by the Federal Minister of Education and Research
Prof. Dr. Annette Schavan, MdB
On the occasion of the Closing Ceremony
of the International Mathematical Olympiad
on 21 July 2009
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
2009 is a year rich in anniversary celebrations in the Federal
Republic of Germany! The Federal Republic was founded 60
years ago. And the wall which divided the two German states
was brought down 20 years ago.
Today we are also celebrating an anniversary here in
Bremen: The 50th anniversary of the International
Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). 50 years IMO are also 50 years
of German, European and world history. This is the fourth
time that the IMO has taken place in Germany, but it is only
the second time that it has been held in the Federal Republic.
On the first two occasions, the young mathematicians met in
what was then the GDR.
The idea that the best young mathematicians should measure
their strengths in games in the Olympic spirit came from
Romania. In those days, Romania was a member of the
Warsaw Pact – which is why all the participants in the first
IMO in 1959 came from Warsaw Pact countries.
Within the space of half a century, what began as a contest
between a small number of states with common political
ideas has become a global open competition for the brightest
mathematics enthusiasts. This was not easy.
Frontiers of barbed wire and stone were erected during the
Cold War – in Germany in particular. People were also kept
apart by the walls in their minds. Nevertheless, the IMO
became a movement which extended far beyond the Warsaw
Pact as more and more non-member countries began to take
part in the contest.
The Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago and with it the frontier which
divided Germany, Europe and the whole world into two
camps. The IMO has become even more international since
As competitors in the Mathematical Olympiad, you are not
only part of the fifty-year success story of the IMO: You are
also part of a much older and more important tradition – the
tradition of great mathematicians world-wide. For many of
you, this is your first time in Germany. But most of you will
probably have heard of German mathematicians: Leibniz,
Gauß and Hilbert are just three of those who have become
world famous outside the circle of maths specialists and who
have influenced our way of thinking and solving problems.
Mathematics is a fascinating science – and at the same time
it is also tremendously important. It provides the basis for the
natural sciences and plays a key role in technology and
economics. Mathematics is the driver of technical progress.
That is why we want to imbue young people in particular with
enthusiasm for mathematics.
The IMO provides an important contribution towards this
goal. Five of the last ten mathematicians to receive a Fields
Medal in recognition of their work – the most prestigious
scientific award for mathematicians – were also IMO winners.
As participants in the IMO, you not only represent the
academic future of mathematics. Over the last few days, you
have also shown that you are able to take a sporting
approach to mathematics and to test yourselves fairly
against the best in your field. I would like to sincerely
congratulate you on this achievement and I very much hope
that you maintain your pleasure in mathematics.
All efforts to promote talent should focus on this mixture of
outstanding performance, fairness and pleasure in solving
difficult problems. My thanks go to all those who have made
the IMO possible. You all – teachers, parents, honorary
helpers, heads of delegations – encourage young people to
enjoy mathematics and to perform well and behave fairly in
the face of competition. I would like to express my sincere
1. The Fields Medal is the highest scientific award for mathematicians. The International Congress of
Mathematicians has awarded the medal as the "International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in
Mathematics" to at least two young mathematicians since 1936. The congress usually takes place
every four years.
I am particularly pleased to congratulate the prize-winners of
the IMO 2009. They have performed exceptionally well in a
challenging mathematics contest. On behalf of the Federal
Government, I would like to say "congratulations". I hope that
you will continue to enjoy mathematics and wish you all the
best for the future.