The 12th Annual Meeting of the PIAC in Berlin, 1969

by György Hazai

I spent 1968 and 1969 organizing the PIAC in Berlin. This work too had its own antecedents. I had already indicated to Dénes Sinor that I would try to achieve what had seemed impossible before, but now offered some hope for success – to persuade the Academy in Berlin to invite the PIAC there. Wolfgang Steinitz would have been able to greatly assist me with this endeavor, but he was no longer alive. However, after having spent a few years in Berlin, I already had the authority to embark on the matter on my own. I proposed that as a first step we should ask Moscow and Leningrad for their opinions, and encourage them to participate in a representative way. The idea worked. The discussions with Bobodzhon Gafurov in Moscow and with Petrosyan in Leningrad proved promising. By this time, things had become somewhat more relaxed in the Soviet Union, too. The model of “naucsnaja turisztika” (reserch tourism) had also developed, which substantially widened our opportunities. A few months later, we received confirmation of our preliminary success – Moscow would send a delegation to the PIAC to be held in 1969 in Berlin. We had been granted the right to organize the event at the session in Copenhagen in 1968.

The PIAC organized in the summer of 1969 was completely changed in magnitude and composition. Forty experts from the West (West Germany, France, Italy, and Turkey), another 40 from the Soviet Union, and 20 from Eastern Europe participated in its work. The other participants were comprised of East German colleagues. I can still recall the first two scholars because they expedited an important two-way breakthrough. These academics were bolstered by the many participants and the volume of lectures that was published in 1972. It was in Berlin that PIAC turned into a true international forum.

Dénes Sinor wrote about the PIAC in Berlin with great appreciation. I quote him:

The breakthrough came from the least amenable Socialist country and was the merit of the Hungarian Turcologist György Hazai, then teaching in East Berlin. How he managed to convince the notoriously dogmatic and rigidly communist leadership of the Akademie der Wissenschaften der DDR to invite the „American” PIAC to Berlin, remains, for me, a mystery, and I can only hope that he will reveal the secret in his memoirs.

The meeting was one of the largest ever, perhaps around one hundred and fifty participants and, as could be expected, fairly formal. We did not stay under the same roof and dispersed for the meals, but we had one or several very generous receptions. On a purely scholarly level – perhaps because of massive Soviet participation – the 12th meeting was probably among the best ever held. The impressive volume of the Proceedings bears witness to this statement. [sic!]

It was not easy indeed to organize this conference. It was of the utmost difficulty to obtain the visas for the forty participants from the West. The International Department of the Academy required the political background of each participant. We obliged their request by a fictitious and duly touched up text. The point here was that the expert in question had to be considered a sincere supporter of social progress. (My main helper in drafting the texts was Peter Zieme.) This was a valid argument since everyone believes in progress; only they may have different opinions on how to achieve it.

During the conference it was pouring rain, which is quite unusual in the summer in Berlin. This forced the participants to be all present in the sessions held in the main building of Humboldt University. The weather cleared up only on the last day when we made an outing to Potsdam. Lunch took place in Cecilienhof, which served as the seat of the conference of the Great Powers that put an end to WWII in 1945.

After the PIAC, I received numerous congratulations and thank you notes from my dear colleagues.

Source: György Hazai: “Against Headwinds on the Lee Side. Memoirs of a Passionate Orientalist”, Berlin: De Gruyter 2019 (Edition Klaus Schwarz), pp. 82–84.