Politics in IChO

The International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) is a competition which started its activities in the time when the world was politically divided into two camps. No wonder that especially in the first years of its existence there appeared some political problems, too.

The relations between some „socialist countries” were reflected even in the IChO.
The letters of invitation for the participation in the first IChO was sent to all socialist countries with the exception of those (Romania and China) which had at that time some political problems with the Soviet Union. From this point o view the political situation in Czechoslovakia in May 1968 was also rather complicated and not ideal for organizing any international competition even for young people. No wonder that the invitation was accepted by two countries only (Hungary and Poland) and as a result only three countries took part in the 1st IChO in Prague (Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland).

From the very beginning of the IChO it was declared that the International Chemistry Olympiads are supposed to be organized in and for the socialist countries only. There was a special meeting of the socialist countries organized on the ministry level in 1971 (this is the reason why the 4th IChO in 1971 was not realized) where it was decided that the International Chemistry Olympiads would be organized in the socialist countries and for the socialist countries only. Therefore, the order of IChO in the next years should be: Soviet Union (1972), Bulgaria (1973), Romania (1974), Hungary (1975), German democratic republic (1976), Czechoslovakia (1977), Poland (1978), Soviet Union (1979).
Moreover, the regulations of the IChO were approved in 1972 in Moscow (4th IChO) in which the new situation was established.

Romania had the courage to invite Sweden and Yugoslavia as neutral countries to participate in the 6th IChO.

The trend to invite further capitalist countries continued also in the year 1975 (7th IChO, Hungary). Already five non-socialist countries participated in the IChO, namely Austria, Belgium, German Federal Republic, Sweden, and Yugoslavia.

In order to solve the problem a special seminar was organized in Czechoslovakia (Štirin, April 1976) with the aim to discuss about the new IChO regulations which would reflect a new situation. Two members of the Czechoslovak committee of Chemistry Olympiad (Anton Sirota and Tibor Šramko) prepared a proposal of new regulations. After a detailed discussion the new IChO regulations were then approved in Halle (8th IChO, German Democratic Republic).

A new political problem occurred: the Austrian delegation invited all countries to attend the 12th IChO in Austria. This was the first time when the IChO was supposed to be organized in a “capitalist country”.

The problem about the hegemony of the socialist countries in IChO was again open.
A new unwritten rule was accepted: The IChO will be organized one year in a socialist country and in the other one in a “capitalist” country.
Discussion on the aims and function of any IChO Secretariat appeared and it was solved on the ministry level. The Soviet Union gave support (at that time it was very important) to the idea to create the secretariat in Czechoslovakia. It was the highest time since the number of “socialist countries” was all the time the same but the number of “capitalist countries” was expected to be increased in the near future.

A new situation again: The IChO was organized for the first time in a “capitalist” country.
Already thirteen countries with 52 competitors participated. Observers came from France, UK, and USA.
Politics in IChO again: Soviet Union did not participate. The consultations of the mentors from the “socialist countries” led to the final conclusion that a special meeting should be organized in Bratislava (Czechoslovakia) in the spring 1982 with the aim to create an IChO Secretariat in Bratislava.

The German Democratic Republic did not attend the 16th IChO undoubtedly for political reasons. Moreover, the mentors from GDR were expected to invite all countries to the next IChO which was expected to be organized in Halle in 1985. But it did not happen and the next 17. IChO was organized in Bratislava (former Czechoslovakia) in the year 1985.

The USA as the organizer of the 24th IChO invited Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) to participate in the IChO. The China (Peoples´ Republic of China) and some other countries expressed their objections since Taipei was not officially recognized as a state by many countries participating in the IChO.

The same problem repeated but in in a little bit different way. This time the Chinese organizers of the 27th IChO in Beijing (China) refused to invite “Taiwan, Republic of China” to participate in the IChO. The organizers argued that there was officially only one Chinese Republic and it was the “Peoples Republic of China”. The situation was discussed in the working group in Neusiedl am See (Austria, 1994) and after a letter exchange between the chairman of the IChO Steering Committee and the chairman of the IChO Organizing Committee the “problematic” country was invited as “Chinese Taipei”.

The 37th IChO was organized in Taipei (Chinese Taipei) in 2005. The Peoples’ Republic of China did not participate.

Compiled and edited by A. Sirota (IChO Intern. Information Centre)

Contact us

Dr. Anton Sirota|Director of the IChO IIC
NIVaM – National Institute for Education and Youth
Hálova 6, 851 01 Bratislava, Slovakia
E-mail: anton.sirota@stuba.sk|Phone: +421 907 473 367

Dr. Martin Putala|Department of Organic Chemistry
Faculty of Natural Sciences
Comenius University, Bratislava, Ilkovičova 6, Slovakia
E-mail: putala@fns.uniba.sk|Phone: +421 918 669 092