“Three distinct histories taught in B-H regarding Fascism and Antifascism”

The educational system in Bosnia-Herzegovina is probably one of the least functional ones in the world. In a country with only 3.5 million inhabitants, there are as many as 13 Ministries of Education and at least 12 different curricula. Especially problematic is the situation in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where each of the 10 Cantons has its own education department and, consequently, its own curriculum which may or may not differ substantially from curricula that are in place elsewhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina (B-H). This is a direct consequence of the political system of B-H, with the fact that severely divided jurisdictions enable extreme autonomy in curriculum making, with much room for the influence of politics and political ideologies.

Since B-H is inhabited by three constituent peoples, with certain Cantons of the federation (such as the Central Bosnia Canton or the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton) inhabited predominantly by two of the three peoples (in the cited cases, Bosniaks and Croats), it is not uncommon to see two completely different curricula being in place within a single Canton.

This situation often leads to problems and anomalies in the Bosnian-Herzegovinian educational system; among others, one of those directly caused by the system is the so-called “two schools under one roof” case. In practice, this means that Bosniak and Croat children are segregated within the same school and learn according to different curricula. This sort of system is present in as many as 52 schools in the Central Bosnia, Herzegovina-Neretva and Zenica-Doboj Cantons.

The Office of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina (OHR), a body charged with maintaining peace, has tried to unite the educational system in the various regions, but with little success. Representatives of political parties that declare themselves as protectors of Croatian national interests are resisting this unification, claiming that it will lead to loss of national identity in ethnically divided schools. On the other hand, representatives of political parties identifying as the protectors of Bosniak national interests are supportive of the unification, claiming that segregated schools will foster hatred between nations, eventually leading to the dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Peace Implementation Council (PIC) has, on June 12 2003, called for the Federal Ministry of Education to implement the unification of ethnically divided schools by the following school year. However, the Croatian Democratic Union, the most powerful ethnically Croatian political party in B-H, has stopped the implementation of the unification in Cantons where the party’s influence was the strongest, especially the Central Bosnia Canton. Due to obstructions to the school unification, the High Representative at the time, Paddy Ashdown, had dismissed Nikola Lovrinović from the post of Education Minister in the Central Bosnia Canton. However, not even this decision had changed anything substantially and the “two schools under one roof” scenario remains present in the Federation to this day.

Problems in the B-H educational system are present at the Federation – Republika Srpska level too. Probably the best known instance of this issue is the Konjević Polje and Vrbanjci case, where Bosniak parents and students have been struggling for years to gain access to the so-called “national subject group” (Bosnian language, Nature and Society) according to the Tuzla Canton’s curriculum. This issue has not been resolved to the day of writing this.

Judging from all of the above, it is evident that the roots of the problems lie with the Bosnian-Herzegovinian educational system which recognizes different programs for different ethnic groups; this criterion was kept in mind when selecting textbooks for our analysis presented here. We have decided to analyse how Fascism and Antifascism are represented in history textbooks in each of the nationally-framed programs in force in Bosnia-Herzegovina, since history is the most pertinent subject for studying how the notions of Fascism and Antifascism are taught.

Six textbooks used in finishing years of elementary and secondary schools (9th and 4th grades, respectively) have been analysed in Republika Srpska, Sarajevo Canton and the “Sveti Josip” Catholic School Centre in Sarajevo. The textbooks were analysed for the total numbers of pages dedicated to the period between two World Wars, the number of iterations of the words ‘Fascism’ and ‘Antifascism’ and the ways in which Yugoslav partisans, Četniks and the Independent State of Croatia were represented (whether positive or negative), as well as the Spanish Civil War and WWII as a whole.

Textbooks in Republika Srpska

In the 9th grade history textbook written by Ranko Pejić, Simo Tešić and Stevo Gavrić, 80 pages in total are dedicated to the period between the end of WWI and the beginning of WWII. The lesson focusing on the appearance of new ideologies – Fascism, Nazism and Communism – is five pages long, with the genesis of Fascism and Nazism is covered in two and a half pages, the same as Communism.

The Spanish Civil War, the first major conflict between Fascist and Antifascist forces, is not characterized as an antifascist conflict, even though Franco’s rule is stated to be Fascist. It is also stated that a number of foreign soldiers, including those of Yugoslav nationalities, took part in the war and that the Fascist forces of Italy and Germany had supported Franco.

