"The history of Esperanto must be linked with that of its people, whose unity and vigorous internal struggle were necessary to 'give spirit to the language' ... During the prewar period, the Esperantists were a sort of community establishing a great experiment. The experiment succeeded. After the war the Esperantists became a model of mankind better organized than the rest from a linguistic viewpoint. It held in its hands a powerful tool of international understanding. The world would never know how much work and patience thousands upon thousands of modest men and women throughout the world had to provide to ensure success for that great work, the global functioning of a common and easy auxiliary language." --Privat, Edmond: Historio de la Lingvo Esperanto: La Movado, 1900-1927. Leipzig: Ferdinand Hirt & Sohn, 1927, p. 198.
It may seem pretentious to discuss the history of a language that is only a hundred years old, whose structure has remained constant over that period, and whose vocabulary has grown in a relatively slow and orderly way.(1) But it should be remembered that Esperanto from its very inception generated an active movement to promulgate the language, and that from this movement there developed a describable, supranational culture.(2) It would be astonishing if the Esperanto movement/culture had failed to interact with those national political and cultural forces with which it overlapped and sometimes found itself in conflict, and equally surprising if the resulting historical events and trends were not of at least some interest.
The first real history of the Esperanto movement was written by the Pole Adam Zakrzewski and published in 1915; it was 150 pages long.(3) The most popular such history has undoubtedly been that of Edmond Privat.(4) The largest is that of Courtinat.(5) All of these treat the history of the Esperanto movement as a whole, which is what I propose to do here, although at considerably less length.
Given that Courtinat is largely a source book of materials, there has not really been a good attempt at an analytical history of Esperanto since Privat.(6) In recent years, however, there have been a spate of less ambitious histories, touching upon some specific facet of the Esperanto movement rather than upon the movement as a whole. There have been, in the past two decades, a number of published histories of national Esperanto movements;(7) more recently, local Esperanto groups with (relatively) long histories have taken to publishing their own memoirs.(8) Probably the best known and perhaps the most interesting of these "single-issue" works is a 500-page volume devoted to the history of persecutions against Esperanto and Esperantists.(9)
So, far from having nothing to write about the history of Esperanto, I find myself constrained to a relatively superficial overview of that history. I hope that the story of Esperanto will be as interesting for you as it has been for me.
Esperanto was invented to satisfy what its author saw as a specific and universal need -- the need for people of different ethnic backgrounds to be able to communicate, person to person, on an equal basis, to be able to talk out their differences and resolve their mutual problems. This goal of interpersonal communication is one that is often forgotten by those who believe that Esperanto's claims can be legitimized only through such intergovernmental bodies as the United Nations;(10) but there have been times when certain governments have not overlooked it, as we shall see.
I have already described some of L.L. Zamenhof's background.(11) In December 1878, at his 19th birthday party, the young Zamenhof brought out a version of his new tongue at least as complete as the Volapük that Father Schleyer would publish a year later, to the delight of his guests, and the story has it that they sat around for hours and sang songs -- probably written by Zamenhof himself -- in the new language. Only one fragment survives:
Malamikete de las nacjes, Cadó, cadó, jam temp' está; La tot' homoze in familje Konunigare so debá.("Enmity of the nations, / Fall, fall, it is already time; / All mankind in [one] family / Must unite itself.")
Interestingly, one of the phrases from this ancient poem has been adopted into Classical Esperanto as a foreign phrase: many Esperantists regularly use jam temp' está in the sense of "It's time, let's get going," in the same way that Latin phrases are often used to spice up English.
Zamenhof and his friends, leaving school, went their own separate ways, and most of those friends, with apparently only one exception, forgot about the "Lingwe Uniwersala" of their one-time school chum. This may have been an unfortunate turn of events; one of those present at the party, Leo Weiner, later the founder of the Department of Slavic Languages at Harvard University, author of several studies on parallelisms between certain Meso-American and West African languages, and father of cyberneticist Norbert Weiner, could have been very influential in later promotion of the language.
Zamenhof himself was not satisfied with his 1878 version of Esperanto, and spent much of his next seven years modifying, pruning and smoothing the language, usually by translating from other languages; the process of translation was an excellent one for ferreting out the weak points of his budding project, a fact that has apparently been lost on every other developer of a constructed language. The LU by 1881 had deviated far from its original shape; but by 1885 it had at least cosmetically undergone a certain amount of reversion, so that what we may call Classical Esperanto superficially resembles that ur-Esperanto of 1878. The differences in structure are profound. But it would not be impossible for a committee of European linguists, relatively ignorant of Esperanto's rather unitary structure, to modify the language to pander to West European prejudices by deleting the -N ending and replacing the -J plural with an -S; this is essentially what happened with Occidental and Interlingua. And I can imagine some future society where good speech habits are not taught replacing the current unstressed tense endings -- which, if not properly pronounced, can be confused with each other -- with the stressed vowel endings of Zamenhof's original language, or similar ones. In such a language, derived directly from Classical Esperanto, the above lines would read:
Malamikeco de la nacios, Falu, falu, jam temp' está; La tuta homar' en familio Kununuigi si devá.Not too different from the '78 version, is it.
