1978 ICM - Helsinki

1978 International Congress of Mathematicians - Helsinki

The International Congress of Mathematicians was held in Helsinki, Finland, from 15 August to 23 August 1978. There were 3038 registered ordinary members and over 900 accompanying members. Of these not all were present but lectures and seminars were also attended by some non-registered mathematicians. The mathematical activities of the Congress took place in the centre of Helsinki.
Finlandia Hall was the place were opening and closing addresses were given as well as reports on the work of the Fields medalists and the plenary one-hour addresses.
The City of Helsinki held two receptions for participants on the evenings of 16 August and 17 August in City Hall. Two receptions were necessary as City Hall was not big enough to take all the participants in a single event.
We give below:
  1. Preparations for the Congress.
  2. Opening Ceremonies
  3. Closing Ceremonies
1.       Secretary's Report on Preparations.
The recommendation to hold the 1978 International Congress of Mathematicians in Helsinki was made by the Site Committee of the International Mathematical Union during the Vancouver Congress in August 1974. Final decision was taken a few days later when the Congress at its closing session accepted the invitation to Helsinki, which was presented by Professor Rolf Nevanlinna on behalf of the Finnish National Committee for Mathematics.

Before Finland offered to be host for the ICM 78, the support of the Finnish Government had been secured. The Congress was particularly honoured by the fact that Dr Urho Kekkonen, President of Finland, consented to be its Patron.

The scientific program was the responsibility of the International Mathematical Union through the Consultative Committee, whose members were Professors A Borel (chairman), J F Adams, S Chern, Y Kawada, O Lehto, I S Louhivaara, B Malgrange, S M Nikolskii and C Olech. After preparatory work which took about a year, the Committee decided in June 1976 to divide the mathematical programme into 19 sections and appointed the cores of the panels for these sections. The panels completed themselves and submitted their suggestions, whereupon the Consultative Committee in October 1977 chose 17 mathematicians to give one-hour plenary addresses and 121 to give 45-minute addresses in sections. Two more names were added later. Of the 136 who accepted the invitation, 119 were present at the Congress.

The Fields Medals Committee, consisting of Professors D Montgomery (chairman ex officio), L Carleson, M Eichler, I M James, J Moser, J V Prohorov, B Szökefalvi-Nagy and J Tits, arrived at its decisions in early 1978.

Other preparations of the Congress were in the hands of the Finnish Organising Committee. Its chairman was Olli Lehto who took direct responsibility of all arrangements. With time, the number of mathematicians involved in the organisation increased, and the Committee split into several project groups. In these a great amount of work was performed by Heikki Apiola, Elja Arjas, Heikki Bonsdorff, Timo Erkama, Heikki Haario, Matti Lehtinen, Olli Lokki, Ilppo Simo Louhivaara, Olli Martio, Marjatta Näätänen, Rolf Nevanlinna, Seppo Rickman, Arto Salomaa, Jukka Sarvas, Onerva Savolainen, and others. In all, about 100 Finnish mathematicians gave some assistance to the Congress. A lot of voluntary work was also done by the staff of the University of Helsinki. A small Congress Bureau with salaried staff was set up in late 1975. It expanded considerably during the half year preceding the Congress and assumed then a rapidly increasing share of the arrangements. A particularly important role was played by Leena Kahlas and Tuulikki Mäkeläinen, both engaged from the very beginning. Accommodation was handled by Area Travel Agency Ltd., which saved the organisers a great deal of work.

There were 3038 registered ordinary members and over 900 accompanying members. Of these not all were present; on the other hand, lectures and seminars were also attended by a number of non-registered mathematicians.

Mathematical activities of the Congress took place in the centre of Helsinki. Reports on the work of the Fields medallists and the plenary one-hour addresses were given in Finlandia Hall, where the opening and the closing sessions were also held. All other mathematical events took place at the University of Helsinki, which also housed the Congress Bureau.