In this textbook, the word ‘Fascism’ is used 52 times, while ‘Antifascism’ is used much less, only 12 times. It is interesting to note that the struggle against Fascist powers is often dubbed ‘anti-Hitler’ instead of ‘anti-Fascist’. Regarding the events of WWII on the territory of Yugoslavia, it is termed in the textbook as ‘insurgent’ and ‘anti-occupation’ in nature, instead of Antifascist. The term ‘Antifascism’ itself is used only used in reference to bodies: the Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia, the State Anti-fascist Council for the National Liberation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Women’s Antifascist Front.

Yugoslav Partisans and Četniks are represented as two armies whose main distinction is stated to be the fact that Četniks had mostly “defended their homes and villages from the Muslim militia and occupying forces, whereas the Partisans were a mobile army”. Neither of the two formations is characterized as being Antifascist, but rather ‘insurgent’ or ‘anti-occupation’.

Regarding the nature of the struggle against the German occupation in WWII, it is important to note that the national belonging of Partisans and Četniks is heavily stressed in this textbook and that it is iterated multiple times that it was Serbs who had carried the weight of the National Liberation War on their backs.

The Independent State of Croatia is characterized as being a satellite Fascist state and its President Ante Pavelić as a quisling politician subservient to Hitler. Within the lesson on the Independent State of Croatia, a special emphasis is placed on the crimes committed against Serbs, stated to be attempts to eradicate the Serbian people, with the information that approximately 800,000 Serbs were murdered in Jasenovac and other concentration camps.

In the history textbook for the third grades of mathematical gymnasiums, as well as those for fourth grades of general and language gymnasiums, written by Dušan Živković and Borislav Stanojlović, the inter-war period is elaborated in a total of 87 pages. The appearance of new ideologies – Fascism, Nazism and Communism – is four pages long, with two pages each for Fascism/Nazism and Communism.

Two pages are dedicated to the Spanish Civil War in this textbook. It is characterized as a civil war between the Fascist forces of General Franco and counter-revolutionary forces of the legal and legitimate Popular Front Government. It is also stated that Franco had ample support from the Fascist regimes of Italy and Germany, while counter-revolutionary forces had the support of workers’ internationalist brigades, and 1,700 Yugoslav fighters especially. This textbook does not state the Spanish Civil War to have been antifascist, either.

In this textbook, Fascism and Antifascism are mentioned in 36 and 17 places, respectively. In comparison to the elementary school textbook, it is worth noting that the fight against Germany, Italy and Japan is dubbed as ‘Antifascist’ instead of ‘anti-Hitler’.

WWII in Yugoslavia is represented in a similar fashion as in the elementary school textbook, with a greater emphasis on its Antifascist nature instead of insurgency or the fight against occupying forces; Partisan forces are also characterized as being Antifascist.

Both Partisans and Četniks are represented as formations who have fought against the occupying force, with an emphasis on the fact that they had used different means and had different goals in the struggle. The subsequent conflict between Partisans and Četniks is called “a great national tragedy”, mentioning that Četniks too fought Partisans at the Battle of the Neretva. This textbook also stresses the role of Serbs in the National Liberation War.

The Independent State of Croatia is elaborated through four pages in this textbook and is characterized as a fascist state under the dictation of Germany and Italy. Two pages are dedicated to the losses of the Serbian people, stating that some 800,000 people were executed in the Independent State of Croatia, four fifths of who were Serbs.

Textbooks in the Sarajevo Canton

In the History textbook for the fourth grade of gymnasiums, written by authors Hadžija Hadžiabdić, Edis Dervišagić, Alen Mulić and Vahidin Memić, the period from the end of WWI to the beginning of WWII is written about in 79 pages. The new ideologies of Fascism, Nazism and Communism are given seven pages, with three pages each for Fascism/Nazism and Communism. Fascism is mentioned in 47 places and Antifascism in 19 places.

