Mathematicians protest hosting major conference in Russia

As Ukrainian researchers fear for their lives and careers following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, mathematicians are wondering what to do about an important mathematical conference that was to be held in St. Petersburg, Russia, in July.

The International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) is “the largest and most important conference on pure and applied mathematics as well as one of the oldest scientific congresses in the world”, according to the 2022 conference website. The meeting , which is organized by the Germany-based International Mathematical Union (IMU), takes place only once every four years. When the nine-day ICM 2018 was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it attracted 10,506 attendees.

On Saturday, conference organizers announced that the event will be entirely virtual and hosted outside of Russia this year. The meeting’s executive committee issued a statement saying, “We strongly condemn Russia’s actions. Our deepest condolences go to our Ukrainian colleagues and to the Ukrainian people. Given this situation, it is impossible for the IMU to host the ICM and AG [general assembly] like traditional in-person events in Russia.

The Fields Medal – one of the most prestigious honors in mathematics – is traditionally awarded at the event. According to the recent decision, this year’s awards ceremony and general assembly will be held in person but at an undetermined location outside of Russia.

Long-standing concerns

Shortly after the announcement in 2018 that the 2022 meeting would be held in Russia, mathematicians began to voice their concerns. An open letter signed by more than 380 people calls for a boycott. He cited human rights abuses and “Russia’s aggression towards other countries,” including the 2014 Russian military invasion and annexation of Crimea. The letter also noted that the Russian government had co-organized and funded this year’s ICM.

Also in 2018, Ami Radunskaya, then president of the Association for Women in Mathematics, wrote a letter to the ICM organizing committee expressing “deep concern and dissatisfaction with the selection of St. Petersburg” – in particular regarding “Russia’s openly aggressive laws towards the LGBTQ community”. .” The letter asked the committee to consider changing the venue or “releasing information specifically addressing the particular dangers that LGBTQ mathematicians wishing to attend the meeting will face.”

In a 2021 letter to the editor published in the Opinion of the American Mathematical Society, Mathematician Ilya Kapovich of Hunter College at the City University of New York wrote about the “need to guard against the possibility that the Russian government intends to use the ICM as an important propaganda vehicle”. Kapovich also pointed out that “the level of involvement of prominent government figures in the organization of the ICM is unprecedented in the history of the ICM”.

Recent replies

The Boycott ICM 2022 group in Russia reported that several mathematical societies, including those in Sweden, Poland, Lithuania, Norway and Finland, have spoken out against holding the congress in Russia. Boycott ICM 2022 in Russia also collected signatures from 122 guest speakers expressing concerns about the venue of the meeting.

On February 22, the president of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), Ruth Charney, declared that she “does not plan to send representatives to a meeting in St. Petersburg. We urge the International Mathematical Union not to hold the ICM in Russia in July 2022.” The AMS has suspended its travel grant program to help researchers attend the meeting.

The London Mathematical Society, the Canadian Mathematical Society, the Italian Mathematical Union, the Australian Mathematical Society, the European Mathematical Society and CNRS mathematical institute released similar statements.

Many mathematicians welcomed IMU’s decision not to hold ICM in Russia, although some questioned why it took so long to change course. In an online statement, the group of Ukrainian mathematicians who had organized the boycott said: “We welcome the decision of the IMU to withdraw the International Congress of Mathematicians from Russia. Unfortunately, this good call was not made before the large-scale invasion of Russian troops into our country.

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