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LESSONS FOR PRESENT, LESSONS FOR FUTURE

Introduction

Rationale

This project stems from the need of an answer to the increase of some radical movements all over Europe in recent times, coming to life in the rise of a meaningful number of political parties which, in some cases, show a clear far-right ideology, although not so evident in other cases.

These new political parties take advantage of the deep economic crisis which is unevenly battering all countries and of the unsuitable reaction of the institutions to guarantee the so-called “welfare state”.

Thus, this lack of institutional response, the inability of the traditional political parties to suggest new solutions, the decrease and setback of social rights, along with the increase of unemployment, the rising unequal distribution of wealth and the subsequent polarisation of society among a few who gather the greatest part of wealth and a majority more and more impoverished, a caused a clear estrangement of citizens and the traditional political establishment, perceived more as part of the problem rather than as part of the solution. Henceforth, we are before a critical and, why not, decadent situation, understanding decadence as the gradual depletion of the traditional institutions (national and European) which, exhausted, prove to be unable to carry out their functions. We are talking about democracy. This is the only way to explain the reaction of many European countries, and of the European Union itself, before the crisis of the Syrian refugees or the migration crisis.

It is within this context that we can place the rise of these new extremisms which are filling the emptiness of many hopeless citizens who, frustrated, trust neither the so-called old politics nor the institutions. Populism, characteristic of the nature of such extremist ideologies, encourages and suggests simple solutions to complex problems which, generally, reflect one of their main features: exclusive and radical nationalism. So, the solution involves closing borders, looking at the country’s inland and seeing distrust and hostility in the foreigner, hoisting the defence of the authentic, of what is ours before what is theirs, with a spurious necessity of election, put into words through mottoes such as “our people first”.

One more feature of these new far-right parties is historical manipulation, essential for shaping a speech that supports in a way their ideological stance. In this sense, these political parties or ideologies develop in their expressions the extolling of history during the period of Fascism, somehow appealing to an assumed glorious past of moral and racial superiority to be defended from the cultural attack of other civilizations. These ideas are obviously arbitrary and lack an intellectual support, but they are used for coping with frustration and finding an answer, no matter how wrong it may be.

The problem can be found in the fact that many of those ideas, mostly considered and identified as clearly extremist years ago, characteristic of radical parties and so, discarded, are nowadays, within a context of crisis, accepted and adopted by other traditional and democratic parties. Let us think, for instance, of the ideas about immigration of the Republican candidate to the White House and current President of the USA, Donald Trump. Therefore, the danger lies in the configuration of a new ideological view inspired, to a certain extent, by xenophobic ideas originally supported by far-right’s conceptions of racial superiority, etc., but which, once isolated and expressed by new liberal political parties, become better accepted and less questioned.

To face manipulation, relativism or historical disinformation, historical remembrance is essential, understood as the awareness of those historical circumstances which explain the present and its reality and which enable us to make a critical judgement of the world around us, resulting in a stance and social activism intellectually argumented, whatever it may be.

Thus, the term historical remembrance refers to the articulation and structuring of the public authorities of the social-historical memory around an educational project whose aim is to favour that social-historical awareness based on a critical judgement of reality.

As a consequence, manipulation, relativism or historical disinformation lead us to facing another issue deriving from them, the educational model –its aims in general and its pedagogical methodologies in particular. Paradoxically, we talk about disinformation and manipulation especially when our period is usually described as the age of information, communication and knowledge.

Never before had Europe seen such a high rate of university graduates. We are undoubtedly, at least in Europe, before the best generations in relation to regulated training and academical qualification. In 2015, 38.7% of EU citizens aged 30 to 34 had higher education studies, before the 28.1% of 2005.

