Battle erupts in Greece over school textbooks
Battle erupts in Greece over school textbooks
Critics charge that a new textbook for children sacrifices national
identity for political correctness. Greek education minister will not
recall the book, but will allow changes after critiques by Orthodox Church.
Sunday, April 01, 2007
By George Gilson
A work by 19th-century great painter Nikolaos Gyzis depicts a
so-called secret school where, according to the legend, Greek
children were secretly taught by clergymen in monasteries during the
Ottoman rule. The controversial history book questions the existence
of this sort of schools
When the education ministry issued a new sixth-grade textbook on
modern Greek history (1453 to the present) in September, few expected
that an unprecedented intellectual and ideological war would break loose.
The battlefields in which the rewriting of Greek history is being
fought are TV news shows (with impassioned debates), the press (with
a barrage of opinion pieces) and parliament, where Education Minister
Marietta Yannakou refused to recall the book but conceded that it can
The debate has drawn in the Church of Greece, with Archbishop
Christodoulos charging that the role of the Orthodox Church in Greek
history is obliterated by the book.
Asia Minor Greeks charge that the burning of Smyrna and the killing
and expulsion of the Greek population is silenced for the sake of
political correctness. And Pontic Greeks complain that the massacre
of their forebears by the Turks is omitted.
Most recently, Yannakou asked the Academy of Athens, the country's
highest intellectual institution, to issue an opinion on the book.
Professor Maria Repousi, a Thessaloniki University historian who led
the four-member panel that wrote the book, told the Athens News that
her opponents "criticise the book as being non-patriotic". "They say
it tries to undermine the foundations of Greek identity," she
stresses. At a recent news conference, she labelled her critics as
"the nationalist bloc" and said she would accept no changes to the
book demanded by them.
Though she insists the book has no factual errors, she admits
misguided turns of phrase and says these types of changes will be
made in the first revision.
That the 1922 burning of Smyrna by Kemal Ataturk's forces and the
widespread killing and expulsion of the Greek and Armenian population
are downplayed in the textbook has stirred an outcry in the public
debate. "On 27 August 1922, the Turkish army enters Smyrna. Thousands
of Greeks crowd at the port and try to leave for Greece" is the only reference.
"We said that this was an unfortunate wording that will be changed in
the first correction of the book," Repousi says. She defends the book
on the grounds that it "introduces a new method of history teaching
and learning, which depends largely on using images as well".
"I feel pushed in a corner. It's not easy being at the centre of
public attention, with name-calling," she says, noting the petition
against the book on the website here.
The petition sums up the criticism of the book in five pages. It says
that the Ottoman conquerors of Greece and their slaughter and
oppression of Greek populations is prettified and cleansed in the
name of political correctness.
It also maintains that the book muzzles "the significance of Orthodox
Christian tradition in preserving the national conscience of the
Greeks". It says legends and traditions of the "glorious Byzantine
past influenced deeply the Greek revolutionaries", but are totally omitted.
"The heroism, self-sacrifice, martyrdom and national struggle that
characterised the revolution were replaced by a dry list of numbers
and events, stressing the socio-economic demands of various groups,"
the petition says. It also stressed that "the genocide of Christian
populations is silenced and the historic dimension of the Asia Minor
catastrophe is annulled".
Another criticism is that the Ottomans' act of seizing Greek boys
from their families to serve in the Janissary corps is described as
"recruitment", rather than kidnapping.
Archbishop Christodoulos charged that the book aims to "enslave the
youth". "They challenge even March 25 [the date chosen as the
symbolic start of the revolution, to coincide with the Annunciation
of the Virgin Mary], the banner of the revolution raised by [Bishop]
Paleon Patron Germanos, and the heroes Kolokotronis, Makrygiannis,
and all those heroes who in their struggle said first 'for the faith'
and then 'for the fatherland'," he said. "We sacrifice the historic
truth on the altar of Greek-Turkish friendship."
The new book was commissioned by the education ministry in 2003 when
Pasok was in power. Those who reject the book say it was changed to
remove elements of passion and hatred of the Turks in the context of
a Greek-Turkish rapprochement dating to 1999. Foreign Minister George
Papandreou and Turkish counterpart Ismail Cem signed an accord to
review each country's textbooks for nationalist bias.
Dimitris Nezeritis, a retired ambassador to Turkey who, with Turkish
Professor Ilber Ortayli, is on a bilateral committee to review Greek
and Turkish textbooks, told the Athens News that neither side has yet
agreed to any change in its textbooks.
Repousi and the Pedagogical Institute, which advises the education
ministry and is responsible for the writing of school books, deny
that any political criterion influenced the writing of the
sixth-grade history book.
Ioannnis Papagrigoriou, who supervised the sixth-grade textbook and
also wrote the previous one in 1988, told the Athens News that the
new book aims to teach critical thinking and use new technologies,
but he said he had expressed reservations. He believes that history
should instil patriotism, which critics say the new book does not.
"Is it nationalist to love your country and traditions? The aim is to
instil love of country and a national conscience, " he says.
Papagrigoriou stresses that the textbook was written based on an
"analytical programme" prepared by the institute with detailed
guidelines, which have the force of law. He says a DVD created as a
teaching aid covers many things that the book does not, such as the
destruction of Smyrna, but he admits that it has not been sent to a
single school "due to bureaucracy". He has asked that it be sent now.
Papagrigoriou says teachers and students around the country have been
sent a questionnaire on the book, and that changes will be made based
on the results. The views of the Academy of Athens will also be taken
into account. Questions include whether the narration is adequate and
if national conscience is cultivated.
The academy's draft report, as leaked and published in the weekly
newspaper Paron on March 18, was damning on over 70 points. The
report said that the book fails to cultivate national conscience
(which the Greek constitution says the state is obliged to do) and
does not comply with the legally mandated analytic school programme.
"A school history book must be well edited, follow rules of
historiography, attract students and earn their trust and that of
their families, teachers and other possible readers. The book in
question is faulty on all these counts," the draft said.
The academy said the book conceals Ottoman discrimination against
non-Muslim populations, attacks against Greeks and forced conversions
to Islam. It also says the role of legends, traditions and symbols
contributing to Greek identity are ignored, as are Greek uprisings.