In addition to the invited lectures, about 500 ten-minute communications were given and 40 mathematicians spoke about their work in poster sessions. Abstracts of these were published in a book distributed to members at registration in Helsinki. Unofficial mathematical activities also included a three-day symposium organized by the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction, a number of spontaneous seminars, and special sessions and films in two evenings. A book exhibition organised by Suomalainen Kirjakauppa was open throughout the Congress.
The City of Helsinki showed hospitality to all participants. Since the City Hall was not big enough for all to attend at the same time, two receptions were held, in the evenings of August 16 and 17.

The Organising Committee arranged various social events. An open-air gathering featuring Finnish folklore took place on the island of Seurasaari on August 19. It was attended by well over 3000 people. On Sunday, August 20, the members were able to choose between two excursions. One was a four-hour cruise in the Gulf of Finland, the other a twelve-hour visit to Turku, the old capital of Finland. Both events were attended by about 1500 persons. Two passenger ships were needed for the cruise and 36 buses for the trip to Turku. Two piano concerts were also arranged. One by Minna Pöllänen was in Temppeliaukio Church on August 17, the other by Andrei Gavrilov in Finlandia Hall on August 22.
2.       Opening Ceremonies.

The opening ceremonies of the Helsinki Congress took place in Finlandia Hall on August 15, 1978, at 9.30. After a musical performance by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Professor Deane Montgomery, President of the International Mathematical Union, opened the proceedings by proposing that Professor Olli Lehto be elected President of the Congress by acclamation.

2.1. Professor Lehto's Presidential Address.

Following his election, Professor Lehto gave his presidential address to the Congress.
It is my pleasant duty to declare the 1978 International Congress of Mathematicians opened. This is a great moment for the Finnish mathematical community on whose behalf I would like to cordially welcome all our foreign guests. This is a gathering of one huge mathematical family and not of delegations or representatives of countries, but just to illustrate its world-wide character, I mention the fact that there are participants here from 83 different countries.

Organising a meeting of this magnitude would not have been possible without the support of the Finnish government. We greatly appreciate the fact that the President of Finland, Dr Urho Kekkonen accepted to be the patron of the Congress, and only regret that, owing to his absence from Finland at the moment, he could not personally attend these opening ceremonies as he had intended to do. At a very early stage, even before the IMU, the International Mathematical Union, had made the final decision in favour of Finland, the Ministry of Education explicitly promised to back the Congress in case it was to be held here. Its financial support was then indispensable throughout the early period of preparations. I have the pleasure to extend our thanks to Mr Jaakko Numminen, Secretary General of the Ministry of Education, who in the absence of the Minister represents the Finnish Government here.

The Congress will enjoy the hospitality of the City of Helsinki. The City has the reputation of being friendly to scientific conferences, but I guess that this time it took more than the customary friendliness when the size of our Congress was revealed. I am pleased to thank Mr Teuvo Aura, the Lord Mayor of Helsinki, on behalf of the Congress.

We would scarcely have ventured to take the responsibility for an ICM without hints from the IMU that Finland would not be a disagreeable choice to its Site Committee. This we interpreted as a kind of appreciation of the mathematical research carried out in this country. Now Finland has the privilege of possessing, since well over half a century, an unparalleled mathematical ambassador: I am speaking of course of Professor Rolf Nevanlinna. I propose that Professor Nevanlinna be elected Honorary President of this Congress.

The proposal was warmly accepted by the Congress, and Professor Rolf Nevanlinna was elected Honorary President by acclamation.

Professor Nevanlinna in his opening address of the Stockholm Congress in 1962 and Professor Coxeter four years ago in Vancouver both pointed out the unique role of the ICM's as the only meetings where surveys are presented over the whole range of mathematics. They emphasised the great importance of this tendency for unification at a time when ever-expanding research threatens to lead our science to a dangerous ramification. These views are in full agreement with the instructions given by the IMU to the Consultative Committee for planning and composing the mathematical program of the ICM's.

A careful analysis of the reasons for holding ICM's not only serves as a motivation for the fairly difficult and expensive organisation. It is also required if we wish to preserve the present character of these congresses. The mathematicians form a big active group, and it is only natural to try to associate all sorts of activities with a gathering as important as an ICM. No matter how important these activities are as such, and some clearly are, like promoting mathematics in developing countries and various questions related to the teaching of mathematics, at an ICM they can only play a secondary role, subjected to the official mathematical program.

