By Dana Ullman MPH

When I received a call from Dr. Edwin Dervisevic, a physician in Slovenia, my eyes crossed and my forehead wrinkled. Slovenia? At first thought, it sounded like one of the countries from which Groucho Marx once claimed to be king. But on further reflection, I remembered knowing that it was a part of the former Yugoslavia and that it was the first country to declare its independence from it.

Dr. Dervisevic told me that he is a serious student and practitioner of homeopathy and acupuncture, that he runs schools of both acupuncture and homeopathy in Slovenia and Croatia, and that he is organizing an international conference on alternative medicine in sports in mid-February. Because he had read one of my books, Discovering Homeopathy, which contained a chapter on the homeopathic treatment of sports ailments, he asked if I could speak at his conference.

How could I refuse?

The conference was co-sponsored the Institute of Hygiene which is a part of the leading medical school in Slovenia’s capitol city of Ljubljana. Besides myself, the speakers at the conference included one of Croatia’s leading sports physicians, a leading physician/nutritionist from the medical school in Ljubl jana, a physician who has trained in chiropractic manipulation, and the President of a college of traditional Chinese medicine in a Hefei Province of China which has 4,000 students.

Approximately 100 people attended the conference, half of whom were physicians, one-quarter of whom were various other health professionals, and one-quarter of whom were serious stu dents of alternative medicine. The physicians included many specialists, including cardiologists, rheumatologists, and ortho pedic surgeons.

Slovenia is situated on the northern most part of the former Yugoslavia, and it abutts Austria and Italy. Because of the significant popularity of homeopathy in these countries, it was surprising to discover that homeopathic medicines were not formally legal in Slovenia. This is particularly surprising since Yugoslavia was the most liberal of the former Iron Curtain countries and Slovenia was the most economically prosperous and had the most educated population of the former Yugoslavia countries.

Homeopathic medicine was also not formally legal in Croatia until very recently, though its legal status is ill-defined. In 1996, a homeopath with 20 years of experience was ordered to shut down his practice, but 48 hours later, he was told that he could open it. Several Croatian physicians told me that it is now legal to practice homeopathy but it is uncertain if it is legal for pharmacies to sell the medicines.

Despite the questionable legal status of homeopathy in these countries, there is a small but growing interest in this form of natural medicine. Dr. Dervisevic runs three schools of homeopathy, two in Croatia and one in Slovenia, each with 10-20 students, approximately half of whom are medical doctors. He teaches classical homeopathy in this two-year course, though in his own practice, he used a Voll-like machine that he has developed to help him find the correct remedy and to prescribe nutritional supplements.

Dr. Dervisevic is smart enough to realize that one way to introduce homeopathy and other natural medicines into his country is in sports medicine. Sports in Slovenia, especially skiing and basketball are taken very seriously (Elan skis are made there, and Slovenia has several players in the NBA). Athletes and physicians who treat them tend to be more open than others to whatever works.

Some seeds of homeopathy have now been planted.

There is little doubt that a tree, hopefully even a forest, is already beginning to sprout in Slovenia.