Estonian Mathematical Society

The Estonian Mathematical Society

The Estonian Mathematical Society can trace its origins back to 1926.

Although Estonia had been dominated by Russia for a long period, it had gained its independence in 1917 only to come under German control. At the end of World War I Russia again tried to take control but was defeated by an Estonian army supported by a Finnish volunteer army. In 1920 Estonia was again able to assert its independence.

The Academic Mathematical Society was founded in Tartu on 23 February 1926 when the statutes of the Society were registered at the University of Tartu. The first meeting of the Society took place on 21 March 1926 in the Festival Hall of the University of Tartu. It was attended by 68 members who were mostly students or staff of the University. Gerhard Rägo was the first President. Tamme writes in [1]:-

At the meetings of the Society, mathematicians, physicists and astronomers presented their new scientific achievements and scientific results.

The Society flourished until political events caused it to be closed down. These events began with the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of August 1939. On 17 June 1940 Soviet troops occupied the whole of Estonia and on 21 July the Estonian government, having little choice, adopted a resolution to join the USSR. Estonia become one of the republics of the USSR in August. Scientific societies were banned in Estonia, and the Academic Mathematical Society held its final meeting in November 1940.

During the first year of Soviet occupation of Estonia more than 60,000 people were murdered or deported. Over 10,000 people were deported on the night of 13 June 1941 alone. The Estonian government, now chosen for its loyalty to the Soviet Union, felt more secure following this mass deportation and ordered the University of Tartu to reorganise the societies which had been closed down, in such a way that they were run in a Soviet style. The rector of the University agreed to reorganise all the societies except the Academic Mathematical Society which he proposed to close.

Political events again intervened, for on 22 June 22 1941 Germany attacked the USSR, Estonians then attacked the occupying Soviet forces, largely defeating them before the German army took control of Estonia. The proposal by the rector of the University to close the Academic Mathematical Society reached the Soviet government of Estonia at the time that these events were underway and they could not act. The Society was not closed down and during the three years that Estonia was under German occupation the President of the Academic Mathematical Society made various attempts to change the statutes so that they were acceptable to the German occupiers.

In February 1944 the Russian forces began again to take Estonia by force. Thousands fled, many died, and by September a Soviet-controlled government again controlled Estonia. They made illegal any activity of the former academic societies so the Academic Mathematical Society was now forced out of existence. The desire of the Estonian mathematicians for a national mathematical society did not go away, however, and in the 1970s suggestions were made that such a society might be established. These suggestions came to nothing, as did a more serious attempt to establish a mathematical society in 1983. A Soviet liberalization campaign in the late 1980s provided an opportunity and, in 1987, mathematicians achieved their aim. The first meeting of the Estonian Mathematical Society was held on 17 September in the same Festival Hall that the Academic Mathematical Society had held its first meeting in 61 years before. The 1987 meeting was attended by 118 members of the new Society together with 52 guests.

The Estonian Mathematical Society saw itself as taking up its operations as the Academic Mathematical Society had before it. From that beginning it developed new structures. A section on school mathematics was established as were working groups on the history of mathematics and mathematical terminology. Prizes were offered for the best school pupils at solving mathematical problems and for research material by undergraduate students. It now runs conferences, publishes books, organises mathematical Olympiad Competitions and many other activities designed to promote the study of mathematics.


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JOC/EFR August 2004 School of Mathematics and Statistics
University of St Andrews, Scotland
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