Since the Stockholm Congress 1962, the official mathematical program results from international collaboration governed by detailed rules issued by the IMU. Well over a hundred of the world's leading mathematicians are involved in the work, the panels make proposals about invited speakers, and the Consultative Committee creates the final list. In my opinion, this international cooperation, which goes on for over two years in each four-year period, is very important for our science as such, and I cannot see any essentially better procedure for a neutral and authoritative appraisal of current mathematical research.

This time the Consultative Committee had seven members appointed by the IMU, namely Professor Borel as chairman and Professors Adams, Chern, Kawada, Malgrange, Nikolskii and Olech. Besides, there were two members from the host country. The committee eventually reached almost all its decisions unanimously. Its foreign members also went far beyond their liabilities in giving unobtrusively many valuable pieces of advice to the Organising Committee. This applies in particular to its chairman, Professor Borel. May I propose a vote of thanks to the Consultative Committee.

The Organising Committee spent about one year in trying to solve as best it could the not quite trivial problem of informing all mathematicians of the world about the Congress. That the final result was quite satisfactory was largely due to the help obtained from many institutions and individuals. The American Mathematical Society widely advertised the Congress, and more locally, the same was done by several other mathematical societies and national committees.

We were particularly lucky in that the newly established African Mathematical Union, under the leadership of its President, Professor Hogbe-Nlend, practically eliminated our problems with Africa. In Latin America, good results were due to the personal efforts of Professor D'Ambrosio. Much to our pleasure, there are members in this Congress from a higher number of countries than ever before.

The work of the Organising Committee has been carried out at the University of Helsinki, where also a considerable part of the activities of the Congress will take place. The University has given assistance in so many direct and indirect ways that I am certainly unable to count them all, and the palpably friendly attitude of the administration has made the period of preparations very pleasant to the organisers. I would like to thank the Rector of the University, Professor Ernst Palmén, and the whole central administration.

We had no high hopes when we started fund-raising for the Congress. But in spite of hard times and the fact that after its divorce from computer science, mathematics has virtually no direct contacts here with industry, the end result is very good. The long list of donors is printed in the Program Book, and there is no exaggeration in the text which says that their contributions have been essential for the Congress. I hope this generosity means that society at large still esteems the intrinsic value of mathematics and understands that useful applications are possible only if backed and connected by theories on a more abstract level.

After this, Mr Jaakko Numminen, Secretary General of the Ministry of Education, representing the Finnish Government, Mr Teuvo Aura, the Lord Mayor of Helsinki, and Professor Ernst Palmén, Rector of the University of Helsinki, gave short addresses welcoming members of the Congress to Finland.
2.2. The Fields Medals Committee Report.

Professor Montgomery, chairman of the Fields Medals Committee, then presented the following report.
The medals presented at each International Congress of Mathematicians were first proposed by Professor J C Fields, who was President of the Congress held in Toronto in 1924. The fund for the medals was obtained from funds remaining after the financing of the Toronto Congress. The proposal was accepted in 1932 and the first two medals were given in 1936. Each medal carries with it a cash prize of 1500 Canadian dollars.

As usual, the Executive Committee of the International Union appointed a committee to select the medalists for this Congress. The Committee consisted of Professors L Carleson, M Eichler, I James, J Moser, J V Prohorov, B Szokefalvi-Nagy, J Tits, and myself as Chairman. The Committee decided to follow the well-established tradition of considering only people of age 40 or under. Even with this limitation, the list of those seriously considered numbered several dozen.

After much deliberation and consultation and after considering advice from many outside the Committee, the Committee has selected four individuals for the award. They are, in alphabetical order,

P Deligne

C Fefferman

G A Margulis

D Quillen.
I offer them our warm congratulations.

Information has been received that, unfortunately, G A Margulis is unable to be present, so his award will be presented to him later. I now ask Professor Rolf Nevanlinna, Honorary President of the Congress, to come forward to give the medals to the other three.