Nonetheless, we can say that getting a university degree is not a guarantee of achieving critical thinking and, so, a society with more graduates is not necessarily more prepared or more reliable when facing the challenges set out to our democracies. This issue is undoubtedly the most relevant and the one to which institutions and public authorities, obsessed with the idea of the labour market as the exclusive ultimate aim of the educational system, should pay attention more thoroughly. They tend to forget the transforming role of education as a means for endowing society with the basic keys to choose how it wants to be. On the contrary, they establish a fixed curriculum consistent with a reality given under the principle of adaptability. When facing a context of absolute uncertainty, the necessity to adapt to reality springs. This principle, which may be a positive quality, becomes an ominous image when it is a synonym for misfortune and resignation.

Indeed, these young Europeans, the offspring of the educational system and the firmest base for extremisms, are the ones who are suffering the worst of the crisis, which is even producing a cross generational gap. According to Eurostat, youth unemployment —those under the age of 24— exceeds on average 20% in the twenty-eight countries of the European Union, exceeding up to 40% in some countries like Spain and Greece1. This generational gap is not only economical but also historical since, in terms of generation, youngsters are no longer material witnesses —and less and less consequential witnesses— of the long Europe’s historical journey in search for democracy through the welfare state, which increases their vulnerability before extremism.

All these circumstances lead us to methodologically consider another serious and major issue: do educational systems provide students with a meaningful knowledge of history throughout schooling? Is it possible to shape an idea of the world by means of an itinerary, which understands knowledge as a set of isolated sections called subjects, within an educational system that refuses to leave out completely a structure that reflects the industrial revolution, chain production and the idea of the student as a recipient to be filled; within an educational system which is heading for learning through objectives or through competences?

We can assert that history, as a subject of the curriculum is a key point to shape the historical memory within society but, what do we understand as history within school? Formal facts which comprise the historical development are essential to know reality but, are they enough? Do teachers not have enough warning signs to realise that we have already accepted the possibility of completing the curriculum without any meaningful transcendence? If history sided with an ethical and moral perspective, would it not be an opportunity, or even a need? Perhaps this way it would become an opportunity for the events lived by our ancestors to turn into specific and meaningful examples to be analysed individually as a kind of vaccination which, even though not providing complete immunity to error repetition, it would enable us to face extreme dilemmas in historical situations, providing us with a “background of ethical-moral dilemmas”. For example, should we always comply with the law, even though it ratifies genocide, as in the Germany of World War II?

To sum up, we reckon that it is urgent to answer all these questions by means of a change in the educational paradigm, challenging the current models and fostering a different type of teaching, more critical and active.

All these questions took us, in the first place, to the strong will to start a project under the umbrella of a set of clear and defined objectives:

  • To make some didactic materials departing from authentic biographical elements which allowed us to face, within a historical context, complex situations that implied, on the one hand, making decisions and taking a stance and, on the other, understanding the historical processes which married up different views of the same fact. To this effect, it was necessary to join forces with an interdisciplinary team of history, philosophy, language, religion teachers, in order to endow the project with different perspectives and meaningful aspects, as well as international teachers, in order to ensure its universality within a local context with different embodiments of similar historical processes.
  • To approach these historical processes beyond the formal analysis of the facts that shape History, transcending the emotional impact produced by tragedy, in order to face the most appalling, the devices that made them possible.
  • To elaborate some didactic material which allows the critical analysis of the most controversial current social and political trends in the light of the critical analysis of History.
  • To analyse and verify the universality of the material and its meaningful scope, testing them in different countries with different students.

Why the Holocaust?

The Holocaust as a historical event is understood as a result from modernity and, therefore, as a historical fact which offers a wide range of possibilities to analyse History and our role as individuals in it.

The Holocaust is, using an example of Zygmunt Bauman, not a static picture reflecting an isolated fact, expressing a social deviation, an illness or some momentary collective madness; but a window to look through and watch, if we dare, some realities that we ignored in some cases and that go unnoticed in our daily life. It is a window from where we can watch the existential contradictions that stress men in our modern society, labelled as civilised. So, it is a wake-up call that we should not ignore or let it be devoid of all those universal contents related to the criticism to modernity: a lesson to learn and an area of learning of democracy and the responsibility it implies.

