The news this evening that Russia is sending troops into
the Eastern Ukraine and in effect announcing annexation of at least part of the Ukraine carries extremely disturbing implications for the whole world. On a much more minor scale of importance, I don’t see how the IMU has any choice but to cancel this year’s ICM planned for St. Petersburg in July.
Four years ago when the IMU chose St. Petersburg over Paris for the 2022 ICM I commented here on this blog:
It does seem to me though that in these worrisome times, when offered the choice between the world’s most active opponent of liberal democracy and one of the great remaining healthy liberal democracies, the other choice than the one the IMU made would have been the better one…
I agree that in general it’s best to keep mathematics and the ICM out of politics. A question to think about though for those who know the history of the 1930s is that of whether there was some point during the rise of Fascism that one would stop thinking it was a good idea to have the ICM in a Fascist capital. We’re not yet far along the horrific path of the 1930s, but maybe that just means that all should be thinking about what can be done to keep the world from going down that path again.
I sympathize with many who felt that the decision to hold the ICM in Russia was an important way to support Russian mathematicians and a reasonable gamble that Putin would not take his country down the path he now appears to have chosen. But right now it’s looking like that gamble failed and the IMU will have to figure out what to do about its mistake.
I don’t want to host a general political discussion here, especially not with the all too many people I’ve heard from who don’t have a problem with burying liberal democracy. If your comment is not about the ICM, please don’t submit it.
Update: On February 10 an organization of Ukrainian mathematicians emailed the ICM invited speakers asking them to cancel their talks (and on January 31 had emailed the AMS leadership). I’m curious to know if any responded to this, and if the Russian military invasion will lead to some decisions to cancel talks.
Update: According to this from @UkrainianMath, the AMS position was recently that “the AMS leadership is closely tracking the situation surrounding the ICM and believes that it is still premature to advocate a boycott”. The “premature” indicates that there is some point at which AMS leadership agrees that the ICM should be canceled. Is the situation of Russian troops occupying
the Eastern Ukraine still “premature”, or will the AMS wait for them to take Kiev?
Update: I noticed there’s an AMS-NSF-Simons-ICM Travel Grant program to fund ICM participation by US mathematicians. It was supposed to announce awards this month. Will this program go forward or will the grants be canceled?
Update: Many Russian mathematicians likely feel the same way about this as Edward Frenkel who calls this “a catastrophe for Russian people and all Slavic people”.
Update: The AMS has issued a statement urging the IMU to cancel the ICM and has suspended the AMS-NSF-Simons-ICM travel grant program
Update: There’s a statement out signed by invited ICM speakers. Unfortunately it has been overtaken by events, with little more than a request that the IMU “elaborate and announce contingency plans” in case of war, something that would have made sense a month ago, but not now. Nothing yet that I’m aware of from the IMU or other mathematical societies than the AMS.
Update: The French SMF has a statement calling on the IMU to not hold the ICM in Russia during 2022. In another statement, the London Mathematical Society “strongly recommends that the IMU not hold the ICM in Russia in July 2022.” Also in France, INSMI at the CNRS has this.
Update: There’s a long twitter thread about this here. It includes a contribution from Ian Agol: “As a chair of the topology selection committee, I requested @ICM2022
that the opening ceremony not be presided by a head of state (presumably Putin), but they were not willing to consider this.”
This makes clear the fundamental problem with deciding to hold the ICM in a country ruled by a fascist dictatorship. If you do this, you end up putting the conference under the control of the dictator, because anyone inside the country cannot oppose them. Those outside the country end up having to either go along with the dictator, or cancel the conference, and this is where the IMU is now.
Update: The IMU has issued a (rather empty) statement, saying that “The Executive Committee of the IMU is now assessing the situation”
Updates: The IMU this morning has on their website:
The IMU Executive Committee is currently assessing the highly disturbing events that are taking place in Ukraine and their implications for the IMU. We will return with a statement as soon as it is available.
Update: Via @UkrainianMath, the latest from the IMU Secretary:
The IMU EC has been sitting in meetings for two days now, discussing the situation and how to respond properly. I ask for your understanding that it is more difficult for a global organization to meet and discuss this issue.
Of particular concern to us is how to find a possible way to carry out a General Assembly and an ICM if possible, but outside Russia. Furthermore, we do not want to cause damage to our Russian colleagues, who have spent endless hours preparing for an ICM.
The IMU webpage does contain a statement that we are working on this, and until we have reached a decision, which will be very soon, this is the best we can do.
Update: The IMU has announced that the ICM will take place as scheduled, but as a free fully virtual conference, not in-person in St. Petersburg. The IMU General Assembly will take place in-person, but at a different location still to be chosen, outside Russia.
Update: The ICM website (icm2022.org) no longer exists, with that address redirected to the IMU site mathunion.org. There had been no activity on the @ICM2022 Twitter account since Feb. 11, but now there’s a statement from four of the Russian mathematicians who had been involved in organizing the ICM:
We condemn the madness, the injustice, and the irreversibility of war that threatens the very existence of humanity. While our losses cannot be compared to the losses and the suffering of millions of people in the Ukraine, we are devastated to see all of our dreams and all of our work of many years ruined. The goals towards which we worked could not have been further from the horror that is happening and those responsible for it. Still, amid the ruins of our dreams, we feel left with an insurmountable debt that may take much longer than the life of our generation to be forgiven.
D. Belyaev, A. Okounkov, J. Pevtsova, S. Smirnov
Update: See here for a letter to the IMU from some mathematicians arguing against the decision to hold the ICM online.