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INTERVIEW - I have travelled to about 90 countries worldwide, and there is no place like Dubrovnik - Prof. Dr. Zvonko Orehovec CMPA

INTERVIEW - I have travelled to about 90 countries worldwide, and there is no place like Dubrovnik - Prof. Dr. Zvonko Orehovec

Written by  Feb 13, 2024

Renowned Croatian expert in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) safety, Professor Dr. Zvonko Orehovec, shared details and challenges in organizing numerous world congresses on CBRN science and monitoring consequences. He explains why Dubrovnik and its surroundings are an ideal destination for international congresses. With a career that includes both military and professorial service, Professor Orehovec has authored numerous scientific works, books, and lectures at professional conferences, and he is a member of various professional organizations. He played a key role in organizing ten world congresses on CBRN protection in Dubrovnik and Cavtat. It is no wonder that he won the industry award for organizing the 11th World Congress on CBRN Science and Monitoring of Consequences - CSCM 2023 at last year's Croatian Meeting Industry Forum.

• Last year, the 11th World Congress CSCM 2023 was held in Dubrovnik. How long did the congress last, how many participants attended, and from which countries? What did the congress program include, besides the plenary part?

The congress lasted for 6 days, gathering more than 350 scientists and experts from 35 countries, over 20 VIP individuals, around ten international organizations such as EUCOM, RACVIAC, DTRA, UN, WHO, IAEA, OPCW, EC, UCPM, EUROPOL, NATO, and about fifteen international companies. In addition to the plenary part, the congress program included the organization of two workshops: a Workshop on New Technologies in the Protection of Critical CBRN Infrastructure and a Workshop on Radiological Safety organized by the Idaho National Laboratory - USA, the Directorate of Civil Protection of the Republic of Croatia, and the Ruđer Bošković Institute. A special part of the congress was a congress exercise organized by the relevant ministries of the Republic of Croatia, aiming to demonstrate Croatia's response capabilities in the event of a radiological incident at the border. Additionally, there were congress demonstrations of new technologies from scientific institutes and companies, showcasing robots, drones, and advanced situational awareness technology.

I must emphasize that this series of congresses is non-profit, so the industry doesn't have the opportunity for self-promotion. To attend the congress, participants must prove and present their innovativeness, both through workshops and plenary papers, as well as through demonstrations. The funds collected from fees and sponsorships are invested into financing scientists and experts from developing and transitional countries.

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Photo - CMPA

• Why is hosting the CSCM congress significant for Croatia, especially for the destination of Dubrovnik?

There are several reasons why this congress is significant for Croatia and Dubrovnik. One is socio-economic: the survival of the population in this region depends on the ability to earn a living, and tourism, including congress tourism, plays a significant role in that. Another reason is security-political: the region's openness to the world, the preservation of cultural heritage, and its presentation in tourism undoubtedly provide the greatest guarantee that any attack, any disturbance, will be condemned by the official global public and all guests, especially those attending congresses who often have the power of speech and action.

Why Dubrovnik as a destination? American participants tell us: because you are the best and most beautiful in the world! Yes, these are facts. I have traveled to about 90 countries worldwide, and there is no place like Dubrovnik. However, that's not the only reason. Let others not take offense, but only Istria and the Dubrovnik region have the knowledge and culture for congress tourism at the highest global level. However, Istria doesn't have Dubrovnik as a city.

• What are the basic elements a destination must meet when applying to host this congress? What are Dubrovnik's greatest advantages in this regard?

In addition to basic technical prerequisites such as accommodation capacity, a congress hall, and accompanying technical support, preferably in one place for several hundred people, there is also a guarantee of service quality. Above all, there must be a truly professional but fair-play relationship and flexibility towards the organizer. It is a very risky business - organizing an event that already spends money and time in advance, with no guarantee of fundraising, attendance, or the possibility that people won't come due to wars or pandemics. Specifically, we made a contract with Hotel Croatia in Cavtat for a congress that was supposed to take place in 2021. It was postponed twice, and it eventually took place last year in October with almost no changes in price and type of services. That's called fair play, and it's not forgotten, especially since it's not the first time or the only such flexibility.

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Cavtat - Photo Canva

Secondly, but equally important, the Dubrovnik region is the only one that provides at least a certain guarantee of good weather during the period of congress tourism, and when you add the history and beauty of Dubrovnik to that, every foreign participant wants to come back, again and again. I don't know if you've heard this before, but my foreign colleagues know more about the brilliance of Dubrovnik's diplomacy than the average Croatian intellectual. For example, about Marin Getaldić, Šiško Gučetić, Frano Gundulić, and others, and their success in preserving the Dubrovnik Republic.

• This wasn't the first time; the congress has already taken place several times in Dubrovnik. How many times in total, and which of them would you highlight as special – the largest, most challenging, or most content-rich so far?