When Professors Deligne, Fefferman and Quillen had received the prizes from Professor Nevanlinna, it was announced that after the opening session, Professor N Katz would speak on the work of Deligne, Professor L Carleson on Fefferman, Professor J Tits on Margulis and Professor I M James on Quillen.

The opening session ended with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra playing Finlandia by Jean Sibelius, and the National Anthem.

3.       Closing Ceremonies.

The closing session of the Helsinki Congress took place in Finlandia Hall on August 23, 1978, at 15.00.

3.1. Professor J W S Cassels's Report.

Professor J W S Cassels, Vice-President of the International Mathematical Union, presented the following report:
It is traditional that the General Assembly of the International Mathematical Union should be held immediately before the Congress and that the President of the Union should report briefly on it at this closing session. Unfortunately Professor Montgomery is unable to be here and so I have been asked to take his place.

First, I must report the names of the members of the new Executive Committee who were elected to hold office for four years from 1 January 1979. They are:

Professor L Carleson

Professor M Nagata,
Professor J V Prohorov.

Professor J L Lions.

Professor E Bombieri,
Professor J W S Cassels,
Professor M Kneser,
Professor O Lehto,
Professor C Olech.

In addition, Professor D Montgomery, who becomes Past-President, will remain a member, though without a vote.

I can give only a brief informal report on the work of the General Assembly. A fuller account will appear in the Bulletin of the IMU which is sent to all National Adhering Organisations. The General Assembly had before it the report of the outgoing Executive Committee. Amongst other things, they listed the 19 Symposia and Conferences which have been co-sponsored by the Union during the past four years. The direct financial aid which the Union gives is necessarily small but it also helps with advice on the scientific programme and in other ways: and on occasion the moral support is also useful. Two of the meetings were jointly sponsored with the Physics Union, IUPAP, and two with the Mechanics Union, IUTAM.

A problem of continued concern to the Union is that some mathematicians are prevented from attending meetings sponsored by the Union. This can happen in two ways. The first is that mathematicians may be refused entry by the country in which the meeting is held: this has caused difficulties in the past to our Union but is not, we hope, now a great problem. The other way in which mathematicians may be prevented from attending is that their own country may refuse permission to attend. This is a continuing problem, as the present Congress has again demonstrated. These problems are not, of course, peculiar to our own Union but are common to the scientific community and have greatly occupied the attention and energies of ICSU (International Council of Scientific Unions). The General Assembly endorsed the stand of ICSU on this important matter and requested the, incoming President to report on the situation to the next General Assembly.

Another problem which our Union shares with most of the Unions of the ICSU family is that the Peoples' Republic of China is not a member. There are difficult issues here, to which ICSU and its Unions have devoted much attention and which I shall not go into now. It is fair to say that there is a general wish for the Peoples' Republic of China to become a member, but only if this can happen in a way which does not impair the principles on which our Union is based. The General Assembly urged the new Executive Committee to take positive steps to this end.

The General Assembly also considered the organisation of our Congresses and, in particular, the machinery for the selection of speakers. The organisation of a Congress, other than its scientific programme, is in the hands of the Organising Committee, which is appointed by the host country - and, in parenthesis, may I say how much we admire the excellent job the Finns have done this time. The selection of speakers is, however, in the hands of the so-called Consultative Committee, which is appointed jointly by the Executive of the Union and the Organising Committee, with a chairman appointed by the President of the Union. This Committee seeks the advice of a large number of subject panels with a wide international membership. Some dissatisfaction was expressed by delegations at the working of this system, but many declared themselves happy with it. It was agreed that National Committees should be asked to make suggestions to the Executive Committee as to how it might be yet further improved and that the Executive should report if it felt that changes were desirable.

The General Assembly paid much attention to the fostering of mathematics in developing countries. In the first place, I should report that the Executive Committee, following the precedent for Vancouver set up a fund to give travel grants to well-qualified young mathematicians from developing countries, and also from countries where there are severe monetary restrictions, so as to enable them to attend this Congress. The money for this came mainly from the Union's own resources but we also received subventions from UNESCO, COSTED and the computer firm ICL, for which we are most grateful. Enquiries were made on a wide basis and nearly 50 young mathematicians were helped in this way: there were more deserving cases where the Committee administering the fund would have wished to help had more resources been available. There was one very welcome innovation. The Organising. Committee waived the congress fee for the grantees and together with the Government of Finland provided accommodation for them at no cost. The General Assembly welcomed this generous action and agreed to commend it to the Organising Committees of future Congresses.

