Concepts & Trends

Now and Then: National Identity Construction in Romanian History. A Comparative Study of Communist and Post-Communist School Textbooks

The aim of this research is to locate Romania in the larger landscape of the Europeanization process by assessing educational reform in general with a particular focus on history textbook writing since the communist period. It focuses on the extent
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  Suggested citation: Szakács, Simona. 2007. “Now and Then: National Identity Construction in Romanian Histo-ry. A Comparative Study of Communist and Post-Communist School Textbooks.”  Interna-tionale Schulbuchforschung (International Textbook Research)  29(1):23–47. Now and Then: National Identity Construction in Romanian History. A Comparative Study of Communist and Post-Communist School Textbooks  Internationale Schulbuchforschung (International Textbook Research)  29(1):23–47 Simona Szakács Diese Publikation wurde veröffentlicht unter der creative-commons-Lizenz: Namensnennung-Keine Bearbeitung 3.0 Unported (CC BY-ND 3.0);   Simona Szakács Now and Then: National Identity Construction in Romanian History. A Comparative Study of Communist and Post-Communist School Textbooks This textbook should be burnt in a public square! (Sergiu Nicolaescu, member of the Romanian Senate, October 1999)  Abstract  The aim of this research is to locate Romania in the larger landscape of the ʻ  Europeanization ʼ  process by assessing educational reform in general with a particular focus on history textbook writing since the communist period. It  focuses on the extent to which the educational systems have synchronized with the  European direction towards multiculturalism and de-nationalizing trends, and on the Romanian history curriculum and textbook changes after the fall of communism, which have still not reached the formally acknowledged and desired standards. In order to sustain this argument, I empirically delineate the differences between the social construction of identity in national history textbooks in the communist and the post-communist periods by analyzing the content of two high-school history textbooks from a diachronic comparative perspective. The main empirical focus of the content analysis is the implicit and explicit construction of nationhood, which is identi  Þ ed by scrutinizing events, actors and causal attributions within the national narrative presentation. The  Þ ndings reveal important changes in the  formal regulations and application of educational reform in history textbooks, but nevertheless point to implementation dif   Þ culties pertaining to deeper national-value and attitudinal features that continue to permeate text production. By  Þ nding that history textbooks still fail to accommodate the ʻ  European ʼ  trend at the level of the national historical narrative, policy makers in education could acknowledge and implement a more thorough harmonization between educational, curricular and textbook reform in contemporary, new EU-member, Romania. Introduction Despite extensive lip service paid to  Europeanization  and integration, and the al-legedly unfaltering attempt at synchronization with European countries, national identity approaches in their rei Þ ed form are still prevalent in Romanian society. The so-called “textbook scandal”of1999 is a good case in point to illustrate this assumption. Brie ß y, the debate revolved around the publication of an unacceptably Aufsätze Internationale Schulbuchforschung 29 (2007) S.   Hannover 2007 · Verlag Hahnsche Buchhandlung ·  ISSN 0172-8237  2  demystifying history textbook for the 12 th  grade (by Sorin Mitu et al.) and was soon politicized. The textbook was considered an outrageous threat to national history and identity by opposition conservative party members because of the un-traditional way in which it presented critical moments of Romanian history. The fact that the authors had chosen to call the formation of the nation an “invention” was deemed intolerable, profoundly un-national and against Romanian state inter- ests, a mere re ß ection of Hungarian revisionism (Pârâianu 2001: 94–95; also Boia 1997/2001: 19–24; Pecican 2002). The tension between the advocates of respect for true national history and those condemning censorship immediately stirred public and political  fora and, consequently, high media coverage intertwined with clear party interests turned the issue into a matter of crucial national interest. It was urgently taken up for parliamentary discussion, during which a request for its withdrawal was proposed and then dismissed by vote. The very existence of this controversy, as well as its outspoken content, expressed in the arguments and types of discourse put forward during the scandal, show that tackling the issues of national