It was an absolute privilege to be invited to the international conference titled “Suffering and Humanism, an event held in Valjevo, Serbia. After a flight to Belgrade via Amsterdam, I was joined by my great friend Vladimir Jovanovic, where after a night of over eating and drinking we headed down to Valjevo. The Archives of Serbia and The Inter-Municipal Archives of Valjevo, under the auspices of Mr. Tomislav Nikolić, the President of the Republic of Serbia were the prime organisers of the exhibition and conference. The opening was attended by Serbian President G. Tomislav Nikolic, representatives of many embassies, including the ambassadors of the United States, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Palestine, Qatar, Morocco, Ukraine and Tunisia, President of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences academician Vladimir Kostic, Serbian Army Chief of Staff General Ljubisa Diković, representatives of the City of Vienna and Budapest and other public figures.
I was warmly welcomed by Velibor Vidic who is curator of the exhibition. I first met Velibor in 2014 while filming ” The Women That Went To War”. Serbian hospitality is quite honestly breathtaking and at Valjevo there was no shortage of great company, fantastic food and vast amounts of beers and Rakija!! The exhibition is being held in The Valjevo Hospital, a place where during WW1 hundreds of typhus victims were rushed to. The exhibition is dedicated to many of the hospital units that came to Valjevo in the winter of 1915 where thousands of soldiers and civilians perished. I was extremely proud that Velibor and staff have made excellent use of the many documents and stories I had sent over and a room is being used for the role of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in Valjevo, along with our film “For the love of Serbia”. Graeme Keith and I made this film which has a focus on Valjevo both in English and Serbian. The exhibition with the film will run until 2018. The way Serbia has chosen to remember this story is a lesson to us all.
The conference involved a large number of scientists from abroad, including the well-known specialist in the history of the First World War, Dr. Oleg Ajrapetov, professor of the Moscow State University Lomonosov, Dr. Svetozar Rajak, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Dr. Vassili Kashirin, expert of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies. From local experts papers were presented by: Dr. Mile Bjelajac, director of the Institute for Recent History of Serbia, prof. Dr. Alexander Nedok, prof. Jelica Novakovic Lopušina, professor of the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade, Ljubodrag P. Ristic, a senior research fellow Institute for Balkan Studies and a number of historians of medicine. Introductory speeches were presented by: Dr. Mile Bjelajac, Miroslav Perisic and Dr. Svetozar Rajak.
For my part I was invited to talk on the role of Scottish Women’s Hospital in Serbia between 1914-1915. I also submitted a paper on the SWH from 1916-1916. On the Saturday evening I presented the film “For the love of Serbia”. Such was the reaction of the audience that plans for more events and closer ties with Serbia are being explored. It was very well received and that in part was down to how welcomed I had been by all.