The search for a publisher took time; Zamenhof had no money of his own to engage in a "vanity press" exercise, and no Warsaw printer was particularly interested in putting his own money into such a speculative venture. Zamenhof's marriage to young Klara Zilbernik provided the wherewithal, the dowry still being a common custom in those days, and Klara's father, Alexander Silbernik, being a well-to-do businessman from Kaunas in what is now Lithuania. The Unua Libro ("First Book") was published in late July, 1887.
The "First Book" was in Russian, and it professed to be an initial textbook of the Lingvo Internacia. The word Esperanto appeared in the book in only one spot: the author's name (Doktoro Esperanto). Zamenhof, as a struggling young ophthalmologist, did not want his own name closely associated with something quite so esoteric as an international language. But his identity rapidly became an open secret, and within a year or so his works were appearing under his own name. Nevertheless, early aficionados of the language continued to refer to it as "The International Language of Dr. Esperanto," which was quickly shortened to "The language of Dr. Esperanto," and then "The language of Esperanto," "the language Esperanto," and finally just plain old "Esperanto," which it remains even today. Ido, perhaps deliberately, would later undergo a similar evolution, adopting the pseudonym of its inventor after being referred to for some months first as Esperanto Reformita, and then, after termination of negotiations with the Language Committee, as Ilo.
Nobody knows when the first conversation in Esperanto took place. Perhaps Zamenhof had taught the language to his wife Klara before he published; no one knows for sure. Popular legend has it that the first conversation took place in late 1887, between Zamenhof and the Polish chemical engineer, polyglot and literateur Antoni Grabowski, who learned to speak the language from the original Russian booklet during a train ride from Moscow to Warsaw; although this conversation may be apocryphal, its occurrence is supported by the claims of Dr. Z. Anthony Kruszewski, Director of the Cross-Cultural Southwest Ethnic Study Center of the University of Texas, a grandson of Grabowski, as well as other members of Grabowski's family.(12) It certainly occurred before the end of 1887. In the meanwhile, versions of the "First Book" had appeared in other languages -- Polish, German, French, even English. No one knows exactly who wrote that first textbook in English -- it is commonly attributed to Julius Steinhaus, a relative of Zamenhof's -- but the author was obviously not competent in English; Zamenhof had it withdrawn from circulation when a decent English-language textbook appeared from the pen of Richard Henry Geoghegan, a young Irishman living in Great Britain. It was Geoghegan who also suggested to Zamenhof the association of the color green, so popular in his homeland, with Esperanto.
Word of Zamenhof's creation had passed beyond Western Russia and had even reached individuals on other continents -- notably the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, North America. The APS had recently undertaken a study of the entire question of an international language, and in its researches had found Volapük, at the peak of its popularity, to be wanting. Now Esperanto fell under the scrutiny of the Society's secretary, Henry Phillips, who was very impressed by how well Esperanto satisfied the criteria enumerated by the Society. Before the Society could take any action, however, Phillips, who was the driving force behind the the entire investigation, died. It would be eighteen years before Esperanto would again surface in the United States as an organized force.
A "Second Book" in Esperanto was quickly followed by an "Addendum to the Second Book." By late 1888 a couple of other books, from other hands, had appeared as well, the first of these being Grabowski's translation of Pushkin's The Snowstorm. Then, in 1889, Zamenhof succeeded in getting permission from the Warsaw censors to begin publication of the first Esperanto magazine, the newspaper-format La Esperantisto. The first issue contained articles in Esperanto, German and French, but by the second issue the newspaper had gone over to an all-Esperanto format.
By 1889 several Esperanto groups had come into being. The first of these was the Nürnberg World Language Club, which had originally been formed as a Volapük club and which, under its president Leopold Einstein, came over en bloc to Esperanto; it was followed closely by the Volapük club in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria. The first club formed specifically to promote Esperanto, "Espero" in St. Petersburg, was destined to play an important role in the Esperanto movement clear up through the First World War. As centers of organized Esperanto activity, these two groups gave new breadth to the movement.
By the early 1890's times were hard for Zamenhof and his family. Zamenhof did most of his professional work in the Warsaw Jewish ghetto, where people were poor and could usually pay very little or not at all. For a while his wife's dowry, quite substantial even after the amounts spent to publish the Esperanto works, helped support them, but then a problem arose. Zamenhof's father Marcus, who worked for the censor's office, O.K.'ed an article, a condemnation of drunkenness, that one of his superiors, himself a heavy drinker, found objectionable. To keep the elder Zamenhof from being imprisoned, Zamenhof was forced to impoverish himself by bribing the appropriate officials. And so he found himself broke, with a family to support and the Esperanto movement to maintain. Resources for the latter were provided by the German surveyor W.H. Trompeter(13), but at home times were hard for the next decade.
