Monday, December 22, 2014

Education and Revisionism in the Balkans

When it comes to historiography and national aspirations in the Balkans, especially in regards to Istria and Dalmatia, many unsuspecting people who are not entirely familiar with the disputes or with its complex history find it hard to believe that so many people of the ex-Yugoslav countries can be so fanatically confident in their convictions, yet at the same time be so very wrong and historically ignorant. The ex-Yugoslavs are so convincing, in fact, based on their convictions alone, that some people begin to think they might be correct in their claims and convictions. But what many people fail to understand is that there exists in the Balkan countries a very poor education system and a lack of serious non-partisan scholarship.

Education in the Balkans is very much tainted by both old and modern nationalist propaganda, as well as by Communist revisionism dating back to the days of Yugoslavia. This problem exists not only in the public education systems, but also in popular education; i.e. in the sentiments, ideas, myths and legends which are passed along from person to person within general society. Not to mention, of course, the local media outlets which transmit the same nationalistic ideas.

If one wants to understand why people in the Balkans can be so fanatical and confident in their beliefs (regarding historical events, famous historical figures, territorial disputes, etc.), despite being so clearly wrong in the eyes of the rest of the world, then one must understand the poor state of education in the Balkans, and how many young people learn most of their revisionist errors from an early age, and continue to be taught these errors as they grow, which only strengthens their convictions, and over time essentially becomes a part of their whole being and identity.

Many people would be surprised to know just how far this revisionism goes in the former Yugoslavia. Many people would be surprised to find out all the false histories which fill the textbooks, journals, popular culture and minds of the ex-Yugoslavs, because much of it so far surpasses the limits of absurdity that it is almost unfathomable that anyone could truly believe some of these things – and yet many Slavs do.

For example, many Slavs in the Balkans are taught that:
  • Slavs always lived in the Balkans.
  • Slavs are the oldest people in Europe.
  • Slavs are descended from ancient Illyrians.
  • There was no Slavic invasion in the 6th and 7th centuries. (The historical and well-documented Slavic invasions in the centuries after the collapse of the western Roman Empire is dismissed as anti-Slavic propaganda”; according to such people these invasions never took place.)

Amongst the most radical Slavic circles you will find such revisionist ideas as:
  • Croats discovering America.
  • Slovenes creating Etruria and descending from the ancient Etruscans.

You will also find claims that Roman emperors such as Diocletian and Latin saints such as St. Jerome were in fact “Slavs” and “Croats”. The Italian explorer Marco Polo is likewise claimed as a “Croat” (in addition to almost all notable men – artists, architects, poets, philosophers, scientists, etc. – born in Istria or Dalmatia throughout history, including figures prior to the arrival of the Slavs).

It is also not uncommon to hear the claim that Croatia was the first country in the world to recognize the United States in 1776 (despite the fact that Croatia at the time did not exist as an independent country, nor can the Republic of Ragusa – the Italian-speaking state which is often claimed to be the first country to recognize the United States – in any sense be called a “Croatian” state).

Some Croats even claim that Slavic settlement in the Americas dates back to the pre-Columbian era, claiming that the Native American tribe known as the Croatan Indians were descended from Croats, merely because the name Croatan looks and sounds similar to the Italian word Croato and the English word Croatian (despite the fact that Croats call themselves Hrvati in their own language).

Amongst the most radical of Slovenes you will find claims that the Veneti – an ancient Italic people who primarily inhabited the modern Italian region of Veneto – were in fact “proto-Slovenes”, and this claim is used by such people as a pretext to call for the annexation of northeastern Italy to Slovenia. Those who hold such views often also claim that the Veneti of Gaul – an ancient Celtic people of Armorica (today called Brittany), who most scholars today recognize as being distinct from the Veneti of Italy – were also in fact “proto-Slovenes”. Taken to its logical (albeit absurd) conclusion, the most extreme of these Slovenes argue that the Republic of Venice was actually a “Slavic” state founded by Slovenes, and that the modern Italians of northeastern Italy are “Slovenian”.

In a similar line of argumentation, some other radical Slovenes take this theory further and claim that certain Germanic tribes, such as the Vandals and the Longobards (originally called Winnili), were actually related to the Veneti of Italy and Gaul, and thus were Slavic. It is further argued, falsely, that it was the Longobards who first founded Italy. Therefore, they argue, Italy was founded by the Slavs.

