Was Nikola Tesla a Serb or a Croat? That discussion has flared up again as Croatia plans to put the effigy of the inventor and discoverer of alternating current born in 1856 on its future euro coins. In 2023, the country hopes to exchange the kuna for the euro. In a competition about who or what should go on the back, Tesla won gloriously.
Serbia reacts as if stung by a wasp. “It would mean appropriation of the Serbian nation’s cultural and scientific heritage, as it is undisputed that the celebrated scientist identified himself as a Serb by descent and birth during his lifetime,” the central bank in Belgrade wrote in a statement. The bank will “take appropriate action towards relevant EU institutions to draw their attention to the inappropriateness of such a proposal,” if Croatia goes ahead with the plan.
But who is right now? As is often the case, both countries have a point. Tesla was born in a village in present-day Croatia. At the time, however, it was part of Austria-Hungary. His parents were ethnic Serbs, like most in that region at the time. After studying in two Croatian cities, Graz and Paris, the genius moved to the United States at the age of 28, where he became an American citizen.
Still, both Croatia and Serbia see plenty of reasons to claim Tesla. Zagreb and Belgrade both have Tesla museums. In Serbia, the inventor is featured on the 100 dinar banknote. In addition, the Belgrade airport is named after him.
Croatia does not think about changing its plans for the euro coins. “Tesla has spent less time in Serbia than I do in Oklaj,” President Zoran Milanovic said, referring to the village where he was on a lightning visit when asked for a response. “Perhaps it is not appropriate for Croatia to appropriate Tesla, but even less so for Serbia.” Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic adopted a more moderate tone. “We see the fact that Tesla, born in Croatia, is a Serb, as a plus. I don’t see how that could be a problem. If I had been the Serbian central bank, I would have said: bravo!”
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