In this connection I should like also to mention the Union's Fellowships which were established some time ago to assist mathematicians from developing countries to work at institutions elsewhere. The Italian government made a generous grant which was announced to the General Assembly four years ago at Vancouver. Disappointingly little use has been made of these Fellowships. I must hasten to add that funds are limited and so all proposals have to be submitted to the most rigorous examination.

This is the appropriate place to mention the Commission on Exchange. It was initially set up to foster visits in general by mathematicians from one country to another. However in many cases existing channels work well without the intervention of the Union and so the emphasis has moved towards visits to and from developing countries. This has been in particular the case in the last four years under the energetic chairmanship of Professor Coleman. Particularly noteworthy is that the Commission has obtained generous support from the Canadian Government for the All-African Mathematical Conference which was held at Rabat in 1976, when the African Mathematical Union was founded, and also for a forthcoming conference on pre-university mathematics in Africa.

So much for what has happened so far in relation with development: now for the future. The General Assembly decided to recognise the importance of mathematics for development by replacing the old Commission on Exchange with a new Commission with new terms of reference. The new Commission will be called the Commission on Development and Exchange and the new chairman will be Professor Hogbe-Nlend. Further, it was decided to make a special appeal for contributions to finance development activities. It is hoped that member countries will subscribe generously and several delegations were already in a position to make promises of support.

Last but not least I come to our other Commission: ICMI (International Commission on Mathematical Instruction) which has, in fact, a history antedating that of our Union. Under the able guidance of its chairman, Professor Iyanaga, and its secretary, Professor Kawada, it has continued and expanded its valuable role. Its activities are recorded in some detail in ICMI's own Bulletin and in a more summary form in the Bulletin of IMU. They are too varied to be described here: it is sufficient to remind you of the successful conference at Karlsruhe two years ago. The new chairman will be Professor Whitney.

In conclusion, I am sure that you will join me in wishing the new Executive Committee and the new Commissions all success in the coming four years.
3.2. Invitation to ICM 1982.

Professor O Lehto, as a member of the Committee to select the site for the 1982 Congress, then invited Professor K Urbanik to speak on behalf of the Polish National Committee for Mathematics.

Professor Urbanik spoke as follows:
On behalf of the Polish National Committee of Mathematics I have the honour to invite you to the next International Congress of Mathematicians in Warsaw.

Poland, the home country of Banach, is eager to receive the world-wide mathematical community. For a long time Polish mathematicians have carried deep in their hearts the desire to organise an international congress and we are very happy that we shall now have this opportunity.

We are all well aware that it is going to be a difficult task to organise such a big meeting, the more so as the memory of this splendid Helsinki congress will still be fresh. However, taking into account the help of the International Mathematical Union and the promised support of the Polish Academy of Sciences, we feel optimistic.

Hoping that you will accept our invitation, I welcome all of you to the next International Congress of Mathematicians to be held in August 1982 in Warsaw.
The invitation was accepted by acclamation.

Speaking on behalf of the members of the Congress, Professors K Chandrasekharan and B Szökefalvi-Nagy expressed their thanks to the Finnish hosts.

3.3. Professor Lehto's Final Remarks.

In his reply, Professor Lehto thanked the members of the Congress, particularly all speakers and the 140 chairmen of the various sessions. He passed on the words of thanks of Professors Chandrasekharan and Szökefalvi-Nagy to the Finnish mathematicians who had participated in the arrangements and to the members of the Congress Bureau, and closed his address as follows:
Our organisational task was greatly facilitated by the wealth of advice and material we received from the organisers of the Vancouver Congress. We in turn are more than willing to pass our experience, if it is requested, to our Polish colleagues. I wish best success to the ICM 82, and declare the 1978 International Congress of Mathematicians closed.

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson (January 2020)