La Esperantisto survived the reform debacle of 1894(14), but, like Zamenhof's father, it ran afoul of the censor's office shortly thereafter. The author and philosopher Count Leo Tolstoy, sent a free copy of the "First Book," had waxed enthusiastic over Esperanto(15), and from time to time provided articles for La Esperantisto through the Tolstoyist magazine Posrednik. Since Tolstoy was not loved by the Tsarist government, the censors kept a sharp lookout for these, and one of them eventually caused the banning of the Esperanto magazine in Russia. Since three-quarters of its subscribers lived inside the empire of the Romanovs, that marked the end of La Esperantisto. During the subsequent decade, Russia was very hesitant to allow anything having to do with Esperanto to be published within its territory, or to be allowed entry. Esperanto textbooks in Lithuanian, for instance, had to be printed in Tilsit, Germany, and smuggled into Lithuania.(16)
Fortunately, this was not the end of magazine publishing in Esperanto. At about that time, a young new Swedish Esperantist, Valdemar Langlet, anxious to see if the language really worked, had set out on a trip from Sweden through the heart of Russia and the Ukraine to the Black Sea, using only Esperanto. His experiment, possibly the first of its kind, succeeded admirably, and Langlet ended up spending a month in the home of a Russian counterpart, Esperantist Vladimir Gernet, in Odessa in the Crimea. During this period the two men agreed to support publication of a new Esperanto magazine, Lingvo Internacia; the magazine would be published in Uppsala, Sweden, but partly financed by Gernet. In due course, the magazine appeared, and Esperanto has never since been without at least one, and usually many more, magazines. Lingvo Internacia itself survived for many years, wandering from Uppsala to Budapest and finally Paris.(17)
During this early period, almost all of Esperanto's growth occurred in the three empires that came together in what today is Poland, Zamenhof's homeland. Sweden was an exception; but in the West Esperanto was almost unknown. One Western individual who learned Esperanto very early on was the French Marquis Louis de Beaufront, who had learned Esperanto in the late 1880's; his commitment, in fact, was so complete that he claimed to have abandoned work on his own international language project, Adjuvanto. This may be true; but examples of Adjuvanto were very late in appearing, and bore a remarkable resemblance to Ido when they did, prompting Zamenhof's unusually cynical comment that "had Mr. de Beaufront been creating his language when Volapük was in flower, no doubt it would have been called Adjuvük." In 1900 de Beaufront began to recruit members of the French intelligentsia into the Esperanto movement, and from that year dates the passage of leadership of the movement from East to West -- an event which may have given the language expedient exposure, but which may not have been so salubrious for the language itself.
For those interested in how the Esperanto movement mirrors events in the larger world, it is worth noting that during this post-1900 period, when French was still recognized as the ascendant language in the West, the major leaders of the Esperanto movement were French speakers; this is particularly interesting when we contrast it with the post-World War II period, when English-speakers have predominated in many Esperanto organizations. The current apparent transfer of influence in the Esperanto movement to what may eventually be a Beijing-Seoul-Tokyo axis, as seen in this light, is very suggestive.
Several of de Beaufront's activities were very fortunate in their long-term effects. For one thing, de Beaufront recruited a retired general of artillery, Hippolyte Sébert, who not only established the Esperantist Central Office in Paris, but over the next few years provided Zamenhof with much invaluable advice, especially during the Ido crisis, on how to handle situations in the West. For another, de Beaufront, probably with an eye to the main chance, arranged as Zamenhof's financial agent for the Russian-Jewish eye-doctor to sign a series of lucrative contracts with the major French publishing firm Hachette -- contracts that put books in Esperanto before the public eye and eventually gave Zamenhof the chance to edit -- and provide material for -- a major Esperanto literary magazine.(18)
Through France, Esperanto also reached England and eventually the United States. The Esperanto movement grew more slowly in England than in France, although it did attract several important people; most important of these, perhaps, was W. T. Stead, publisher of The Review of Reviews, who played in England, although to a lesser degree, the same role Hachette played for Esperanto in France during the first decade of the twentieth century, and whose publishing activities were unfortunately cut short by an ill-timed decision to travel to North America on the maiden voyage of the Titanic.
The growing concentration of Esperantists in the countries bordering the North Sea and the English Channel during this period allowed a new phenomenon to develop: the Esperanto Congress. Because of the difficulties of travel and the generally lower standard of living within the three major European empires of the day, Esperantists had not previously had a chance to meet on a large scale, internationally. In the summer of 1903 a small group of English, French and Belgian Esperantists arranged a weekend encounter on the Belgian coast. The affair was so successful that a similar affair was more officially set up for the following summer. Close to a hundred Esperantists appeared for that meeting, most of them British and French, but with several German and one Bohemian participants. The success of that meeting was considered so great that the French Esperanto organization undertook to arrange a full-fledged Esperanto congress in Boulogne-sur-Mer for August of 1905.