The Holocaust reveals itself as a key fact, especially relevant to get to know modern society, since it would not have been possible without the features of the modernity in which we live. As Bauman wrote in his essay Modernity and the Holocaust, it was an extraordinary execution carried out in the modern fashion, that is to say, rational, programmed, scientific, coordinated and efficiently managed with the help of technology and of a productive bureaucracy, hierarchical, alienating and obedient excused the civil servants from the sense of guilt. As an example, we have the case of Eichman, the German colonel in charge of deportations who, during his trial in Jerusalem in 1961, and after being asked why he had done that, alleged that he was complying with the law, that he was a good German because he had tried to do his best in what he had been asked to do, that he had nothing against the Jews. He would have become a hero if Germany had won the war, but they were defeated and then he was being judged for crimes against humanity, what had changed?

Which were the mechanisms that enabled a civilised society not to perpetrate —we should not generalise— but to permit such brutality? Thousands of good people’s actions, actions which were not evil if analysed individually, as they were part of the bureaucratic machinery, had as a result the systematic extermination of six million people: the Holocaust. Raul Hilberg, the great historian of the extermination of the European Jews, says, concerning the behaviour of the European society:

“Therefore, the rise of neutrality as a prevailing pattern of reaction was not a result of ignorance. On the contrary, it was the result of a strategy easier to follow and to justify by the majority… Not openly protesting detentions or not doing something for the victims in danger could always be rationalised.”

We can find in these historical events a peerless area to learn that we must always be alert both socially and individually and that democracy demands an active attitude of society. Democracy is not a static state that we reach by voting periodically. On the other hand, what could be better for avoiding all those ideas encouraging far-right movements than the critical judgement of our youngsters during their school period?

Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go as for the studies about this fact. And we mean unfortunately because time is against us, as we have seen all over the world in recent times. This long way implies a serious, thorough and systematic study of the relation between the educational system in the Germany at the dawn of World War II and the Holocaust, that education in which the German society appeared and which was compatible with the Holocaust.

It is worth studying and emphasising up to what extent that educational system, considered one of the best of the time, is still in force at the moment, as education undoubtedly has, to a greater or lesser extent, a purpose of social control; and, as we have claimed, the Holocaust was, from our point of view, a product of modernity, of the modern society, and so it was possible thanks to a specific educational system which did not cause it, but did tolerate it. In this sense, it is essential to make many questions, such as Franklin H. Litell remarks:

“Furthermore, since men and women of the universities, not illiterate savages, designed and built, the death camps and systematized the killing program, study of the Holocaust leads directly to study of the programs and the goals of modern higher education. Must technological objectives prevail? —or are the pursuit of wisdom and the commitment to life still recoverable goals of the university? The credibility crisis of the modern university, with its blind devotion to Techne and its indifference to Sophia, is as acute as the credibility crisis of Christianity. What kind of a medical school trained a Mengele and his associates? What departments of anthropology prepared the staff of Strasbourg University's Institute of Ancestral Heredity? What teachers' colleges graduated those who prostituted their stewardship of young life to shape the janizaries of Hitlerjugend and the Bund Deutscher Maedel? What theological faculties accredited the clergy who waffled the truth and developed an apologetic for heresy and murder? ... What lessons have been learned from the years of the Nazi assault upon civilization and its values, upon the Jewish people, and upon such Christians as stayed Christian? How are these lessons to be incorporated into changed structures of society?”2

Moreover, we would like to highlight the need for a critical review of, not only higher education, where the senior management, executors of the Holocaust, got their qualification, but especially primary and secondary education, where the German society developed and which was consistent with the indifference R. Hilberg talks about and that we have already mentioned. Obviously, this was not a circumstance affecting only Germany, but also the rest of the European society, if we want to set a geographical border. And it is something that should warn us of the fact that the system is potentially and universally consistent with such atrocity as the Holocaust.

