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AN INTERVIEW WITH HISTORIAN ŠTEFAN ŠUTAJ

The power of knowledge over myth

HISTORIAN Štefan Šutaj, chairman of the Slovak Commission for the Preparation of the Slovak-Hungarian history textbook, told the Hungarian daily Népszabadság on September 18, 2007 that Slovaks and Hungarians should aim for a general amnesty, inspired by that achieved by the Germans and French.

HISTORIAN Štefan Šutaj, chairman of the Slovak Commission for the Preparation of the Slovak-Hungarian history textbook, told the Hungarian daily Népszabadság on September 18, 2007 that Slovaks and Hungarians should aim for a general amnesty, inspired by that achieved by the Germans and French.

"The Germans and French stressed that they intend to live side by side in peace, and they wish to make their common future their priority. This model is an example for us, too," Šutaj said.

Speaking to the Týždeň weekly in the autumn of 2007, he stressed the importance of studying history. He thinks a better knowledge of history could help promote a better understanding between the Hungarian and Slovak nations.

"I lecture at a college, and I see how many students come here with a terrible ignorance of history. Even the fundamentals of historical awareness are missing. It is important to concentrate on these things, instead of inflaming passions by arguing over who hit the other in the face more often, and harder," Šutaj told Týždeň.

He thinks politicians should improve conditions for teaching history, so that students leaving school know the context of historical events, and are not tempted to repeat myths. He gave The Slovak Spectator an interview about the upcoming textbook.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): In what phase of writing is the textbook?

Štefan Šutaj (ŠŠ): We have contemplated preparation of a common textbook about Slovak and Hungarian history for a long time., and some colleagues have been attempting the task for several years. The current stimulus came from the meeting of Slovak and Hungarian Prime Ministers in June 2007, who agreed in a 14-point programme that the preparation of common history textbooks was essential. They also agreed

that the Slovak-Hungarian Commission of Historians be charged with the task.

TSS: But the Commission has been operating for a longer time, according to available information.

ŠŠ: Yes. The commission is a scientific, independent, professional organisation of historians which has been in existence since 1993.

In response to letters from foreign ministries dated September 2007, László Szark became the chairman of the Hungarian part of the commission, and I became chairman of the Slovak part, and we launched a specific preparation of documents.

On February 7, 2008, we met at the thirteenth session of the commission in Košice, where we agreed on some details in preparation for the textbook.

TSS: What historical events do you concentrate on primarily?

ŠŠ: In this phase, we chose 15 crucial periods in Slovak-Hungarian history. Chrono-logically, these range from the arrival of Slavs and Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin to the present time. I would like to stress issues such as the formation of the Greater Hungarian state, the ethnic, regional, and urban structure of the Greater Hungarian society, the shaping of Greater Hungarian awareness in its various incarnations, as well assubjects such as anti-Habsburg revolts, inner colonisations, assimilation processes, national movements, the decline of

Greater Hungary and the

reasons for and results of its demise, the problems of the decade 1938-1948, and the development of communist regimes.

TSS: Does this mean that your history book will replace the one used now?

ŠŠ: No. It is not our goal to replace the current textbooks, but rather to make alternative texts available, which could be used in some phases of the teaching process.

TSS: How did you divide your tasks with your Hungarian colleagues?

ŠŠ: In the first phase of preparing the teaching texts,

which are intended mainly for teachers, every theme will be explored by two historians, one Slovak and the other

Hungarian. Ideally, these

"parallel studies" will then be subsumed into a common summary agreed upon by both authors.

TSS: How do you view the Education Minister's statement that a common history textbook will be of importance only when both the Slovak and Hungarian sides share the same opinion?

ŠŠ: Today's world is not about unified opinions on any subject whatsoever. We want to be realistic, and our effort is aimed at presenting a convergence of opinions.

Texts as we intend to prepare them should enable students to form their own opinions concerning these issues. We are convinced that Slovak and Hungarian secondary school students and their teachers can work with such texts. In this phase, but also in the next phase of preparation of the instrumental textbook, we want to give students and teachers sufficient material in the form of documents, through which they will form their opinion on history.

TSS: When do you expect the textbook to be published?

ŠŠ: We do not want it to be a one-time event. Our plan is divided into three stages. In the first phase, we want to prepare teaching texts complete with didactic modules.

From the moment our financing is confirmed by the Slovak authorities (the Hungarian financing is already in place), we would like to prepare these teaching texts within one year.

TSS: And what about the other phases?

ŠŠ: In the second phase

(2009-2010), we would like to prepare a compilation of the

most important historical documents, so that students

and teachers could use them in lessons. In the third phase (to 2013) we would prepare the textbook. Of course, all this requires the support of state authorities, with which we are currently in negotiations, as the Slovak-Hungarian Commission has no financial resources at its disposal for publishing such texts.

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