Appeals for Peace in Croatia

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The New York Times appeal of January 14, 1992.

[Pauling and Yugoslavia, Part 2 of 2]

Three years after Linus Pauling’s 1988 visit to Yugoslavia, tensions in the country boiled over. Though it may have been justified in its desire to protect ethnic Serbs based on the atrocities that occurred during World War II, the incursion of the Yugoslav People’s Army into newly independent Croatia did little but add fuel to the conflagration.

By the time a cease-fire agreement was brokered in 1992, several of Croatia’s major cities had been bombed and Dubrovnik, a city of major cultural importance, had been the target of several attacks. Even the institute where Linus Pauling delivered his 1957 lecture, “The Structure of Water,” came under threat of bombing in late 1991, as Serbian nationalists accused the institute of producing nuclear weapons.

As the conflict broadened, Pauling began collecting media reports and analyses. One article, published in The European and titled “Lies Within the Balkan War of Words,” claimed that Croatia was exaggerating minor conflicts with Serbs in the area while using the media to portray themselves as victims in the eyes of the world. Raymond Kent, an emeritus professor of history at U.C. Berkeley, had brought this article to Pauling’s attention while cautioning Pauling that he might be the target of Croatian propaganda efforts due to his recent travels and the awards that he had received while in Croatia.

Pauling’s response to this perceived threat was to lend his signature to the “Appeal for Peace in Croatia,” a document sponsored by a group called Truth in Croatia and published in the New York Times on October 11, 1991. Citing the deaths of over 2,000 people, with 100,000 more made refugees, the document appealed “to men and women of conscience to speak up against indifference to the plight of Croatian people, who are facing…the threat of their own extinction.”


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Fax received by Pauling on November 18, 1991.

The October 11th appeal inspired both respect and reproach from those harboring an interest in the widening crisis in the Balkans. The Croatia-friendly nature of the document drew both skepticism and outright condemnation from a variety of critics. Probably the appeal’s highest profile signatory, Pauling received several letters from colleagues as well as members of the community who felt compelled to express their shock and anger. Many accused him of outright ignorance, often citing World War II and the atrocities committed by Croatians against Serbians during that time period.

Displaying the persistence that characterized his earlier peace activism, Pauling was neither intimidated nor did he show any signs that he was ready to back down. In a note to himself, Pauling described one encounter in particular with his old friend and colleague, Harden McConnell, and his wife Sophia.

Sophia gave me a good calling down for coming down on the side of the Croatians rather than the Serbians. Her main argument was that a century ago the Croatians were killing off Serbians. I said ‘well, why don’t we try moving into a new world instead of just going to war bombarding Dubrovnik?’

Harden McConnell, a former colleague of Pauling’s at Caltech and later a professor of chemistry at Stanford, frequently swapped papers with Pauling and had also stood by his side in protesting the Vietnam war. Likewise, Sophia McConnell had been close friends with Ava Helen prior to her death in 1981. That the McConnells disagreed with Pauling on the issue of Croatia did not seem to affect their friendship in the slightest. Notably, Pauling continued to nominate McConnell for multiple awards including, in 1993, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Where the appeal was concerned, however, Pauling strongly felt that he was aligning himself on the side of peace, and he was not afraid to voice his opinion on the matter. Calls to see the other side and accusations that he was portraying a multidimensional issue from only one perspective inspired little in the way of a reaction. While this tenacity of vision was typical of Pauling, his comment to Sophia reflected a hope that Pauling had always maintained for the future.

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A note to Pauling written on an LPISM fundraising letter and sent to Pauling by a donor.

Perhaps nourished by his focus on discovery in his scientific endeavors, Pauling approached his peace work with the attitude that the only way humanity might make up for past mistakes is by creating a future in which these mistakes are not possible. Though he received a fair amount of criticism for the one-sided nature of the Croatia appeals, the spirit motivating Pauling’s involvement had little to do with choosing sides. Rather, he was much more interested in emphasizing the need for a better way to resolve world conflict, and he knew that this process began with awareness.


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Greeting card sent to Pauling by photographer Milena Sorée, November 1991. The affixed photograph was taken by Sorée in Croatia.

As time moved forward and more information about the Croat-Serb conflict became available, Pauling began to receive less criticism and more gratitude. Several U.S.-based correspondents, as well as multiple Croatians trapped in war-torn parts of Yugoslavia, sent Pauling their thanks. Some of these were form letters, simply addressed “Dear Sir” or “Dear Colleague” with Pauling’s name filled in. Many more, however, were personalized cards or handwritten letters recognizing Pauling’s contribution toward a peaceful resolution of the fighting in Yugoslavia. In certain cases, even people who didn’t agree with Pauling’s stance recognized his good intentions and commended his willingness to raise his voice in the name of peace.

Over time, new updates on the destruction in Yugoslavia came pouring in, as did requests that he “raise his voice again.” To this, Pauling responded by signing an even larger appeal, published in the New York Times and containing the names of over one hundred Nobel Laureates appealing for peace in Yugoslavia. Interestingly, only six laureates who signed had received their Nobel Prize for peace. Instead, the largest number of signatories had earned Nobel Prizes for their work in the sciences: thirty-four in physics, twenty-seven in chemistry, and another twenty-seven in medicine.

This second appeal, published on January 14, 1992, appeared on a full page of the New York Times shortly before a cease-fire between Serbia and Croatia was declared, the fifteenth in a succession of many unsuccessful attempts to stop the fighting long enough to negotiate a formal agreement between the two countries. In fact, the conflict within Yugoslavia did not see any form of resolution until the year after Pauling died.

