Teaching the Balkans conflict

Ideas for Teaching

The conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s and the terrible cost of the war to the region is rarely taught in classrooms in the UK. While the break-up of the former Yugoslavia is treated in the OCR A-Level specification, it is rarely taught in any other phase and even at A-Level it is not the sole focus of the unit of study in which it appears and only appears in one board’s specification.

Teaching Emotive and Controversial Histories

Knowing how to treat this important and pivotal moment in recent history is not necessarily easy – and fraught with issues – but controversial and emotive history is important not to shy away from. You can find more support in the HA’s  T.E.A.C.H resources, which while now a few years old, still contain good advice for approaching controversial and emotive histories:

TEACH: guidance on Teaching Emotive And Controversial History

Euroclio lesson activities: life in the former Yugoslavia 

Euroclio is a European Association of History Educators and is an umbrella association of more than 70 history, heritage, and citizenship educators' associations and other organizations active in the field. Euroclio has worked in many European countries and beyond on a large variety of issues related to the learning and teaching of history. A special focus has been on countries in political transformation and in particular those with inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions or that have experienced recent violent conflicts such as the former Yugoslavia. The work has brought together hundreds of historians and history educators together to provide fresh perspectives and new resources for schools.

Euroclio has created a pack of lesson activities focused on life in the former Yugoslavia before the conflict of the 1990s drawn together by contributors from across the countries that once made up member states. You can find those materials freely available in a variety of languages including English here on the Euroclio website

Incorporating the Balkans conflict into a KS3 unit of study

There are also other ways of incorporating a study of the events in the Balkans of the 1990s into a unit of study. The following ideas are designed to provide stimulus for designing a teaching sequence for use in Key Stage 3.

Outline/Possible Coverage:

1. The Genocide – as a modern example following a study of the Holocaust

  • Historical context – post war Yugoslavia under Tito
  • Rise of Serbian Nationalism, war and siege
  • Events at Srebrenica – causes of the Genocide and exploration of (not exhaustive):
  • What conditions enabled the genocide to happen?
  • Who were the perpetrators?
  • How did they make sense of the mass executions and whole scale murder and rape?
  • Were they operating under duress?
  • Were these perpetrators somehow abnormal?
  • Did they have an inbuilt hatred of those they murdered? Why?
  • How did they de humanise their victims whilst at the same time think their actions were worthy?
  • Why did it take so long for the perpetrators to be brought to justice?
  • Was there a genocide? Differing interpretations
  • Why do some deny that a genocide took place?
  • How much responsibility should the UN/Dutch forces take for events in Srebrenica?

2. The Causes of the Conflict in the Balkans 

Perhaps to be slotted in to a study of the First and Second World Wars and their legacy

  • Geography and ethnic and cultural make-up of the region
  • Historical Context – Ottomans and Austro-Hungarian Empire
  • Balkan Wars
  • First World War
  • Second World War, in-fighting and the formation of Tito’s Yugoslavia
  • Tito’s communist state and how it differed from communism in the USSR. *NB – some treatment of what communism is will need to be explored as well as communist countries between and after the Wars
  • How Tito kept all of the countries in Yugoslavia together. What problems and tensions existed and what happened to these when Tito died? How did it lead to all out war?

3. What was it like in the 90s?

An end of Key Stage unit exploring key events and issues of the 1990s in Britain and other countries.

Coverage: (not exhaustive by any means and subject to selection but care should be taken in making selections that provide a cohesive and inclusive unit of study)

  1. Popular culture in Britain – fashion, music, satire, television, the birth of Britpop, grunge, girl-power and rave.
  2. Technology and science: Computers, mobile phones, video games, Impact of WWW, human genome, Cern, Dolly the sheep
  3. British Domestic affairs/politics: Thatcher to Blair, recession, Ireland, Good Friday Agreement, devolution in Scotland and Wales
  4. World politics: Bush and Gulf War, Clinton, re-unification of Germany, break-up of former USSR, Tension, war and genocide in the Balkans and Rwanda, the birth of the EU, End of apartheid and freeing of Mandela

4. Nationalism in the 20th Century

As part of a wider unit looking at nationalism and its consequences in several countries – for example (not exhaustive):

  • German Nationalism and the rise of Hitler
  • Italian Nationalism and Mussolini
  • Nationalism in Spain and separatist movements
  • Irish Nationalism and the Troubles
  • Balkan Nationalism and the conflict of the 1990s

5. A Unit exploring the work of NATO (and the UN)

  • Why was NATO involved with sending Military Forces to the Balkans?
  • What was NATO’s role and did it change or develop during the 1990’s?
  • What activities did they different troops carry out?
  • How did the role of the UN and NATO differ in the Balkans?
  • What specific task did British Forces carry out in the region?
  • Does NATO and the UN still play a role in the Balkans?

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