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Iva Draškić Vićanović, Dean Of The University Of Belgrade Faculty Of Philology

Being And Remaining Worthy

When a first-round secret ballet vote resulted in her being elected dean of the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade two years ago, students, academics and the general public all responded with delight. Who is this competent and capable woman who became a philosophy graduate at the age of just 22? How has she succeeded in keeping her life in her own hands and raising three successful children with her playwright husband? What did she inherit from her celebrity parents; and how has she managed as both a parent and a university lecturer?

She is a Ph.D., a professor of aesthetics at the University of Belgrade Faculty of Philology and one of the most highly rated and beloved lecturers among students. She is also the daughter of two artists: Ljubomir ’Muci’ Draškić, one of the most significant Yugoslav and Serbian film and theatre directors; and actress Maja Čučković, the alluring partner of Zoran Radmilović in the famous play King Ubu [Ubu Roi] and as Rumenka in the anthology Radovan III. Both plays were staged by her father at Belgrade’s Atelier 212 theatre and both form part of the glittering pages of this theatre’s rich history.

She is also the great-granddaughter of Panta Draškić, a brigadier general who served in the Army of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and the granddaughter of Sreten Draškić, a diplomat of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, with whom she spent the salad days of her childhood.

She is the wife of Ljubiša Vićanović, a graduate of law and a playwright by vocation, who received the 2014 Sterija Award for his drama Nečiste Sile (Impure Forces). Their marriage resulted in the births of Sara (35), Pavle (34) and Aleksa (25). Sara graduated in Italian language and literature and today lives and works in the Italian city of Ravenna; Pavle is a lawyer; while Aleksa, like his brother, is a graduate of the Faculty of Law currently interning with the court.

Despite the Vuk Karadžić School being the closest to their home, Iva’s mother Maja decided to enrol Iva, who started school a year early, in the Drinka Pavlović School. The reason for this was that “Drinka” provided the option of so-called extended stay, which meant that she remained in school from early morning until late into the afternoon.

“That was well organised. You do all your homework tasks, have various activities to which you can devote yourself – singing, dancing, fine art, rhythmic gymnastics etc. When I later analysed what impacts on the formation of personality in the education process, I concluded that that extended stay had been very important; it provided a kind of boarding school life. As children at school, we grew accustomed to living together, and we developed true friendships. When we talk about it today, those of us from ‘Drinka’ are like a special section of the population that was raised in the spirit of togetherness. There was no chance of eating your packed lunch unless you shared it with someone else. Our teachers also directed us to not only be good students, but also good people. That was a good, healthy atmosphere in a good school. I think my mother made a good choice.”

My father, Muci Draškić, was a bona fide artist. He was highly educated, in parallel with his directing studies, he also studied art history, just like my mother, who studied literature in parallel with acting

She was such a good pupil at secondary school – initially at the First Belgrade Gymnasium and subsequently at the Fifth Belgrade Gymnasium – that her father considered he “too good”. She excelled at everything, found her studies easy, wasn’t a swot and struggled to decide what she would go on to study.

“I considered studying psychology, acting, directing and opera singing, only to focus on medicine during my third year of high school, on the social studies course. I thus began preparing for the entrance examination for medical studies. Medicine continues to interest to this day, when it comes to immunology, for instance. The philosophical aspect of the question of why a person gets sick. However, we gained philosophy as a subject for the fourth year of high school and that was something I found to be fantastic, extremely interesting. Realising that gave me wings, and that was also influenced by the fact that I was the best of my generation in that subject – and that’s how I ended up enrolling to study philosophy.”

Iva Draškić Vićanović (57) grew up knowing that her house was unlike others; with actors and artists gathering there regularly, frequent gettogethers and interesting conversations. She loved that lifestyle and felt that what her parents did was valued in the company of friends and their parents. And her second home was the theatre.

SCENE FROM THE PLAY MY FAMILY’S ROLE IN THE WORLD REVOLUTION, ZORAN RADMILOVIĆ AND MAJA ČUČKOVIĆ

Her parents took her with them whenever they didn’t have anywhere to leave her, which was a regular occurrence. Iva felt good there and handled the environment well. She would sit beside the theatre prompter, buzz around, hang out in dressing room. The first play that she recalls clearly, and that her mother performed in and her father directed, was My Family’s Role in the World Revolution.

