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World Beat: Bosnia-Herzegovina  

Mercury, March/April 1995 Table of Contents

(c) 1995 Astronomical Society of the Pacific

Table of Contents

  • The significance of the uninterrupted educational activity of the University of Sarajevo
  • An open letter to the astronomical community, from the director of the Astronomical Observatory of Sarajevo
  • Astronomy in Bosnia
  • How you can help
  • Illustrations
  • The significance of the uninterrupted educational activity of the University of Sarajevo

    Science is more than a deciphering of nature. It is proof that humans can work together to build a better future. It is proof that those with minds can hold together what those with guns would destroy.

    by Zdravko Stipcevic, University of Mississippi

    "To carry on as usual" has been the persistent motto of the University of Sarajevo throughout the past three years of war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It does not imply that all normal activities -- before the war, the university had an average enrollment of 23,000 -- could continue unaffected. Instead, it reflects a deep conviction that keeping the teaching process uninterrupted, in defiance of all the misery, deprivation, destruction, and danger that life in the besieged city entails, is a matter of utmost importance for the survival of the multiethnic Bosnian society. And the motto has been strictly adhered to: the courses given, the exams held, the faculty meetings conducted.

    Sarajevo now bears little resemblance to a city that was once a model of physical beauty. During the worst periods of siege, hundreds of mortar shells would daily pound the city, and intermittent sniper fire at the city's intersections took its deadly toll. The intention to create chaotic conditions has been part of the psychological warfare implemented by the besieger against the city. It was carried out systematically, disrupting in sequence: television relays, telephone and postal services, tramways, bus lines, electricity, water and gas, university buildings, public libraries, food convoys.

    But the city's spirit was not broken. At the very beginnings of the war people used to spend days and nights in shelters and didn't dare go outside. Afterwards they became used to danger. Elementary and secondary schools and the university continued teaching, and even though students and teachers make up a substantial portion of the 10,000 civilians who fell as victims to snipers and shelling, the daily routine of attending classes persisted. This unbending resolve may in part be attributed to the irrepressible human craving for normal-life activities, but more so to a firm belief that education and culture, with their devotion to excellence and high ethical norms, comprise essential ingredients in maintaining and reinvigorating the multicultural value system, thus paving the way toward future peace and reconciliation.

    "Why is somebody out there, behind a window in one of the high-rises on the other side of Miljacka river, or in the hills overcooking the city, and who is now taking aim at me, trying to kill me although I have done no harm to anybody?" It is a persistent question crossing the mind of those who run across the city's road crossings. The international media would attribute the motive to the centuries-old tribal hatreds and interpret the situation as a civil war based on ethnic and religious intolerance. But the people of Sarajevo provide an incontrovertible example that it is not so, that such an assessment is fabrication. In the beleaguered Sarajevo, one does not feel intolerance; in fact, the constant shelling brought the people, regardless of their religious beliefs or ethnic backgrounds, more closely together. The common misery enhanced the feeling of empathy and appreciation of culture. Despite countless obstacles some of the concerts, theater shows, and social events that took place in the war-ravaged city rank among its highest cultural achievements.

    There is one baffling aspect pertaining to the university. Quite a few members of the breakaway Bosnian Serb leadership, whose forces now keep Sarajevo in a deadly stranglehold, are former faculty members of the University of Sarajevo, some of them holding prominent positions for many years. We all lived nicely together, many entering into mixed marriages, totally unaware of any latent intolerance. What prompted these former colleagues to abandon the imperative of "not doing to your neighbors what you would not like to have done onto you"? Pondering over that, one concedes that different social groups do see some specific political events in a different light, for example a nation's desire for sovereignty as an act of secession, a declaration of independence as betrayal. Accordingly, different political goals may be propounded, within democratically acceptable strategies. But to have chosen, instead, to implant an ideology of hatred and wage a war that has caused catastrophic suffering of the innocent, with hundreds of thousands killed and millions displaced, this is beyond comprehension.