identity in contemporary Romania remains a highly sensitive undertaking (M.L. Murgescu 2004: 141; Boia 1997/2001: 22). In the larger context of recent debate concerning national and trans -nationalidentity, educational changes have become crucial in European and national pub- lic policy, by re ß ecting, inter alia , an of  Þ cial stand that present-day and future EU member states are taking concerning the delicate issues of  Europeanization and identity. If we agree that education ful Þ ls both the function of transmitting knowledge and that of reinforcing social values and norms (identity matters in-cluded), then curricula and textbook writing become strategic tools for, and car-riers of social transformation. As long as strong national identities – which are partly constructs of of  Þ cial discourse and practices – are deemed irreconcilable with ʻ European-ness” (see Harmsen and Wilson 2000: 17), European educational reforms will tend to promote a weakened sense of national identity as compared to the past, and a stronger focus on supranational or sub-national entities (Soysal and Schissler 2005: 3; Hymans 2005: 61–62). In view of recent political and social changes in Romania in the last decade and the illustrative case of the “1999 textbook turmoil”, it seems entirely justi Þ ed to ask how Romanian efforts regarding the realization of educational reform towards Europeanization could be assessed. This essay aims to answer this question and locate Romania in the larger landscape of the EU integration process. To this end, I focus on the Romanian history teaching curriculum and textbook changes after the fall of communism, which, as I argue, have not yet reached the formally acknowl-edged and desired standards.I theoretically place this analysis within a moderate constructivist approach to national identity that incorporates the reconciled versions of modernist and ethno-symbolist approaches to the construction of nationhood (see Hobsbawm 1983/1992, 1990/1993; Gellner 1983, 1987; Anderson 1983/1991; Smith 1991, 2001; Hastings 1997; Hutchinson 1994, 2001). Within this frame, I assume that education in general and textbook writing in particular, are some of the of  Þ cially sanctioned tools for constructing national identity. The sense of nationhood that education inculcates is always ideologically situated, as the knowledge it transmits   is never value-neutral, but rather a tool for the transmission of what is considered to be the  legitimate world view, underpinned by relations of power (Apple and Chris- tian-Smith 1991: 2; Ohliger 1999: 109; Crawford 2003: 8). The national narrative, as presented in accredited history textbooks, can thus give invaluable insight into the ways in which of  Þ cially sanctioned knowledge is insinuated and transmitted to the young generation (Ohliger 1999: 108; Soysal and Schissler 2005: 1–2). Based on these theoretical premises, I aim in the following to empirically as-sess the differences between the social construction of identity in national history textbooks in the communist and the post-communist periods, from a diachronic comparative perspective. The purpose of comparing today ʼ s textbooks with com -munist ones is to mark the extent of changes Romania is undertaking in its ef-forts to synchronize with the general European trends in history textbook writing. Inevaluatingcurrent European trends I partly draw from the general guidelines set out at an international level (see the UNESCO model practiced by the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research; Pingel 1999) and partly from research on other European countries ʼ  textbook changes in the light of the Europe - anization process (e.g. France by Hymans 2005, Germany by Dierkes 2005 etc.). Aims, Methods and Hypotheses The speci Þ c purpose of the empirical part of this study is twofold: (1) to determine the direction and extent of changes in the representation  of national identity in Romanian history textbooks since the communist period in terms of content and discourse cues, so that (2) the degree of synchronization with the European trends in history textbook writing might be assessed. To this end, I focus on the portrayal of several controversial issues of Romanian history which have become salient in both public and academic debate in regard to national identity construction.The primary material to be examined in this analysis consists of two high- school history textbooks for the Þ nal school year 1 , as marked by two turning points in the periods considered: the year 1974, when national history in its ideological form was of  Þ cially included in the Communist Party program (cf. Pârâianu 2001: 100)and the academic year 1998/1999, which saw the most thorough shift in edu- cational reform in post-communist Romania. The 1974 reference point marks the