“The second one, which was very dear to me and which I watched many times, was my father’s play Molière [aka The Cabal of Hypocrites] by Bulgakov. Zoran Radmilović played Molière, my mother played Madeleine Béjart, Đuza Stojiljković played Louis XIV, and I think Milutin Butković, our family friend, played the role of his life. He portrayed Bouton, Molière’s servant. That was a powerful play that didn’t prove as popular as it deserved to be, because the people prefer comedies.”

Studying philosophy in the 1980s was difficult and very demanding. She fondly recalls Professor Zdravko Kučinar, who lectured on classical German philosophy and with whom she maintains contact to this day. He introduced her to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, which is a serious and difficult undertaking for any professor.

I’m not among those who think that we were better than today’s generations. I think every generation has its own ways of expressing its own shortcomings

“I must mention an event here that happened during an exam with Professor Kučinar in June 1986. He was a very demanding but fair professor who lectured on classical German philosophy, which is one of the most difficult subjects during those studies and required months of preparation, even years. I remember that there were about 15 of us in the classroom for the exam – all boys and me as the only girl. Three of us extracted questions and started writing the concept. The exam for classical German philosophy always had a tense atmosphere, with the students feeling scared and anxious. In an attempt to relax us a little, and given that the football world cup was being played at the time, the professor asked: “Boys, does anyone remember which players scored goals in the final of the 1974 world cup?” He wasn’t addressing me, as he expected an answer from the male team. I answered that question matter-of-factly, blurting out without thinking or raising my head from the concept: “Breitner, Müller and Neeskens”. The room fell silent. After a few moments, Professor Kučinar asked, somewhat cautiously and through disbelief: “Excuse me, colleague, but how old were you when that world cup was held?”. “Nine”, I again blurted out while writing my concept. That caused everyone to burst out laughing, led by the professor. We continued working, but in a completely changed atmosphere. To this day, Professor Kučinar and I still joyfully recall that scene from the exam and discuss football. The puzzle of my knowledge actually has a simple solution: my dad loved to watch football and loved me to watch with him. That’s how I spent my days with him watching and commenting on every football match, and of course world cups had a special status, which is how I also remembered that famous 1974 final.”

Another professor that Iva hasn’t forgotten is Mirko Zurovac, her mentor, who taught her aesthetics and under whom she received her doctorate. Jovan Babić taught her ethics, while she attended lectures on logic by Aleksandar Kron (1937–2000), who she describes as being a very interesting person. She also remembers the excellent professor Branko Pavlović (1928–1986), who was her lecturer on ancient philosophy.

“I was the fastest student, if I may say so myself. I graduated in four years, which wasn’t the norm with philosophy. I always met the first deadline, I liked to “clean up” the year in June. I didn’t chase ‘tens’ and never returned an ‘eight’. It happened in my first year of studies that I transferred psychology to the September and spent the whole summer stalling with that psychology book. I carried it around the beaches, I took that book with me wherever I went. That ruined my summer holidays, which I otherwise love not as a holiday, but rather as a lifestyle. I grew up at my maternal grandparents’ place in Dubrovnik, and when I matured a little, we would head regularly to Omišalj on Krk; we had a house there that my father inherited from his maternal grandfather.”

Iva got married prior to graduating and gave birth to a daughter, Sara. She met Ljubiša Vićanović, her future husband, when she was just 18. He is a lawyer by training, but he never practiced law. Her early choice was a freelance artist and playwright, but they “recognised” each other and already knew during the years that they dated that their love was something that would endure.

It’s important to have patience when raising your children, and not to directly forbid anything. The best way to raise children is through the example of their parents

They spent one period of their student life and after Iva’s graduation living at Ljubisa’s parents’ summer house near Bijeljina. Iva was engaged in post-graduate studies when she gave birth to a son, Pavle, less than two years after Sara’s arrival. And they then moved to Belgrade, and subsequently to Petrovac on the Montenegrin coast.

“We left Bosnia when war broke out. That was a terribly tormenting experience. We came to Belgrade and spent the next two years there. I taught philosophy at the Fifth Belgrade Gymnasium, Ljubiša worked for the famous Radio Belgrade programme “Zabavnik” [Entertainer]. It was tough; we didn’t feel good during those years and we deliberated over whether to emigrate or stay here. There were good reasons to do both. Many of our friends and relatives, members of my husband’s family, who is a Sarajevo native, emigrated en masse during those 1990s. An opportunity emerged for us to rent a house for a year in Petrovac on Sea, to take a little break and see what we would do next. Sara was already attending school, it was still one country, so the same school curriculum applied. We wanted to collect ourselves a little, to spend a year down there, and we ended up staying for seven years. It was during this time that I received my doctorate.”

