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University of Basel

Image and freedom

“I had to learn how to study”

Interview: Bettina Huber

Dr. Kurt Pelda, an alumnus of the University of Basel, is a war reporter and freelance journalist. He has stayed true to the vow he made on receiving his doctorate in economics: Always to think of the pursuit of truth as a serious and noble task; to make every endeavor to achieve this aim and to carry out all activities in a responsible, conscientious and equitable manner. He has been given the 2016 Alumni Award in recognition of his commitment.

Dr. Kurt Pelda, Kurt Pelda, Winner of Alumni Award. (Image: Archiv Diogenes Verlag)
Dr. Kurt Pelda, Kurt Pelda, Winner of Alumni Award. (Image: Archiv Diogenes Verlag)

UNI NOVA: Mr. Pelda, you say that you’re a “freelance war reporter but no adrenaline junkie.” As a journalist, what motivates you to seek out high-risk conflict areas?

KURT PELDA: I’m not in it for the adrenaline rush, which is something I’m often accused of. That would mean a completely passive experience – and I want to have an impact! That ambition was even stronger when I was 20 – I used to kid myself that I could change the world. What I can say today is that at least I try. I’m not in development aid and I’m not a medical doctor; what I do is give people in war zones a voice. The excuse “I have no idea what’s going on there” is no longer valid today.

UNI NOVA: What memories of the University of Basel did the alumni award spark for you?

PELDA: I had quite a tough time at Basel initially. I had been at the top of my class in secondary school, but once I started university I had to learn how to actually study, which meant sitting down and hitting the books. Toward the end of my course, I acquired important skills such as focusing, abstraction and joined-up thinking, which were to benefit from some interdisciplinary collaboration. This has helped me to do my job responsibly.

UNI NOVA: Does the University of Basel still play a role in your life?

PELDA: My time at Basel certainly had a lasting impact. I still seek advice from people I met during my four semesters of Islamic Studies. And my course in economics led to me meeting both the mother of my children and my best friend. Sharing a meal with other alumni gave me the opportunity to take a fresh look at both the university and the city. For example, I found former professors of mine were perfectly approachable people. My escape from Basel and the confines of Switzerland led to what I do today, among other things; and also taught me again to be thankful for the fact that Switzerland is a safe country and a well-functioning state.

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