10 August 2006   print this page
no picture
(Reprinted by permission from Croatia Airline’s Inflight Magazine, Spring 2005)


BEYOND ALL FRONTIERS

By Majda Tafra-Vlahovic



The Inter-University Center Dubrovnik is an independent international institution and a source of knowledge and achievements. Since 1971, when the center was founded, over 55,000 participants, professors and students, have been involved in its work in more than 1300 post-graduate courses and scientific conferences.


It is more than certain that in the spring of 2005 some of the air passengers browsing through the pages of this issue of the Croatia Airlines Inflight magazine will be traveling to the institution which is the subject of this article, that is, to the IUC, as participants like to call it, or to the Inter-University Center in Dubrovnik, as it is officially called. One of the reasons this is certain is that the spring section of that institution´s calendar, like other items in this academic year, has long been filled with post graduate sessions and scientific conferences in a growing number of fields, in which scientists from many countries will participate. In 2004 alone, 60 courses and conferences with 1900 participants were held at the IUC.
Those who are on their way there probably know a lot about the Center, as participants call it for short, because it is a place to which many return, often starting out as students and later becoming directors of postgra-duate studies. But it is also likely that many other passengers and visitors to Croatia, and even some domestic travelers for whom Dubrovnik is a frequent destination, do not know enough about this rare pearl in the necklace that is Dubrovnik. That may be because this cultural sight in a city full of beautiful scenes which bring joy to the heart and soul, is not a building, a monument, a square, or a church • but a pure, unadulterated spiritual value worthy of Dubrovnik, a city which has been breathing the idea of freedom for centuries.
It is more than a home to new knowledge and discoveries, which are born of mutual meetings, discussions, reports • many of them subsequently collected in numerous books. Above all, there are particular persistent values which are a part of the atypical scientific activism characteristic of this institution, and a loyalty to the idea of the independence of science. The IUC is based in Dubrovnik, once a free and sovereign medieval city situated at the intersection of different cultural and political influences; and as the members will testify • they include 180 universities and scientific institutes around the world • it now continues the tradition of its past achievements in new, challenging circumstances. It maintains high standards of independent scientific activity, at the same time seeking opportunities for building bridges in the region of South-Eastern Europe where its special mission is to promote academic reform, with a commitment to pluralism within a wider academic environment.
The Inter-University Center in Dubrovnik is an independent international institution and a source of knowledge and achievement. Since 1971, when the center was founded, over 55,000 participants, teachers and students, have been involved in its work through more than 1300 post-graduate courses and scientific conferences. The idea of starting the center was born back in 1970 at a meeting of the International Association of Universities in Montreal. The proposal was made by Professor Ivan Supek, a scientist of global reputation, physicist, philosopher, novelist and dramatist, at the time serving as chancellor of the University of Zagreb (later president of the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences), and he argued that the international university community would benefit from this kind of inter-university cooperation beyond the control of the authorities. He offered the premises of the Center for Postgraduate Studies of the University of Zagreb located in Dubrovnik as the seat of this institution, and received substantial support. The next year, scientists and university leaders were invited to Dubrovnik where the IUC was founded and its statute adopted, and the official inauguration was arranged in 1972.
The IUC acted as a consortium of universities and other scientific institutions which paid their membership fees. From the very beginning, the University of Zagreb, whence the majority of students and a large number of professors came, was a generous host to the IUC, taking care of the premises, the infrastructure and a small local team. As far as academic issues were concerned, however, the University of Zagreb was on the same footing as the other member universities.
The city of Dubrovnik donated the building at Don Frane Bulić 4 street as the premises for the Center for Postgraduate Studies an early 20th century building which became a real home to the IUC in the early 70s thanks to the investment by the University of Zagreb. It has remained so until the present day, but the University had to invest in its reconstruction one more time, as it was destroyed by the Yugoslav Army during the Croatian Homeland War. In addition to certain other international programs, the IUC operates in the building of the Postgraduate Center of the University of Zagreb, where various postgraduate programs of the University of Zagreb take place. The beautiful building, with its court where for most of the year the participants gather during breaks and special events, has thrilled participants from around the world for years, and the proximity of the ancient city is a particular inspiration for social and scientific meetings. On the eve of the war against Croatia, in the early 90s, the IUC was at the height of its activity with many events and functions, literally overflowing with participants, so there were often events with insufficient space. But just as the IUC approached its maturity, marking twenty years of its existence, Dubrovnik was subjected to an aggression of unprecedented magnitude. The city, which ranks