University of Belgrade, University Library „Svetozar Marković”

University of Belgrade

Djordje Stanojevic

University of Belgrade

February, 15th 2014

Vasilije Milnovic

This text is a theoretical review of life and works of Djordje Stanojevic in the context of the WWI when Stanojevic was the rector of the University and in the context of 100th anniversary of the bombing of the University of Belgrade. At the same time, the text aims to be informative regarding the renaissance activity of this man, as a potential model for acting and work that requires full revaluation and deserves a special status.

„Scientific game is open to all, without any exceptions.
It is open to Serbs as well.
But we have to admit that we have not participated much. I don’t want to say that we haven’t
participated at all. It is not the people who are to blame. We do have many skillful people, but
scientific research is very expensive and we don’t have the money.
It is not that we lack money because we are poor and we live in misery, no, that’s not the case.
The fact is that we spend our people’s money on futile, useless, and not only that, but also
evidently harmful political fights and agitations.” [1]

The complete work of Djordje Stanojevic [2], a physicist, an astronomer, a meteorologist and a popularizer of science [3], requires full revaluation in terms of quantity, quality, diversity and importance and it deserves a special status.

This rector of the University of Belgrade (1913–1921) was the leading figure in many areas of his, almost renaissance, activity. He was the first Serbian astrophysicist, the first writer of university coursebooks in physics, the author of the first Serbian book about aeronautics [4], the first man in Serbia who set up the first radio connection and made the first X-ray snapshot. Most importantly, he was the man who illuminated Belgrade before many other capitals in Europe. He also illuminated some other towns in Serbia such as Uzice, Leskovac, Cacak and Zajecar. He built the first hydroelectric power plant using Tesla’s [5] system of alternating current. As he lived at the age of the development of electrical engineering and the science of electricity, Stanojevic adopted modern discoveries and trends almost at the same time when they appeared in the world [6]. He became the pioneer of electrification, electrical engineering and contemporary industrialization by turning old manufacturing workshops into modern factories with electrical machines. His insistence on including Serbia into the system of international standards, the implementation of the metric system, modernization of education and his personal example of science popularization testify to the existence of a European and cosmopolitan scientific model in the context of Serbian cultural paradigm [7].

Stanojevic, like Nikola Tesla, his friend and contemporary, believed that the products of science were common good which should develop and improve lives of all people. It was destiny that such a man became a rector of the University of Belgrade at the most challenging time in its history: the First World War [8]. Despite the fact that wars destroy everything, it is not so common that a university is faced with the fact of its physical disappearance. This reached its peak in 1914 when the University of Belgrade was bombed. It was as if Austro-Hungarian war machinery [9] wanted to completely obliterate the idea of Serbian culture and identity, so it brutally bombed the objects which by rule should not be part of any war activity or strategy..

One of the contemporary theoreticians who was the first to exclaim on death, wrote the following: “Today, it is normal that a whole nation is exposed to death so that another nation would secure their survival”. The principle of power, kill to live, is now the prevailing principle in the international strategy, and survival does not mean survival of sovereignty in a legal sense but it is biological survival of a nation.”[10] This atrocious thought, materialized through the current activities of revision of the history of WWI, in the context of its 100th anniversary, is based on the distinguishing principle big–small. Following the same principle, 100 years ago, the politics of “cleansing” of the intellectual capacity of small enemies was carried out through the physical destruction of wealth, cultural heritage and intellectual elite. This is the background behind the bombing of the University of Belgrade. Several decades later, when the next bombing occurred, bombs were dropped on the National Library of Serbia. At least, that is something that we still remember. It is the ruins of the University of Belgrade that we should remember in the same way.

A different point of view, based on the similarity principle, today seems more appropriate if we do not want to give up the idea of humanity. In the study about “The Literary Absolute” [11], the idea of modernity is represented as the consequence of an unfinished project of romanticism. This puts the current impression about the unfinished project of modernism into a deeper context, but it is also reminiscent of a German romanticist from Jena [12] who is important for comprehending the impression our culture left in the past. If, in this context, we observe great interest of German culture for Serbian folk tradition at the age of romanticism or permanent interest of Serbian culture for German cultural values (Djordje Stanojevic himself spent some time at the University of Berlin at the turn of the 19th century), in that way we demonstrate the possibility of observing two cultures following the similarity principle. Anthological works and the creators of the so-called small cultures would have to be together with those from the so-called big cultures. Creative personality of Djordje Stanojevic proves that to the full extent and in the European scope.

