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Bulgaria: Educational Experts Propose Common Balkan Textbook

Sofia, 1 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Balkan educational experts gather in Sofia today, and Bulgaria says it will propose use of a common school text book for use throughout the Balkans.

The educational conference is organized within the framework of a project on Balkan ethnic relations, sponsored by the New York City-based Carnegy Foundation, in association with the U.S. government and the Council of Europe. The theme of the conference is how the Balkans region is described in the region's textbooks.

Bulgaria's Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Vesselin Metrodiev will formally reveal the proposal at the conference.

Our Sofia correspondent reports another Bulgarian initiative to be introduced calls for an exchange of textbooks among Balkan countries. Sofia has plans for a project named "The Balkans Are Our Home," designed for children ages ten-to-14, throughout the region. In one text, will be references to common history, geography, culture, sport, and, also distinguished personalities.

Heading the Bulgarian project is Professor Ivan Ilchev, who says today's meeting will be part of the effort to overcome one country's intolerance for another's view, as part of the education system throughout the Balkans. Ilchev says experts at the conference will plan for an even higher-level conference to be organized to address the issue in Autumn.

Today's Sofia conference comes shortly after a controversial visit to Turkey by Education Minister Metodiev. Metodiev suggested that Bulgarian and Turkish experts try to formulate an objective assessment of the often-troubled relations between the two countries.

Bulgarian nationalists and the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) - the former Communists - accused Metodiev of "surrendering the national heritage" to the Turks.

In addition, in a number of recent interviews, the former education minister in the last Socialist cabinet, Professor Ilcho Dimitrov, defended Bulgaria's traditional view of the five centuries of Turkish occupation, as a period "under the yoke."

Dimitrov served in government during Bulgaria's Communist-era, forced assimilation of ethnic Turks.

Interviewed by RFE/RL, Minister Metodiev said that while in Ankara he had reached agreement on cooperation with Turkish experts on an objective assessment of common history. He said he had made clear that Bulgaria's current government has no intention of covering up unpleasant facts from the past. But, he stressed, at the same time, what he called "the need for a new look at the painful pages of history."