In the most speculative of circles you will also find claims that Slavs are descended from the ancient Persians.

Most scholars know these claims to be completely false, but ex-Yugoslavs are often taught these ideas, sometimes in schools, sometimes by their families or friends, sometimes by the media, and sometimes through private study of outdated books or revisionist internet articles.

These things may seem beyond ridiculous to an informed and educated person, and ridiculous even to people with elementary knowledge of these topics, but if you encounter ex-Yugoslavs, whether in person or even on popular internet forums or on social networking websites, and you ask them about these historical topics, you will find that many of them – ranging from radical nationalists to common people – have been taught these revisionist ideas, and many of them believe these ideas to be absolute fact and will argue persistently that everyone else is wrong except them, and that you are part of a vast anti-Slavic conspiracy that has existed since ancient times. Of course this is not the sentiment of each and every ex-Yugoslav, but it is certainly common enough that it can be regarded as an epidemic amongst the ex-Yugoslav countries, and in the rest of the Balkans as well.

To give just one prime example of this epidemic, in 1993 a series of documentaries aired on Croatian television called Croats Who Made the World (Hrvati koji su stvarali svijet). These documentaries purported to show famous Croats who supposedly created the world or significantly impacted world history. The first in this series was a documentary on Pope Sixtus V – whose birth name was Felice Piergentile. He was born in Marche, Italy to Italian parents, and was the most prominent member of the Italian Peretti family. But he was presented on Croatian television as being a “Croat”, and continues to be depicted in the Croatian media as a “pope of Croatian origin”. This is the kind of “education” that Croats are exposed to. This same type of programming can be found in all the other ex-Yugoslav and Balkan countries, each with their own particular ultra-nationalist agenda.

With this in mind, it becomes easier to understand how so many Slovenes and Croats today can say the false and revisionist things they do about Istria and Dalmatia, and – with the utmost confidence – completely and irrationally deny the Italian history and millennial Latin civilization of those lands in spite of all facts.

Many Croats and Slovenes are taught that Istria and Dalmatia were always Slavic lands, and that Italians did not arrive in these lands until the 15th century, when Italians (Venetians) “stole it” from the Slavs. They are often taught that Italians merely formed a political elite in these lands, and that when Italians were murdered and expelled from Istria and Dalmatia at the end of the Second World War, it was merely a “political cleansing” (as opposed to an ethnic cleansing, despite the fact that almost all people who fled or died were civilians, rather than politicians, military or government officials). Furthermore, echoing Communist Yugoslav propaganda, they are taught that those Italians who were murdered or expelled were all “Fascists” and “occupiers of Slavic land” – including the women, the children and the elderly – thereby justifying the genocide and ethnic cleansing.

In cases when they are not justifying the actions of the Communists, they are instead denying such actions, such as the Foibe massacres, ever took place. The Foibe massacres were part of a systematic ethnic cleansing against the native Italian population of Istria and Dalmatia carried out by Yugoslav partisans at the end of the Second World War. Thousands of Italians, including men, women and children, were murdered and buried in mass graves known as foibe. For decades it was not spoken of by the Yugoslav government. Even most Italian politicians chose to ignore it, in order to not cause a rift with Communist Yugoslavia – technically an “ally” of Italy after 1943, and supported by the Western world during the Cold War. Yugoslavia broke up over 25 years ago, but still today most Slavs are not aware such massacres even occurred. But amongst those Slavs who are aware of the massacres, many of them deny such systematic murders took place, or instead, having been taught a false Communist version of history, they justify or downplay the massacres, claiming that the murders were merely reprisals against “Fascists”, or that Italians were murdered only because they were “Fascists” (the women and children included, apparently).

In their attempts to justify their occupation of Istria and Dalmatia, many Slovenes and Croats also deny that an Italian nation ever existed; they often argue that neither Italians nor Italy existed prior to 1861, while at the same time – inconsistently and quite hypocritically – arguing that Croatia is over 1000 years old, that Slovenia is over 1400 years old, and that Slovenes and Croats are among the oldest people in Europe. This despite the fact that Slavs did not arrive in what is today Slovenia and Croatia until the 7th century, whereas Italians were well-known and well-documented in the histories of antiquity, and also despite the fact that Italy existed as both a nation and as a state, with a much-celebrated civilization, long before the Slavic tribes were even known to exist in Europe. Despite these facts, this is what is commonly argued and taught in ex-Yugoslav historiography, and therefore this is what many Slovenes and Croats continue to ignorantly believe and reiterate.