The first World Congress was a major success. Zamenhof himself attended and gave the keynote address, to rousing applause from the audience. Almost seven hundred people discovered, most of them for the first time, that Esperanto was a totally suitable language for transnational intercourse of all sorts. For one week people from several dozen nations walked together, talked together, played together, sang together -- simply were together.(19)
At the Congress one of Zamenhof's earliest dreams was fulfilled -- the foundation of an international organization to take some of the weight of administration off his back. This was the Lingva Komitato ("Language Committee"), one of whose sections would later become today's Academy of Esperanto. The Committee's field of jurisdiction, of course, was supposed to cover linguistic questions; but in the absence of any other international organization, it would be called upon to resolve other sorts of problems as well -- particularly in the case of the Ido crisis.
The Congress was such a success that successive World Congresses have been held ever since, with only two major hiatuses during the World Wars.
The Ido crisis of 1907(20) pointed out the weaknesses in the organization (or lack thereof) of the Esperanto movement. The result was the founding in 1908 of the Universala Esperanto-Asocio (UEA) by a young Swiss Esperantist, Hector Hodler. UEA would play a leading role in the international movement -- although not without occasional internal problems, or occasional rivals -- to the current time. At this time UEA also founded the worldwide Delegate network, Esperanto's equivalent of a national consular net, which today contains over two thousand individuals in more than seventy countries.
The reconsolidation caused by the Ido crisis was completed within a year or so, and the Esperanto movement continued its rapid prewar growth. In 1912, at the World Congress in Kraków, Zamenhof officially announced his retirement as actual, if not official, head of the Esperanto movement; he would, he said, attend future congresses, but would sit among the participants, not stand in front of them. In the event, he was to attend only one more Congress, in Antwerp in 1913.
He was scheduled to attend yet another, along with almost four thousand other Esperantists, in Paris, in August, 1914. He and his wife were crossing Germany on their way to Paris when World War I exploded, officializing the bitter enmity between his homeland and Germany. Zamenhof never made it across the French border. Turned back at the French border, and unable to recross the closed Russian border, he and Klara managed a long and difficult journey through Scandinavia and, with the aid of Esperantists, back to Warsaw over a period of weeks -- an ordeal that broke his already fragile health. He would hang on for almost three more years until death claimed him in March, 1917.
Esperanto activities were difficult during the World War. Nevertheless, they continued in one form or another. One use of Esperanto not previously seen was its utilization as a tool of military propaganda(21). Another, more appropriate use, was UEA's service as an intermediary for letters and packages sent by individuals in one warring state to friends in an enemy nation. By war's end, UEA had transmitted several hundred thousand such items. The Delegate network also served to help maintain contact between Esperantists on opposite sides of the conflict.
The postwar period was one of advances for Esperanto -- advances that unfortunately contained the seeds of later suffering. During its first years of existence the Soviet Union showed a certain amount of enthusiasm for the language -- several of its earliest postage stamps were in Esperanto, for instance. A national Soviet Esperanto association was formed, with official recognition from the government. In Western Europe, and particularly in Germany and the new "republics" of Central Europe, Esperanto also made great strides forward, but largely within the framework of the workers' movement, which meant that in the mindset of the upper classes -- and consequently in that of a large part of the middle class -- Esperanto was linked with Bolshevism. The situation was not helped by the establishment of a second, very popular international Esperanto organization, the Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda (World Anational Association), which called upon its members to abjure nationalism and consider themselves part of a single world society.
SAT, whose heyday was in the twenties and thirties and which today is far smaller than UEA(23), has had an importance for the Esperanto movement far out of proportion to its size. Much of the major lexicographical work in Esperanto has been done under the auspices of SAT; it is the publisher of the near-definitive Plena Ilustrita Vortaro, the most complete Esperanto dictionary. SAT was originally founded by Eugène Adam, otherwise known as Lanti, a French philosopher. Many Esperantists consider SAT to be the closest thing to a genuine embodiment of the Esperantist interna ideo ("inner idea"), discussed in chapter 11, of any extant organization.
During its early years, SAT nursed strong links with the Soviet Esperanto movement. But after Stalin came to power, relations soured between SAT -- whose economic attitudes were at worst Social-Democratic -- and the Soviet government. But even a complete break with the Soviets in the early thirties was not enough to nullify the right-wing preconception -- nourished by a belief that anything popular with the "lower classes" must be part of a Bolshevik plot.