A few months after the Nobel Laureate appeal was published, Pauling’s main contact in Croatia during his 1988 trip, Z.B. Maksić, issued a statement on behalf of the Croatian Pugwash group that capitalized on Pauling’s efforts to raise awareness. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Maksić asserted that “communism is still alive and well in Belgrade,” a suggestion that struck a nerve in the western world and solidified many western opinions on the subject.

In September 1992, the United Nations announced that it was expelling Yugoslavia until Belgrade recognized Croatia and Bosnia as independent nations, a statement that outraged Serbians. The conflict eventually came to a close with the Dayton Accords of 1995, at which the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia agreed on a generalized framework for peace in their troubled region.

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Pauling and Yugoslavia

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J.D. Bernal, Linus Pauling and an unidentified individual in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, 1957.

[Part 1 of 2]

On October 11, 1991, an appeal appeared in The New York Times containing Linus Pauling’s name and a brief description of recent atrocities that had occurred in Croatia. At the time, Croatia was a newly independent country that was struggling, along with Slovenia and eventually Bosnia-Herzegovina, to maintain and strengthen its hard-won independence. Immediately following Croatia’s free elections in June 1991, the Yugoslav People’s Army had invaded and attacked on the grounds that they needed to protect Serbians living in the new Croatia. This conflict would later come to be known as the Croatian War of Independence.

The New York Times appeal, originally conceived by Professor Ivo Banac, of Yale University and Stanimir Vuk-Pavlović, of Mayo Medical School, had less than thirty signatures on it, most of them from professors at major universities in the United States. It was Banac’s wish that the appeal exclude politicians, in order to keep the focus of the document on peace.  In considering potential signatories, Vuk- Pavlović thought of Pauling first, and Pauling responded to the idea with speed and enthusiasm. Notably, poets Joseph Brodsky and Czeslaw Milosz, as well as actress Meryl Streep, also signed.

Banac’s original goal in publishing the appeal was mainly to raise awareness, as many people in the United States knew nothing of the conflict. Likewise, since Croatia’s free elections resembled democratic elections, Banac felt that it would be relatively easy to drum up stateside support for Croatia’s efforts in the war against the Yugoslav People’s Army, which was a relic of communist Yugoslavia. It had not been that long ago, after all, that Yugoslavia was united under a single communist leader, Josip Broz, a major figure in twentieth century history who became more commonly known as Tito.


Under Tito’s leadership, Yugoslavia had appeared to outsiders to be relatively peaceful. Europeans and Americans alike traveled to the country in the late 1950s and generally declared their approval as Tito rolled out his five-year plan, which was geared to catalyze industrialization and promote economic prosperity. Pauling himself visited in 1957 to deliver the opening address at the International Symposium on Hydrogen Bonding, where the lectures he subsequently attended inspired and invigorated him.

It was Tito’s death in 1980 that brought about an era of chaos to Yugoslavia. Considered by many to have been a benevolent dictator who had governed the country since the conclusion of World War II, Tito did not leave behind an obvious successor. Amidst this leadership vacuum, nationalist sentiments within the communist party were quickly stripped away.

Once the mask of national unification had been removed, a collection of serious underlying fissures was revealed. Centuries of conflict between different regions, ethnicities, and religions still existed within the country and, absent Tito, quickly widened to split Yugoslavia apart. Conflict between Croatia and Serbia seemed to many the greatest danger, due in part to lingering anger over the Croatian government’s alliance with the Nazi party during the second World War, an affiliation which led to the killing of more than 100,000 Serbs at the Jasenovac concentration camp and elsewhere. Worsening matters, throughout the 1980s, politician Slobodan Milošević gave a number of inflammatory speeches that served to stir up nationalist sentiments among Serbians.


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Linus Pauling and others at a vitamin C manufacturing facility at the Pliva Pharmaceutical Works, Zagreb, Yugoslavia, September 1988.

Pauling traveled to Croatia in 1988 to receive a series of awards and recognitions (notable among them, an honorary doctorate from the University of Zagreb, which was only the sixty-second such degree conferred by the university in its 320-year history) as well as formal induction into the Croatian Chemical Society. Though none of Yugoslavia’s republics had yet made a decisive move toward independence, Pauling’s 1988 visit was riddled with evidence of political, social and economic instability.

Most notably, during his 1957 trip, financial accommodations had been provided for himself and for Ava Helen, making his attendance at the hydrogen bond symposium not only possible, but comfortable. By contrast, his 1988 trip came about only after a series of conversations about financial assistance had been conducted. Throughout this process, Pauling’s primary contact in Croatia, Z.B. Maksić, made a few references to the financial hardships that were then widespread throughout Yugoslavia. Maksić answered Pauling’s request to bring his daughter and her husband with apprehension, and politely informed him that the pair would have to be covered by whatever means Pauling could supply. Pauling eventually applied for a Fulbright Grant, at Maksić’ suggestion, to cover their travelling expenses as well as his own. When this grant application proved a success, Maksić remarked that the monies had given Pauling “double coverage” and suggested that he use the funds to also pay for his own accommodations once he arrived.

Despite these quibbles over money, Maksić and Pauling remained cordial toward each other, both during the trip and after. Regional interest was high in Pauling’s most recent book, How to Live Longer and Feel Better (1986) and, at Maksić’ request, he wrote a foreword to the Croatian edition later that year. Maksić later reciprocated by penning a dedication to Pauling in “Six Decades of the Hybridization Concept,” a collection of scientific papers from Yugoslavia that was slated to be published as an edited volume in the early 1990s. Ultimately, Pauling’s relationship with Yugoslavia was a positive one and he felt a strong connection with Croatia in particular after his 1988 trip was concluded.