July 10, 2006
Croats, Serbs Unite to Hail Tesla’s Genius
By Zoran Radosavljevic
SMILJAN, Croatia -- Croats and Serbs united on Monday in celebrating late scientist Nikola Tesla, hailing him as a symbol of ethnic tolerance badly needed in the Balkans.Tesla was born 150 years ago this day in this small village at the foot of Mt Velebit in a Serb area of Croatia. He made most of his discoveries on electricity in the United States.
His birthplace saw some of the fiercest fighting in Croatia's 1991-95 independence war with local ethnic Serb rebels. Tesla's monument was blown up during the war, his house neglected by the nationalist regime that ruled until 2000.
"Tesla, a Serb, had been nearly forgotten," Croatia's reformist President Stjepan Mesic told the gathering at the opening of the renovated house, now turned into a scientific theme park. "I am happy that those times are over."
Serbia is hosting a separate series of events to honor Tesla and recently renamed Belgrade's airport in his honor. Serbia's President Boris Tadic said at the ceremony that the man and his legacy belonged to both countries.
"He is our common heritage, a Serb born in Croatia who did not want ethnic conflicts," Tadic said. "But our past was not always glorious. Today we have a common responsibility to offer our citizens a new vision."
Black-clad Orthodox priests prayed in the village church, rebuilt at its original place near Tesla's house, while visitors, mostly elderly Serbs, lit candles.
But reminders of the war persist in the area, with signs warning visitors of landmines and shelled houses gaping open, overgrown by bushes. Several villages in the area are still waiting to have electricity restored after the war.
"Thank God for Tesla. This area was swamp and forest only a few months ago. Now they have repaired the roads and everything," one of the workers at the site said.
According to anecdotal evidence, Telsa was a young boy when he created a prototype hydropower plant in a brook near his house. He later recreated it at Niagara Falls.
His discoveries and inventions formed the basis in many scientific fields and are used today in applications such as the radio, robotics, computer science, nuclear physics and x-rays.
Tesla emigrated to the U.S. in 1884, reportedly with four cents and plans for a flying machine in his pockets. He quickly established himself as a leading scientist, earning a reputation for his eccentricity and far-reaching imagination. He died penniless in New York in 1943.
(Additional reporting by Beti Bilandzic)