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Institute of National History – Skopje (University of Ss Cyril and Methodius)

Report on Project Activities

The Institute of National History - Skopje (INH), the Republic of Macedonia, as a project partner of the project Balkan Kaleidoskop, undertook several project activities. They were realized according to the Activities plan submitted to ALDA – Office in Subotica at the beginning of the 2018. Namely, the INH delegated a team of two researchers experienced in history education, Darko Stojanov and Petar Todorov to lead the project activities. Following the previous contacts with several state schools and history teachers from the city of Skopje, two particular schools were selected - the High School “Orce Nikolov” and the elementary school “Dimitar Miladinov”, both from Skopje. Based on their experience and pupils’ records, the history teachers from these schools, Bozo Bubalo and Tamara Petreska, have selected around 30 pupils to take part in the project and to do a research on the topic of the recent Yugoslav history and war conflicts.

Training and research activities

The first activity of the plan was to organize seminar on the history of Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav wars. The one-day seminar included short lecture on the Yugoslav history “From the foundation to the violent break up of Yugoslavia”. The aim was to introduce the pupils with the recent history of Yugoslavia and different interpretations of it, as well as the causes and the consequences of the Yugoslav wars. More importantly, the seminar included training on oral history, or how to conduct interviews. The aim was to explain the basics of making an interview on a specific topic and writing down a report. Particular examples were explained to students on how to make the questionnaire for interview and how to approach persons that are interviewed. Due to the sensitive age and topic of research, precautions were undertaken in order to protect the pupils from the negative influence of the violent and graphic scenes and images from the Yugoslav wars. Up until the end of June 2018, we organized two more meetings with the history teachers and pupils for further consultations and assistance in defining the questionnaire. During that time, we defined the frame of the topic for students to write their essays. Based on the quality of the work that pupils did, together with the history teachers, two of the pupils were selected to take part in the international conference Mostar and present the results of the activities carried out locally. The decision was made based on the teachers’ experience and evaluations of the pupils.

Director of the Institute of national history
Prof. Dr. Dragi Gjorgiev

Once upon a time there once was a country of brotherhood and unity….

From the Vardar river to Triglav mountain, from Gerdap gorge to The Adriatic Sea...
Described as the best of Europe compressed in a small area with the landscape comparable with the French Riviera, architecture of Monte Carlo, with wild beauty of  islands of Greece, the countryside of England, the Alps of Switzerland, a unique place like no other in the world was known as Yugoslavia.
The very mention of this former country evokes powerful emotion of nostalgia from those who once called it their own, with pride. To the younger generations it is only a distant story of teamwork between the nations which is now weakly felt. But for those who had the honor of spending their childhood, adulthood or even retirement in Yugoslavia it represents a memory they will never forget. Whenever it is mentioned in everyday conversation, those who have witnessed its existence are more than happy to share their stories and opinions. They are curious to hear the young people’s thoughts. They talk about it with indescribable passion and with a flame light up in their eyes.
The question remains: why? A probable answer lies underneath the very surface of an unimaginable landscape. It is hidden in the then harmony and in solidarity within the community. My generation only vaguely feeling the consequences of the war can now experience our parents’ and grandparents’ narrative as fairytales. In their eyes we see a true longing for the past filled with so much joy as if it had been a wonderful dream. Today, the world of which they speak seems surreal or even impossible. They keep telling that they enjoyed a stable economy in which people were satisfied with their relatively low salary and yet could afford a comfortable life, whilst love, personal happiness and gaiety came at no cost. They speak of freedom and adventure, when families travelled from Bohinj and Bled, Plitvice and Shumadiya, Jahorina and Mostar without the passport, making those places feel like home. They speak of a safe and carefree childhood, when young kids wore their house keys around their necks and their laughter filled the air. They speak of brotherhood and mention a huge family living all across the country who had enough time for sharing happiness and were educated for mutual respect.
But when they describe such a perfect country, how can anyone expect the future generations to be emotionally connected to something that sounds so phantasmagoric?
However, it is important to remember that we are not speaking about an imaginary kingdom from a fairytale. Yugoslavia was a real country, and like any other had its flaws. 
We have to remember than not long after Josip Broz Tito's death, the lifelong president of Yugoslavia, the nations who had founded this country turned against each other. No matter how much they believed in brotherhood, inter-ethnic relationships were not accepted any longer by the families and generally at societal level. Most parts of Yugoslavia became paranoid about the threat of being attacked by the neighboring countries, so they started spending a lot of money on military force and weapons. Young men who were physically capable had to serve one year of compulsory military service, right after finishing secondary education. However, it was more than clear that many of those young men did not wish to spend a year of their life getting prepared for attacking their fellow countrymen or to end up in destroying the country from the inside. Eventually, the people’s most believed values turned into the country's greatest enemy. The bloodiest fratricidal war was triggered by inter-ethnic intolerance, as well as national, ethnic and religious differences, and in the middle of it was Bosnia and Herzegovina, which suffered the greatest and most intense inter-ethnic war. The children who had once carelessly enjoyed their youth, now experienced the pain of tragic conflict in the happiest period of their lives. Their childhood was destroyed, their home ruined and their families torn apart. Mothers were left without husbands and sons, their cries unable to fully express their pain.
My generation learns only the “truth” about the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the armed conflicts that caused so much suffering of innocent citizens. We learn from   documentary films, personal narratives and stories of the witnesses who can openly speak about their personal experience and the pain that the war inflicted upon them.
However, whenever the topic of Yugoslavia is discussed in my family or in neighbourhood, people mainly remember and speak about the positive sides. This is maybe because the feeling of nostalgia blurred the images of war conflicts and prevented them from seeing the flaws in the then country. But, if there is anything we could learn from history classes it is the fact that the events in history are repeated, whether good or bad. It is our responsibility to remember the sufferings of our ancestors, to learn from their mistakes and pave our own paths to the future. Certainly trying not to repeat all the mistakes of our parents and grandparents.

Prepared by the students:
Elena Popovska, High School “Dimitar Miladinov”
Teodora Aksentijevska, High School “Josip Broz Tito”