Many Croats and Slovenes are so hostile to Italians – with a ferocity that rivals the Jewish hatred of Germans – based entirely on a fake history invented by pan-slavist nationalist propaganda in the 19th century and Yugoslav Communist propaganda in the 20th century. Those Slavs who hold such contempt for Italians are absolutely convinced (in fact brainwashed) that Slavs inhabited these lands first, that the culture was created by Slavs, that most of the historical figures were Slavs, that the last several centuries has been a Slavic struggle for liberation, that all this time Italians have been trying to usurp their Slavic lands away from them (despite the reality being the exact opposite) and believe that at the end of the Second World War the Slavs finally “won the struggle” and “kicked out all the Fascists”. In fact, the Yugoslav occupation and annexation of Istria and Dalmatia in the 20th century is widely celebrated among Croats and Slovenes as a “return” (despite the fact that Istria was part of Italy since ancient times, and never once in history belonged to any Slavic country prior to 1947/1954, and therefore can not return to that which it never previously belonged), which demonstrates how deep the delusion is among the Balkan Slavs.

Nor is the problem of pseudo-historiography limited only to the ex-Yugoslav countries of Croatia and Slovenia. The same revisionist problems can be found in other Balkan countries. For example:
  • Albania—a modern nation which suddenly adopted a collective Illyrian identity in the 19th century, despite there being no known linguistic or historical continuity (the Illyrian languages have been extinct since approximately the 5th-6th century AD; and Illyrian, as a tribal or ethnic identity, as opposed to a regional or provincial demonym, ceased to exist nearly 2,000 years ago), and whose “scholars” tend to argue that everyone of significance in history, from the ancient Greek general Pyrrhus to the United States president George Washington, was Albanian, and also that all historical Illyrians – including people merely born in ancient Illyricum and Moesia with no connection to the ancient Illyrian tribes, such as many of the Roman emperors – were in fact Albanians.
  • Kosovo—perhaps the most notorious example of historical revisionism in the Balkans today, a modern country primarily populated by Albanians (due to Albanian immigration and Serbian emigration in the past two centuries), but which pretends to have a non-existent historical link to Albania and Albanian people, while denying the Slavic history of the region (both in historical population, government and cultural heritage).
  • Macedonia—a modern Slavic country which pretends to be the heir of ancient Macedonia and Alexander the Great.
  • Montenegro—a modern country on the Adriatic Sea comprised of different historical regions (including both Latin and Slavic) whose current language is Serbian, but since 2007 is officially claimed to be a distinct “Montenegrin language” (a language which does not actually exist, but is in the process of being forged and invented by advocates of a separate Montenegrin identity).
  • Romania—an eastern European country whose current identity largely rests on the false belief that they are descendants of Roman and Latin colonists, which has been disproved by both historical and genetic evidence, but which continues to be endorsed by many Romanians today. The name of their country (“Romania”) and their ethnic self-designation (“Romanians”) demonstrates their continued usurpation of the Roman identity, despite having no substantial historical, cultural or ethnic link to the Romans.
  • Serbia—a country which, from the 19th century until the end of the Serbo-Croat wars in 1995, generally claimed that Dalmatia was Serbian territory, but today denies their historical claims to the region, and instead chooses to entirely blame “Croatian Nazis” for the slavicization of Dalmatia, while conveniently supporting the territorial claims of Italy against Croatia merely for political purposes. Nonetheless, many of the same revisionist claims advanced by Croats and Slovenes today (for example, the claim that most historical Latin figures of Dalmatia were in fact “Slavs”) can also historically be found in Serbian “scholarship”, except that in the Serbian version of the narrative the terms “Croat” and “Slovene” are naturally replaced with “Serb” or “Serbian”. It is also common for the Serbian tourist industry to claim that there were “17 Serbian Roman Emperors”, and it is especially common to hear the claim that Emperor Constantine was a “Serb”, despite the fact that Serbia did not exist at the time, nor did Serbs arrive in the region until centuries later, and therefore the Serbian people have no connection to that history.
As one historian and professor recently stated: “There is no justification to falsify history to support ethnic ambitions. The Croats and their Balkan neighbours have done this in a major way.” While the rest of the world is following one version of history, the countries in the Balkans are each following their own versions of history, not recognized by anyone else except themselves, pitting themselves not only against each other, but against the whole world.