Where the bridges lead

When I first read about the initiative to link the Mostar and Zagreb universities by an internet video connection at OneWorld, I put a celebratory post here. Ero Hercegovina also pointed to it with pride. My enthusiasm comes from two sources. First, I am a committed lover of connections between universities, and particularly international connections. The reasons for this are probably too obvious to mention. Second, one of the best things about the internet is that it makes it possible for the information that people have available to depend less on their geographic location or institutional affiliation. In the original news article from Pincom there was mention of plans for the Zagrepčani to make their databases available to the Mostarci.

What I did not take into account was the exclusive nature of the Zagreb-Mostar link and the ugly prehistory of Mostar's bureaucratic inclusion in the Croatian university network. As AR (who is a globally recognised authority on cultural history and its destruction in the region) wrote in the comments to the original post:

"...the links between the "Sveuciliste u Mostaru" and Zagreb actually go back a dozen years -- to 1993, to be precise, when Croat nationalist militants took control of the facilities of Mostar's long-established Univerzitet "Dzemal Bijedic" on the west bank of the Neretva, kicked out the non-Croat faculty members, students and staff, and renamed the cleansed institution "Hrvatsko Sveuciliste u Mostaru." The "Hrvatsko" has since been dropped from the official name, but the institution continues to be basically mono-ethnic and continues to function as if it were an institution in Croatia, rather than in Bosnia. "

Ludost also pointed out reasons to be suspicious on her site, asking (my translation):

"Wouldn't it be logical for the first link of that sort in Bosnia and Hercegovina to be between the universities in Mostar and Sarajevo or Banja Luka? Or maybe a series of joint lectures, if a video link were to be too expensive? But excuse me for being naive, for something like that there would have to exist a linguistic-educational consensus, not to mention a political consensus, right? In fact, a stable integrative state would have to exist, woudn't it?"

A commentator provided additional suspicion, saying "Now let's see whether the Croatian government is so generous toward the University and other cultural institutions in Croatia itself. I'd say not."

What the critiques cluster around is pointing out that the value of connecting institutions with one another is eclipsed by the obvious ill intentions of the agencies doing the connecting: it is subordinated to a project of "national unification" across borders, and it may well be designed so that one connection preempts another. Nobody was persuaded by my defense (which I posted in a discussion on Ludost's site) that "good things can come from bad intentions ... if the HDZ-ovci on both sides of the border established a way of connecting universities, probably other people can use it for other ends."

Ludost responded with a subtle satire in which the Croatian government sponsored a video link between classrooms in the segregated town of Stolac. And she wrote to me:

"In my opinion, the connecting of Mostar and Zagreb universities is not a positive step and cannot bring anything positive while so many other institutional mechanisms in Bosnia remain disconnected. in Bosnia we are witnessing a terrible death of all state institutions -- perhaps you are familiar with the current drama of Zemaljski muzej and six other institutions -- that are not ethnically devised. On that death of non-ethnic institutions, the ethnically and nationalistically set up institutions thrive, such as the Mostar university. this is a process of slow death of all Bosnian non-ethnic functions that's been going on since the end of the war, and with the blessing of the Dayton agreement. In that slow death of Bosnia, in that creeping ethnic tumor through all institutions and social mechanisms, I see this link between Mostar and Zagreb like yet another metastasis."

I can confirm a lot of this from casual observation. On my first postwar trip to Sarajevo, if I had looked more closely at my bus ticket I would have seen "S. Sarajevo" written on it, and known that I was being taken to a remote bus station in Lukavica, miles from any city. In Konjic, I had the pleasure of renting a room from a woman whose architect husband was held during the war in a camp that he had designed himself (as a factory): he has left his native town for Croatia permanently, and she can hardly wait to retire and join him. Last summer on our little vacation excursion from Makarska to Ston (oysters! they're silent and have no ideology!), there was no indication anywhere in Neum that would indicate to a casual observer that they were not in Croatia.

At the ground level, the potential of the inter-university link fades, because its purpose is to demolish other links.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

eric, thank you for this great post; i agree with your conclusion - and love the title!

best, ludost