During the cold war in Europe there was no possibility for Eastern European Academics to interact or communicate with their colleagues in Western Europe. Therefore, the Rector of the University of Zagreb, Ivan Supek, had a dream of establishing a university “free of government control”. In a meeting of university leaders in Montreal in 1970, he launched his idea which was immediately embraced, and the small Peace University in Croatia was founded.
Ivan Supek had heard about the Norwegian sociologist, mathematician and principal founder of the discipline Peace and conflict studies, Johan Vincent Galtung (b. 1939), and when he was about to establish a “group of founding fathers and mothers” one of his colleagues suggested Galtung as the first director. Galtung was honored to be offered the position as it seemed compatible with his many duties. That was a successful decision.
The City of Dubrovnik offered the building of its former Teachers College to the IUC (International University Center) which was founded in 1972.
The principle of international openness
The principle of international openness demanded that the directors of the Center should be selected among the academic staff of universities outside Croatia so, Johan Galtung from Norway became IUC’s first director.
The venue for academic exchange expanded from a handful of member universities to more than 250 before the outbreak of the Balkan wars. However, due to EUs extensive study programs and other avenues for academic exchange in Europe in later years, the member universities have declined to approximately 170.
Nevertheless, today the IUC in Dubrovnik still has an important role in intellectual exchange in the new Southeast Europe.
The Life’s work of Berta Dragičević
We have spoken to Berta Dragičević, the former general-secretary of IUC. She has been involved in the center since its very beginning and served officially as general-secretary. However, she did in fact do the work of an executive director of the facility. Today she is an Honorary Member of IUC.
“It was a very important mission to launch the work of Johan Galtung’s field studies on Peace and Conflict,” she says and adds, “He and his connection to institutions around the world was essential.”
When Galtung left in 1976, the Bergen University in Norway served the center in many controversies reflecting ongoing debates among politicians at that time. Ørjar Øyen from the University of Bergen was chairman from 1972 to 1981 and director from 1987 to 1996. Later Lise Kjølsød from the University of Oslo was elected chairwoman, while Sigmund Grønmo, from the University of Bergen, was elected chairman in 2012. Today, Professor Gunn Birkelund from the University of Oslo is IUC’s chairwoman
During the Balkan wars in 1991 the IUC building was hit by a Yugoslavian bomb and burned down completely. Again, with support from the Bergen University, the building was restored and scholars from all over the world could again meet and exchange ideas across borders.
The main formula is that the University of Zagreb offers the administrative, technical and personal support while each individual university supports their own professors.
Recent years at the UIC
In recent years, between 1500 and 2000 participants take part in 55 to 65 yearly IUC events. IUC is not a degree-giving institution. However, from the very beginning there were efforts to secure the recognition to students who fulfilled the course requirements. American universities started that by providing credits through the authority of the home universities. Due to the Bologna process changes of European educational systems, European course directors are now also encouraged to secure ECTS points to their students.
Most of the groups at IUC have been participating in weekly studies at the center for many years. In 2006, Professor Wolfgang Heuer from the Free University Berlin, was invited by the French course director Gilbert Merlio (Sorbonne) to an international study group, “European Identity” and he has participated since then with one or two exceptions.
“I don’t think the title ‘European Identity’ is very well chosen,” he says. “Several participants of our group who joined later, are critical with this title, because the use of the concept is often used in an essentialist and not cultural way. There is a rightwing racist movement which calls itself the Identitarians. So, that is completely different of what we think.”
In the interdisciplinary spirit of IUC, he invited Dr. Helgard Mahrdt, a government scholar associated with the University of Oslo, to join the group in 2013. She says, “For me, being born in the former GDR, growing up in Western Germany, living in Oslo and having received Norwegian citizenship, the annual seminars provide an extraordinary and important space to exchange views about Europe. This, I believe, is especially relevant today when democracy is challenged – and not only in post-communist societies.”
Wolfgang Heuer explains that It is not easy to get postgraduate and doctoral students from other countries. Two students from Zagreb have always received scholarships. The last two years he has brought four doctoral- and post-doctoral students into the group, and sometimes also colleagues from other countries like Brazil and Japan.
Professor Zoran Kurelić from the University of Zagreb, who joined the group 10 years ago, says «At that time, the papers were all presented in German, except for one day in English. It was rather exhausting, since I don’t speak German. However, during the past years all communication has been in English.”
Highly emotional loaded courses
According to Johan Galtung, the courses have a high temperature, the pedagogy is characterized by freshness and is highly emotionally loaded. They are very intensive in terms of activity and participants have been very quickly to point out that such courses lasting for more than a maximum of two weeks would be impossible.
Berta Dragičević tells us that the idea of the IUC was possible to realize with the help of different German foundations. In the mid-eighties the Soros Foundation provided 1,000 scholarships for Eastern European participants. In Dubrovnic they could meet colleagues from the west. It was also important for Croatian students to get in touch with academics from other parts of the world.
“This was the only university which intentionally brought people together from divided countries,” Dragičević says. “Low fees were important, and the fee for participants are still as low as 30 – 50 Euros per person for a week.”
Other Peace Universities
The idea of the IUC in Dubrovnik has later been embraced by others. The MIT World Peace University in India, formerly known as the Maharashtra Academy of Engineering and Educational Research, was established in 1983.
The Central European University (CEU) was inspired by IUC and founded in 1991 by hedge fund manager, political activist and philanthropist George Soros in Budapest. He provided the university with an $800 million endowment. Due to the politics of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, and the university’s philosophy of promoting open societies, the university was closed down and has been reallocated in Vienna.
Many distinguished professors have participated in the IUC courses. Among them are the American philosopher Richard Jacob Bernstein who has written extensively about a broad array of issues and philosophical traditions. His work is best known for the way in which it examines the intersections between different philosophical schools and traditions, bringing together thinkers and philosophical insights that would otherwise remain separated by the analytic/continental divide in 20th century philosophy.
The Small Peace University in Croatia Co-Founded by Norwegian Scholars
To Berta Dragičević, the Norwegian professor Ørjar Øyen from the University of Bergen, is a living legend. In a ceremony in Zagreb on 8 March 2005, he was given the Order of the Croatian Star with Effigy of Ruđer Boković by the President of Croatia, Mr. Stipe Mesić, for his merits in promoting the international position of Croatia and for his great contribution to the development of the Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik.
“Croatia and Dubrovnik will always remember what you did in the period of war to help present Dubrovnik war events in the widest university and other circles in the world,” said President Mesic and stressed also the great contribution of Professor Øyen to the international promotion and reputation of the Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik.
The future of IUC
Ørjar Øyen once wrote, “We saw a divided Europe, and here in Dubrovnik, in a corner of Europe, we worked together to face our futures and to carve out a place that more or less intendedly came to serve the diffusion of knowledge and understanding across and beyond frontiers. One division line, the Iron Curtain, disappeared. Then the Balkan wars caused great loss and destruction and brought about dramatic upheavals in the geopolitical environment.”
According to the IUC website, “the world around us keeps changing and the IUC has to adapt to new conditions. The former breathing-hole function between East and West is not so important any more, but we feel that the IUC has much to do in providing a venue for intellectual exchange in the environment of the new Southeast Europe, while issues of the globalization of university life – within the world community – presents many new challenges for an organization such as the IUC”.
All photos by Tor Kjolberg unless stated otherwise
The Small Peace University in Croatia Co-Founded by Norwegian Scholars, written by Tor Kjolberg