Looking back upon the 50 years of the Association

(from the golden jubilee book of the Association, published in 2004)

The occurrences of the 1950s do not belong to the glorious periods of our history. Moreover, the first few years of the decade were nothing, but the time of darkest dictatorship, when the patience and endurance of Hungarians were severely tried. People retired from the world and tried to keep away from any public events and meetings. At the same time this was also the period, when — under the aegis of the slogan “The country of iron and steel” — the demand for the search of natural resources and mineral stock increased so significantly, that several companies were founded for the exploration and exploitation of them. Two new university departments of geophysics were set up in Budapest and Sopron. As a result of ELGI’s successful activities in the field of development of instruments and devices, the Factory of Measuring Instruments for Geophysics was established. But these very same years also witnessed the show trials and imprisonment — based on trumped-up charges — of the leaders of “not successful” research projects, while the expertise of these professionals was still pretended by the potentates of the state. Nevertheless in 1953 — despite the above political and social milieu — there were some geophysicists who loved their profession, and instead of saying thank you for and accepting the invitations of other societies to establish a department within their organisation — having been aware of the risks detailed above — decided to set up their own association.

László Egyed, János Renner, László Facsinay, Károly Kántás, Antal Tárczy-Hornoch, Tibor Dombai, Lajos Stegena and the others set an example of their professional commitment, and gave such a strong initial boost to the new society, that the first 10 years of operation could be safely considered to be the “First Golden Age” of the organisation.

Nevertheless we also have to mention such altruists, as for example A. A. Caturján, director general of MASZOLAJ Geophysics Co., who sat in the honorary presidium at the statutory meeting of the Association of Hungarian Geophysicists, and who had all the employees of the company (geophysicists, boring masters, holemen etc.) join the new organisation in order to have enough members for the formation.

This was a period full of contradictions. The rapid and sudden political changes had a prompt effect on the work of researchers, and through that, on the life and activities of the Association. This was because the history of the Association was directly connected to the local scientific activities and to the development of geophysics. For example the change in the prime minister’s post in 1953 (Mátyás Rákosi was followed by Imre Nagy) certainly affected the formation of the Association positively. The new economic policy of Imre Nagy — announcing the significant mitigation of oppression of people — at the same time also meant that the development of heavy industry was also slowed down, which in 1954 — the year when the Association was set up — brought a considerable decrease in the volume of geophysical research projects. And under such circumstances the ability of the leaders of the Association to make the most of the situation manifested itself: the fall-off gradually changed to a slow increase. The key to this success was the presidium’s attitude: they did not primarily focus on the — otherwise important — tasks within geophysics, but more on the organisation of events and meetings, where the participants could present the benefits and outcome of geophysical research through examples, and they came forward with the suggestion to extend the measurings to new areas. With hard and persistent work they managed to prove that by the use of geophysics the time and costs spent on the exploration of a given raw material could be reduced, thus the entire process could be carried out within shorter time and in a more economic way.

The presidium also realised that the international relations should be first established in the field of general geophysics, primarily through warming up the old — pre World War II — connections with field observatories. That is why they chose geomagnetism for the main topic of the conference in 1955. Another fine example for their professionalism and managerial skills was that they fixed the general topic of the September events for more years: “The Regional Geophysics of the Carpathian Basin”. At the beginning these events only attracted the experts of general geophysics, but later more and more professionals of applied geophysics participated at the programs, because they realised that the comprehensive data and information they could collect at such events could help them to determine the areas suitable for applied research with greater certainty. In order to distinguish the September events from the other programs they were called symposia, and from 1967 they became international. In the 80s already 6 countries participated in the organisation of the symposia. In 1973, at the 18th Symposium in Budapest, the number of foreign participants was already higher than that of the Hungarians.

Applied geophysics began to establish international relations in the 1960s. The work in the organisation was becoming more and more complex. New departments were set up. For the completion of recurrent activities and tasks the presidium formed committees. By the end of the 1970s the international reputation enabled the Association to successfully apply for the organisation of international conferences and symposia in Budapest.

In the meanwhile the reputation and authority of the Association was growing within Hungary as well. The president of the Central Office for Geology reviewed annually the situation in the field of research projects and tasks, and asked for the opinion of the National Presidium on the projected research plans and topics for the following years. The discussed and mutually accepted proposals were incorporated into the 5-year Research Plans. The representatives of the Association delivered exhaustive lectures and speeches at the National Geological Conferences and at the scientific symposia organised during the annual general assemblies of the Department of Geological and Mining Sciences of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, presenting the results and tasks of their special fields.

Let us speak briefly about some other roles of the organisation as well, which will certainly help the reader to better understand the significance of the Association. In the socialist system every property belonged to the state. The state established the government bodies and offices that controlled and supervised the collective property. The companies received their production plans from these bodies, as well as other targets and quotas concerning the staff, costs and investments, necessary for their operation. It was also at these state offices, where the decisions on the assignment, relief or change of company directors and managers were made. This system can be characterised by two words: concentration and redistribution, which means that the entire profit were taken away from the companies, and then redistributed again.

This system of economic management had several special features, that are totally unknown and strange for a normal market economy. In order to minimise the subjective element in decision-making, a peculiar relation – cooperation – evolved between the state offices and the public organisations (societies) established within the National Association of Public Organisations (MTESZ).

At the various discussion programs of the Association the medium- and long-range plans of the national authorities and institutions were discussed. Before a large-scale investment project the companies asked for the opinion of the Association, and then submitted it to their supervisory bodies. In the 50s and 60s we could also find cases, when a smaller group of professionals from this or that company used the forum of the Association to criticise the — in their opinion — incorrect decisions of the management, and at the same time they asked for the opinion of the participants, whether the criticism was justifiable or unwarranted.

Others set up working groups on a voluntary basis (seismic, gravitational), which prepared comprehensive reports on a certain research method (instrumentation, measuring, data processing, analysis), and summarised the most urgent tasks.

In the 70s and 80s the national meetings of the presidium had so many participants, that we can consider them small research conferences. Everybody could collect useful information from the experts of other fields. That is why many of us were quite unhappy, when the National Presidium was dissolved after the transition. Naturally we all know very well, that the reason for the dissolution was not the decision of the Association, but originated in the change of ownership.

The 1980s brought the “second golden age” in the history of the Association. With its own special means and methods the Association took part in the quest and exploration of Hungary’s natural resources. With its programs and conferences it gained international reputation in the fields of ground geophysics, well logging and general geophysics. The European organisation of each special sector mentioned above organised an international conference in Budapest, with the successful cooperation of the Hungarian organisers.

In the 1990s the demand for mineral stock weakened, mines were closed down, thus the professionals of geophysics looked for new areas to conquer. Environmental geophysics, engineering geophysics and some other, smaller-scale tasks in the field of geophysical research and environment protection may direct the experts of geophysics to new, yet interesting domains.

When the editors and writers decided to record the important events and the 50-year history of the Association, their principal aim was to commemorate worthily the founders, who had undertaken to establish an independent society in a politically dark and difficult period, which — at the same time — was ideal as far as the tasks of geophysics were concerned.

Unfortunately not many of the almost 300 founders are still alive, and among them there are some 50 active members. From the original (1954) executive committee Péter Ottlik is the only person, who is still an active member of the Association, and participates regularly in the professional events and excursions, organised by the Committee of Senior Members (Seniors' Club).