At this point I should mention that one of those reviewing this manuscript indicated a certain feeling of discomfort regarding so much linkage between the words "Esperanto" and "Communism." I hasten to add for the record that the Soviet government's use of Esperanto, then as now, was purely pragmatic in nature, and that the leaders of the USSR themselves, like their counterparts in America, have never been unabashedly pro-Esperanto. When the question was raised to Lenin, he is reported to have replied: "There are already three world languages [presumably French, English and German], and now there will be a fourth, Russian." Stalin's response to Esperanto was more ... uh ... forthright; he simply imprisoned or shot as many Esperantists as he could round up, as mentioned below. The more liberal Mikhail Gorbachev, when asked about the state of Esperanto in the Soviet Union by an Estonian Esperantist, is reported to have replied: "We will give Esperanto priority as soon as we have completed our restructuring of society (perestroika)" -- which may be in three decades or three centuries. Lins devotes much space in his book on persecutions to the early successes of Esperanto in the Soviet Union, the attitude (at best ambivalent) of the Soviet government, the relationship between the Soviet and foreign Esperanto movements, and the eventual schism within the workers' Esperanto movement between the USSR and the West.
Esperanto's successes on the linguistic, literary(22) and organizational levels in the twenties were great, but its near-successes, though less fruitful, were more obvious. The Esperanto movement had two major goals for this period. To have Esperanto accepted as a "clear" language in telegraphy -- more important then than now -- was attained in 1925.
The second and more important goal, then as now, was to have Esperanto taught in schools on an official basis. A law decreeing this was introduced on the Greek island of Samos some years earlier, but local conditions prevented its implementation. In 1912, after the revolution against the Qing Dynasty, Chinese Education Minister Cai Yuan-pei promulgated a similar decree -- which sank without trace in the chaos that was to grip China for many years afterwards. The Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia, established after the First World War, provided for teaching Esperanto in the Republic's schools; but Macedonia lasted only long enough to be divvied up between Bulgaria, Jugoslavia and Greece.(24) Currently Esperanto has an official place in the school curricula in three countries: Bulgaria, China and Hungary. In the League of Nations, a more general success was narrowly missed.
Esperanto's experience at the League of Nations, which her apologists refer to as a "success" and her opponents call a "failure," is an example of a near, or partial, success. It was largely the doing of one man, Edmond Privat. Privat, a Swiss citizen, was for many years one of the most competent and best-known Esperantists. As a teen-ager bumming his way around the world he walked into the White House and Oval Office, sat down, and told President Teddy Roosevelt all about Esperanto. Shortly before World War I he was known as one of the best Esperantist poets and dramatists. He served as a journalist during the War, promoting self-determination for the peoples of Eastern Europe; his Esperanto- language work about this period, Aventuroj de Pioniro ("Adventures of a Pioneer"), has been used by, among others, the Iranian military to gain an understanding of "the reasons for the First World War and its pathological consequences in Europe."(25) After the War he played a major role in the League of Nations, where he functioned in various capacities. He was long recognized as a European authority on international law and usage, and counted such folk as Mahatma Gandhi among his personal friends. A schoolmate and close friend of Hector Hodler, who founded UEA, he served for many years as the organization's President and, later, as its Honorary President.
At Privat's urging, the Secretariat carried out a study of Esperanto and the Esperanto movement, and the Assistant Secretary-General, Dr. Inobé Nitazo, produced an excellent and favorable report about the language. In spite of protests from the French government, at that time fighting a growing international recognition that the French language was in a state of decline, the General Assembly accepted the report. But a subsequent resolution urging the introduction of Esperanto into the schools of member-states was referred to the Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, where it died an ignominious death.
This Committee was dominated by the French government -- at that time Poincaré's right-wing nationalist regime, which had actually banned the teaching of Esperanto in French schools. While some non-French committee members, including several from English-speaking countries, favored Esperanto, the prevailing attitude was that of Julien Luchaire, who wanted to know why an international language for ordinary people was necessary at all -- such folk, he suggested, had no business communicating across national boundaries, except through their elected representatives and the intellectual elite. Among the committee's witnesses was the Swiss philosopher Gonzague de Reynold, who denounced Esperanto as "barbarous" and "Slavic" -- expressions he apparently considered equivalent. Gonzague de Reynold was later to make his reputation by recommending that the Swiss Federation dissolve itself and voluntarily join with Hitler's New Order.(26)
Rejection of the resolution was a significant blow to those who saw Esperanto's future as depending on the League of Nations. It may have been an even more significant blow to those who saw the whole world's future depending on that international organization; according to Lins,(27) it was this decision that for the first time demonstrated how much -- or how little -- of their sovereignty the League's most influential member-states were prepared to yield to the League. In this sense, Esperanto's later experiences at the United Nations and UNESCO may also be more generally instructive.
