Phoenix needs help to rise

December 15, 1995

The image of Zubin Mehta directing Mozart's Requiem in the still warm ashes of the university library was one of the most powerful from besieged Sarajevo. The music was not only for the repose of the souls of the dead, but also a lament for the destroyed cultural and artistic wealth.

Thousands of books collected over decades, some of them 300 to 400 years old, disappeared in a single day, together with the 150-year-old building, an architectural gem in the Moorish style. The destroyed library is at the top of the long list of misfortunes that has befallen Bosnian-Herzegovinian universities.

Nedzad Mulabegovic, rector of Sarajevo University, said during a visit to Britain: "In almost four years of the war, the number of students in Sarajevo has decreased to a third of its previous number; we have changed the technology of teaching; worked under shells, with no heating, often with no electricity either; that is not even to mention salaries of the professors."

The number of students in Sarajevo has decreased from 25,000 to 8,000 and only 900 out of 1,400 teachers have remained. "When the war began, many students who were from other republics either went home or could not return to Sarajevo," Professor Mulabegovic said, adding with bitter irony that the war has had the positive effect of improved student/teacher ratios.

"Suddenly, the possibility of tutorial teaching emerged, which was inconceivable before the war. At some of the faculties, such as the medical school, the students were offered practical training one could only dream of - instead of from books, they learnt from real situations."

Professor Mulabegovic speaks of the absurdity that Unprofor proclaimed all the chemicals necessary for practical training at many faculties to be strategic material - in other words, material that could be used for military purposes.

"Had there been no colleagues and students who 'smuggled' the necessary 'strategic material' from abroad, the situation would have been even worse. But, on the whole, the war has left an enormous cultural void behind."

Professor Mulabegovic and Enver Mandzic, vice rector of Tuzla University, are attempting to bridge this void by bringing as many visiting academics as possible to Bosnia, sending abroad as many Bosnian professors for temporary specialisation, and establishing channels for a quick exchange of scientific and professional information.

"Although poor, universities in former Yugoslavia moved in step with Europe, especially from 1985 to 1990, when associations of faculties were formed at the level of Yugoslavia and when everything, starting with the university reform moved towards co-ordination of plans and curricula of our universities with the ones in Europe," Professor Mandzic says.

The two professors have established contacts with a number of universities in the past two years - Paris, Lyons, universities in Barcelona, Graz, Vienna, in all about ten agreements on co-operation.

On their first visit to Britain they were guests of the Academic Lifeline for Bosnia. "There are good intentions among our colleagues here, but there is still only a limited response," said Professor Mandzic.

In ten days they visited Kent, Oxford, Cambridge, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester, Sussex, and in London, the School of Slavonic and East European Studies and the London School of Economics.

"We expect most through direct co-operation with related faculties and that is what we are seeking, because it is possible to do much more that way than via ministries," Professor Mandzic says.

"In Tuzla, we have a building for the library, but it is empty, and in Sarajevo they have neither. More than 90 per cent of the periodicals have been destroyed there, as well as books, and catalogues.

"Now that telephone lines have been re-established, we can also exchange information by means of computers." An agreement of this kind has already been reached with the library in Cambridge.

"But, we need books published since 1992. Relevant ones. Geology of Vietnam published in 1954 can hardly be useful to anyone in Bosnia. I would not like to be misunderstood, but when the war began, we were already using now-outmoded 286 computers. Pentium computers are in use nowadays, but we are being sent equipment older than we already have.

"Sometimes we get the impression that some people have simply cleared out their laboratories and sent us everything they did not need," Professor Mandzic said.

Technological progress had made things more simple. "Instead of two truckloads of books, everything can be packed on to a CD-Rom. It is not difficult to transport a CD-Rom to Bosnia, and believe me, we would be capable of operating it."

British academics have understood that universities in Bosnia and Herzegovina need good English language departments, and the universities they have visited promised assistance.

The aid so far from Britain to the two universities has been limited. Professor Mandzic says: "But we hope things will change now. I am certain that our hosts have understood that we do not feel cravings in our stomachs any more, but that we do feel them in our minds. The assistance in education of the young pays off a hundred times better than feeding and clothing us."

Hazel Smith, a lecturer at Kent University, and a member of the Academic Lifeline for Bosnia, said:"The objective of the operation is to inform academics here about the very high quality of education which exists in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia. The other objective is to collect money for salaries of our colleagues, because students cannot do without professors.

"It is a small amount of money - salaries are just Pounds 40 a month. We are doing what we can, this is our moral obligation."

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