Bilateral history text project tries to heal old scars


Can history textbooks jointly written by countries with pasts full of conflict serve as catalysts for reconciliation?

This was the question posed at a symposium Friday at the Goethe-Institut Japan in Tokyo, where scholars from Germany, France and Japan discussed the significance and the background of the launch of the first Franco-German high school history textbook.

Believed to be the first attempt of its kind anywhere, the history book has been used since the 2006 school year by some schools in France and Germany.

At the symposium, some European scholars said the textbook materialized due to the mutual efforts of people and governments, and that it was part of the process of reconciliation.

Meanwhile, Japanese scholars involved in discussions on the possibility of similar projects between Japan and South Korea, as well as Japan and China, said that while they are observing the European example with great interest, the project is not entirely applicable to East Asia due to the differences in the situations that the Asian countries face.

The European project initially came about from requests by 500 high school students in January 2003 at the Franco-German Youth Parliament, which took place to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Elisee treaty. Under the 1963 treaty, France and Germany, who had fought for centuries, agreed to proceed based on a friendly relationship.

The two heads of state at the time — President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder — took up the proposal, which led to officials of the two countries creating the joint textbook project.

The history textbook, titled “Europe and the World Since 1945,” is written in both French and German and shares the same structure, documents, maps, photographs and illustrations. The textbook was compiled to draw out the Franco-German take on European postwar history, according to the Goethe-Institut.

It was written jointly by bilateral teams of teachers and published by the private sector. Two more volumes on pre-World War II history are on the way.

On Friday, Simone Lassig, director of the Georg Eckert Institute, a German institute dedicated to textbook research, stressed the significance of the roles that the public and the government played in the process.

Yves Beauvois, an official of the French National Education Ministry involved in the preparation committee, said that although the two countries should be proud of the first such attempt in the world, it was not perfect as differences in education programs and teaching curricula were not taken into account.

Christoph Cornelissen of Kiel University in Germany said that although there is interest in writing joint history textbooks between Germany and the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic, discussions are not near to approaching realization due to political issues.

Kan Kimura, a professor at Kobe University involved in the textbook committee between Japan and South Korea, said one difficulty in compiling a textbook is that so many people want to stress their versions of “correct history,” when there is no such thing.

He said a common textbook is only possible in an environment where everyone can freely discuss the issues.