What was the outcome of the criticism targeted at the ethnocentrism of the textbooks? Ambivalence reigns in this matter. The books changed for the better to a certain extent. For example, in the years 1993-1995 the negative, almost insulting language about the Other was removed from the Turkish primary school textbooks. In the same period the corresponding Greek textbooks also changed for the better. The extreme negative stereotyping characterizations about the Other were removed (Millas, 2001: 92-114, 307-310).2 In spite of these changes the main old trend to exalt and show “our nation” as the “center of the world” was preserved. Also the perception of the past and pres?ent international milieu was one of controversies, wars, and animosity. History was mainly understood as the history of military actions.
Various factors inflicted the positive changes, such as: the pressure incurred by international agencies and institutes, e.g. UNESCO and the Georg Eckert Institute; the criticism of academics within each country; the increased communication among countries and the widened audience interested in textbooks; the increased contact and relations with the European Union, which rendered a more cosmopolitan approach to the issue of education. This did not mean that old practices stopped altogether. In Greece in 2002, a textbook for intermediary schools was prepared by a group of new historians and under the responsibility of Giorgos Kokkinos, Modern and Contemporary World, 1815-2000. This time it was the right-wing Greek-Cypriot organization EOKA which objected. In the critical presentation of EOKA, which succumbed to violent actions or terrorism, the textbook was viewed as an insult to the struggle of the Greek- Cypriots for liberation and as an attempt to instigate excuses for the Turkish occupation of Cyprus. The book was withdrawn even before the school year began.
In Greece in 2005, the history textbook for the sixth grade of primary schools, prepared by a body of experts headed by Maria Repoussi was fought by the church because the clergy was not praised as they believed they ought to have been. For the church the martyrdom of the Patriarch who was hanged by the Ottomans when the Greek Revolution of 1821 started was seen as purposefully silenced. The criticism reached the “Minister of Education and Religion”, Marietta Yannakou who ardently supported the new book for some time. The right- and left-wing nationalist opposition objected developing conspiracy theories: the USA, the European Union, and/or “imperialism” wishing to secure a Greek-Turkish rapprochement for their own interest, directing Greece to “concessions” toward Turkey, distorting “our (sacred) history”. For this purpose—they claimed—the Ottoman Empire was not presented as negative as it should have and the Turkish vulgarity and the suffering of the Greeks were silenced. Before the general elections of September 2007, the minister Giannakou promised an improved version of the book. After the elections, however, the setting had changed. Giannakou was not reelected and the new leadership abolished the book (Broeders, 2008; Liakos, 2008a, 2008b; Nakou & Apostolidou, 2010; Repoussi, 2006/2007, 2009, 2011).
In Turkey a different setting is observed after 2000. The study of textbooks attracted the interest of institutes. The Economic and Social History Foundation of Turkey initiated a research program named “Improvement of the Balkan History Textbooks Project” which was completed in 2002. This project was supported by the UNESCO, the Heinrich Boll Foundation, and the Consulate General of the Netherlands in Turkey. A conference on history with participants from Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Romania, and Turkey took place in 2001. The findings were published in 2002. This report is very detailed and covers issues for each country like the educational system in general, historiographies, textbooks of the last decades, related public debates, curricula, the images of the Balkan countries, and stereotypes.
The Education Reform Initiative (ERI), Egitim Reformu Girijimi (ERG) in Turkish (see also ERG. Education Control Report, 2012, 2013), was launched in the Istanbul Policy Center at Sabanci University in 2003, with the aim of improving education policy and decision-making through research, advocacy, and training. ERI is one of the few initiatives in Turkey that focuses on education policies, identifies key issues, and develops comprehensive policy recommendations. ERI is active in textbooks, organizes meetings, and publishes reports on current issues of education, textbook analyses included. These institutes are in contact with the Ministry of Education of Turkey even though it is not easy to establish their influence in decision making. ERI enjoys the support of various universities.
One of the most extended studies on textbooks of the Balkan countries started in 1998 and was carried out during the first years of 2000. It was organized by the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeastern Europe, based in Thessalonica. The project was sponsored by various foundations from the UK, USA, and the UK Government and the US State Department. A series of workshops took place in various cities in the Balkans, an interim report was published in 2001 (Koulouri, 2001) and a more detailed one in 2002 (Koulouri, 2002). In this report history education in Albania, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, FYR of Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Turkey, and Yugoslavia is presented and analyzed. Also various articles were presented under special headings like “The Multi-Ethnic Empires”, “Macedonia Identities”, “Religious Identities”, “Cyprus”, and “Albania”. In the following years four more volumes were published on topics such as, The Ottoman Empire, Nations and States in Southeast Europe, The Balkan Wars, and The Second World War.3 This project is a good example of cooperation of Balkan academics in the field of textbooks and history education. An international conference, The Image of the Other/Neighbor in the Textbooks of the Balkan Countries, took place in Thessalonica in October 1998 (Kapsalis et al., 2000). Another, titled 13th International conference: Curriculum and Textbooks, The Greek case and International Practices, organized by the Greek Pedagogy Society in Ioannina, Greece, took place in 2009 (Malafandis, 2012). Tens of presentations were about the Greek textbooks and history education. The notes of this meeting comprise two volumes of a total of 1400 pages.
It becomes apparent that the textbooks and history education in Greece and Turkey attracted the interest of academic institutions and the outcome of this is that the issue is mostly worked out by institutions, departments of universities, and conferences. There are individual efforts in producing and publishing studies on these topics (e.g. Nakou, 2000; Yakaryelik, 2001), but such publications comprise a small section of the related effort. It should also be noticed that there is an increased interest to translate related publications into the language of the country (Ferro, 2000; Pingel, 2003).