History Teaching

Beyond the textbook - Principles and values


The Europe which has been in the making for the last half-century is radically transforming our views on migration. The 1992 Maastricht Treaty was not just the founding charter of a huge single market within the European Union. It was also the blueprint for a totally new kind of state: a state based on its citizens, with power more symbolic than real, which is constantly seeking recognition […] When internal frontiers go, distinctions in treatment between people go with them, the result being that the legal difference between, for example, a Bavarian and a Sicilian moving to Hamburg is shrinking all the time. This means that the word “migrant” will probably have a new connotation in future, no longer applying to Europeans moving around within this common area, but only to people arriving from outside.

As internal barriers come down to create a European area, a new wall will inevitably rise between Europe and the rest of the world. Managing this new frontier in a manner consistent with respect for human rights will be migration policy’s first major challenge in the years ahead. The second challenge will chiefly affect nation states whose national identity is – or is thought to be – threatened by the European process. In western democracies, this weakening of national identity, which goes hand in hand with a revival of local ties (regionalism) and a reshaping of traditional patterns of labour and labour relations (increased flexibility), sets the scene for a clash between romantic conservatism – often populist in its political expression – and pragmatic management of these processes. In these conditions, constructing a reassuring national identity without a scapegoat – and migrants make an easy target for people who claim that identity is being lost – is a complex and difficult task. In this area, efforts to reach an understanding with the various sectors of the community, and to inform, educate and explain in non-ideological terms, will be decisive in countering the arguments nationalists use on migration. Only a thorough grasp of the way in which our societies are being transformed into multicultural entities will enable us to recognise the specific characteristics of the various groups – religious, linguistic, ethnic or territorial – which make up our societies, and to build bridges, and so create at least an ad hoc unity, between them.

The third challenge concerns acceptance of difference. Our society has had to learn to live with difference, though the process has been a painful one for the victims of violence, persecution and intolerance – Jews, black people, homosexuals and others. The recent racist attacks on hostels for asylum seekers in various European countries remind us that recognition and acceptance of the diversity which migration brings with it are still very much at risk. In future, recognising that diversity is increasingly the hallmark of our societies will not be enough – we shall also have to learn and apply special skills to resolve the conflicts which this situation engenders. To live on better terms with the fact of diversity, we shall have to reinforce democracy, which is never proof against manipulation, and propagate its values throughout the community.

(Foreword to "The changing face of Europe: population flows in the 20th century", 1999, publication in the framework of project "Learning and teaching about the history of Europe in the 20th century")