Monday, August 04, 2003

SIGACT News and The Cold War

Cleaning out my office I came across some old SIGACT News that Bill Gear had given me when he cleaned out his office after his retirement. The Winter 1982 edition is quite interesting. I was a freshman in college that year, well before I was part of the theory community.

There are some interesting technical articles that I will get to in future posts. But the first two pages were letters to the editor that are chilling reminders of the cold war during that time.

On page two was the following short note from Witold Lipski, Jr. and Antoni Mazurkiewicz from the Polish Academy of Sciences.

We are very sorry to inform you that due to the situation in Poland we do not see any chance to organize our 1982 Conference on Mathematical Foundations of Computer Science.

MFCS started in 1972 as an annual conference rotating between Poland and Czechoslovakia, and now between Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. There was no conferences in 1982 or 1983 and the conference did not return to Poland until 1989.

Talking about the Czechs, there was a much longer letter on page one from James Thatcher of IBM. Here are some excerpts.

On a recent trip to Europe, I visited Prague and had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Ivan M. Havel who is a friend and colleague of many years. Ivan Havel received his Ph.D. in CS from Berkeley in 1971. He joined the Institute for Applied Computer Technology in Prague in 1972 and then in 1974 became a member of the Czechoslovakian Academy of Sciences, in the Institute of Information Theory and Automation.

Ivan's brother, Vaclav Havel, an internationally known playwright, was imprisoned in 1979 for four and a half years for his activities in connection with the Charter 1977 movement.

In 1980, possibly related to his refusal to denounce his brother, Ivan Havel was removed from his position in the Academy of Sciences and was unemployed for several months. Last May, he and Vaclav's wife were arrested and charged with "subversion" for allegedly "collecting and distributing written material oriented against the socialist state and social establishment, with hostile intentions." After four days detention, they were released.

He is employed as a programmer-analyst by META, a home-worker program for the handicapped.

Ivan Havel remained a programmer until after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. After some political work in 1990, he became a docent (associate professor) at Charles University and director of the Center for Theoretical Study where he remains today.

His brother Vaclav went on to become president of the Czech Republic.

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