Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Walter Roberts: The Fulbright Program in Yugoslavia -- "Tito Thought It Was An Excellent Idea"

It was very interesting period for me, because I began to realize that my Serbo-Croatian, which I had learned – I think I should put the word “learned” in quotation marks – at the Foreign Service Institute, was not adequate for me to conduct these negotiations with the Yugoslavs.  But the main negotiator on the Yugoslav side spoke French, and so we discussed the agreement in French, and that I was able to do.  If you ask me now, what kind of agreement we reached, I’m not quite sure.  But obviously it worked, because in the end our program continued as it was before.

We always had difficulties [with the Fulbright program] but I made it one of my priorities that during my tenure as Public Affairs Officer there, I would reach a Fulbright agreement.   And I didn’t give up.  I used cocktail parties, I used lunches, I used my calls on the Foreign Office or with other people.  We always would say “Well, things will not be the same until we have a Fulbright agreement.” 

Kennedy and Tito at the White House
The story goes, and I have no reason to doubt it, that Tito, who was the last head of state to visit John F. Kennedy alive, he came at the end of October or early November 1963, and apparently established a very good rapport with the President.  He was happy with his trip to the United States.  Allegedly, upon his return, he said to his immediate staff that he wants to show his gratitude for the way Kennedy received him.  And was there anything in American-Yugoslav relations that he could do to further that?  The American desk officer in the Foreign Office, to whom I had told every day of the week that we wanted a Fulbright agreement, told his Foreign Minister to tell Tito that maybe we can sign a Fulbright agreement.  

Tito thought that was an excellent idea.  The Yugoslavs relented on their insistence that all exchangees – and that was the stumbling block, they wanted to choose the people, and they would not want to give that to a commission – they relented that a Fulbright commission be established in Belgrade, of which the cultural officer of the United States would be the chairman.  So we had a Fulbright agreement and Bill Fulbright himself came for the signing in 1964.  It was absolutely the first Fulbright agreement in Eastern Europe; from what I hear it is still thriving.  
Senator Fulbright and LBJ, April 1964

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