Iva started her professorial activities at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts, after which is lectured on the Philosophy of Art at the Faculty of Fine Arts, as well as the Aesthetics and Hermeneutics of Fine Arts at the Academy of Arts. She then received an invitation from Faculty of Philology to teach An Introduction to Philosophy at the Seminar for Social Sciences and Aesthetics in the Department of General Literature.

Iva explains what it was like to raise three children while permanently working fulltime.

“Those were specific times, specific circumstances. We moved often and were alone, without any kind of help from our parents. It was hard, but it’s somehow easy to handle because you’re young, because you believe in yourself and your lucky star. What’s most important is that the children were healthy, so complications of daily life weren’t so terrible. And they were good kids. Puberty brought turmoil; we had a proper little war in the house against erroneous values, which had a tendency to sneak into the house.”

When she was appointed dean of the University of Belgrade Faculty of Philology two years ago, Iva won over the affections of not only the academic public, because she beat her opponent in a secret ballot conducted among the Teaching and Research Council with a large majority, and did so in the first round. That hadn’t been her ambition, but she wanted to do something for her College.

“My ambition was to be a good professor, to be good in my profession and to leave a good mark; to teach students what I know best. And I became dean under very specific circumstances. The Faculty of Philology began collapsing dramatically long before my election. Several previous administrations had proven susceptible to both financial and legal wrongdoing, as well as nepotism, which depleted the institution. The last regularly elected dean resorted to a bizarre fraud – he cancelled the electing of the dean by way of a secret ballot among members of the Teaching and Research Council. The two previous lady deans were never elected through a secret ballot of the Teaching and Research Council. It was clear to me that this was a front for something hidden, because it’s impossible for everything to be in order if there is an avoiding of the electing of the dean in accordance with the law, via secret ballot.

Students, just like children, soak up the qualities of a person who enters their classroom. They feel them very well, and what’s fascinating is that they’re very well aware of whether or not you really know the subject you’re teaching

A lot of bad things accumulated at the Faculty, and this led to the coming together of a team of people with full integrity who were dissatisfied with the state that we’d languished in for a long time. We simply spoke up loudly against all of that, because we’d witnessed the demolishing of a serious institution that we really care about strongly. After more than a year of that struggle to introduce some kind of legal framework in which this Faculty would function without the possibility of the administration appropriating money that belongs to all of us, I was recognised on the part of the collective as a person with the necessary strength and ability to restore the reputation that the Faculty has lost. I didn’t feel that it would be right to refuse the request of the large number of people who wanted me in the position of dean and so I accepted the candidacy; the result of this choice was that I had to set aside my personal life and completely step out of my comfort zone. That is demanded by the function of dean at this Faculty and under these conditions.”

She has done, and continues to do, everything she can to bring order to this institution. She says that there’s lots of work to be done in a house that has around eight thousand students and nearly 500 employees. She’s mastered and improved upon the complicated and outdated administration, and is satisfied with the way she’s overcome the financial problems she encountered and established financial control. She works with her associates to establish legal procedures that haven’t existed for years. Everything started with the Statute of the Faculty, via various other acts that didn’t exist and were essential to even imagine the work of the faculty.

The students asked Iva to continue holding classes for them even after being elected dean.

“I realised why it isn’t easy for a dean to hold classes. Your mind is torn when you’re primarily dealing with finances and accounting positions, pipes and electricity, and then you run to the classroom to talk about Kant’s Critique of Judgement. That’s gruelling; it splits one’s mind down the middle. However, I’m the only philosopher in my department and there’s no one to lead Aesthetics instead of me; there’s no one to replace me. On the other hand, that wouldn’t be fair towards the students, because I would leave them without a lecturer for a subject that’s compulsory and one of the most complicated subjects that they have. They asked me to stay.

IVA WITH HER PARENTS

I promised that I would, with the request that they wait for me in the classroom until I arrive, because I will certainly be running late. And so, they wait for me, I arrive late, but I arrive. I hold classes in basic undergraduate studies, but I’ve given up on doctoral studies. I’ve frozen them until further notice, because I can’t manage it.”

