Former Oxford tutor Dr Kathleen V. Wilkes has been honoured with the unveiling of a plaque commemorating her actions in Dubrovnik during the Croatian War of Independence.
Revealed on 1st February by the city’s mayor, Andro Vlahušić, the inscription pays tribute to the late tutor’s “longstanding friendship and courageous support during the 1991-5 aggression”. It stands by a memorial to the defenders of Dubrovnik, near to the site where Wilkes’ own ashes were scattered after her death in 2003.
Dubrovnik, described by Wilkes herself as “a city of joy, of light, of culture” was targeted by Serbian forces from late 1991 to 1992 as part of a wider conflict which ended with Croatian independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1995.
Dr Wilkes, a Fellow of St Hilda’s College and lecturer in Philosophy, refused to leave the city during the attacks. She was later made an honorary citizen for her work in alerting the wider world to the plight of Dubrovnik’s population, and for her efforts in providing humanitarian aid, which included driving an ambulance from the UK and supporting the pursuit of knowledge in repressed intellectual circles.
“Above all she was humane, an intellectual, and, of course, a great friend of Dubrovnik,” said Mayor Vlahušić at the ceremony last week. The proposal for the plaque came from several Dubrovnik citizens, including former mayor Pero Poljanić and Berta Dragicević, Executive Secretary of the Inter- University Centre and a war-time friend of Wilkes.
Flora Turner, Chairman of the British Croatian Society, described Dr Wilkes as “an extraordinary, brave and warm person – highly intelligent but very modest.” Having attended the ceremony, she admired “Kathy’s total dedication to the people of Dubrovnik and the need to tell the world the truth about the war.”
Dr Wilkes also focused on less orthodox methods of academic encouragement, holding clandestine seminars, smuggling in banned books and side stepping the secret police. A second year St Hilda’s student commented: “she sounds way more interesting than your average Oxford Fellow. Whilst the tutors at St Hilda’s are amazing, she seems to have led this incredible double life. I wish I had been taught by her – I’m forever trying to avoid secret police and I could do with some tips.”
She was also noted for her academic work behind the Iron Curtain. As Chairman of the Executive Committee for the Inter- University Centre from 1986-96, she helped to create a network of philosophers spanning East and West Europe.