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'Historians can ease Korea-Japan row'

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<span>Euroclio director Jonathan Even-Zohar</span><br /><br />
Euroclio director Jonathan Even-Zohar

By Kim Hyo-jin

Since the origins of the worsening Korea-Japan relations are rooted in historical conflict, it would be better if Korean and Japanese historians talked more to one another, a European activist said.

"Historians and history educators should meet each other face-to-face, exchange views and work together," Jonathan Even-Zohar, director of Euroclio, an association of history educators in Europe, told The Korea Times.

"It would also be good for them to develop material which helps students and society at large understand why different views exist."

The 32-year-old activist, who has worked on how to teach sensitive and controversial history in the countries of the former Yugoslavia and other European nations for a decade, stressed the importance of collecting and cross-referencing historical documents through such exchanges.

"It is very important in history education that students are confronted with a wide variety of primary sources, and be able to use these sources to find out why something in the past happened," he said.

"This builds their ability to question, analyze and judge -- the most essential skills which young people need to be able to function in a democratic country."

With such a belief, he is concerned about Tokyo's revisionist movement in education.

The Japanese government in April adopted the use in schools of history books that toned down references to wartime atrocities, including sexual slavery, by the Japanese army during World War II.

He views this as an "illustrative" case of how history education can be used as a political tool.

"Politicians are trying to create future citizens that are proud of their country and commemorate the pain their compatriots have suffered at the hands of others. This approach downplays or neglects the need to also consider the suffering which the society may have inflicted towards others," he said.

Explaining it as "mirrors of pride and pain," the activist warned of its negative impact on its own citizens.

"This could create a serious gap in students understanding of historical events, and their impact for the world today. They will not have the possibility to discover history on their own," he said. "If history is whitewashed, it can create a false sense of collective superiority and victimhood."

He, however, added that political abuse of history is a global feature.

European countries with a colonial past are still coming to terms with imperialism as a positive achievement of entrepreneurship and cultural superiority while it is also regarded as a regretful period of exploitation and violence, he noted.

Despite political obstacles, civil society can play a critical role to resolve historical conflicts, he said.

"It is because research and education investment could also come from the private sector, and work directly with civil society," he said.

Moreover, the activist says a bottom-up movement in both countries appears promising.

"Korean and Japanese history teachers associations have already worked together for fruitful results," he said, citing their participation in the annual Euroclio conference, which started from 2014.

They have discussed ways to teach a balanced historical view with European educators, he said.

"We hope to continue this cooperation and work more closely together with historians and history educators in the form of joint projects, study visits and specific exchanges of expertise and perspectives."

Euroclio was established in 1992 on request of the Council of Europe to build bridges between history education professionals in Europe. Starting as an umbrella organization with 14 associations from 14 Western countries, it grew to become a far-reaching network of 44 member associations from 52 countries in 20 years.

It has trained educators and developed teaching tools, aiming to foster multi-perspectives in history education.

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