregation systematically employed through ethno-nationalist based curricula. 


2. Relevance of the project

I) Inclusion of young people in the reconciliation process

The emancipation from one-sided historical narratives appears to be a pre-condition for a lasting reconciliation process. This concerns in particular young people. In fact, as has shown by research, reconciliation is a process that requires the inclusion of all generations, and especially youth. While those who have lived through the conflict of the nineties in many cases still remember the cultural ties from pre-war times, younger generations have grown up with separate identities and regard themselves as members of different societies.


II) International and regional initiatives

Many local and international actors have addressed the issue of reforming history teaching in the Western Balkans since the end of the conflicts of the 1990s. The main objective of these initiatives was to introduce methodological and conceptual improvements in order to foster critical thinking regarding historical narratives as well as to make students aware of national bias and partial views..The association of history teachers Euroclio carried out several initiatives to improve and history teaching in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The aim of overcoming divisions regarding the interpretation of the past has also lead to the implementation of educational programs and activities in the field of culture of remembrance and dealing with the past.


III) Added value

This project proposal has been conceived in a complementary perspective, with the aim of bringing High School students from the Western Balkans together in order to address conflicting issues regarding the history of the region. It consists of a Summer School organised on an annual basis. In relation to other projects carried out in order to improve history teaching and reduce national biases, the Project offers the following added value:

  1. It builds on informal education and is, as a consequence, not constrained by official regulations regarding history teaching in the Western Balkan countries
  2. It opts for a regional approach to the issue of history teaching, reflecting in the project design itself the intention of overcoming national biases and building a common understanding of the past.
  3. By bringing young people together trough alternative history education, the Project contributes to the strengthening of regional dialogue and cross-border connections
  4. Unlike other Summer Schools in the Western Balkans(3), which are reserved to University students, the Project is directed at High School students, enlarging thereby the target group
  5. It is organised by a regional Project Team consisting of young people from Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Switzerland 


3. Strategy/Theory of change

Our theory of change implies strengthening the capacities of young people from the Western Balkan countries to critically think about the past and to question the dominant nationalist narratives. The Project will consist of a Summer School organized on an annual basis for High School students from the Western Balkan countries. In the first year, the Summer School will involve students from Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. The long-term plan is to include other countries from the Western Balkans region, such as Macedonia and Croatia. The Summer School will take place in emblematic sites, which have high symbolic value regarding the history of the region and the common challenge of overcoming divisions resulting from the past, such as Mostar, Jajce, Mitrovica, and Novi Pazar. After completing the Summer School program, the students will be enabled to competently challenge the validity of common biases and stereotypes that are perpetuated by history textbooks and dominant public discourses. Furthermore, they will be capacitated to advocate for an alternative historical perspective within their local communities. In that sense, the Project also envisages follow-up activities – such as workshops, exhibitions, performances, social media campaigns – that will be implemented by the Summer School alumni with the aim of sharing the acquired knowledge with their peers. Finally, the Project will help establishing and improving relations between young people from different countries and facilitate crossborder encounters. In a long-term perspective, the Project will contribute to a better understanding of the history of the region, which will consequently give an impetus to reconciliation processes and overcoming the divisions based on ethnic identities.


4. Target groups / Beneficiaries

The Project intends to reach High School students in their third year of study (17-18 years) from Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo and, in a second phase, from all Western Balkan countries. High School students from this age group are sufficiently mature to take part in a moderated, critical reflexion on historical narratives. About 20 High School students will attend the Summer School each year. However, the project will not only have an impact on the young generation, but also on the participants’ family environment, as well an on the involved educators and experts. PR activities and the development of an alumni network will further enlarge the outreach of the Project.


5. Overall and specific goals

The overall goal of the Project is to contribute to the reconciliation processes in the Western Balkans. The overall aim will be achieved through enabling young people from the region to critically think about the shared regional past and through improving connections between the youth from the Balkan countries. The project, therefore, has two specific objectives: 1.     Increasing critical thinking and encouraging constructive debates on the legacies of the past among High School students from different countries of the region 2.     Connecting young people in the Western Balkans through alternative history education


6. Outputs

  1. A curriculum for the Summer School created, providing an alternative perspective on the history of the region of Western Balkans.
  2. A network of High Schools from BiH, Kosovo and Serbia established.
  3. 20 High School students from BiH, Kosovo and Serbia trained for critically thinking about and challenging the dominant historical narratives.
  4. A sustainable alumni network of the Summer School participants created and crossborder encounters enabled.
  5. Follow-up activities in each of the three countries realised by the Summer School alumni (workshops, exibitions, performances, etc.), with the aim to share the acquired knowledge and experiences with their peers.
  6. Three media pieces about the Summer School published in local/national/regional media.
  7. A social media campaign launched by the Summer School alumni, on the cause of their choice, related to challenging historical narratives.