The Civil War in Spain is only elaborated in a single page of text. As is the case with textbooks from Republika Srpska, this war is not deemed to be Antifascist in nature, despite the fact that it has been made explicit that Franco was a Fascist, was aided by Fascist forces and that his victory enabled a Fascist dictatorship to be installed in Spain. When compared to other textbooks, this textbook is singular in its mention of Fadil Jahić Španac as one of the fighters from Yugoslavia and the city of Guernica as an example of the first systematic bombardment of civilian targets.

Interestingly, the Independent State of Croatia, presented in four pages, is never once described as being a Fascist entity, being qualified instead as an Ustaša state. This textbook is mostly focused on the position of B-H within the territory of the Independent State of Croatia and the position and aspirations of Bosnikas within the state, while crimes of the Ustaša regime (including concentration camps for Serbs) are not mentioned at all. The only crime mentioned explicitly and with stated locations within the context of this lesson are the Četnik atrocities targeting Muslims in East Herzegovina, West Bosnia and parts of Sandžak.

The struggle against German occupiers is characterized as Antifascist in this textbook, by stating its four main goals, among which is the formation of national Antifascist Councils in all Yugoslav countries. Further, all credit for the resistance fighting is ascribed to the Yugoslav Partisans, as opposed to the Republika Srpska textbooks, and the Četnik movement is not mentioned in this context at all. The only mention of Četniks occurs in the context of the crimes committed over Muslims in the lesson on the Independent State of Croatia.

The textbook utilized in the Sarajevo Canton for the 9th grade of elementary schools (authored by Izet Šabotić and Mirza Čehajić) devotes 65 pages to the period between the two World Wars. The formation of new ideologies is given 10 pages, five each for Fascism/Nazism and Communism. Fascism is mentioned 24 times and Antifascism 13 times throughout the textbook.

The Spanish Civil War is only represented in one page in this textbook, but is distinguished in comparison to other analysed textbooks by its characterization as being an Antifascist conflict. As is the case with the secondary school textbook used in the same Canton, this one also stresses the participation of Yugoslav Antifascist fighters in the war (mentioning Blagoje Parović and Fadil Jahić Španac) and the devastation of Guernica.

The Independent State of Croatia is given two pages in the textbook and is not characterized as a Fascist but as an Ustaša state, the same as in the secondary school textbook in the Sarajevo Canton. Just as the textbook for older school-goers, this one emphasizes the position of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Muslims in the Independent State of Croatia, as well as the crimes of Četniks against Bosniaks and Croats. Interestingly, this textbook mentions the Handžar Division, composed of anti-Yugoslav Bosniaks, which was made a part of the Wehrmacht.

Considering the WWII itself on the territory of Yugoslavia, this textbook is mostly focused on events on the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with four battles described in more detail: Battle of the Sutjeska, Battle of the Neretva, the Kozara Offensive and the Raid on Drvar. It is also worth mentioning that Partisans are represented as the fighters of the National Liberation War, while the Četnik movement is only mentioned as the Partisans’ enemy. The Antifascist character of the war is not specifically stressed in this textbook.

Textbooks utilized in the “Sveti Josip” Catholic School Centre in Sarajevo

In the fourth Gymnasium grade History textbook, written by Hrvoje Matković, Franko Mirošević, Božo Goluža and Ivica Šarac, the period from the end of WWI to the beginning of WWII is covered in as many as 138 pages. This is likely caused by the fact that the Croatian history between the two wars is elaborated in detail. Fascism, Nazism and Communism are presented in seven pages total, three for Communism and four for Nazism and Fascism. Interestingly, out of all the textbooks analysed, this is the only one that has a chapter titled “The appearance of Anti-Fascism in the world”, tying it in with thw People’s Fronts of France and Spain. In terms of frequency, Fascism is mentioned 45 times and Antifascism 16 time throughout the textbook.

The Spanish Civil War is covered in a single page and even though the lesson itself makes no mention of Antifascism, the fact that the lesson on Antifascism ties it in with the Spanish People’s Front makes it possible to conclude that the Spanish Civil War is implied to be Antifascist.

