ISISA:s 18th world conference on islands held in Zadar

Report from Christian Pleijel

In the middle of June, some ESINers took part in ISISAs 18th, semi-annual conference on the islands of the world. ISISA – the International Small Islands Studies Association – is a voluntary, non-profit and independent organisation, founded back in 1986. Its objectives are to study islands on their own terms, and to encourage free scholarly discussion on small island related matters such as “islandness,” smallness, insularity, dependency, resource management and environment, and the nature of island life.

Pia Prost, vice chair of ESIN, her colleagues from Åbo Academy Cecilia Lundberg and Mia Henriksson, and Christian Pleijel attended the whole conference which was one week long with 89 lectures on disappearing islands, island adaptation and transformation under climate change, dry stone walling, island ecosystems between reality and utopia, and counting islands in the Netherlands. We from ESIN knew very little or nothing at all about islands such as Kiriwandi, Prince Edward, Pahawang, Dugi Otok, Ryuku and Eggano – but now we do, and we see the likeness and we know there is much to learn, islands to islands.

The conference was held in the university of Zadar and on the islands in the Adriatic archipelago of the city. Zadar has belonged to many kingdoms – Phoenicians, Romans, Huns, Franks, Venetians, French and Austrians. Under Tito, the city was industrialized, but in connection with the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the federal state of Yugoslavia began to crack. Following a referendum in 1991, Croatia declared independence, which was rejected by the central government in Belgrade and by local Serbs in Croatia. A civil war broke out – The Homeland War – and Zadar was besieged for two years by the Yugoslav People’s Army with intense bombardment of the city. The city’s only contact with Zagreb was via the island of Pag by ferries to and from the mainland as the bridge connecting the island to the mainland was destroyed by Serbian artillery.

Croatian MEP & Chair of SEArica Tonino Picula and his associate Ivan Matic

We visited Pag, traveling over its new bridge known for its sudden, very strong wind called “Bora.” The wind builds up on the other side of a high, sharp mountain range on the mainland with peaks of almost 2,000 meters and pulls over the ridge down into the strait before the bridge where it can reach up to 55 m/s . On the morning of June 14, before we were about to go to Pag, the national weather service issued a red warning due to strong winds with gusts of 25 to 35 m/s. The ferry to Pag was canceled and the bridge was closed. Later in the afternoon, when we were passing, everything was calm again, the wind god had gone to bed. 

Pag Bridge, Croatia

We also visited Ugljan and Dugi Otok (Long Island), a wonderful island with the village of Sali (about a thousand inhabitants), many of whom work in the village’s cannery. On Dugi Otok you will find doctors, dentists, post offices, ATMs, port offices and a fishing industry owned by the French company Mardesic, which makes canned sardines for the French market.

On the last day of the conference, we had the opportunity as Åbo Academy University to present the “Habitability” concept, and how it examines seven areas that are crucial for whether an island should break the depopulation trend. It was well received and our model was widely appreciated as a practical tool for making an analysis of an island with the help of the islanders themselves. Milos in the Aegean wants to try it and we were invited as keynote speakers to a conference in Taiwan in 2024.

Cecilia Lundberg and Christian Pleijel present the habitability concept

Half of us brought COVID with us home, but it was worth it.

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