Serb Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic is often quoted as saying that Slobodan Milosevic "belongs to the past." The authors of the new history textbook used in Serbia's elementary schools don't seem to agree: Milosevic is not even mentioned in the book, while the decade of war and ethnic cleansing that resulted in the breakup of the country is handled in just two paragraphs. How could such a crucial period in Yugoslav history be dispatched so summarily? And how could Milosevic, the era's main protagonist, be excised from the account?
According to Radoslav Petkovic, director of the Institute for Textbooks, the state agency that has a publishing monopoly over all books used in Serbia's schools, the omission was an attempt to strip the country's recent history of any ideology. "All that historians currently have are journalistic accounts and the memoirs of certain participants," says Petkovic. "But these are not primary sources. Before having access to the relevant documents and archives, they would not be able to produce an unbiased view of history." Dijana Plut of the Institute of Psychology, a member of the team that analyzes textbook content, concurs: "The best thing would be to omit the post-Tito era altogether, since it seems it was impossible to describe it in a proper and in-depth manner."
But there may be risks to such an approach. Snezana Knezevic, a 40-year-old history teacher at the Vladislav Ribnikar Elementary School in Belgrade, thinks recent Yugoslav history is just too hot to handle at the moment. But, she says, "The problem with leaving the latest chapter of Yugoslav history practically blank is that many of my less responsible colleagues may fill the gap as they see fit." Unfortunately, Serbs may not yet be prepared for the painful scrutiny the events of the past decade warrant. Says Jelena Radojkovic, an analyst at the Belgrade Center for Human Rights: "What is needed is serious introspection into our ugly past." Maybe in the next edition of the history books.