EDUARD PRUGOVECKI: A LIFE IN SCIENCE AND HUMANISM
Professor Eduard Prugovecki, a co-founder of the Project for a First People's Century and
a distinguished quantum physicist and utopographic novelist, died in Chapala, Mexico, on
October 12, 2003. The day before he died, he sent me by e-mail a copy of the manuscript of
his last book, "Memoirs of a Scientist: A Critical Look at the North American
Academia and Pure Science," one of my principal sources in the memorial essay that
We first became electronic friends in the autumn of 2001, when, by sheerest coincidence,
he and I both published books with the same title, "Memoirs of the Future." Mine
was an autobiography, and his was a novel about a far-future Earth after a thermonuclear
holocaust, divided between two surviving polities, the utopian community of
"Terra" and a faithful replica of late 20th-Century North America, the
ironically dubbed "Free World Federation" or FWF. In 2002 he published its
equally absorbing sequel, "Dawn of the New Man," which chronicled the ultimate
triumph of Terra.
As I subsequently learned, Prugovecki was a man of astonishing brilliance and versatility,
who had emigrated from Yugoslavia to the United States in 1961 to undertake post-graduate
studies in physics at Princeton University. He later became a professor of physics and
mathematics at the University of Toronto, retiring in 1997. We never met, but we exchanged
many letters by e-mail, ending on the day of his death.
Eduard Prugovecki's life was quite unlike mine, but not dissimilar from the lives of many
people raised in Europe who chose to re-locate to North America during the eras of Nazi
terror and the Cold War. He was the only child of a Croatian businessman and a Romanian
mother of Polish descent, born in the Romanian city of Craiova on March 19, 1937. The next
year his family moved to Bucharest, where they lived under radically varying circumstances
until 1951. At first well-to-do, they narrowly survived the lethal hazards of World War
Two, including frequent bombings by both Allied and Nazi aircraft, only to lose almost all
their worldly possessions when a Communist regime was installed in the late 1940s. As a
native Croatian and a notorious capitalist, Prugovecki's father was expelled from Romania.
His wife and son fled with him and, after months of threadbare existence in a refugee
camp, they settled in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, at that time part of Tito's
Eduard and his mother did not speak a word of Croatian when they arrived in their new
country. Even his father had forgotten much of his native tongue, but they soon
accommodated. Eduard-only 14 years old at this time-mastered Croatian in a single year,
passed his high school courses with distinction, and entered the University of Zagreb,
where he acquired a diploma in physics. During these years, he also mastered English and
Russian, which had become the world's major languages in scientific research. He was
already fairly proficient in German. He then served a full year as a conscript in the
Yugoslav army, leaving as an officer in the reserves.
In 1961, on the recommendation of his mentor at the University of Zagreb, he won admission
to the post-graduate program in physics at Princeton, expecting to find a land overflowing
with milk and honey, a land of peace and general prosperity that had surmounted the evils
of its past. He was soon to be disillusioned, as he experienced at first hand the racism,
gross inequities, violations of free speech, and warmongering in the America of the early
1960s. But he persevered, wrote a powerful dissertation on the empirical and mathematical
foundations of quantum mechanics, and took his Ph.D. in January, 1965.
After two years of postdoctoral research at the University of Alberta, he accepted a
tenure-track assistant professorship at the University of Toronto in 1967, and seemed well
on his way to a meteoric career in theoretical physics. Indeed, he published many
illustrious papers and several major monographs over the next 30 years, but he ran afoul
of ambitious colleagues and administrators at the University, who virtually forced him
into early retirement in 1997. At this distance, I cannot assess the legitimacy of his
indictments. He believed to the end that much of the animus of his academic foes was the
result of his outspoken defense of the rights of Palestinians in the never-ending
religious and political wars of the "Holy Lands." I do not doubt that he had
good reason to hold this belief. The Zionist lobby in both Canadian and American academic
politics, as well as in politics in general, is immensely powerful, and a fundamental-if
not potentially fatal-factor in the equations of U.S. imperial foreign policy in this new
century. It reminds me time and again of the fatal friendship of imperial Russia in 1914
with Serbia, which precipitated World War One.
At any rate, Eduard Prugovecki was always a man of conscience, who deplored and fought
injustice wherever he found it. He was never a racist, never an anti-Semite, never a
censor of free speech. Many of his closest friends and most beloved mentors were Jewish.
His greatest hero was Albert Einstein, and the man whose political views he most often
quoted approvingly was Noam Chomsky, both Jews. Near the end, he also told me that one of
his favorite composers (and mine as well) was a Jew, Gustav Mahler.
But in the end, his finitude overwhelmed him. Suffering from terminal cancer and angina
pectoris, he took his own life. I honor and respect this great man more than I can say.
Let us resolve to honor him in the best way imaginable, by continuing his work to
inaugurate the First People's Century, for Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus,
atheists, and for all men and women of conscience everywhere. We owe this much to Eduard
W. Warren Wagar
Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus
Department of History
State University of New York at Binghamton