National identity and European integration in secondary education: the case of Slovakia

This thesis is set against a twofold background: national identity as a source of public resistance towards the deepening of European integration;and the possible role of education in enhancing support for the process, as endorsed through the European dimension in education. In particular, through an empirical investigation, it examines the extent to which lower secondary education in Slovakia promotes the idea of a post-national Europe, or whether, by contrast, it reinforces a more nationalist approach and therefore takes an instrumental outlook on European integration. To this end, a double-structured analytical model has been created. This draws on insights from the scholarship on nationalism conveniently known under the umbrella terms of primordialism, constructivism and

ethno-symbolism and also on the academic debate on European integration, summarised in this thesis as supranationalism and intergovernmentalism. Guided by this analytical model and the tool of abductive inference, the thesis seeks to explore, identify and analyse the conceptualisation of the nature of nations and European integration in the most recent curricula and textbooks of history, geography and civics.

Teachers’ and students’ views, which had been collected through a qualitative research method based on interviews and discussions, are also examined in these respects. The research was not founded on a conviction that the curricula or textbooks would adopt a rigorous conceptual framework, and it was expected that the views of teachers and students would be rather fluid and imprecise. Nevertheless, the underlying assumption has been that a relationship exists between the attitudes that are expressed on such issues – both in written and verbal forms – and the theories about national identity and European integration that have been developed in the academic literature. A further fundamental assumption of the research is that the positions towards these issues, as featured in the formal curriculum and transmitted via textbooks and through the teaching and learning processes, are anticipated to have some significance in fostering particular attitudes amongst students. This thus makes a difference to the impact of the European dimension in education, whether the perspectives on Slovak national identity and European integration tend to be particularly influenced by specific theoretical interpretations. Hence, in reviewing the selected data sources, the thesis engages with the following key questions: Is national identity conceived of as given and authentic (primordialism), socially constructed and relatively modern (constructivism), or a historically continuous form of collective belonging (ethno-symbolism)? Does European integration tend to be endorsed as a vehicle of the post-national transformation of Europe (supranationalism)? Or is it rather understood as an instrument of interstate cooperation utilised by member states of the European Union (intergovernmentalism)?


As the findings indicate, the understanding of national identity within lower secondary education in Slovakia remains dominated by primordialism, which is the most controversial paradigm in academia. Particularly in the case with textbooks and teachers, this does not necessarily lead to an interpretation of European integration as an instrument of interstate cooperation, or to a complete rejection of an eventual post-national transformation of Europe. However, students’ views display a higher degree of polarisation in these respects, leading to clear opposition to supranationalism. Overall, the thesis concludes that lower secondary education in Slovakia does not demonstrate support for a genuine post-national Europe. Unaffected by scholarly advances in the study of nationalism, it remains rooted in traditional misconceptions in relation to national identity and promotes value-based coexistence and cooperation between nations and nation-states in Europe.

The research is original in two ways. Firstly, it is innovative in adapting and applying the insights of the scholarship on nationalism and European integration to the context of a case study on secondary education. Secondly, it provides substantial new knowledge about learning, teaching and attitudes on these issues in Slovakia. Although the conclusions are country-specific and inevitably limited, the thesis concludes by emphasising their wider significance, as well as that of the adopted research methodology, for the field of comparative education. Hence, a number of avenues for further educational research and areas for practical application of the findings, both within and beyond the frontiers of Slovakia, are also discussed.

Jana Šulíková