    The war in Bosnia is essentially a war against civilians, against an urban population and its culture. The present level of interethnic intolerance, practiced as "ethnic cleansing," is the result of indoctrination, of conscious manipulation aimed for transient use. Nationalistic ideology, which by exciting the unconscious archetypal symbols and by invoking historical myths introduced the ethnical "exclusion principle," subsequently resulted in expulsions, detentions, and over 200,000 dead.

    The future of Bosnian society crucially depends on its ability to dispel the indoctrinated misconceptions that life together, among ethnically different people, is impossible. Education is the key to the success of this mission and the university, as the highest institution of learning and the vehicle of international scientific cooperation, has a special role in this. If, by consistent adherence to multicultural values, combined with efforts toward reestablishing the international funding for scientific research and organizing international scientific conferences in Sarajevo, the university succeeds in getting across the message that human beings can and should cooperatively coexist, then prospects for a better future, in spite of the tragic amount of endured suffering, may not be hopelessly bleak.

    ZDRAVKO STIPCEVIC is a professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Sarajevo. His research is in theoretical high-energy physics. He was the director of the Institute of Physics in Sarajevo and made numerous appearances on television and radio to promote physics education. Stipcevic spent the first two years of the war in the besieged city and is currently at the University of Mississippi. With a group of American physicists, he is organizing an international physics conference to be held in Sarajevo. His family is still living in the city. His email address is

    An open letter to the astronomical community, from the director of the Astronomical Observatory of Sarajevo

    To Whom It May Concern:

    As is well known, the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina is for several years the victim of brutal aggression. The purpose of this letter is to inform you about the situation in astronomy and the Astronomical Observatory in Sarajevo before the aggression and at the present time.

    Astronomy in Bosnia and Herzegovina has a long tradition originating mainly in the need of different religions to measure the time. It was customary to use the various instruments such as astrolabe quadrants, almucantar quadrants, and sinical quadrants. Later, the large number of clock towers that appeared were used as the first places for astronomical observations. There are the numerous manuscripts on bright comets, meteors, eclipses, and so forth. Modern astronomy began in the early '60s when the first Astronomical Society in Bosnia and Herzegovina was founded. A group of enthusiasts from the society built the first and the only observatory in the republic in the period 1968 to 1982. The observatory is placed on the mountain of Trebevic in the close neighborhood of Sarajevo. Before the Serbian aggression on the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the observatory in Sarajevo had the following equipment:

    1. Two buildings with an approximate area of 1,000 square meters.
    2. Three domes of diameters 3, 5 and 8 meters.
    3. Telescope reflector of Cassegrain type with diameter 62 centimeters.
    4. Telescope reflector of Cassegrain type with diameter 40 centimeters.
    5. Twin astrograph with wide-field cameras and Cassegrain telescope with diameter 21.5 centimeters.
    6. Two photoelectric photometers with UBV and Stromgren filters.
    7. Several smaller refractors and reflectors.
    8. Spectrograph.
    9. Photo laboratory with complete equipment.
    10. Library with about 2,500 books and more than 10,000 journals.
    11. Palomar Observatory sky survey.

    During the first attacks on the city of Sarajevo, the observatory was completely destroyed. All instruments and most of the books and accessories have been destroyed including the glass library with more than 9x12 centimeter glass plates containing the complete records of the sky north of declination -10 in the period 1972 to 1978.

    During the last 20 years our observatory, as the only institution of this kind in Bosnia and Herzegovina, promoted both amateur and professional activities in the field of astronomy. Many generations of students, mainly youngsters, passed our courses, summer schools, and other forms of education. In the last 10 years we worked in the field of photoelectric photometry of Be and shell stars. The observations have been carried out in collaboration with the Hvar Observatory in Croatia and Ondrejov Observatory in the Czech Republic. Using two cameras with fisheye objectives, the registration of fireballs has been performed, as a part of the project of forming the broader net in the former Yugoslavia. In collaboration with University of Sarajevo the training of the students of geodesy, physics and others took place.

    The Astronomical Observatory in Sarajevo was the largest publisher of astronomical literature in the former Yugoslavia, with more 30 titles in last two decades. One of the authors from Sarajevo (myself) is the most productive author in the history of astronomy in the former Yugoslavia.

