The rectors of Belgrade University and Sarajevo University have met for the first time since the end of the Balkan conflict.
In Rome this month, they presented a joint programme of postgraduate studies in state management and humanitarian affairs, together with Rome's La Sapienza University. The scheme grew out of the University Cooperation Programme in Southeastern Europe, which is backed by Italy's foreign ministry and the United Nations. Since starting last year, it has been run by La Sapienza rector Giuseppe D'Ascenzo and his Belgrade and Sarajevo counterparts. The courses will be open to 50 students from each of the three universities.
The programme is seen as the basis for more cooperation. Rectors or officials from the universities of Bihac, Bucharest, Mostar, Podgorica, Skopje, Sofia and Tirana attended the presentation.
"We are rebuilding trust," said Franco Bascone, deputy director-general for Europe at the Italian foreign ministry. "The programme hinges on close cooperation and on students and academics moving back and forth."
Victor Bezrouchenko, UN envoy to Bosnia and Herzegovina, said: "The individual relationships of the Balkan states with the EU will be handicapped as long as they do not have a good relationship with each other."
Professor D'Ascenzo said: "We are using university culture to reduce the tensions that exist in the Balkan populations. This is in line with our policy of using the university to promote peace."
Belgrade rector Marija Bogdanovic said: "We have established a multinational, multi-regional masters degree. The very concept of 'state management and humanitarian affairs' addresses the needs of the region."
Boris Tihi, rector of Sarajevo, said: "The great thing is that this programme is international and interdisciplinary. It will be a challenge from the academic point of view, an interdisciplinary approach to state management."