Youth Return the Future to Dubrovnik (2003)

Sohail Inayatullah

Professor, Tamkang University, Sunshine Coast University, Queensland University of Technology.

“The return of the Goddess in Dalmatia”

“Dubrovnik avoiding mcdonaldization, and creating a new vision and practice of globalization”

“Neo-humanistic education transforming Balkan pedagogy”

These were some of the memes that were spread at the New Wave: Vision of the youth conference held in Dubrovnik from August 27th to September 2. The meeting was organized by the young people of Dubrovnik, in cooperation with dozens of nongovernmental organizations from Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia and Greece (such as Centre for Neohumanistic Studies, Croatia; PCAP International or Prevention of Cruelty to Plans and Animals; Mali Korak or Centre for Culture of Peace and Nonviolence; Ziva Semlja, Living Earth; CCI, Centre for Civil Initiatives; Fractal Belgrade; and, Amurt Hellas) and with sponsorship from Friendly Favors, Gaia Trust, British Council Croatia and a host of Croatian Ministries). I mention some of these since while a clear vision emerged, this was an eclectic affair. That said, this was very much about education for the future, not an academic course, but a call to and for future generations.

But the future was not a space in forward time. Dr Constance Piesinger opened the conference by arguing that the Balkans were once a site of Goddess culture. This was a peaceful and cooperative local culture. Eventually, Indo-european tribes destroyed it, beginning the long period of Patriarchy. However, Adrian Predraga Kezele spoke that  the Goddess can return (from his book, the Return of the Goddess), and will return. This is the reawakening of spiritual culture in the Balkan region, moving away from  nationalist wars toward a more cooperative localized culture. But it was through Dr. Ivana Milojevic that the spiral took the full turn. She argued that since it did exist once – goddess culture – it can exist again. Our visions of the future pull us not only in our dreams but in our day to day realities. We are always living a vision of the future. We should live one that makes sense to us, politically, economically and culturally.

Workshops by Ross Jackson and Hildur Jackson filled in the details – how would world trade need to be reorganized, how can the many sprouting eco-villages be coordinated? Marcus Bussey gave tips to teachers on how alternative futures generally and neo-humanistic futures particularly can be lived in the tough world of the classroom. I took a macroview, focusing on long term historical trends and how they may lead us to a Goddess culture. I asked participants to design the economic and social institutions that could make their vision real. As well, I argued, the future, far from being merely in predictive space, could be seen as a resource, as a facility that could be used for education, capacity development, strategy, memetic change, and indeed even microvita change.

Other workshops focused on complementary currencies, necessary for the required global-local politics (Serbio Lub) and multiple intelligences (Virginia Deerani). Dr. Shun-Jie Ji from the Tamkang University Futures Program developed a role-playing workshop on nuclear and power and future generations in Taiwan, linking sustainable development to environmental protection. Christiin Franceschini reported on his Yoga in schools program in Italy and how this was transforming health practice and health futures.

What then was the new wave vision that emerged from young people at the meeting?

1.      Return of Goddess culture

2.      Spiritual practice as central to the future

3.      Linking eco-villages throughout the world

4.      Embedding digital technologies in green activities

5.      Noiseless cars

6.      Global-Local politics

7.      Ensuring that Dubrovnik not become swamped with pseudo-culture but rather it keep alive its own version of globalized culture (trading, diplomacy, for example).

8.      Community taking care and raising children

9.      Leaders with clarity

This new wave was a challenge to four old waves – patriarchy, nationalism, capitalism and materialism.

Of course, any time a new vision begins to emerge there are issues. Some were optimistic, believing that an alternative future could be created. Others, said this was impossible: “look at our history of war, look at the recent past, and at nationalism still present in the region.” Others pointed out that the politics of power – patriarchy, economic self-interest, bureaucratized schools, religious dogma – make it almost impossible for a new future to emerge.

But as Milojevic argued on the first day, a new vision gives the possibility of a new actualized future. Without a new vision, the future would remain bounded by current politics.

And it was this new vision that most conference participants desired. What was perhaps unique was that traditional dichotomies where not reinforced. Participants saw technology and nature; women and men; globalization and localization; spirituality and the empirical world as not necessarily in conflict but requiring integration. They did not want an either/or world, nor did they see themselves as such.

This was best illustrated by ensuring that theatre, music and dance were all integrated into the program. Indeed, the meeting was not only for the future but in the future. Even the daily diet was vegetarian, approximating the peaceful vision desired (non-killing cultures as Glen Paige writes). Practical workshops as well concluded the meeting. One focused on becoming a leader and the other on becoming a new wave teacher.

For me personally, returning to Dubrovnik after 13 years was a stunning experience. I had gone there in 1990 at the invitation of Wendy Schultz who had organized a world futures studies federation course. At that time, all the good and bad hallmarks of a socialist state were there. Now, this was Europe but without the arrogance. This was traditional culture nestled in one of the most beautiful spots in the world. Of course, there had been problems. The war in the early 1990s had not been kind to the city. Hoewever, unesco had helped rebuild the city. Yet, drunk youth still stoned cars with Serbian license plates. Pensioners commented that everything in Dubrovnik had been sold to foreigners. Prices kept on going up. Things were much better before.

It was the realization that Dubrovnik was at a bifurcation point that was the prime energy of the Conference (along with individual change agents such as Didi Ananda Rama). Would Dubrovnik continue its strategy of mass tourism and thus become one big summer traffic jam? Or could green spaces, recycling, and a new type of tourism be created? Or should Dubrovnik begin to think about local and global city solutions, even imagining retuning to pre-nation-state days, that is, as a city-state? How best should digital technology be used in governance and in traffic management? These and other questions were not only explored in the conference but as well later in a special seminar at the American College of Management. At this seminar, I presented basic futures concepts (alternative futures, layered epistemologies, anticipating the future; action learning design and macrohistory) to over 75 students and faculty and worked with them to develop alternative futures of the city. They were clear that if they did nothing then mass tourism and the loss of history and future would result. They knew they needed to use technology, green thinking, and foresight to create a different future for their beloved city.

The students are now working on finding ways to ensure that there is a yearly new wave event in Dubrovnik, not only exploring alternative futures, but in making their preferred vision of the future more real.

While Dubrovnik was the focus, students from other parts of the former Yugoslavia left with their own projects.  Students from Novi Sad, for example, are working on starting a futures course there. However, this course intends to be far more focused on methodology, and less on visions. The failure of the future in Serbia, the despair of having future after future evaporate requires an approach that acknowledges the sorrows of the past and then moves incrementally to a better future (for example, less nationalistic, financial dignity, keeping the many successes of socialism while adopting the energy and openness of Europe). Visions can become nightmares, as Ashis Nandy reminds us.

Many pathways were opened in Dubrovnik. Some historical, some totally new, and some a mixture of old and new. I am sure the participants feel that Gaia was pleased. I went inspired by the hard work and imagination of the young people of the former Yugoslavia.