For Esperanto the twenties were, at the grass-roots, a period of almost unmitigated success, or so many people today believe. By 1928 Dr. Johannes Dietterle of the Reich Institut für Esperanto in Leipzig could report that, according to a survey he had carried out, there were more than a hundred thousand speakers of Esperanto in the world, of whom some forty thousand were organizationally associated with the Esperanto movement. But the thirties were to be a different story, for Esperanto as for the rest of the world.
The first cloud on the horizon was the world economic catastrophe that began in 1929. UEA and other Esperanto organizations, for the most part denied official support, depended, then as now, on the largesse of their members. When that largesse dried up, so did UEA's finances. The Esperanto movement soon found itself in dire financial straits.
One apparent solution to the financial problems of UEA was to move its headquarters to a less expensive location than its current center in Geneva. Such a location was available to UEA in Rickmansworth, a small town northwest of London. But the Swiss old guard of UEA protested that such a move was a violation of UEA's charter from the Swiss government; they wanted to shake things into shape right where they were. So acrimony ensued between the movers and the shakers. Lawsuits were threatened and instituted. Eventually the movers split off from the shakers and founded their own organization, the Internacia Esperanto-Ligo (IEL), headquartered in Rickmansworth. UEA was left with a small rump organization, mainly Swiss, still centered in Geneva.
The growth of ideological rigidity in the nations of Europe was also to put a strain -- eventually, more than a strain -- on the Esperanto movement. Hitler's election to the Chancellory of Germany in 1931, and to the Presidency in 1933, was an unmitigated catastrophe for the language. Hitler had long known of Esperanto, and despised it; he had attacked the language as early as 1922, in a speech in Munich, and later, in Mein Kampf, he spoke of Esperanto as part of the Jewish conspiracy to enslave the Aryan races of the world.(28) Now he had a chance to do something about it. It took some time for him to consolidate his power, but when he had done so, he took steps. In 1936 the Ministry of Education banned the teaching of Esperanto. The German Esperanto Association, in the face of competition from another national Esperanto organization established by the Gestapo, expelled its Jewish members, a step which led to a corresponding significant reduction among its outraged Aryan members, who remembered that the creator of Esperanto had been a Jew. In any case, the expulsion did the organization no good in the long run; by the end of the year all Esperanto activity in Germany was banned.
Germany was not alone in its suppression of Esperanto. After the relatively moderate and liberal Leninist period in the Soviet Union came the repressive Stalinist period. The Soviet Union, which had provided some of the major Esperantist literary figures of the twenties, went strangely quiet, after breaking relations with SAT. By the early thirties, Esperantists were already among the legions unwillingly building the White Sea Canal; and "by the end of the twenties and at the beginning of the thirties the leadership of the [Soviet Esperantist Union] were occupying ever more dogmatic, sectarian positions and in fact helping Stalin build and strengthen the machine of violence and mass terror whose victims they were later to become."(29)
One night, in March, 1937, as many SEU members as possible were rounded up by the police, taken to local prisons, and forced to confess participation in "an international espionage organization of Esperantists." Several -- figures as high as 2000 have been quoted -- were executed, while the rest were remanded to the Gulag.
The president of the Soviet Esperanto organization at that time was the Latvian Ernst Drezen, a noted Esperantologist and a loyal, committed Communist. My late friend Nikolai Rytjkov, at that time a minor official of the organization, once mentioned to me having seen one or two books bearing Drezen's ex libris in the library of the prison where he himself was confined -- a sure sign that Drezen himself had been liquidated and his property confiscated by the state. Since Drezen was never seen again, this seems to be a reasonable interpretation. Lins devotes two thirds of his book on persecutions of Esperantists to the situation in the Soviet Union, then and more recently.
For the next nineteen years, any sort of Esperanto activity was outlawed in the USSR. No Esperantist worth his salt, of course, would permit such regulatory nonsense to prevent him (or her) from continuing to use Esperanto, as SEJM has been showing in the USSR for the past two decades or more. One young poet continued to write his poems in Esperanto; they were never found by the secret police because he hid them inside his father's beehive, a location relatively immune to investigation.
The attempted extermination of the Soviet Esperanto movement had several causes. One of the most interesting possibilities, for which Lins makes a good case, is that the Soviet government saw in Esperanto a viable alternative -- and therefore, competitor -- to Russian as a national language for the USSR. Even today, according to Soviet emigrés with whom I have spoken, Soviet Esperantists invariably speak to each other in Esperanto rather than in Russian.(30)
Most Esperantist historians assign the near-extermination of the Esperanto movement to the Second World War. Within the Soviet Union, at least, most of the damage had been done before the war began. Nevertheless, the war allowed the dictatorships to spread their suppression across all of Europe; and at least in the West the human damage to the Esperanto movement after September, 1939, was considerably greater than it had been before. Great numbers of Esperantists died in the Nazi death camps.(31) Others, including almost the entire Zamenhof family, were singled out by the Nazis for total extermination; Zamenhof's son Adam was shot dead in Palmiry Prison courtyard not long after the occupation of Warsaw, and daughters Sofia and Lidia were shipped off to the concentration camp at Treblinka, from which they never returned. The Esperanto movement throughout Europe was effectively decimated.
