On the level: A tale of tragedy, diplomacy and agreement.
November 1, 2009
In 1999, the FIG General Assembly voted that the FIG Working Week 2003 would be held in Israel, but the tragic events of 2001 caused us to change those plans. First, the World Trade Center in New York was destroyed by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, sparking a new round of violence in the Middle East, and then anthrax began showing up in people’s mailboxes.
During those bleak months of October, November and December, the FIG American Bureau was trying to make final plans for the FIG Congress to be held in Washington, D.C., the following April. However, the anthrax attacks caused concern among international members about travel to the U.S. Meanwhile, our Department of State was warning against travel to Israel. The incoming successor to our bureau, the German Council, requested that we consider canceling the 2003 Working Week in Israel. The French delegation was willing to consider hosting a Working Week in Paris in 2003 if the Israel meeting was canceled.
Through all these discussions, our Israeli associates tried to assure us that the situation in Israel was not nearly as bad as reported on CNN and that life there was proceeding as usual. They were understandably opposed to the cancellation of their Working Week, toward which they had already invested time, money and effort.
After a flurry of telephone conference calls and fax messages in October and November, the American Bureau decided that since the FIG General Assembly (GA) had chosen, in 1999, to go to Israel in 2003, it should also make the decision about whether to cancel the Working Week. Either the GA would make a firm commitment to appear in Israel with a quorum in 2003 or it would vote otherwise.
As sitting president of FIG at the time, I was loath to preside over an uncomfortable discussion in the GA. My preferred strategy was to present to the GA a negotiated agreement between our bureau, the French delegation, the incoming German Bureau and our Israeli colleagues. We did, in fact, reach an agreement: The French would host the Working Week 2003, and the Israeli Working Week would be postponed to 2009. The Germans were relieved; the Israelis were gracious in their acceptance; the Americans were gratified; and the GA readily approved the new schedule.
As we approached the Working Week 2009 in Israel, however, it remained to be seen whether a sufficient number of delegates would appear in Eilat in May to constitute a quorum for the GA and to proceed with the usual technical sessions. Fighting and hostilities continued in the region. But FIG President Stig Enemark, of Denmark, never flinched and neither did the FIG Council. The Working Week in Eliat went on as scheduled with 560 people in attendance. The facilities and location were splendid, and the management of the Working Week was nearly flawless. And, as promised by our Israeli hosts, we experienced traveling security carried out to its professional best.
For me, it was a profound relief. For FIG, it was another example of international cooperation when politics are set aside and professionals gather in mutual respect.
Sometimes the best laid schemes turn out pretty well.
* “The best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew.”
Editor's note: The XXIV FIG International Congress and XXXIII General Assembly will be held April 11-16, 2010, in Sydney, Australia. For more information, visit www.fig2010.com. The next FIG Working Week is scheduled for May 18-22, 2011, in Marrakech, Morocco. More information will be posted at www.fig.net.