[SIGCIS-Members] CfP for a session on computing in Comecon for ICOHTEC 2013

Helena Durnova helena.durnova at mail.muni.cz
Fri Mar 2 14:21:05 PST 2012

Dear colleagues,

for ICOHTEC 2013 (to be held in Manchester, 22-28 July 2013), we are organizing a session, or possibly more sessions, on history of computing in Comecon countries, entitled “Enforced specialization in computing technology: Debugging the history of cooperation and competition in COMECON countries”. For those interested to join the session(s), details follow below.

Kind regards,
Slawomir Lotysz and Helena Durnova

“Enforced specialization in computing technology: Debugging the history of cooperation and competition in COMECON countries”

Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, abbreviated as COMECON (sometimes also CMEA), was founded in January 1949. Early on, in April 1949, COMECON countries adopted the policy of sharing the results of research and development: each signing  country was  obliged to make the results of their research available for free to any country that would ask partners for it. Officially, COMECON also declared interest in co-operation with non-COMECON countries. Already in 1952 an agreement had been reached on sharing knowledge and patents when called upon by fellow COMECON members. It seems the importance of expertise was recognised as an important asset and its exchange was forced under the veil of the statement that knowledge belongs to everybody.
In computing technology, a stronger consensus on scientific and technical co-operation was put into actual practice in December 1968 by an initiative that would eventually lead to the production of compatible computers. The new industry, aiming at the production of key technologies, was chosen to foster a new level of “Socialist economic integration”, in one single move strove to level the emergent European Union in terms of economic integration and to meet multinational corporations like IBM in terms of producing large technical systems. To make the co-operation work, different countries were to specialise (and become the experts) in different fields. For example, in the mid-1960, when COMECON countries were beginning to discuss co-operation in producing computers, Czechoslovakia offered its tape readers and Romania was entrusted with the design of the central unit.

The decision to entrust production of certain commodities to one of COMECON countries were often quite irrational. An excellent example of this is the case of Polish-Czechoslovakian collaboration in the production of tractors, where Poles had to give up their newly designed model of Ursus tractor after the communist party members learnt about advantages of the Czechoslovakia Zetor tractor. Engineers in both countries were not happy about this, as one side had worked in vain, while the other was forced to share their know-how. The session will look at how specialisation was promoted (i.e. making some groups of engineers to feel special) and how it was framed with respect to special ties of some of COMECON countries with the Western world (like in Romania-France case). The session will attempt to analyse how the arbitrarily controlled policy of  specialisation was confronted (and sometimes disturbed) by some unexpected events, like in the case of Czechoslovakia, which got the Bull licence as a consequence of Prague Spring of 1968 and its unfortunate end, or Polish case of fiber technology developed independently and completely out of any internal  task division agreements within COMECON.

If you want to contribute to the session, please contact Helena Durnová hdurnova at ped.muni.cz  or Slawomir Lotysz s.lotysz at gmail.com and submit a 200 - 400-word abstract of your paper proposal and a one-page CV by Sunday,  March 11, 2012.

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