    In spite of the fact that the observatory has been destroyed and the life in Sarajevo is extremely difficult, we have the strong intention to renew the astronomical activities here. The lunar-phases calendar for 1993 has been released and one of us has written two astronomical books, which are waiting the release and the money to be published. With the help of our colleagues in Zagreb, we obtained some offers for getting our new telescope. We truly hope to get a computerized telescope with diameter of 60 centimeters whose price is about $350,000. To achieve this goal some aid from the astronomical institutions, International Astronomical Union, and all interested persons is necessary. It should be noted that the only two professional astronomers are still in Sarajevo as well as majority of the amateurs who helped our activities.

    In our opinion the above mentioned aid could be performed in the following way:

    1. This letter should be circulated to as many interested persons and institutions as possible. So, we kindly ask anyone who get this letter to circulate it to all subjects that find appropriate. Unfortunately we can send only very limited number of copies.
    2. It would be necessary to help the existing astronomers here to survive (please see the end of this letter).
    3. It would be necessary to start collecting the books and the journals that can be donated to our observatory. Please, send this kind of information to our contact address given at the end of this letter.
    4. It would be necessary to start collecting the donations for renewing the observatory as well as getting new telescope. We ask for advice in this regard especially from IAU or from some other institution of that level.

    In order to execute any of these requests some essential information is needed. Sarajevo is in total informative blockade. It is impossible to communicate over the phone or directly by mail. All our letters and packages must be sent through the humanitarian organizations or UNHCR.

    Therefore all our correspondence will circulate through Zagreb. In this time the very modest donation will be substantial help in supporting the two professional astronomers here. Here in Sarajevo, we are surviving from humanitarian aid, which covers not more than 30 percent of the person's needs. As an example, the average monthly salary of those who obtain it is $3-5, which is enough for one can of beef or fish on the black market. So, the donations of few dozens of dollars can be of great help at this moment. We know that this kind of solidarity works well in the case of some professions such as mathematicians, journalists, and writers.

    In this moment the only safe way to send the money donations is through Deutsche Bank AG, Frankfurt/M, Germany to the name Muhamed Muminovic, P.Toljatija 134, Sarajevo, Account 936 2369, Privredna Banka Sarajevo DD. We kindly ask all subjects who send their donations in this way to send the copy of the bank record to our contact address in Zagreb to keep records in order. The aid in food that is very welcomed seems to be impossible at this moment in view of transportation problems.

    Our contact address is:

    Dr. Kresimir Pavlovski
    Faculty of Geodesy
    University of Zagreb
    Kaciceva 26
    41000 Zagreb
    Phone: (385) (1) 461279
    Fax: (385) (1) 445410

    All ideas, advice, and any kind of help are welcome. We truly count on the humanity and solidarity of the astronomers of the world.

    Thank you in advance.

    Muhamed Muminovic, Director, Astronomical Observatory, Sarajevo

    Astronomy in Bosnia

    by George Musser, Astronomical Society of the Pacific

    As in many countries, modern astronomy in Bosnia started with a single individual. Around the turn of the century, a high-school student in Pale, near Sarajevo, built himself a small telescope. The student, Branimir Truhelka, went on to study physics in Vienna and astronomy at the Pulkovo Observatory near St. Petersburg in Russia, once considered the astronomical capital of the world. On his return to Bosnia, Truhelka taught at a high school in Tuzla, where he continued his research on light dispersion and lobbied the Bosnian government for a small observatory in Tuzla. He died in 1945, never realizing his plans for an observatory in Sarajevo.

    That cause was taken up again in the 1960s by Bosnian amateur astronomers, mostly university and high-school students. They founded the Astronomical Society of the University of Sarajevo in 1963 and built the People's Observatory, with a 17-centimeter (7-inch) reflector, in 1965. By 1973, amateurs had converted an old Austro-Hungarian fortress into the largest amateur observatory in Yugoslavia, Colina Kapa. The observatory was located at an altitude of 1010 meters (3310 feet) on Mount Trebevic, 12 kilometers (7 miles) southeast of downtown. Its twin domes housed the double astrograph that made the first Yugoslav photographic atlas in the mid-1970s.