The Esperanto movement in Asia was also suffering. That much of the Japanese Esperanto movement was associated with the political left wing may have justified police suppression of organizations such as the Japanese Proletarian Esperanto Association -- at least insofar as one can accept the excuses offered by the powers-that-be in a police state(32); it cannot justifry police atrocities committed against Esperantists associated with the inoffensive and slightly right-of-center religious group Oomoto. The Japanese Esperanto Institute, the leading Japanese Esperanto organization, survived this period, largely by keeping its head down and not offending anybody -- easier to do in military-ruled Japan, which was "merely" authoritarian, than in Nazi Germany, where Esperanto was ideological anathema; but activity for Esperanto was discouraged, and little occurred during the thirties and forties.
The Chinese Esperanto movement had flowered in the late twenties and early thirties, with many leading Chinese intellectuals embracing Esperanto, among them such literary lights as Lu Xün, whom the Chinese consider the greatest author of this century. A mass Esperanto movement looked to be in the offing, but the Japanese invasion of the early thirties, and the outbreak of civil war between the Kuomintang and the Communists, put an end to that hope. Many of China's intellectuals tried to make some accomodation with the warlordism of the Kuomintang, but eventually they were forced into the arms of the Communists, whom they considered the natural heirs of Sun Yat-sen's revolution. So Esperanto was exiled to the mountains of the West and, until it fell to the Japanese, the British concession in Shanghai.
One of the most revealing and interesting books I have ever read about China in this period is En C^inio Batalanta, a short description of life in wartime China by "Verda Majo" (Teru Hasegawa). Ms. Hasegawa was a young woman associated with the left-wing Esperanto movement in Japan; against the wishes of her family, she married Liu Ren, a Chinese student in Japan, and followed him to Shanghai in 1937, just in time to witness the Japanese bombing and capture of the city. She and her husband survived the war; both died in northeastern China in 1947. Her descriptions of life in wartime China make interesting and educational reading for an American who knows little about the period. While En C^inio Batalanta, as a book by itself, has been out of print for years, it was recently reprinted by the Chinese Esperanto League as part of a complete collection of her works(33) and is available from most Esperanto book services.
The war eventually ended, and the Esperanto movement set about gathering up the scattered pieces. Esperanto organizations managed to provide some help to those seeking lost friends and relatives, but far too many had simply died or disappeared. However, there was some good news, organizationally speaking; UEA and IEL had finally agreed to recombine under the older name, and the first postwar Esperanto Congress was scheduled to occur in Bern, Switzerland, in the summer of 1947.
Nevertheless, Esperanto continued to face major difficulties. Throughout the period between the wars, even though the leadership of the Esperanto movement had largely lain in Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe remained the heartland of the language, as, to a great extent, it does today. The Third Reich had been overthrown, and Esperanto was once again a legitimate object of study and promulgation in Western Europe. But the Stalinist régime in the Soviet Union, as an ally of the Western powers, had survived, and was now extending its sway into the heartland. As country after country in Eastern Europe came under Soviet domination, activities relating to Esperanto were severely curtailed a situation that was to last, to great or lesser degree, until the mid fifties.
The situation with the Soviet Union, however, was an interesting reversal of that with Hitler's Germany. Although Hitler banned Esperanto in the Third Reich, the real extermination of the Esperanto movement did not begin until the Nazis had extended their sway throughout Europe. In the Soviet Union, on the other hand, Stalin was already decimating the Esperanto movement by the late thirties; but during the forties and fifties, in the satellite countries of Eastern Europe, Esperanto activities were not even completely proscribed, merely curtailed. According to Lins,(34) much of the credit for this must go to the Czech Communist Rudolf Burda, publisher of the magazine La Pacdefendanto ("Defender of Peace"), who did not hesitate to take the authorities in the Eastern Bloc to task for their opposition to Esperanto, even daring to turn Stalin's own linguistic arguments regarding Esperanto against him, and whose magazine was widely read among Eastern Esperantists, including those survivors of the old Soviet Esperanto movement. Burda, founder of the Mondpaca Esperantista Movado ("World-Peace Esperantist Movement"), an organization that did much good work but also served far too often in later years as a mere mouthpiece for Moscow, lost his Party membership for his support of Esperanto; but he did survive, and helped Esperanto survive.
