Work-in-progress — Tony Davies (23 Aug 2007 to 29 November 2014)
Please check for accuracy!
Once upon a time, very long ago, the USA comprised seven Regions, Region 8 was Canada, and Region 9 consisted of several other countries, including seven Sections in Europe. This was all part of the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE). Then, IRE merged with the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) to form IEEE in January 1963. The number of Regions in USA was reduced from seven to six, and Canada became Region 7.
IEEE Region 8 was formed on 8th January 1963. At that time it comprised Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. The ‘rest of the world’ was all Region 9 at that time, until in 1966, Region 9 was limited to South America and the ‘rest of the world’ became Region 10. The rest of Africa was transferred from Region 10 to Region 8 in 1981.
Some recollections of the Eastward spread of IEEE Sections in Region 8
See also Section 2.2 in the Region 8 history book.
In the days before the end of the Berlin Wall, and the associated political changes in Eastern and Central Europe, IEEE activity in the countries east of the ‘Iron Curtain’ was limited. There was a Poland Section in Region 8, formed in 1972, and occasional IEEE related conferences had taken place there. Other International Organisations such as IFAC and IFIP were rather more successful in organising conferences in this part of the world, because of the way that they had ‘representatives’ of each country in their management bodies.
The Hungary Section was formed in 1987, and the Region 8 Committee held a meeting in Budapest in April 1989.
After the changes, there was a rapid development of IEEE activity and formation of new Sections. A Region 8 Committee meeting was held in Warsaw, Poland, in Spring 1991 during what were still difficult economic times for Poland.
However, growth in membership numbers was (and still is) slow. The economic changes meant that IEEE membership was unaffordable for many professional engineers and academics. Senior members of national research institutes were often able to join using other than personal funds, but in a few cases, they regarded IEEE membership as something of a privilege which they were reluctant to share with junior colleagues.
Somewhat later, the R8 Committee held several more of its meetings in the Central and Eastern European areas: Prague, Czech Republic, in 1994, Berlin, Germany in 1999, in what had been East Berlin (part of the former GDR), then at Budapest, Hungary in 2002 and at Kraków, Poland in 2004. The Czechoslovakia Section was formed in 1992 and despite the split of Czechoslovakia into the Czech and Slovakian Republics, a single Section for both has been retained, although that may not be sustainable in the long term.
Russia was something of a special case – a huge country with many locations which have extensive Scientific and Engineering activity at a high level – where one might expect, in the long term, to see many IEEE activities develop. However after the IEEE Russia Section was formed in 1990, membership growth was very slow, mainly for economic reasons, although many Chapters were formed, partly with the aid of a financial support initiative from some IEEE Societies, especially from Electron Devices, and who paid for initial memberships so that Chapter formation petitions could be created, and there were a number of IEEE conferences held. Chapter Chairs meetings were held in various places in Region 8 with financial support from Societies in Division I and IV and from Region 8, generally alongside the major conferences of one of the Societies, and the support was enough to pay for the attendance of Chapter Chairs from many of the Central and Eastern European locations. The Microwave Theory and Techniques Society was also very active in this initiative and still is. This led to several similar Chapter Chairs meetings for other Societies being initiated by the Region 8 Committee (for example, one for Signal Processing Chapter Chairs alongside the ICASSP in Istanbul, Turkey in June 2000).
However, Chapters in parts of Russia remote from Moscow sometimes complained of lack of support from their Section, and after a while moves to provide some independence for activities in St. Petersburg and Siberia arose. After some suggestions to form a Russia Council were abandoned, there was finally agreement to form three Russia Sections, one to be called ‘North West’ and one ‘Siberia’ – while the original Russia Section retained responsibility for all other parts of the country. Existing Chapters were transferred to the newly formed Sections where the location of their principal activities justified it.
Another “problem” with some of the new Chapters was an unwillingness of the initial Chapter Chairs to hold elections and be replaced by other volunteers, resulting in some very long-serving Chairs. This also happened with a few of the new Sections. In the Ukraine Section, there were strong ‘differences of opinion’ between a Chapter in the East part and another in the West part!
When the three Baltic Republics (Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) gained their independence from Russia, there was a suggestion from the Region 8 Committee management to try to form a single ‘Baltic’ IEEE Section, combining the three countries. There was a mistaken belief that they were all rather similar, with languages incorrectly assumed to be Slavic! It took some persuasion to convince some senior R8 IEEE volunteers that this was not the case, and that each had a very different language and culture.
An early step was the formation of a Chapter in Estonia, which was affiliated with Finland since there was no Estonia Section. I had the pleasure of announcing the formation of this Chapter to the Region 8 Committee when they met in Piscataway in Spring 1998. To the puzzlement of all except the IEEE Finland Chair, I preceded my announcement by asking the Committee to listen to some music played over the audio system – this was a recording of the Estonian National Anthem, to celebrate the formation of the first IEEE unit in Estonia. It was immediately recognised by the Finland Section Chair because both countries share the same tune for their National Anthems, even though the words are quite different. During the time of the Soviet Union, playing the Estonian National Anthem or showing the Estonian flag were serious offences. Some time passed before the three Baltic countries had their own Sections, with the Latvia Section having only recently been established (in 2008).
As mentioned in the September 1995 interview by Bob Winton (archived at the IEEE History Center at Rutgers University, with a link from the Region 8 website), initial attempts to form a Lithuanian Section involved Prof. Raimundas Jasinevicius, from Kaunas University of Technology, who had established links with Universities in London, England many years before, for the exchange of junior academics, etc. Progress with Section formation was very slow and made slower by his absence in Denmark for six years as Lithuanian Ambassador. However, the Section was finally established in 2005, based mainly in Vilnius. This was followed by the Estonia Section formation in 2006 and the Latvia Section formation in 2008.
IEEE activities in the former Yugoslavia were another special case. The Yugoslav Section was formed in 1971, based in Ljubljana and became moderately active in holding conferences and in providing IEEE volunteers. Because of a ‘blocked currency’ situation, membership dues could generally not be sent to USA as dollars, but an arrangement was made to keep the funds in Yugoslavia as Dinars, where they could be utilised for organisation of local IEEE conferences and also could be used to pay the local costs of conference attendance there by visitors from Western countries, who could then reimburse IEEE in USA. Following the wars in Yugoslavia, three Sections were formed in 1992 by petition: Slovenia and Croatia and a ‘residue’ called the Yugoslavia Section, and each of them now designates its origin date as 1971 (e.g. the date of the initial Section). Later, a Section was formed for Macedonia, and later still Bosnia and Herzegovina formed a separate Section. Calling the remnant of the original Section by the name Yugoslavia became an increasing anomaly, and in 2005, it was renamed the Serbia and Montenegro Section (but still regards its formation date as 1971).
Because of a number of rather new Sections wanting to host the R8 Committee, and because the R8 Committee management was glad of the opportunities to welcome these new Sections by meeting on their territory, the Committee meetings were held in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2006 and in Sofia, Bulgaria and Bucharest, Romania, in 2007, and later, Riga, Latvia.
The next few meetings of the R8 Committee included venues in Western Europe (for example, Paris, Berlin), and so the long term average is more balanced.
Prof. Tony Davies 8 June 2008 (minor updating April 2012)