BELGRADE – The world’s most famous science magazine, Popular Science, recently published his biography: “Aleksandar Protić is the Federal Advisor of the French UNESCO Federation, the director of the Tesla Memorial Project at the Sorbonne and the scientific director of the Tesla Global Forum science festival.
“After taking his MA at the Sorbonne, Protić attended further studies in several other countries in the areas of negotiation, diplomacy and communication. He is cooperating with Nobel laureates, respected and internationally recognized scientists and scholars, activists and the civil society. He is among the youngest lecturers of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, the Sorbonne and the State Administration School of the French Prime Minister.
“Aleksandar has received a number of important awards for his work: awards from international organizations, ministers, scientific associations, museums and civil society. Besides UNESCO projects, he is exceptionally dedicated to the popularization of science: he lectured on Nikola Tesla at the Sorbonne, Cambridge, Oxford and numerous other educational, scientific and cultural institutions”.
Aleksandar, who says it is important for him that in his free time he is very dedicated to educational projects, holds lectures in elementary and secondary schools and universities, in fact “everywhere I can reach a curious mind”, is the first Serb ever to teach in the French State Administration School (which educates French presidents, ministers and members of the state administration) and to lead the most important projects of UNESCO networks throughout France.
Many Sorbonne Students Have Shaped the World
How did you select the Sorbonne and what guided you in your choice of studies and specialization?
Viewed from afar, for me the Sorbonne always had something mythical and untouchable, because many great figures who studied at it shaped the world in which we live. What I have always liked about the Sorbonne is perfect inclusiveness: in 1257 the theologian Robert Sorbonne founded the university as catering for poor students, and since that date the Sorbonne has been open to students of all classes.
In my youth in Serbia I was inspired by the great French writers, poets and philosophers, and that ineradicable trace probably was one of the more discrete signposts towards the Sorbonne.
Later, MA studies in intercultural communication, founded by the legendary Professor Conte, were a real dream for me. He combined languages, communication, history, cultural policy, social science and anthropology, but the studies were accessible to only twenty people from the whole world. From the moment I was accepted to that group, those days of my studies were unforgettable.
What is common to literature, intercultural communication, business efficiency and diplomacy? How did you select these?
The common factor was communication, logos: a reflection of personality and enthusiasm, irrespective of whether one talks about the literary word, words which connect cultures, business or diplomatic negotiations. That word is always a bridge and synergy, whether it is dialogue, negotiation, agreement or speech. I did not choose them, it’s as if they chose me…, I simply recognized what interested me and allowed it to take hold of me.
Work Alongside Studies – a Much Richer Experience
You did diverse work in France, never avoiding even hard physical labor. Was that really needed or a way to test yourself, to learn about life beginning from the most difficult point? Do you perhaps regret something you might have missed because you combined your studies with work?
I come from a humble family which taught my brother and I work, dedication, respect for every human being and for all jobs. Since I was a boy, growing up in Serbia, I worked on weekends and school holidays, always taking pride in my self-reliance. Later, in France, it was a necessity and good motivation to dedicate myself as quickly as I could to activities that would not sap my strength and take away time for intellectual work. Although at a given moment exhausting work is no fun for anyone, when I look back I can say that I am glad for those lessons in life. As I always worked in parallel with my studies, in more comfortable conditions I could have been more care-free and completely devoted to my studies, but I nevertheless think that working and studying together provided a much richer experience.
What besides your diplomas do you see as your most important achievements in France?
In fact the diplomas do not appear to me as great achievements. I think it was much more important that I have helped homeless people and students and given any sort of contribution to all that is humane and exalted.
I was very active in the Serbian Diaspora in Paris in various ways: through the work of the organization Slav aktiv in which I was involved in diverse activities, later with my friends I founded OSSI (Organization of Serbian Students Abroad) the branch in Paris, where I have been vice-president. I also loved my involvement on the promotion of Serbian literature in France, popularization of the life and work of Nikola Tesla, as well as humanitarian, translating activities...
How did a student from an unloved Serbia become the chairman of the UNESCO Club at Sorbonne University, and after exceptionally successful management of that organization also advisor to the president of the French UNESCO Federation? What did you manage to do for Serbia from those positions?
Serbia has a complex reputation in France owing to a deluge of information which showed it in an unfavorable light. Nevertheless, every person testifies primarily by his or her example.
At the recommendation of the famous professor Francis Conte, who has always given me enormous support, the president of the Sorbonne entrusted management of the organization to me. The French Federation for UNESCO was satisfied with my work, and selected me as the president of its youth council, and then also a federal advisor.
