WSI Magazine talked to Jeffrey Levett in the European Center Peace Development (ECPD, Belgrade) on Terazije within the context of the 5th Youth Forum and the Conference on Peace and Democratic Multilateralism. He was asked about his relationship with the institution and talk about some of its activities. His response and final thoughts are given here with a promise to talk again in 2018.
When young we seek adventure, experience and look forward as shown by the ongoing Youth Forum while in the 3rd age we may become morose, philosophise and look back. At both ends of the age spectrum we question without always finding answers. Thank you for this chance to reminisce and in doing so to consider a few points, make a suggestion or two and within the context of the ECPD.
Looking back my first interaction with the ECPD (1985) goes back to 1995. It was 10 years old then, strange and eye-opening. I got off the JAT flight and found a most likeable Dusan. His visiting card said he was Chef du Cabinet. It was a lead in, to a relationship that has lasted until today. It turned into an amazing 5 hours session. He had humour and was well organised even down to a plastic bag in his coat pocket. He always carried one never knowing when he would have something to put in it, especially in the dark days!
Dusan was regime and in touch with the international community. He had been caught up in communist youth activities. He gave me an overview of health spas in the region and we discussed alternative medicine. Today the ECPD calls it holistic.
What Dusan told me then I have never forgotten. In the Belgrade airport coffee shop I learned that a University of Peace existed in Costa Rica (1980). He emphasized with enthusiasm and great dedication that the European Center for Peace and Development (ECPD, Belgrade) is part of a United Nations-mandated University for Peace, in Europe. A number of countries and cities had vied for the honour of having it. From others I learned that Centers existed or had existed in other regions for example in Brazil and Japan. Caught up in his enthusiasm I saw that the developments in the ECPD were linked to a startling and fantastic aim, to provide humanity with programmes of higher education geared for peace. Some years later, I worked on the development of a public health curriculum for peace. In 2012, in the Netherlands an additional European centre of the UN mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica was established.
Here in Belgrade 1995 I discovered an interesting and much needed organisation with a most difficult but extremely determined passage. That thought proved correct at every turn of the winding road. Dusan and I talked about the nuclear threat and youth in the Balkans, while his interest in human consciousness was revealing even incredible. What I suggested was that his institution in Serbia and mine in Greece team up to develop public health in the Balkan region. It led to an agreement that included Spain and the USA as it evolved. Brainstorming with Dusan was a precursor to activities in health management and this long after interview. In the coming years I found that its detractors were fanatical.
The ECPD gave me insights into the positive work of diplomacy as well as into the way that bureaucracy and vested interests within the international community impede progress. Later when the institution was under threat I tagged along with Norman Scott an exceptional diplomat with international credentials. We visited the highest reaches of government in support of the ECPD. It worked. In general we found a supportive climate although some support I thought was simply lip service.
As I left for the flight to Montenegro, Dusan gave me an envelope with local currency. It covered a coffee a day. Much later we listened to jazz in Belgrade, eat exceptional food and further chats. Dusan ever gallant would invite younger members of the staff. We talked about left brain-right brain and I stated my interest to examine the different but breathtaking contributions of America and Russia to the development of neurophysiology. Dusan asked me to what purpose? Apart from personal interest, I did not have one then! I do today!
Two ECPD programs that seemed to serve the aim of peaceful coexistence, caught my fancy, pulled me in. In Pula the catch was biomedical-engineering. ECPD premises in Pula are impressive; on the water front, very close to a Greco-Roman temple; a stones throw away a coliseum the size of the one in Rome. It was a courageous attempt to bring institutions in Serbia and Croatia together through postgraduate studies. Don’t forget the ethnic and religious wounds running deep within the Balkans, the break-up of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo question. So, I like to say that this biomedical-engineering programme relates to resilience and solidarity building within the region. The foresight and political support of the Governor of Istria Ivan Jakovčić, now a Euro MP was most important to take-off. The good offices of the Pula Municipal Hospital was another. I recall two Belgium diplomats leaving for Pula to cement the agreement for the ECPD. They left me in Banja Luka in a heritage protection meeting. Without contradiction the Pula programme was a testimony to the good regional relationships enjoyed by the ECPD.
The 4th Youth Forum was conducted in Pula, the 5th now here in Belgrade. The planning of the 6th (2018) is already underway. One banner suggested is Coercive persuasion and brainwashing in the modern world. This slogan-logo emerged as a result of ECPD’s connection with Australia and the presence of two visiting colleagues, expert in human behaviour. Given the world’s condition, criticism levelled at the media and the disquiet surrounding technology, such a banner might prove catching, if accepted.
