The Study of History and Conflict Resolution
“I’m a historian and I’m not a political negotiator, so I’m never quite sure how the study of history can help conflict resolution in the Balkans. One would like to say that the more people understand about history and the more they understand their history in a broader perspective, the less likely they would be to go to war with one another. But I think history shows us that that is not necessarily true. And I’m enough of a historian to say that people should know about their past because it’s important to them as human beings and as moral beings in general and not because it has any particular instrumental value. If it helps keep the peace in Europe that’s all to the good. I think people need to be taught about the history of other countries. I don’t think by itself teaching people better history will do very much to keep the peace, unfortunately.
I think what is most positive intellectually about what has happened since the end of the Cold War is that people have started to learn how to see things from the perspective of the country across the border; have started to get a little more interested in what a regional perspective might look like; have started to get interested in what the wars might look like from the perspective of the defeated and the vanquished, since there was a sense in which everybody was vanquished in these wars and nobody really emerged as a very clear victor. Anthropologists have helped us understand this; they’ve done work on the memory of the war, the memory that was legitimised and the memory that was suppressed and that could not be spoken.
So we know much more about the secret histories of the war that survived in people’s families as well as the official histories that bored everybody to death when they went to school. So there is I think scope now for a new history of the wars, a new history of the entire region, and if there is one thing that we learned at the end of the Cold War it’s that we couldn’t think any longer in purely national terms.”