“High Ability in a Changing Europe”. What a striking name for the second ECHA conference in 1990. Europe was certainly changing, due to the revolutions in Eastern Europe and the Iron Curtain coming down.
“One of ECHA’s first steps to networking information was to reach out to colleagues on the other side of the ‘Iron Curtain’ in Eastern Europe. Academics and teachers there had been isolated for years by many forces, not least because Western scientific books on education and psychology were not for sale for them. The West and the East needed each others’ expertises. Positive reactions came quickly from all over – East Berlin, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. ECHA added two colleagues from the east to the board – Levcho Zdravchev from Bulgaria and Éva Gefferth from Hungary.”
(Pieter Span, 2008)
One of the ways in which ECHA supported members of the Eastern countries was by deciding on a different fee:
“The salary was rather modest to live in Hungary but the exchange rate of our currency was so unfavourable that that a month’s salary was usually not enough for a conference fee. Not to speak of the enormous limitation by „our party and government” as we used to say, to exchange our currency into „hard” currency.”
The conference was organised by Éva Gefferth, again in a great hotel, the Intercontinental on the Danube. It was quite hard in those days to communicate. There was no email, nor internet or cellphones. Letters would take days to be delivered. When trying to phone to Budapest, it would easily take two days.
October 25-28, 1990 the conference took place. Exactly 171 contributors according to the programme booklet, and approximately altogether 200-220 participants were present from 24 countries. Out of them 3 countries have become “several” by today, like Czechoslovakia (2), Yugoslavia (7) and USSR (even more!).
“It is exciting to be living in Europe during this time of swift and positive change. It takes enthusiastic and committed people to carry out the speeded-up integration of our varied cultures. (…) In fact, we are even attempting to learn each other’s languages – something that ECHA is taking a special interest in.
Maybe, though, not everyone will learn Hungarian. And in truth, I am rather glad that English has such an important role as a lingua franca. This process of integration includes, of course, those countries which have had little practice in exercising democracy for half a century. Such unpleasant memories are not to be pushed under the carpet, because the process of change is still going on, and the old always has to be integrated into the new to make it stronger. “
(Joan Freeman, Opening Address)
Opening speaker was Reuven Feuerstein, Director of Hadassah-Wizoh-Canada Research Institute, Israel. Other keynotespeakers were Monique Boekaerts, Netherlands; Karl Klauer, Germany; Maria Hari, Hungary and Norah Maier, Canada.
The opening ceremony took place in the New Town Hall in the centre of Budapest, the conference itself in the then “Hotel Duna Inter-Continental”, today “Budapest Marriott Hotel”.
“The opening conference in the elegant Hemicycle of the neo-renaissance New Town Hall was a solemn event followed by a little party during which the first reports about the evolving taxi strike already cast a shadow on the coming days. All the bridges and access to and out of Budapest were under blockade of the taxi drivers protesting against rapidly increasing fuel prices. Creativity was needed to get all the necessary materials from Buda to the other side of the river, the conference location. Luckily the metro was functioning so members of the Smile Brigade were alarmed and helped to carry the huge paper card boxes with the essential documents (mostly non-digital world in Hungary then) and even an overhead projector early in the morning to the hotel. Without the presence of the Smile Brigade, students from secondary schools, integral part of the conference organisation and relying on the help of diverse private contacts the Second ECHA conference could easily have been a disaster. Some participants who did not stay in the Inter-Continental Hotel or its vicinity had to walk over the bridges and sometimes longer distances. Still the professional part of the conference could be kept according to the schedule, all the presentations and workshops ran smoothly. Visits to schools, running special programmes for gifted students, could only be realised in Budapest itself. In spite of the great interest to see activities in other cities and in the countryside, these trips had to be cancelled. It was only possible with great difficulties to meet and bring newcomers from the airport as there was no public transport nor taxis available. This taxi strike was one of the first and strongest signs of the changing Hungary and miraculously terminated just at the time of our closing words. Well, the transport limitations could not diminish the overall satisfaction of the participants, due to the high quality of the presentations of the keynote speakers and other presenters.”