A prominent nuclear engineering professor in California with influence over millions of dollars in federal research funds is also a prominent player in Dveri, a far right-wing party in Serbia that publicly supports a convicted war criminal, among other extremist stances.
Jasmina Vujic has been on the faculty at the University of California Berkeley since 1992. She formerly served as chair of UC Berkeley’s nuclear engineering department, and is the founding director of the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium, a key hub for nuclear security research and training, where she directs 50 affiliated faculty members and hundreds of researchers from eight universities across the country.
In recent years, Vujic has occupied positions on the Berkeley admissions and diversity committees, and she helps dish out at least $10 million in research funds at the multi-university research center, which is underwritten by the U.S. Department of Energy.
She’s also a longtime, prominent member of Dveri, having served as the Serbian far-right party’s vice president for three years, according to Serbian-language media accounts, interviews and social media postings. She regularly appears at its political events in her home country, has fundraised and lobbied for the group, and has appeared alongside some of the most controversial figures in Serbia’s recent history.
Experts say Dveri’s ascension to parliament and formal politics, even in a country governed by a right-wing party, are representative of a broader acceptance of previously unacceptable ideological stances throughout Europe.
But Vujic’s involvement in the group has raised alarm among some colleagues and peers in the nuclear engineering field because it is a foreign political entity that opposes long-established U.S. policies in the Balkans. Vujic’s affiliations with Dveri prompted at least one individual to report her affiliations to the Department of Energy as a potential security concern last year, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.
An open letter to UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ was also published online last year, raising Vujic’s involvement with Dveri and the party’s extremist views. Still, no official action has been taken by the university.
There is no indication that Vujic’s beliefs and political convictions have influenced her decision-making at UC Berkeley or her treatment of people who may be part of the groups Dveri loathes. But three people familiar with Vujic’s academic work and involvement with Dveri said her role in a party with an aggressive stance towards past Serbian atrocities during the 1990s dissolution of Yugoslavia, and virulently anti-LGBTQ positions has raised discomfort on campus.
Vujic did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story. In response to queries from The Daily Beast, University of California Berkeley spokesman Dan Moguloff said that Chancellor Christ’s office had not received letters about Professor Vujic’s activities. “The activities as described, if true, are outside the scope of the professor’s employment with the university,” Moguloff said. The Department of Energy did not respond to a request for comment.
But Berkeley sources couldn’t help but wonder whether the professor’s ties to the far right could—or should—impact their ability to receive security clearances and funding from the Department of Energy. “It’s really alarming for someone who is in a position to shape the next generation of nuclear security scholars to hold such extremist views,” said one of the individuals, who requested anonymity for fear of professional retaliation.
In applications for clearance, DOE requests information about a person’s associations, past or present, with anyone associated with an extremist ideology or organization, as well as involvement with foreign political parties. In this context, experts say that Vujic’s involvement with a political party at least ideologically linked to a nuclear power (Russia) hostile to American strategic interests is a major red flag from a counter-intelligence perspective.
“It’s the kind of thing that if it didn’t come up in a clearance review, there’d be a problem with the process,” said Alex Wellerstein, a professor of science and technology studies at the Stevens Institute of Technology. “The group that she’s affiliated with sounds especially distasteful.”
However, Wellerstein said the Department of Energy might still grant her a security clearance, or not view her political affiliations to be of concern if she didn’t have access to particularly sensitive information.
Steven Aftergood, the director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, said dual citizens like Vujic are routinely vetted for their overseas contacts and political affiliations as part of the security review process.
“It’s not automatically disqualifying—it is possible for people who hold dual citizenship to obtain a clearance. But it involves an additional layer of review, in particular from a counter-intelligence perspective,” said Aftergood. Such scrutiny typically drills down on the political leanings and allegiance of the person in question, and whether there is a possibility they would use their position to work against the interests of the United States.
Born in the Serbian city of Banja Luka in 1953, Vujic completed her initial education in nuclear engineering at the University of Belgrade before beginning a nuclear science doctorate at the University of Michigan in the mid-1980s. After graduating in 1989, she worked on reactor analysis at the Argonne National Laboratory for three years before joining UC Berkeley’s faculty in 1992, where she specializes in reactor design and security.
Although she has lived in the U.S. for the better part of three decades, Vujic has kept strong ties to her home country, including its fractious internal politics.
Archives of Dveri’s website show Vujic served as the party’s vice president from 2016 until January 2019. She previously occupied a position on Dveri’s political council, where her responsibilities included outreach to the Serbian diaspora, and fundraising.
Dveri got its start in 1999 as a publication issued by Bosko Obradovic, who now serves as Dveri’s leader. It coalesced into a formal political party in 2011, and, riding a wave of xenophobic sentiment prompted by the 2015 global migration crisis, won its first seats in Serbia’s parliament in 2016.
The party is part of a resurgent right-wing movement throughout European politics. For instance, members of Dveri have recently met with Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD), the German far-right party, to discuss political coordination and common ground.
