Nobel Prize winner Zhores Alferov assesses science as a uniting factor for Belarus, Russia and other CIS states
In a year of its 20th anniversary the Commonwealth of Independent States was co-ordinating one of the most important treaties: governing free trade. It was signed on October 18th in St. Petersburg, following a board meeting of CIS Council of Heads of Government. It took a whole decade to prepare this document, with the aim of simplifying trade across this vast territorial area (a sixth of the world’s landmass) and stimulating the development of 11 economies.
Many believe that the CIS has outlived its usefulness but the moves we are making towards free trade today are borne of its early achievements. True politics always relate to trade, encouraging other spheres of co-operation — as discussed at The Commonwealth of Independent States is Twenty Years Old scientific and practical conference, hosted by Minsk in September. Our city has enjoyed the honour of being the unofficial capital of the CIS, housing its headquarters.
Science is one of the most challenging areas of co-operation, so it was no surprise that ‘Science and Innovative Co-operation of CIS States’ subsection was one of the most imposing discussions at the event. Addressing the participants of the forum on behalf of official Minsk, Belarus’ Prime Minister, Mikhail Myasnikovich, understands perfectly the importance of science to the economy, having been the Chairman of the Presidium of the National Academy of Sciences not long ago. He focused on this topic, noting that Belarus has initiated intensified CIS liaisons and that sci-tech co-operation is a top priority of the Concept for the CIS Further Development until 2020.
“The CIS inter-state programme of innovative development is to commence in 2012,” he reminds. He appealed for an effective system of scientific co-operation to be formed at the international level.
Nobody can deny that science and innovation are an essential aspect of global development, guiding economic growth. However, no single country can cover large-scale investigations on a wide range of theoretical and practical issues; integration and knowledge sharing is the most efficient answer, allowing new discoveries to be applied to the benefit of all. Participants of the conference recommended that at least 2 percent of each state’s GDP be dedicated to supporting scientific research, significantly raising funding for this sphere — to match that of EU countries. Funding in Belarus currently stands at less than one percent of GDP.
Zhores Alferov, a Nobel Prize winner in physics and Vice President of the Russian Academy of Sciences, drew the greatest response of all the speakers, highlighting scientific co-operation between Belarusian and Russian scientists. The Russian of Belarusian origin also mused on the post-Soviet area’s future, his words recorded by journalists from Belarus magazine.
What are your thoughts on Minsk?
We are in a wonderful city, one of the most beautiful in Europe. Minsk is my home town. My grandparents and parents were born and raised in Belarus and I finished school in Minsk. My mother told me that Minsk could not be called a clean city in days gone by. When Vladimir Mayakovsky visited the USA in 1924, he wrote a great essay entitled ‘My Discovery of America’, noting how dirty New York was. He admitted that it was cleaner than Minsk though. It’s a completely different city today.
What is your attitude towards the CIS’ anniversary?
It’s very difficult to celebrate this anniversary, as the USSR was a genius invention. It was a way of preserving a single state on the ruins of the great Imperial Russia. We had a freedom parade and so many independent states appeared, each one with definite autonomy. They were allowed to develop science, culture, education, technologies within a real union of states. Originally, the USSR Academy of Sciences existed to co-ordinate scientists. The Ukrainian Academy of Sciences appeared, then another in your country. Since then, the Belarusian Academy of Sciences has been developing physics, chemistry, mathematics and optics. Your scientists occupied the leading position in the USSR in the field of physics. Their greatest discovery dealt with dye lasers; they were the world authority. Of course, science is an international concept… but it is also a national wealth. Prominent scientist Frйdйric Joliot-Curie, who visited the USSR many times, once said: ‘Science should be funded from every budget, allowing a country to benefit world civilisation. Without this, a country will be colonised’. We should understand that, if we don’t develop fundamental science properly, we’ll become colonised by others from the developed world. We should expend all possible efforts in developing science within the CIS.
What can you say about our country’s science sphere today?
What happened to science in the second half of the 20th century? Physics led scientific research, creating a background for the development of other sciences and for new discoveries: information technologies, transistors, lasers and integral circuits. The world changed significantly. We took a step towards becoming a post-industrial information society. Unfortunately, having contributed to these changes, we came to lag behind.
Russia’s highly-developed industry was destroyed as a result of privatisation; however, Belarus managed to save its industry. We now need to decide which technologies will bring the most profit.
Which do you think?
Biology, modern medicine and pharmaceuticals are the front runners. We’ve invented revolutionary new diagnostic methods and new medicines, using the latest technologies. Wave mechanics is thought to be integral to modern medicine, while space is the other major scientific area. I visited Baikonur not long ago and was shocked by its condition. The USSR founded all space technologies. The legacy of that work brings billions of US dollars of profit worldwide but Russia has only a 2-3 percent share. Science is an engine for progress but co-operation is the key to effective results.
Which examples of scientific co-operation most spring to mind?
There are endless examples of successful co-operation between Russian and Belarusian Academies of Sciences, of which I’m glad. One of the most important inventions has been the creation of the ‘SKIF’ supercomputer, using light-emitting diodes. Belarus often sets an example to the international community regarding innovation, so collaboration is hugely beneficial to Russia. Sadly, some civil servants, primarily those in Russia, prevent this from happening.
In recent times, many CIS members have primarily focused on innovations…
We need to focus on innovative research and its application. Modern technologies are popular in Belarus, as they should be, while Russia lacks this. Accordingly, we should work together. I admire Belarusian science and technologies and believe their level to be very high. Belarusian research is much in demand.
Appearance of new industries, including joint run, is impossible without new discoveries and resulting projects. For example, Belarus and Russia are working hard on the joint manufacture of a light-emitting-diode and its real application.
Scientific research is essential, since creative discovery can change public opinion. Discoveries tend to be made by young minds, free from imposed ideas. At that age, you still have the desire to overcome challenges and create something monumental. To allow potential to be realised, science and education need adequate funding. The Fund for Support of Education and Science, founded by me, is aimed to provide assistance to young talents. If we encourage professional growth of young scientists and researchers, supporting their creativity, we’ll only benefit. Some Belarusian students already hold scholarships from this fund.
By Kirill Ignatiev
“We should work together”
[b]Nobel Prize winner Zhores Alferov assesses science as a uniting factor for Belarus, Russia and other CIS states[/b]In a year of its 20th anniversary the Commonwealth of Independent States was co-ordinating one of the most important treaties: governing free trade. It was signed on October 18th in St. Petersburg, following a board meeting of CIS Council of Heads of Government. It took a whole decade to prepare this document, with the aim of simplifying trade across this vast territorial area (a sixth of the world’s landmass) and stimulating the development of 11 economies. Many believe that the CIS has outlived its usefulness but the moves we are making towards free trade today are borne of its early achievements.