This series of congresses began in 1994 in Switzerland under the name Chemical & Biological Medical Treatment Symposium. Due to the active efforts of Croatian diplomacy in recognizing critical CBRN infrastructure as a target for military and terrorist attacks, the first conference (CBMTS – Industry) was organized. This conference pointed out the consequences in case of choosing the industry as a target. The congress exercise held then in Petrokemija Kutina, the town of Kutina, and its surroundings was an international argument for doctrinal redirection of the Chemical Weapons Convention and other international legal regulations towards the protection of critical infrastructure.

After that, due to the excellent organization of the congress exercise in Kutina (involving 7 ministries with more than 1500 participants over an area of over 15 km2), Croatia got another opportunity for an international exercise co-organized with the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) called ASISTEX (Assistant Delivery Exercise). This exercise actively involved 27 countries, 14 of them with their units and teams. Thus, Croatia practically became a leader in the EU in promoting defence against CBRN threats and other contemporary technological threats.

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Photo - CMPA


So far, 11 congresses have been organized in Croatia (25 worldwide), all under the patronage of the Croatian government and international organizations, and the conclusions of the congresses have always been ahead of their time and ahead of contemporary threats. Everything the congress warned about happened very quickly in practice. For example, weapons of mass destruction – terrorist attacks with planes on the Twin Towers in the USA, attacks with industrial chemicals on the population in Iraq and Syria, liquid explosives on planes, explosion of ammonium nitrate in Beirut, attack on critical infrastructure in Ukraine, and much more.

• How challenging is it to organize the same congress multiple times in the same destination? Does Dubrovnik have enough capacity, content, and additional activities to impress participants anew? How much do local experts – agencies, tourist boards, congress offices, etc. – help you with that?

Organizing the same congress multiple times in the same destination is not a challenge if it's the Dubrovnik region. Dubrovnik and its surroundings have so much to show and offer that even after 10 congresses in Dubrovnik and Cavtat, we still haven't exhausted all the advantages. The only problem that arises is offering congress dinners for more than 200 people outside hotel accommodation itself because many very attractive destinations have either closed or been repurposed, or the offer and services are not representative. Tourist agencies, the Tourist Board, and the Convention Bureau are always at our disposal and make maximum efforts, but even they cannot change the decisions made by politicians or private owners.

The only thing I would like is, with the help of the Student Service, to offer a bit more "history of the city" in a way that, during the main events in the city, female and male students walk around in historical costumes, uniforms, and clothing. That the main entrance gates and prominent places on the ramparts are guarded by the city guard, that restaurants and shops serve people in traditional costumes, or at least some recognizable elements, and that Chinese souvenirs are not sold.

• What are the biggest challenges in organizing such a congress? Are there any specific protocols or requirements from the organizers?

After 25 congresses, knowledge and experience are gained, but it still remains challenging to satisfy protocols when more VIPs arrive, to ensure participants engaged in very specific tasks in the security-intelligence sector, and to ensure safety during the performance of demonstration exercises and demonstrations. However, we have always had excellent cooperation with all security and defence entities in Croatia, including customs and services during the import and export of sometimes very "exotic" equipment and means from the field of CBRN technology. So far, we have never had a serious incident, and if there were any minor problems, our people solved them promptly, starting from airport staff to police, security systems, firefighters, and tourist workers.

• The CSCM congress is unique in that special exercises, technical demonstrations, and simulations of CBRN attacks or events and the reactions of competent special services are held as part of it. How challenging is it to organize such exercises, and what do they all involve logistically?

Exercises and demonstrations are organized or controlled by our specialized institutions, services, and units. In this case, the scenario, program, protocols, and standard procedures were prescribed and controlled by professionals from the Directorate of Civil Protection, the Police Directorate, and the Croatian Firefighters Association of the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Health, Customs, and specialized services and agencies.

We work with tools and equipment that often require compliance with specific regulations during import and export. However, once they arrive at the venue for exercises and demonstrations, there are no more issues because they are never combat equipment and devices for use in a combat environment. Highly specialized professionals manage them, and it is in everyone's interest to showcase the best. In addition, we always prepare for what is called a 'stress-test' situation in our field (situations where you plan security measures for situations with a minimal level of risk, with a minimal probability of occurrence), and that's why our exercises always involve security, firefighters, police, and emergency medical services.

The challenge is to organize and ensure that all participants can see activities that are not always within visible range. However, there is new technology and ingenuity among our people for that, as seen at this congress where professionals from the Directorate of Civil Protection ensured that drone footage is sent in real-time to the Android phones of participants, allowing them to follow the activities via their phone screens. The only more serious problem is the terrain for conducting exercises, but even in that case, we have very good, excellent support from the local authorities. In the last Congress, it was the Municipality of Konavle and its mayor who provided us with the area managed by the municipality.


This article was published on the Convention Bureau of the Dubrovnik Tourist Board




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