    Like many amateurs elsewhere, the Sarajevans advanced to the point that the term "amateur" no longer applied to them. The 65-centimeter (24-inch) Newtonian-Cassegrain reflector and photoelectric photometer they installed in the early 1980s were professional-level equipment. The observatory hosted the fourth conference of Yugoslav astronomers in October 1979. The Sarajevans participated in the epsilon Aurigae monitoring campaign and collaborated with Czech and Croatian professionals during the 1980s. In 1990, the observatory had a staff of five continuing to work on photometry.

    Astronomy in Yugoslavia boomed in popularity during the late 1970s and early 1980s. New amateur clubs sprang up; secondary schools and the university taught astronomy courses; people from all over the country joined the Sarajevo-based astronomical society. Sarajevan amateurs assembled a library, organized seminars, and spoke to school groups. The society published 30 books, making it the most prolific publisher of astronomical literature in the country. Most Yugoslav astronomy magazines tended to be either too technical or too populist, but the Sarajevan journal, Astro Amateur, tried to strike a balance.

    In 1992, the Astronomical Observatory of Sarajevo was used by Bosnian Serb tanks for target practice, and demolished.

    This article was assembled from reports by Bratislav Curcic, Ales Dolzan, Jasminko Mulaomerovic, Muhamed Muminovic, and Vladis Vujnovic.

    How you can help

    Kresimir Pavlovski of the University of Zagreb in Croatia has agreed to act as contact person for the Astronomical Obseratory of Sarajevo. His email address is

    The Solidarity Project at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. is collecting donations to buy books, journals, and equipment for the University of Sarajevo. The project director, William Hunt, is also looking for volunteers to teach for a month in Sarajevo, living with a local family. His email address is

    Students for Sarajevo in Lyon, France organizes shipments of pedagogical materials and conducts workshops for Bosnian students and teachers. Their email addresses are and

    The Open Society Fund of the Soros Foundation in New York has provided computers, scholarships, and Internet connections via satellite. The fund finances visits by foreign lecturers through the Civic Education Project at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. The email addresses are and

    The Bosnia-Herzegovina InfoTech Society needs modems, even 2400 baud ones, and other computer equipment for the Internet connections, the only channel of communication for many Sarajevans. For more information, contact or

    The Bosnian Student Project has placed more than 50 students at American secondary schools and universities. For more information, contact Doug Hostetter, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Box 271, Nyack, N.Y. 10960.

    Illustration captions

    Figure 1. A classroom in Sarajevo. The city has 40 elementary schools; they shut their doors when the siege began in April 1992, but gradually reopened. The Open Society Fund, supported by billionaire investor George Soros, is now repairing war-damaged school buildings. Teachers are using drawing, discussion, and games to help children to work through their war anxiety. Photo by Gilles Peress, Class, Sarajevo, 1993. Reproduced with permission. The book Farewell to Bosnia displays more of Peress's work.

    Figure 2. The Astronomical Observatory of Sarajevo. The observatory is a converted Austro-Hungarian fortress on Mount Trebevic, near the Olympic bobsled run. The newer dome on the left was built by amateurs in the late 1970s. Photo courtesy of Velimir Vujnovic, Institute of Physics, Zagreb, Croatia.

    Figure 3. Title page of the conference proceedings of the fourth conference of Yugoslav astronomers, hosted by the Astronomical Observatory of Sarajevo in October 1979. Title page courtesy of the Science Library at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

    Figure 4. "Nobody can stop time and the evil the adults talk about will pass. When the time comes it will take me to the city." Anel, 6, lived in Prijedor. He and his parents survived the first wave of attacks and then left to seek refuge in Croatia. Half of the schoolchildren surveyed by Renko Djapic, a psychology professor at the University of Sarajevo, said they were convinced they would be killed. Drawing courtesy of Medecines Sans Frontieres.


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