ERCIM News No.23 - October 1995

Prof. Tibor Vámos, Member of the Hungarian Academy of Science, Chairman of the Institute Board of MTA SZTAKI, the Hungarian Computer and Automaition Research Institute


Desire, envy, esteem and sarcasm are the emotions that throughout history have been asscociated with the joining of a prestigious society... Europa was originally a beautiful princess in Greek mythology: a girl approached and carried away by Zeus. Her name was later confused with the Semitic word for the West to become the name of a continent for about two millennia. In recent decades Europe's meaning seems to be returning to its origins: for many people it stands for the Western pleasantness of life, but also for the self-defence against rape from the barbaric East. Many kinds of multi-national organisations, political, military, social and even academic ones, reflect this view. After the dramatic "Big Change" of 1989, Eastern Europe has been fighting to get free of this unfavourable but traditional judgement by the West. Historically, this explains why Central and Eastern European countries are ambitious to become members of hitherto purely Western organizations such as NATO and the EU.

The changes of recent decades are apparent. Still, we have to learn that in a world of global markets we cannot survive just on the past glory of our great mathematicians and musicians, even less on the fame of heroic warriors who strangely enough seemed to lose all of our wars in the past millennium. If we cannot be seen as valuable partners of a European cooperation, then we will lose yet another war. So we are enthusiastic to join the "club" called the European Union and to be given the opportunity to contribute actively under the rules of game - and not just read about what is going on.

This historical-psychological context described above is not so apparent in research cooperations like ERCIM where a similar scientific background is the main amalgamating power. We think that SZTAKI's membership of ERCIM is a logical continuation of its 25 years' policy of openness and its tradition of stretching rules. SZTAKI was one of the first research establishments in the region to start an unbiased cooperation policy by getting rid of ideological barriers. This relied on the support of those who shaped the reform policy of the country and on the scientific prestige of many members of the institute. Examples of these reforms are numerous: the IFAC institute (of which SZTAKI's director was a one-time president) received outstanding British and American visiting scientists; international computer connections were established in the early seventies; young researchers could accept Western scholarships at a time when so many outstanding East European scientists were kept behind the walls of the Block; SZTAKI received the permission of COCOM to buy advanced mainframes which were not accessible in the region at that time.

ERCIM membership is expected to maintain an unbiased, open framework for scientific research in a time of deep and far-reaching change. We are especially glad not to be the only Eastern member, and greatly welcome the meeting of the IT consortium in Budapest this November. Europe is not just the Western part of the continent: it should be reintegrated. Science has received so many great contributions from Eastern Europe in spite of the latter's less lucky history. Scientists, and especially mathematicians, have always maintained the spirit of unity. The present progress in IT is believed to be a means of both a material and cultural rise for our beautiful, raped girl: Europa.

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