The Independent State of Croatia is a subject granted extensive coverage in the textbook. The formation, structure and breakdown of the state are presented in detail. Although the textbook states that the Independent State of Croatia was established as a project of Italian and German Fascist regimes, it is itself not characterized as being Fascist, but an Ustaša state. Another contentious issue are the crimes of the Independent State of Croatia, which are not denied as not having occurred, but the difference in the cited number of executed Serbs is vastly different to the Republika Srpska textbooks. This textbook states the number of murdered Serbs to be 48,000, as well as “several thousand” Jews. The difference of this textbook to the Republika Srpska and Sarajevo Canton textbooks is that Partisan crimes over the Ustaša are mentioned as well (the Bleiburg massacre).

The anti-German resistance in Yugoslav countries is given very little space, only four pages, making this textbook very different to the ones from the Sarajevo Canton and Republika Srpska. Partisans and Četniks are given only cursory mention as fighters against the German forces, but no resistance movement is stated to be Antifascist. A substantial amount of space in this textbook is dedicated to the crimes of Četniks and Partisans against the Croatian populace.

In the History textbook for the 8th grade (finishing year) of elementary school, written by Leonard Valenta and used in the Catholic School Centre, 123 pages are dedicated to the period between the end of WWI and the beginning of WWII. The appearance of new ideologies is given eight pages, with five for Nazism/Fascism and three for Communism. Fascism is mentioned 27 times and Antifascism nine times.

The Spanish Civil War is covered very roughly in only one-half of a single page and its Antifascist character is never referred to, although it is stated that General Franco was a Fascist and that his victory in the war had installed a Fascist state, as well as that it was supported by Italy and Germany throughout the Civil War.

The creation of the Independent State of Croatia is covered in two pages in the textbook, with the state itself being dubbed a quisling and Ustaša entity. In another place, the Independent State of Croatia is referred to near the end of the covered time period, in reference to Bleiburg and the events leading up to it. The state is discussed in terms of the position of Bosnia-Herzegovina within the state, but state crimes are also mentioned, especially those against the Serb people; the Jasenovac and Stara Gradiška concentration camps are also mentioned. However, although atrocities are mentioned, the concrete figures on the number of persons murdered are not mentioned in this textbook.

Considering the fight against the occupying forces, it is stated on multiple occasions to have been Antifascist in nature, especially in the chapter titled “The resistance and struggle of the Antifascist Croatia, development of the National Liberation Movement in B-H”, where it is emphasized that a large number of Croats joined the Partisan forces and mention is made of the establishment of the Sisak Partisan Detachment (June 22 1941) as the beginning of an organized Antifascist resistance in Croatia. The Partisans’ way of warfare is also presented in detail in the textbook. Very little mention is made of the Četnik movement, with only one paragraph of text mentioning their collaboration with the occupiers.

Various interpretations in different parts of B-H question the interpretation of historic events

As it was possible to infer in the introduction to this analysis, three different versions of history are taught in Bosnia and Herzegovina when it comes to Fascism and Antifascism, as is often the case in history curricula when it comes to teaching contents with potentially contentious, ethnically conditioned contents. But first, let us consider the similarities between the analysed textbooks.

In all six of the textbooks, Fascism and Nazism are represented similarly, as chauvinistic ideologies that had the goal of eradicating the working class and appeasing the interests of capitalists.

Out of the six, five textbooks draw their definition of Antifascism and its origins as an ideology from the Atlantic Charter, where it was stated that Antifascism is a social order/movement where each person has the right to a nationality and religion so long as those do not endanger the rights of others. One of the textbooks (4th grade Gymnasium History – Matković, Mirošević, Goluža, Šarac) traces the origins of Antifascism back to the 1930s and ties them to the People’s Fronts of France and Spain.

Evidently, the term ‘Antifascism’ is used substantially less than the term ‘Fascism’ in each of the six textbooks, which can partly be attributed to the fact that Fascism predates Antifascism as an ideology and that the historic consequences of Fascism are more important for systematic study, but it is also necessary to examine the contexts that these terms are used in. For example, it would be difficult to explain why WWII is dubbed the ‘anti-Hitler’ war in textbooks from Republika Srpska, the same as the Antifascist Coalition, and without explicit mention of the Antifascist nature of the war on the whole.