among the most valued cultural heritage protected by UNESCO, was attacked from sea and land, and the aggression culminated in the worst and most devastating attack on 6 December 1991, which included the destruction of the IUC building. Many cultural treasures of the medieval city of freedom were also destroyed, together with the Center as the seat of the spirit of free and independent science. The Center´s library was also burned down. At that time the executive secretary of the IUC Berta Dragičević and Professor Kathleen Wilkes, wrote a letter from the ruins of the wrecked building, which was in flames for days. Professor Wilkes was the president of the IUC´s Executive Committee and a British scholar from a well-known and influential family, who had stayed in the city under siege, hoping that her presence and her testimony would help the city and the Center. They wrote to their colleagues and friends around the world: In 1971, we had a dream: a project to unite the world in Dubrovnik. We started with 24 member university institutions and this dream became reality. Now, this dream has turned to ashes, not just metaphorically but literally. We need to start dreaming again, we now have the potential of our member institutions from the whole world and we believe they will share our dream.
And that is exactly what has happened. While Dubrovnik was overwhelmed with death and fear, and the university was left without a building and the IUC left without a home, the program continued, run from small premises on Stradun to which the Center´s office moved. That year, so-me of the programs were held in European cities to preserve the spirit of the Center, but in March and April two courses were held in Dubrovnik: Professor Wilkes´s course on the Philosophy of Science, and in April another course with a years-long tradition – The Future of Religion.
The courses were held at the Argentina Hotel, Dubrovnik´s only hotel open at the time, which was relatively safe, built into the ground so that shells could not endanger it, in a stone-walled hall with philodendrons and a terrace offering a spectacular view of Lokrum and Dubrovnik. The present writer was one of the four participants of the course on the future of religion, being a student attending lectures by no fewer than three professors. Professor Siebert arrived from America, bringing with him the photocopied materials for the seminar on a ship from Rijeka which was the only way to get to the city. We all stuck to the schedule and the IUC´s academic standards as if everything was normal, knowing that our symbolic gesture was helping the IUC and Dubrovnik to survive even the most difficult of trials.
During the period of twenty years before this war, Europe had been frozen in the cold war and there were many attempts and initiatives to establish cooperation and contacts in science and education. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, it became clear that this was indeed possible because the two worlds were not completely separated, and gradually the conditions for diverse cooperation were met. Until that point, it was the IUC that served as a bridge between the two worlds. For scientists from the former Eastern Bloc who were not allowed to go to the West, coming to Dubrovnik was the only possibility of meeting colleagues and experts from Western countries. In this, the IUC gained an enviable reputation among foreign universities, and for many Croatian students this was for years the only truly open window to the world and an opportunity to get acquainted with the trends in science and education at European and American universities and scientific institutions.
The Center remained an independent international scientific institution, for years supported by the considerable power of its 250 members, and this was a thorn in the side of many people in the rigid Yugoslav regime of that time. Reliable sources cited by Ørjar Øyen and Berta Dragičević in the publication issued on the occasion of the IUC´s 30th anniversary in 2002 claim that this extraordinary international phenomenon in the heart of Dubrovnik, which was probably a cause for concern because it was beyond the control of the authorities and the Communist Party, was once brought to the attention of Marshal Tito. Allegedly, Tito asked a prominent Party official to explain the matter to him, and when the official, who was familiar with the situation, described the IUC´s activities and its international reputation, Tito merely sent a brief message to the comrades in Croatia: Leave the IUC alone!
Thus, the IUC survived the years of Communist rule and the war, when the building was destroyed (it has been restored since the war) and many other difficulties. One of these is the constant defense of the independent status of this non-governmental institution, which is at its core a spiritual creation consisting of universities first and foremost, but also of its participants, the students and professors whose exceptional loyalty to the Center over the years is well known in Dubrovnik and among its many members.
Courses and conferences remain the key activity. Throughout three decades, a vast flow of enthusiasts created unusual and innovative scientific programs, many of which have veteran status and have been taking place for over thirty years, such as the above-mentioned Future of Religion or Philosophy of Science programs. One would need to mention hundreds of names of meritorious persons, but to avoid offending anyone, we shall mention, in addition to the spiritual father and visionary Ivan Supek, the longtime president of the Executive Board, the Norwegian professor Ørjar Øyen. The latter has been decorated by the Croatian President Stipe Mesić with the Order of the Star of Croatia with portrait of Ruđer Bošković, for his merits in promoting the international status and reputation of the Republic of Croatia through university and cultural cooperation, and also for his personal contribution to the affirmation and development of the IUC in Dubrovnik.
< Previous | Next >