In short, we intend to attract attention about the necessity to examine, on the hand, the mechanisms that shape our society and, on the other, the educational system as a basic tool of social and cultural propagation. And that is why the Holocaust, about which there is still a lot to be said according to Zygmunt Bauman, becomes indispensable:

“The message of the Holocaust about the way we live nowadays, about the quality of the institutions which are supposed to ensure our security, about the legitimacy of the criteria which measure our behaviour’s propriety and of the rules we accept and consider normal, has been silenced, it is not heard any more and it is not conveyed anymore.”3

Why the Spanish Civil War?

The Spanish Civil War is a different historical fact and it is not our intention to compare it to the Holocaust, although the great English historian of the Spanish Civil War, Paul Preston, has used this term as a title for his book about the situation lived by the citizens, not only in the battle field but also in the subsequent repression: The Spanish Holocaust.

The Spanish Civil War is a historical period that remains unattended fairly in the Spanish educational system. This fact reflects the breach that there is still in the Spanish society concerning this issue. Spain goes second in the world ranking of countries with the highest number of missing people, victims of enforced disappearance, according to the Spanish group “judges for Democracy”4. Despite being a rather recent issue which rises heated political discussions in the Spanish Parliament, students keep showing little knowledge about the topic, which reflects the social ignorance, increasing day by day due to the decease of the last survivors, witnesses and victims who are still claiming for their relatives’ mortal remains.

The Civil War, the subsequent repression, Francoism and the current attitude of society and of the different Spanish governments before the historical memory are extremely useful pedagogical tools to be used in class and to rise a debate about such a controversial issue as the historical memory in Spain, also important worldwide due to the threaten of relativism and manipulation.

As for Spain, only if we deal with these aspects within the educational frame, based on the deep and rigorous knowledge of the country’s recent history, we will be able to build a new generation of citizens who finally heal all wounds still open, concluding fairly this historical process instead of waiting for a false oblivion.

Due to its characteristics, the Spanish Civil War provides many opportunities to deal with ethical and moral dilemmas. First of all, concepts such as victim or executioner, guilty or innocent, which become clear in political decisions most of the times, are on the contrary not so clear in the grapple among brothers, especially in a civil war. It is worthwhile dealing with these elements in the classroom and discussing them in order to prevent the relativist reduction to “they were all guilty”.

The Spanish Civil War becomes equally interesting because of the subsequent repression on the defeated. In this sense, we cannot ignore that the body of civil servants which suffered the cruellest repression on the part of Francoism was education; primary and secondary school teachers suffered a systematic purge which intended to establish the basis for Francoist ideology, eliminating any traces of previous progressive attempts, achieved or not, during the Second Spanish Republic. Thus, if education was in the hands of Francoism during the forty years of dictatorship, up to what extent was the Spanish society of that time was an offspring of that school culture?

Furthermore, the current attitude of the Spanish politicians before history, different according to the colours of the political parties, deserves an equal pedagogical treatment, as it confronts different visions and stances before the historical memory, something interesting to be addressed not only in Spain: in order to avoid recurrence, should we forget or is it better to remember? Should we turn the page of the past, no matter how it is, or should we face what happened? Should we erase the symbols of Francoism as propaganda of dictatorship or should we keep them as part of history? In this sense, the reports of the United Nations about the necessity that Spain adopts some measures of reparation for the victims of Francoism as well as the answers of the different Spanish governments and the polarised reactions of society become a tool for analysing the strength and solvency of our societies and, why not, of democracies.

Mr. Darío Martínez Montesinos

1 Statistics referred to the 28 countries which formed the European Union in 2016. Source:http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/education-and-training/statistics-illustrated

2 Littell, Franklin H. “Fundamentals in Holocaust Studies.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 450, 1980, pp. 213–217. www.jstor.org/stable/1042570.

3 Modernidad y Holocausto, p. 17.

4 http://politica.elpais.com/politica/2013/10/09/actualidad/1381322308_843838.html. Consulted on 30/01/2017

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