When you hail from a famous family like the Draškićs, you personally carry part of that burden. Iva read a lot as a girl, and when she read The Forsyte Saga, her own Draškićs reminded her of the Forsytes a lot.

“One of the key figures in my life was my wonderful grandfather, Sreten Draškić, who was the kind of grandfather one could only wish to have. I was his only granddaughter and he so adored and devoted himself to me that it’s tough to even imagine. He came to collect me every Friday in his car, a beat-up Citroen ‘frog’, picking me up after school. He would take me home and I would spend time with him until Sunday evening, when my dad would pick me up to take me home. Granddad would devise a programme every time, in order for the two of us to be able to hang out and have as much quality fun as possible. He taught me to play chess, cards, and it was from him that I acquired my first knowledge on Greek mythology and foreign languages. We always knew what we would be doing. We walked, went to the Olimp sports centre, and had Sunday lunch at Aca Devetka. That was a well-planned two-and-a-halfday programme. I travelled around the world with my grandfather a lot. At least two or three times a year, we would tour some important cultural monuments in Europe: Rome, Paris, Vienna, Madrid, London… Granddad Sreten invested a lot of love and energy in my upbringing, which is why his image is among the central pillars of my childhood and youth.”

All the Draškićs achieved something with their lives. Iva’s great-grandfather was the famous general Panta Draškić, her grandfather Sreten was a pre-war diplomat who completed law studies in Belgrade and political science studies in Paris, Sreten’s brother Mladen Draškić was a professor at the Faculty of Economics, his sister Ljubinka was university-educated and worked as the director of the University Library, uncle Dragiša Draškić was a professor at the Faculty of Mining. The entire family lived up to its reputation in society and maintained a very strong family ethic – achieving reputation and status comes by way of one’s personal efforts and personal value.

A professor must, as a person, be and remain worthy of the quality of the content they’re conveying to younger generations

“The Draškićs looked up to their ancestors, but each of them fought independently to express themselves in the best possible way and provide their own contribution to society. My father was also well aware of who his ancestors were, and he appreciated that, but he wasn’t one of those who base their identity on their origins, rather his identity was primarily based on his own work and his personal values. Muci Draškić was a bona fide artist. He was highly educated, in parallel with his directing studies, he also studied art history, just like my mother, who studied literature in parallel with acting.”

Iva is clear about what she believes are the best things she inherited from her parents.

“It seems to me that I have mental stability from the Čučkovićs, from my mother. I handle stress and challenges well. I have that healthy Dubrovnik-Herzegovinian awareness of who I am. It’s somehow clear to me what and how much I’m worth, but I can’t ‘get water in my ears’. I’m not vain and am grateful to God, or to nature, that this is the case.

“From the Draškićs, or more precisely from my grandfather and father, I think I inherited a sense of ease, or the skill of communication. I’m not prone to pretentiousness, and nor were my grandfather and father. Nothing can make me lose my tact and cause me to go ‘crazy’ and say or do something I would later regret. My mum really wasn’t adept on that front, with her it was often the case that ‘what’s on the mind is on the tongue’. That can be entertaining, but it’s not very convenient when you need to communicate with large numbers of people.”

When someone lectures on aesthetics, it’s somehow desirable for them to conduct themselves in a way that says they inherited their behaviour from Draškić. What’s for certain – as confirmed by her students – is that the value system she teaches them succeeds in being ‘adopted’, just as she and her husband succeeded in doing with their own children.

“I’m not among those who think that we were better than today’s generations. I think every generation has its own ways of expressing its own shortcomings. It’s important to have patience when raising your children, and not to directly forbid anything. The best way to raise children is through the example of their parents. And it’s also similar with students. Students, just like children, soak up the qualities of a person who enters their classroom. They feel them very well, and what’s fascinating is that they’re very well aware of whether or not you really know the subject you’re teaching.

I don’t know what tentacles they use to reach that conclusion, but they can clearly see if you have sovereignty and can very easily – particularly in our fields of the humanities – reach the essence of a professor’s personality.

“It’s very important to preserve the possibility of entering the classroom with your head held high and to be able to be calm, collected and true to yourself in front of your students. A professor must, as a person, be and remain worthy of the quality of the content they’re conveying to younger generations.”