The renaissance personality of this man [13] and his activities – which have always shared the idea of humanity no matter how different they were – can be interpreted today as a model of reconstruction of the “integral sense” as Habermas would call it [14]. Only that kind of sense can spot the reality in the modern society blurred by stacks of information which are often false. This man-university as the rector of the University of Belgrade at the time of war, becomes a metaphor of the pacifistic and cosmopolitan principle of similarity. This is exactly what Djordje Stanojevic pointed out in his lecture when he was elected a professor at the Physics Department of the University of Belgrade: “Is the task of science to produce weapon? Is the task of science to train soldiers, or to spread animosity among people? Should science support the killing of thousands of lives or should it promote its inventions and discoveries to help people?" [15]

  1. Đorđe M. Stanojević, Etar i elektricitet u modernoj fizici, Nastavnik, 4 (5), str. 368–379, 1893 (pristupno predavanje na Velikoj školi, održano 16. marta 1893, prilikom stupanja na Katedru fizike).
  2. Refer to: Đorđe Stanojević – život i delo: povodom 150 godina od rođenja, zbornik sa istoimenog naučnog skupa, SANU (Ogranak u Novom Sadu), Novi Sad, 2008. Takođe, upućujemo zainteresovane istraživače na najcelovitiju bibliografiju Stanojevićevih radova, kao i tekstova o njemu: Marija Šešić, Petar Miljanić, Đorđe M. Stanojević (1858–1921), u: Život i delo srpskih naučnika 7, Biografije i Bibliografije, knj. 7, SANU, Beograd, 2001, str. 29–68.
  3. Refer to: Đorđe M. Stanojević, Zvezdano nebo nezavisne Srbije, Kraljevsko-Srpska državna štamparija, Beograd, 1882; Iz nauke o svetlosti, Srpska književna zadruga, knj. 28, 1895.
  4. Refer to: Đorđe M. Stanojević, Šetnja po oblacima, Kraljevsko-Srpska državna štamparija, Beograd, 1884.
  5. Djordje Stanojevic welcomed Tesla in Budapest and he organized Tesla’s only visit to Serbia on June 1st 1892. In 1894, Stanojevic published a book about Tesla. Refer to: Dorđe M. Stanojević, Nikola Tesla i njegova otkrića, Štampa ŠIP Srbija, Beograd, 1976.
  6. Thanks to Stanojevic, Belgrade was one of the first illuminated European capitals. The first tram in Belgrade arrived six years after it had appeared in Richmond in America, again thanks to Stojanovic’s work and effort. Moreover, only five years after Tesla’s hydroelectric power plant based on polyphasic system of alternating currents had been built on the Niagara waterfalls, Stanojevic, instead of building a new mechanical workshop where the water would flow with the help of machines, suggested building and started the construction of the new and modern (Tesla’s) hydroelectric power plant on Djetinja river in Uzice. By building the first radio station he actively contributed to the implementation of his vision which is described in the following words: “A child who wants to talk to its friend but it doesn’t know where the friend is, will call him with its electrical voice which only he could hear… and he would hear the reply: “I am deep down in the mine, high up in the Andes or in the vast ocean…”.
  7. Anyway, we will have to mention the numerous problems Stanojevic encountered because Serbian scientific elite didn’t approve of his work. In addition to the struggle for the implementation of the metric system and especially the introduction of electric and not gas lighting in Belgrade with the academic society of that time, Stanojevic’s scientific papers on solar physics were rejected by the Serbian Royal Academy, even though they were published by the French Academy of Sciences and approved by Jules Janssen, Stanojevic’s friend, mentor and a renowned astrophysicist. This shows how advanced his work was in comparison with the scientific work in Serbia. The sad fact is that this extraordinary man was almost forgotten even by the Institute for Physics at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Belgrade which Stanojevic himself had founded. That was the state of affairs until 1988 when 130th birth anniversary was celebrated. This is a warning to all the people who have almost forgotten him.
  8. Refer to: Dragan Trifunović, Đorđe Stanojević, profesor i rektor Univerziteta u Beogradu, izdanje autora, Beograd, 1997.
  9. For more, refer to: G. M. Stanoiewitch, Le bombardement de l’Université de Belgrade, Paris, 1915; sa predgovorom slavnog francuskog fizičara Lusijena Poenkarea.
  10. Refer to: Fuko, Mišel, Rađanje biopolitike: predavanja na College de France 1978–79, prev. Bojana Novaković, Gorana Mijić, Bojan Stefanović, Jelena Mihailović, Marko Božić, Svetovi, Novi Sad, 2005.
  11. Refer to: Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe, Nancy, Jean-Luc: The Literary Absolute: the Theory of Literature in German Romanticism, State University of New York Press, 1988.
  12. The University of Jena was the center of German idealistic philosophy and early romanticism was founded there (Novalis, August, Friedrich von Schlegel, etc.). Also, Goethe and Schiller first met there, and both of these great German thinkers are of crucial importance when it comes to the European reception of Serbian cultural heritage.
  13. We should mention the fact that Djordje Stanojevic also participated in scientific expeditions. He suggested the revision of the calendar. He grew fruit and did botany, and he was one of the founders of the International Committee for Esperanto.
  14. Refer to: Habermas, Jirgen, Filozofski diskurs moderne: dvanaest predavanja, preveo Igor Bošnjak, Globus, Zagreb, 1988.
  15. Đorđe M. Stanojević, Etar i elektricitet u modernoj fizici, Ibid.