Textbooks also differ minimally when describing the Spanish Civil war, as the first serious clash of Fascist and antifascist forces in Europe. Interestingly, only two out of the six textbooks can be said to explicitly identify the war as Antifascist, which is all the harder to explain when we consider the fact that all six of the textbooks do state Franco’s regime to be Fascist and explicitly cite the aid it was given by the Fascist forces of Germany and Italy. Within the context of the Civil War, it is interesting to note that only the textbooks used in the Sarajevo Canton identify Yugoslav Antifascist volunteer fighters in the Spanish Civil War by name (Fadil Jahić Španac and Blagoje Parović).

The greatest differences between the textbooks, as expected, are in the lessons on WWII on the territory of Yugoslavia, The 4th grade Gymnasium textbooks used in Republika Srpska completely omit the role of the Četnik movement in the latter stages of WWII, when Četniks openly collaborated with the occupiers (e.g. in the Battle of the Neretva), whereas they are represented as being resistance fighters on par with the Partisans, only embracing different methods of warfare. The situation is similar with the elementary school textbooks, with the difference that it explicitly cites the role of the Četniks in the Battle of the Neretva. These textbooks are additionally attempting to emphasize that the National Liberation War was led by the Serbs with some assistance by fighters of other nationalities.

Textbooks employed in the Sarajevo Canton do not consider the Četnik movement as a part of the National Liberation War at all, but only mention in within the context of the crimes against Bosniak and Croat populaces, focusing instead on the Partisans as the Yugoslav resistance fighters against the Fascist occupiers. The elementary and secondary school textbooks differ in that the secondary school textbook emphasizes the Antifascist nature of the National Liberation War, while the elementary school textbook does not.

Textbooks used in the “Sveti Josip” Catholic School Centre in Sarajevo, as well as the textbooks from the Sarajevo Canton, focus on the Partisans as the carriers of the national liberation struggle, while Četniks are only mentioned within the context of crimes against Croats. Interestingly, the elementary school textbook clearly stresses the Antifascism in the National Liberation War, while the secondary school textbook does not.

The Independent State of Croatia is a subject where the textbooks are the least in agreement. In textbooks from Republika Srpska, the Independent State of Croatia is characterized as a quisling entity responsible for the genocide over 800,000 Serbs and the relevant lessons focus on the atrocities committed over the Serbian people.

Textbooks used in the catholic School Centre do call the Independent State of Croatia an Ustaša entity, but do not call it a Fascist state, despite making it clear that it was supported by Germany and Italy. These textbooks too state that crimes were committed against the Serbian people in the Independent State of Croatia, but the cited figures are drastically different, with 48,000 Serbs presented as the total number. The Independent State of Croatia is also mentioned in these textbooks within the context of crimes at Bleiburg.

Textbooks from the Sarajevo Canton also do not characterize the Independent State of Croatia as being fascist, but as an Ustaša state that had committed crimes over Serbs, Jews and Bosniaks, with the curriculum focusing on the position of B-H and Bosniaks within the Independent State of Croatia.

The analysis of all the textbooks leads to several important conclusions; mainly, that curricula in B-H do not stress the Antifascism in WWII sufficiently, nor the Antifascist nature of the national Liberation War. It is easy to get the impression that these subjects are whitewashed, due to the historic ties of Antifascism with the subsequent socialist Yugoslav state.

Most textbooks demonstrate a clear definition of Fascism as an ideology, while the classification of Antifascism is avoided whenever possible – the reason for this should be sought out precisely in ethnic considerations in making curricula and writing textbooks.

Each of the programs meant for students from the authors’ “own” ethnic group seems to be trying to diminish the crimes and damages committed by members of the respective group during WWII, including the minimizations of Serb casualties in the Independent State of Croatia, cursory mention of the Handžar Division, omissions of the Četnik crimes and collaboration later in the war.

The political system of Bosnia-Herzegovina enables a large measure of autonomy when enacting educational programs, which is exactly what enables the cited differences between textbooks.

Based on all of the above, we can conclude that teaching History in B-H is still a very partial, politicized and non-objective affair. Although we chose to study precisely History curricula through this research and focused on several major historical events, it is evident that there are clear political agendas at work when creating education programs and positioning Fascism and Antifascism within them. Fascism and Antifascism in the observed historical context have different interpretations in different parts of B-H, which leads us to the question of the interpretation on a broader scale of the historic events covered by this research.


This article was published thanks to co-funding from the Europe for Citizens Programme.