reorientation of the communist regime to nationalistic lines (Pârâianu 2001: 101). The direct manifestation of this trend in the academic Þ eld is known as “proto -chronism”, or the exaltation of the primacy and superiority of Romanian culture and values (Hitchins 1992: 1081–1082; Verdery 1991: 167–169; Boia 1997/2001: 79–80). During roughly the same period, historiography within the party lines had also experienced a shift from Stalinist internationalism to pervasive national ideol- ogy (see Verdery 1991; Zub 1998; Pecican 1998). This period of history is illustrat - 1This study is based on secondary school rather than primary school national history textbooks due to the fact that this last, 12 th  year of study, in which pupils are taught the “history of Romanians”, is sup- posed to offer the ʻ fullest ʼ  account of the of  Þ cially sanctioned historical narrative presented in earlier times of study. Prior national history textbooks are designed for less mature students (8 th  graders) and thus are more likely to portray a simpler version of history, with more stereotypical images as peda-gogical (cognitive) shortcuts.   ed in this study by the 1979 unique history textbook for the 12 th  grade written by Stefan Pascu et al (henceforth “Textbook 1”), which could be considered the most representative textbook for this period of time. Incidentally, the of  Þ cial regulation around1979was to use only one , party sanctioned textbook, alleged to convey a contemporary, universal truth.Upper secondary (high school) education in Romania today is not compulsory andthecurrent curriculum for the 12 th  grade refers to the study of “Romanians ʼ   history” (not the “History of Romania”, as it was called during the communist re-gime).The1998/1999 post-communist educational reform marks the introduction of multiple of  Þ cially approved textbooks on the free market and the adoption of new curricula 2 , designed to incorporate the “European perspective” in accordance with the “new political imperatives of the moment” (M.L. Murgescu 2004: 17). Consequently, this phase is characterized by a lessened emphasis on the nation, referred to by historiographers as a de-mythologizing and de-essentializing trend (see M.L. Murgescu 2002: 177–180; Boia 1997/2001: 3–4). As an example for this period I have analyzed one of the Þ ve authorized textbooks by the Ministry of Edu - cation for the year 2004/2005, written by Nicoleta Dumitrescu et al. (henceforth “Textbook 2”). The textbook was Þ rst published in 2000, having been approved in accordancewiththe1999 curricular changes, and was the most widely used text- book by high-school history teachers in 2005, according to information from the Ministry of Education and the different publishing houses involved in the editing of alternative textbooks 3 .As my aim is to qualitatively determine the discursive (i.e. representational) changes that took place after the introduction of post-communist alternative text-books and not their quantitative, synchronic differences, I believe that a diachronic  juxtaposition of the unique textbook used in communism and the one, most widely used and representative textbook used now is suf  Þ cient for the speci Þ c, yet by no means unsubstantial, purpose of this analysis. The main focus of this analysis lies within the boundaries of a qualitative methodology that I will come to extensively describe in the following paragraphs.The methodological tool used in this study is content analysis based on a mul-ti-dimensional coding scheme, involving three primary narrative focuses: event, causal nexus and actors. The analysis combines both quantitative and qualitative techniques, with an emphasis on the latter, following the most widespread sugges- tions to be found in textbook research methodology (see Falk Pingel ʼ s UNESCO Guidebook for International Textbook Research 1999) but also advice from the advocates of the content analysis method in general 4 . The analysis therefore not only measures the prioritization of certain issues, events or actors over others as re- ß ected in the amount of space these are granted by the textbook, but also interprets the meaning attached to these issues, actors and events from a qualitative point of view. In the latter case, the techniques employed include contextualizing the data and disentangling disguised reasons, the intended outcome and the ideologi- 2See Appendix for details on the current Romanian national curricula for 12 th  grade History teaching. 3 The data for this information was collected by interview by the author in April 2005.4 See general recommendations and description of the importance of mixed quantitative-qualitative con - tent analysis by Weber (1990: 10); Altheide (1996: 15–16); Mayring (2000: 2) etc.
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