An international Union?
It is the fate of most Congresses to be remembered for something difficult or troubling - like the heat in Bordeaux - as well as for all that is excellent. In the case of an otherwise happily memorable Congress in Glasgow, the one cloud of abiding regret seems likely to hang over the decision of the General Assembly to accept the invitation from Florence rather than Nagoya to host the Congress in 2005. In a week marked by a muchpublicised eclipse of the sun, here was an eclipse of sweet reason.
The Congress last went to Japan in 1972 - in fact, the only time it has been to Japan so far in the Union’s 50-year plus history. An invitation to hold the Congress there in 2002 was presented at Seattle, but the choice went to Jerusalem. This time the renewed Japanese invitation for 2005 was in competition with a first-time bid from Florence. It would anyway seem obvious in an international body that a sequence of three successive Congresses in the broadly European area could not be countenanced as long as all the rest of the world is not gripped by plague, flooded, at war, or otherwise unavailable. But the General Assembly decided to the contrary.
Possible ‘reasons’ for this that have emerged appear mostly to reflect exaggerated concerns about costs and local arrangements. In fact, there was nothing about the Nagoya bid that lay outside the normal range of pluses and minuses in Congress venues at all, let alone by enough to justify a supposedly international scientific body acting in such a blatantly uninternational way. Now the cost of travel to far away venues will prevent another cohort of young scientists from Japan and neighbouring Asian countries from ever attending a Congress in substantial numbers. European young scientists who might have expected to ‘see the world’ through two or three Congresses will not do so. And a nation that is one of the great powerhouses of modern crystallography, with a very large community, and an extraordinary range of facilities to show us, has been gratuitously rebuffed.
Maybe some of those who voted for this outcome might now regret it. It is anyway beyond doubt that considerable damage has been done to the internationality of the Union, and it behoves all who are in any position to help repair this damage to do so. And surely the Executive Committee and the General Assembly will want to consider how better to order these things in future.
None of this is in any way a criticism of the group responsible for the bid from Florence. They were fully entitled to issue their invitation, made an excellent job of it (as did the Japanese of theirs), and would no doubt have been perfectly happy to host in 2008. They now deserve the completely unqualified support of us all. But that needs to be coupled with an open acknowledgement that a very significant wrong has been done - not in choosing Florence, but in rejecting Nagoya- plus a commitment to make amends and, above all, to restore faith that the ‘I’ of ‘IUCr’ means what it says. These thoughts are offered in that spirit.