Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Greece withdraws history text book after complaints from church, academics

The Associated Press Published: September 25, 2007

ATHENS, Greece: Greece's conservative government withdrew a sixth-grade history textbook from state schools Tuesday following complaints by the Orthodox Church and right wing critics who said it was inaccurate and unpatriotic.

New Education Minister Evipidis Stylianidis said the book was removed from the national curriculum after a panel of ministry experts reviewed it Monday.

"Given the serious reservations regarding the content of the book, it has been decided that the book will be withdrawn," Stylianidis said. "It will be replaced with the older textbook until a new book is ready."

The book had been issued during the previous academic year. But it faced fierce criticism from conservative commentators and many academics who argued that it minimized the suffering of Greeks following the country's defeat by Turkey in a 1919-1922 war.

Historical rivalry between Greece and Turkey has eased in recent years, but they remain at odds over the divided island of Cyprus and disputed boundaries in the Aegean Sea. Athens has supported Ankara's bid to join the European Union, and the two countries have forged stronger economic ties.

Tuesday's news was welcomed by the leader of Greece's Orthodox Church, Archbishop Christodoulos, who is being treated for cancer in the United States.

"The Church was first ... to resist this distortion by the doubters of historical facts," he said in a statement.

The government had promised to amend the book in August but the issue was raised repeatedly during a campaign for the Sept. 16 general election, in which the conservative government won re-election.

The rightist LAOS party won enough votes to enter parliament for the first time, after campaigning for the withdrawal of the book and supporting tougher policies against traditional rival Turkey.

After the balloting, Stylianidis took over the ministry from Marietta Giannakou, who was not re-elected to Parliament.

On Tuesday, he denied that he had given in to right-wing pressure. "School books are constantly reviewed and assessed by the ministry. That's how it works," he said.

Opposition parties described the decision as signaling a shift by the government to the political right.

"This was not a result of observations made by the education community, but of pressure exerted by nationalist circles and out of religious fundamentalism," the Left Coalition party said.

The widely anticipated decision was also criticized by liberal newspapers.

"Put simply, this is LAOS' first victory," wrote commentator Stavros Theodorakis in the Athens daily Ta Nea. "I am sure their next request will be to shred the books and use the paper to make a statue of Alexander the Great outside parliament."


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