Nikola Tesla was a prolific visionary on a par with Leonardo da Vinci, the great and the good of London’s Serbian community heard at an event to celebrate the birth date of the man whose impact is still felt today. London’s Serbian Embassy hosted the various groups of the diaspora who were united in celebrating the life and work of the great Serb scientist and to consider his incredible legacy.
“On this day 156 years ago, a genius that was to light the world up was born in the small village of Smiljan, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire,’ said Serbian Chargé d’Affaires Branimir Filipović. “His father, an orthodox clergyman, couldn’t have envisaged the greatness his small boy would achieve.
“His visions could be only measured by those of Leonardo da Vinci. If someone can name another man to compare with this great gentleman, please tell us.”
“But what makes this man a genius? That is the question that everybody wants to ask. Not only his fascinating work and achievements. He spoke fluently eight languages and he could memorise entire books. He was a man of a steel-trap photographic memory with an insane ability to visualise even the most complex pieces. I also want to remind you that he composed a poem, Fragments of Olympian Gossip, for his friend George Sylvester Viereck, a German poet.”
Mr Filipović, representing the Serbian Ambassador to London, said: “This is a man that ushered humanity into a second industrial revolution. He single-handedly developed technology that enhanced electricity for household use – things like electric generators, remote control, spark plugs and lights, as well as many other different machines – at a time when the majority of the world was still lit by candle power.
“Tesla’s patents and theoretical work formed the basis of wireless communication, another invention that came in the last days of the twentieth century and, at the time of his death, he held several hundred patents in the groundbreaking fields of physics, robotics and engineering. He pulled off scientific experiment that modern-day technology still cannot replicate.
“I would just quote the famous American electrical engineer Edwin H Armstrong who said, ‘the world will wait a long time for Tesla’s equal in the achievement and imagination’. Those words are still accurate now.”
Joining the event at London’s Serbian Embassy was a distant relative of Nikola Tesla, Mr Vladimir Trbojević.
After studying in Europe, Tesla moved to the United States and eventually became a naturalised American citizen. While in New York, he worked alongside some of American society’s most eminent scientists, bankers and industrialists. He was also feted by society and could be found hobnobbing with actresses and authors such as Sarah Bernhardt and Mark Twain while he lived at the New Yorker and Waldorf-Astoria hotels.
There is little doubt that Tesla’s life was rich in episodes that should be perfect the big screen. “There were a lot of stories about Tesla’s life,’ said British Serbian Chamber of Commerce board director Avram Balabanović. “A number of them were very true, a number of them were pure inventions. As Serbs we like to emphasise the things that are more positive but forget the things that are perhaps not so positive.
“Some say that he did not get rich or make money, but that is only partly true. By the age of 40, he made about $1 million. In those days, that was quite a lot of money. The thing that Tesla did with money, however, was reinvest in further experiments. Money did not stay with him for long and he was a big spender. So whether someone is rich or not is very relative. Tesla had money but he spent it towards good causes.”
Event organiser Milica Brkić, whose idea is was to hold this event, was clear in her belief about Tesla’s legacy. “They say Nikola Tesla was not a real scientist for there is no evidence of his academic progress,’ she said. “They are right, because he was more than a scientist. He was a great inventor, a creator. Tesla was one of a kind.
“Some say he was not a businessman as he died in poverty. It is true that he died in debt, but it was in our debt to him. Our debt for how he encouraged and empowered humanity, for understanding human existence better than anybody else, and for giving all of this knowledge to us for free. If I were to describe him, I would struggle to find words good enough.”
It was to the credit of organiser Milica Brkić that the UK’s Serbian community could be brought together for this event. “Tonight we have representatives of the Serbian Embassy, the Serbian Society, the British Serbian Chamber of Commerce, the Serbian Council,’ said Avram Balabanović, a prominent and active member of the diaspora. “All these organisations accepted Milica’s idea straight away without any issue. This is only possible because the British diaspora is fairly unique, compared to the American, German and French diaspora. For the first time in ten years, all these organisations are working together.”
The event, which included a short film of Tesla’s life and achievements, was put on in collaboration with Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Museum. Although Tesla only visited Belgrade once, in 1892, his life is best remembered in the town’s small but perfectly formed Nikola Tesla Museum, which is currently celebrating sixty years in existence. The highlight of this year’s festivities will be an exhibition dedicated to when Tesla’s close nephew, Yugoslav Ambassador to the USA and apparent KGB agent, Sava Kosanović arranged for his belongings to be taken from New York to Belgrade in September 1951. Although no legal document has been found to back up the assertion and It is thought that Tesla died in testate, it was claimed that this was Tesla’s last will. When he died, Tesla was an American citizen, having spent only 31 hours of his life on what is present-day Serbia.
The museum, housed in a residential villa built in 1927, holds more than 160,000 original documents, 2,000 books and journals, 1,200 historical technical exhibits, 1,500 photographs and photo plates of original, technical objects, instruments and apparatus, and more than 1,000 plans and drawings. The Nikola Tesla Archive was inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme Register in 2003 due to its critical role regarding history of electrification of the world and, more importantly, future technological advancements in this area.