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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    MON, 22 MAY 2000 23:35:16 GMT

    Slovenia and Balkan

    Humaneness above Politics

    A conference for the help to scientists who live and work on the territory of former Yugoslavia was organised in Maribor.

    AIM Maribor, 17 May, 2000

    For the first time after almost ten years Slovenia has become a place of humanitarian initiatives again, which exceeds the usual matrices created on the territory of former Yugoslavia since the beginning of dissolution of the former state. Everything is more or less known about how the customary "humanitarian aid" was organised during the war years. A specific form of aid was organised according to the principle "birds of a feather flock together", in accordance with the existing ideological and civilisational divisions into new friends and allies, convoys of humanitarian (primarily of arms, equally as "humanitarian") aid moved from Slovenia and other Western European countries towards Croatia, Kosovo and Bosnia, while similar deliveries arrived in Serbia from Greece, Ukraine, Belorussia, Russia, China and other countries.

    This, of course, is nothing unusual. It is well known that humanitarian aid is dependent on politics everywhere in the world. Sir Robert Jackson, special envoy of UN Secretary General, said on an occasion to Kurt Waldheim that before he took over the post he had "believed that humanitarian aid was above politics", but that afterwards he, unfortunately, discovered "that humanitarian aid was politics". A similar conclusion - although he did not agree with him but criticised the described practice as a deviation from true humaneness - was reached by director of international disaster centre D'Souza: "If politics is not a decisive factor in determining who and when will get aid, then explain to me how is it possible that Gambia got 11.5 million dollars of aid in just a couple of weeks of Waldheim's candidacy for the post of OUN Secretary General, while Afghan refugees were left without any aid? Or that American Congress in just a few days passed the decision about 50 million dollars’ worth of aid for the Italian government because it has problems with refugees? It's all politics!"

    That is why politicisation of humanitarian aid in the history of the state and humanitarian organisations could rarely be overcome. One of the bright examples from recent history is mutual aid of the Greeks and the Turks during the last year's earthquake. Among them is also the conference convened at the initiative of Dr. Julius Weiss, director of Max Planck Institute of Physics from Munich in cooperation with the Centre of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, that recently took place in Maribor. This gathering manifested the intent to come closer to true, unconditional humaneness.

    It is not difficult to assume why it is necessary to offer assistance to scientists who work on the territory of former Yugoslavia; majority of them are faced not only with the problems which accompany transition, but also with the consequences of the war and unstable political circumstances. These scientists most frequently do not have even the fundamental conditions for work, they suffer from chronic lack of money for providing the necessary references, equipment, computers and similar. The result? Hundreds thousand students have never completed university education. Or, as explained in Maribor by physicist Dr. Milan Kurepa, member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, his colleagues have not received any books or magazines since 1991, and even if they found money for something of the kind, scientists from Serbia would not be allowed to make the payment on an account abroad. That is how the university which is completeley supervised by the authorities, depends on the good will of daily politics, and about 150 thousand highly qualified cadre have left the country in the past few years. About 20 per cent of them have already managed to win recognition abroad, about 30 per cent are still working on it, while the remaining half would like to return to this state if the conditions had been more stable.

    Dr. Marko Robnik, coordinator of the conference in Maribor and director of the Centre for Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics of Maribor University, admitted that he had not expected such a crushing data. It was agreed that several projects would be carried out in order to at least partly alleviate the poor status of scientists who in Bosnia, but especially in Kosovo and Serbia live and work for a salary of a couple ten German marks. In the future, colleagues from Serbia will receive the Nuclear Physics review (subscription for which amounts to 20 thousand dollars a year), and money will be collected for visits of professors and assistants to other universities and research institutes. This was assessed by Dr. Robnik as a gesture of solidarity with the colleagues who are in a difficult situation. The initiator of the project Dr. Julius Weiss added that the aim of the campaign was reintegration of colleagues, scientists into the international community. German conference of university chancellors joined in the campaign and collected for the purpose half a million German marks.

    It is interesting that the campaign of the people from Maribor was followed with great interest and favourable commentaries by big local media which are as a rule restrained when it comes to contacts of official Ljubljana with the Republics of former Yugoslavia, but especially with Serbia. Delo daily, for instance, on the occasion of this non-political initiative notes that the described campaign should "make some people blush": "It is quite impossible to understand that it took ten years since the beginning of the conflict and general dissolution and decline of this region for somebody to realise that in this war, apart from lost lives and homes, there were other innocent victims. Among them I certainly classify those scientists who have not in any way stirred up hatred and who have done all they could to maintain international scientific contacts without which nowadays it is impossible to seriously work in science".

    The response of the more conservative part of the media followed in which it was stated that in comparison with tens thousand dead and wounded this was just a "minor problem" and that many might think that the "desperate Serbian scientists met with justified punishment" because they have found themselves in "double isolation", from abroad and from Milosevic's regime. Because - "where have these scientists been at the time this ominous policy was determined" and why did not they condemn their power wielders in time? "Such logic would quickly lead us to wrong retaliation, retaliation which cannot be a credit to anyone, least of all to scientists who are devoted to cosmopolitism", warns Jasna Kontler-Salamon in Delo.

    Such a stand is all the more important because former policy of humanitarian aid on the international level has not been without a political background. Slovenian Red Cross organisation has for many years distributed humanitarian aid for the victims of the war on the territory of former Yugoslavia according to strictly political and not humanitarian criteria and it has never sent it to the "inimical", that is Serb part of the former joint state - with the exception of deliveries organised and sent by members of the Serb community in Slovenia. Even when the Serbs from Krajina in 1995 were victims of a true humanitarian catastrophe, nothing changed in the attitude of Slovenian philanthropists. The special Slovenian office which is in charge of catastrophes and which is part of the Ministry of Defence, has sent humanitarian aid to various parts of the world, from Greece to India, but not to the once "brotherly" regions which are literally several hundred kilometres away from its border.

    Serbian and other humanitarians did not behave any better and sent regularly their aid to China, but not to "separatist" Posocje which is a couple hundred kilometres away and which two years ago suffered from a devastating earthquake. That is why the fact that German, Slovenian and other scientists have overcome political framework by their non-political moves is even more important. This might be the result of a new policy towards the Balkans and Serbia in XX-Mozilla-Status: 0009 this would be a change for the better.

    Igor Mekina

    (AIM Ljubljana)