Those positions made it possible for me to share my interests with others and propose that we dedicate ourselves to what is of world-wide importance yet very personal, for example the Tesla project. There were several examples of this kind. I also established links between Serbian and French institutions, people, and worked a lot on intercultural dialogue.
Love is Primarily Proved Locally
In what measure did you manage to influence opinions about Serbia among people you met during your studies in France, America, Russia and England, and later while lecturing at the Sorbonne, Oxford, Cambridge, in elite institutions, in addressing students and diplomats?
Unavoidably we influence others, especially when we address a gathering of people who have devoted their time to listen to us. Besides the universal values which are important for me, one should not forget that love is primarily proved locally. Those incapable of loving their families, their people and those who are in their immediate surroundings, are incapable of any sort of broader altruism, as much as they champion it in theory. I like to share what is brightest and the most inspiring from my country with foreigners, and often notice that it surprises them, awakens their curiosity and sometimes a great deal of interest.
In spite of your successes abroad, you want to return to Serbia. Has Serbia noticed, marked, taken note of or in other manner valued what you have done for it so far?
What comes to me is John Kennedy’s famous sentence about not asking our country what it has done for us, but asking ourselves what we have done for our country. I agree fully with that, because only if we start from ourselves can we change anything.
Although numerous journalists have reported on projects in which I am involved, I must admit that I find very hard the many closed doors I have come upon in my own country.
A practical question – as someone who has been very active during life abroad, can you compare the relationship of institutions and citizens there and here? How much is our bureaucracy a brake for everything possible, and what is the share in it of the fear of those who have taken up positions from whose they know are more suitable for those positions, more educated, capable and qualified?
I could perhaps compare France and Serbia, not forgetting how thankless it is to generalize. The citizens of France are aware of their rights and fight for them exceptionally, while in Serbia we have a general apathy and individuals follow ingrained habits and models and go with the flow of the system and rely on it. French citizens could inspire many others in the world, not just Serbs.
However, young people like Filip Vukša inspire the hope that activism in Serbia has a future, despite everything. Bureaucracy is extremely unpopular in France, just like Serbia, so it could be a dead heat in a race.
The scandal surrounding the non-recognition of foreign diplomas in Serbia speaks enough about the fear that exists from those who are more educated and qualified. Certain countries have a strategy of financing their most talented students to attend Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford and other universities so they can return and advance their homelands by the knowledge and contacts acquired during their studies. Serbian students reach such world centers of knowledge and influence on their own, and if they want to return with their prestigious degrees, they need to spend a lot of time, money and good will simply to have their diplomas recognized, a process which discourages many of them.
The Tesla Global Forum
You have invested much effort in the Tesla Global Forum, which is becoming a traditional manifestation in honor of Nikola Tesla, science and wisdom, peace and understanding among peoples. Do you believe forums like this can contribute to making at least one step forward in this country and how did the foreigners you and your colleagues have assembled around this idea accept it?
This year’s Tesla Forum was dedicated to peace. To Tesla’s contribution to world peace, but also to the contribution to peace of Mihajlo Pupin and other noted Serbs and placing Serbia in a perspective of peace.
The peace activism of the Tesla Forum which came from Serbia was supported by many colleagues, peace activists, from the United States, India, Portugal, Australia, France, Russia... Of much importance was the presence of the UNESCO Center for Peace Guy Djoken and the President of the French Federation for UNESCO Yves Lopez, because UNESCO is an international organization whose task is the establishment of peace through education, science and culture.
We were also hosts to young ambassadors of the most prestigious world youth forum - One Young World – who came to celebrate Tesla’s birthday with us and reaffirm our peace-loving legitimacy.
Besides the many valuable contents of the Tesla Forum, alongside the conveyance and sharing of knowledge, it established a new Tesla network among talented young people in Serbia, the local and international effects were considerable. Locally, besides the prime time news on national TV, all important media reported on the Forum, and internationally, all our foreign guests, satisfied with the forum, reported the good news on websites, blogs and social networks.
In what sort of Serbia would you like to see yourself in ten years’ time?
A Serbia with more enthusiasm, a Serbia linked with its Diaspora around the world; a Serbia with better knowledge of its own tradition and heritage, yet not fearing to accept good examples from abroad and to establish good-quality international and intercultural cooperation; a Serbia which understands the virtues of Tesla, Pupin, Đaja, Mileva Marić, Draga Jočić and other noted persons.
Source: House of Good News