Biomedical engineering in Pula gave me an opportunity to return to my bioengineering past. Some years ago in Chicago I was involved in medical algorithm development, which is an artificial route to mimic the doctor’s thinking. Artificial intelligence permits the use of electronic device models which given the doctor’s information on the patient, comes up with the same diagnosis. With experience [learning] artificial intelligence systems will become better than the doctor.
My interests in disaster scenarios development made me rethink the effects of electromagnetic radiation on the central nervous system. Microwaves can cause cataracts and there is an intriguing story of a British mathematician had a visual experience after sticking his head inside the stator of a large induction motor with electricity running through it. Although significant variability exists there is a loose coupling between radiation, brain activity and neural damage so I do worry when I see my grandson on his pad. A great Canadian neurosurgeon reported a number of sensory experiences when probing the brain. The rapid progress in neuroscience, development of drugs that modify behavior and neural network learning algorithms and their use in artificial intelligence systems is unsettling.
When the ECPD established a Center in Kosovo I referred to it as a courageous act. It gave me an opportunity to spend considerable time in Prizren, the only remaining Ottoman town in the Balkans. The need for programmes in Kosovo of the kind offered through the ECPD was so obvious to me. I wrote a piece Cold comfort in Kosovo. I was the only non Kosovar present in an extremely emotional and tumultuous gathering. It happened in a local theatre towards year’s end. It closed with a charged wish by a female presenter that independence would be a reality the following year. I was with Gani the ECPD’s Center’s director whom I always addressed as the man for all seasons, a man with all reason. Most memorable were my discussions with students and especially with Haxhi, Agron and Muhammad]. We chatted in restaurants, one over hanging the river with a wooded backdrop reaching the sky, minarets and churches on the slopes and a monastery seriously damaged during conflict just up river. In Prizren I suggested that we conceptualise a post graduate level course for competence building in diplomacy to match the coming aspirations of statehood. Environmental health was then a great problem.
For the future, I can see a Forum, on Health Diplomacy as well as a project on American-Russian rapprochement. A program in health diplomacy, directed towards reconciliation with the support of the international community is an emergent need. Its pillars would include public health and human security. Investment would not be excessive since supportive tools exist in the ECPD. It could be underwritten through existing ECPD programs, diplomacy, health and management programs. It would be a good start of something new in the Balkans – diplomacy coming to the aid of health.
To alleviate tensions between the USA and Russia new tools in the game of reconciliation and rapprochement need developing, which can find use in the emerging multi-polar world where different views and concepts of violence and justice prevail.
The tensions between East and West, must be resolved as part of the complex algorithm for humanity’s survival. Metaphorically, we can represent our Western world by the linear left brain. Enlightenment, secularism. rationality, rationalism, or materialism? The right side and non-linear brain can represent the Eastern World. creativity, spirituality? The two hemispheres of the brain work together as a complex network useful perhaps conceptually in ways not yet thought of. The related research domain is considerable. It was quite amazing when I learned that a colleague on the Executive Board of the ECPD, Belgrade is an expert on the split-brain for which America received the Nobel Prize.
Sidestepping the considerable dangers with respect to bionics, bioengineering and technology developments is in itself dangerous; first for children and the growing concern for Internet addiction. Online, children can be anyone they want to be but their socialisation can be enormously disrupted; sleep is lost to wrong forms of brain development, concentration takes a different direction and time management never develops while relationships may be on-line-cyber company, only.
The escape from reality is a reality. It has spawned great concern and the need for INTERNET addiction clinics. One competency of the brain imagination, risks a down turn. Imagination comes with learning and there is still a lot to learn about learning: why do children learn differently, at different rates? Social networking at any age calls for balance. The brain’s ability to generate new neural pathways and networks accessible to environmental influence is crucial to learning. The system that drives learning within society is education, so it is important to get it right and it is a case of education, education and again education, through life. A healthy and ethical society emerges within a framework of a healthy population, human rights and equality. At a more fundamental level, neuro-plasticity of the brain and its interaction with the environment shape a child’s development.
Prizren and Pula gave the ECPD a change of direction precipitating new activities. Neither place was ready. But they were “activators”. I recall a fiery meeting in Prizren, 2007, which led to a declaration on human security in the Balkans (2011). One of the driving engines was Japan. How far human security has come is still an open question.
It is imperative that the ECPD play a much more important role in the Balkans first in education. It has an incredible advantage as it looks both East and West. It is a unique institution, in a unique geographical and geopolitical position. Efforts to demean and dilute it have had partial success, to destroy it no.