Dveri not only opposes NATO—a popular stance in Serbia given NATO’s role in the 1999 bombing of Belgrade—but also membership in the European Union, instead favoring a pro-Russian position shared by the current government.
“They showed how a far-right mouthpiece organization could become legitimate and gain seats in parliament,” said Valery Perry, a senior associate at the advocacy and research group Democratization Policy Council in Sarajevo, who studies extremism in the Balkans. “The genocide denial, the denial at what happened at Srebrenica are core tenets of their beliefs.”
Almost exactly 25 years ago, some 8,000 Muslims were slaughtered in Srebrenica, in July 1995, by Bosnian Serbs.
But Dveri openly celebrates the more controversial figures in Serbia’s recent past, including General Ratko Mladic, who commanded the Serbian military during the Yugoslav wars and was convicted by an international tribunal for war crimes related to the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre. Dveri has also tried to rehabilitate the image of the Chetniks, the Serbian military detachments that collaborated with Hitler’s occupying army during World War II and committed acts of terrorism against neighboring Croat and Bosnian communities.
A pair of tweets posted to Dveri’s official Twitter accounts illustrate the party’s position towards Mladic. One features a photo of Mladic alongside American General Wesley Clark, accompanied by a caption reading “which one is the war criminal?” A second tweet includes a photo of a saluting, uniformed Mladic accompanied by the phrase “Fighting ISIL since 1992,” drawing an oblique comparison between the Bosnian Muslims Mladic massacred and the contemporary jihadist movement.
“They’re very open and explicit about their support for Serbian ultra-nationalist heroes of the 1990s like Mladic—there’s no attempt made to obscure that part of their identity,” said Jasmin Mujanovic, a professor at Elon University in North Carolina who recently published a book about contemporary Balkan politics.
Dveri is also “extremely anti-LGBTQ and distinguished themselves by taking on that sort of family-first language, playing up the Serbian Orthodox, traditionalist position,” Mujanovic added.
Dozens of people were injured during the 2010 Belgrade Pride parade when right-wing groups—including Dveri—violently disrupted the event and engaged in running battles with police. In 2011, threats of violence from Dveri and other far-right extremist organizations prompted the Serbian Interior Ministry to ban the annual Belgrade Pride parade for the following three years over security concerns. Last year, police again clashed with far right, homophobic demonstrators during Belgrade Pride.
Vujic appears to embrace many of the party’s positions. In 2011, she signed a petition issued by Dveri opposing the 2011 Belgrade Pride Parade, which was noted in a report by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia. The petition stated that Dveri regarded “the march of gay activists as the most direct nullification of the basic values of our society and the beginning of a definite destruction of the Serbian family,” and overtly hinted at the possibility of violence if it was allowed to proceed.
That same year, in a video posted to YouTube, speaking in Serbo-Croat, Vujic urged young people “whose energy hasn’t been tapped into” to join Dveri, stating she supports the party because it backs traditional families and morals, and because it opposes the independence of Kosovo from Serbia. Vujic also said she opposed Serbia’s ascension to the European Union and a 2015 resolution passed by the Serbian parliament acknowledging the Srebrenica massacre.
Vujic has also publicly appeared with controversial figures from Serbia’s past. In March 2014, she appeared at an event alongside fellow Dveri member Vesna Kalabic, the granddaughter of a prominent Chetnik commander and the head of the Ravnogorsk movement, which openly advocates genocide against Croats and Bosnians. According to press reports, Vujic and Kalabic vowed to do “everything that [Vladimir] Putin did in Russia” if elected.
And in 2013, she accepted the Order of the Republika Srpska with Golden Wreath from Milorad Dodik, the president of the Serbian region of Bosnia and Herzegovina who has been sanctioned by the U.S. government for interfering with the Dayton Accords, the 1995 international agreement that brought an end to hostilities in Bosnia. Like many in Dveri and the broader Serbian right-wing universe, Dodik refuses to accept the Srebrenica massacre as an act of genocide and openly admires Radovan Karadzic, the former Serbian Republic president who was found guilty of war crimes by an international tribunal and imprisoned for life.
Vujic also participated in private seminars seeking to attract investment to the Serbian Republic in Bosnia, according to Serbian media reports: A former Dveri member publicly claimed that Vujic accompanied Dveri president Bosko Obradovic on an American tour to try and raise funds from the Serbian diaspora.
In a public letter in April 2019, Dr. Emir Ramic, a Canadian academic of Bosnian ancestry, called on the UC Berkeley chancellor’s office to re-examine Vujic’s tenure and work at UC Berkeley.
“[H]er activities and the activities of the organizations she actively leads and supports has disturbed many American Bosnians who survived the Serbian aggression and genocide,” Ramic’s letter reads.
The letter continued, “We are astounded by the knowledge that a world-renowned expert in nuclear engineering such as Dr. Vujic is actively engaged in financing and lobbying activities of the extreme and nationalistic Serbian movements that have committed great crimes both in World War II, and in the aggression and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”