The other major problem was the English language. In the early 19th century it should already have been apparent that English was destined to become a major global language, sooner or later; but French managed to hold onto its prerogatives, both official and unofficial, well into the twentieth century. But by the end of World War I English was already considered at least co-equal with French in many fields, and both languages were made working languages at the League of Nations. France's role in the Second World War was not one to add luster to the French language; the Vichy government played the role of a German puppet, and although the Free French forces under General Charles de Gaulle fought bravely with the Allies, they were treated by their English-speaking sponsors largely as auxiliaries and even supplicants. Although at the end of the war French was again made co-equal with English at the new United Nations, everyone knew where the true power lay. Representative Clarence Long of Louisiana once redefined the Golden Rule as "Them as has the gold makes the rules." At the end of World War II, America had almost all the gold. The Soviet Union's major role in turning the German advance, even before America entered the war, was played down in the West, and a relatively undamaged America took quick steps to contain the potentially expansionist ambitions of a battered and bloody USSR.
The first major undertaking of the reunited Esperanto movement was a petition requesting the United Nations to look into the possibility of using Esperanto. The petition, containing half a million individual signatures, and the signatures of responsible officials for almost five hundred organizations containing more than twenty million members, was at that time the largest international petition ever collected on private initiative.
But the situation was not even as favorable as it had been in the early twenties before the League of Nations. At the League there had been some semblance of equality between the two working languages, largely because of the absence of the United States, and Esperanto had at least had the potential of playing a compromise role. The United Nations had at the time of the petition three working languages and two other official languages, but under the circumstances prevailing in the late forties there could be no semblance of equality. The petition was eventually referred to UNESCO, the UN's equivalent of the League's Committee for Intellectual Cooperation.
UNESCO was not terribly interested in Esperanto. The matter was brought up before their General Conference in 1952, then again in Montevideo in 1954. For this latter conference, UEA hauled out its big guns -- they established a major exhibition, with the help of the Uruguayan Esperantists, and went so far as to send UEA's future General Secretary, Prof. Ivo Lapenna, to Montevideo. At the General Conference, the Mexican delegation proposed a resolution favorable to Esperanto; about thirty other delegations of the fifty to sixty member-states of that era promised to support it. But the effort was in vain; after certain violations of protocol by those running the Conference, by an almost eight-to-one vote, with the Soviet Bloc abstaining, the resolution favorable to Esperanto was rejected.
Chief among those who spoke against Esperanto was a Danish linguist named Blinkenberg whose jocularly sarcastic speech went perhaps a step too far. A single remark, intended as an insult, that Esperanto "is suitable only for Uruguayan menus," was -- with a bit of help from the local Esperantists -- widely reported in the Uruguayan press, and raised numerous hackles in the Conference's host country. The resulting outcry, including one embarassing moment when the Uruguayan Esperanto Association protested to Blinkenberg's own embassy by returning a promotional film that the Danish government had produced in Esperanto, resulted in a revote on the resolution the next week, at the closing plenary session. This time the vote went in the opposite direction -- six to one for Esperanto, with the Soviet Bloc again abstaining. The eventual result was not only a resolution ordering the Director-General to keep an eye on the development of Esperanto over the coming years, but, within the year, the proferring of consulting relations to UEA -- the first real official recognition of the Esperanto movement by an intergovernmental organization. UEA today maintains such relations not only with UNESCO but also with the UN Economic and Social Council and with the Organization of American States.
Other, and perhaps more important, developments were taking place beyond the immediate influence of the English-speaking nations. The Soviet proscription of Esperanto had never extended to the People's Republic of China, though the suppressions in Central Europe did have the effect of putting a two-to-three-year hold on publication of China's Esperanto news magazine, El Popola C^inio, most of whose subscribers lived there. While widespread study of Esperanto was difficult in the long-lasting period of "reconstruction" after the establishment of the PRC, those who already knew and used Esperanto were allowed to continue whatever they had been doing well into the nineteen-sixties, and many of them were subsidized in return for their support of and work for the government. Chinese Esperantists founded the above-mentioned El Popola C^inio in May, 1950; and in 1951 the Chinese Esperanto League was established.(35)
The death of Stalin, the establishment of collective leadership in the Soviet Union, and the eventual accession of Nikita Khrushchev to power led to a certain amount of liberalization, one of the first symptoms of which was the rehabilitation of Esperanto and Esperantists. In the East European heartland Esperanto organizations came back into existence, although with new names and new constitutions. Progress in the Soviet Union was slower; but even there, a few old names reappeared, released from the Gulag; and whenever a new Esperanto textbook, dictionary or the like appeared, still a very rare event, an edition of a few tens of thousands would sell out in a matter of days.
Despite rehabilitation, the Soviet Union, unlike the smaller Central European nations, remained isolated from the international Esperanto movement for a many of years, a situation that continues to some extent even today. One of the most interesting questions in the history of Esperanto is how the Soviet Esperanto movement managed to retain its identity from the discouragements of the late twenties through the proscriptions of the late thirties until Esperanto again became tolerable in the late eighties. I remember an official of an American-Soviet friendship society telling an acquaintance of mine about an experience he had in the USSR during the post-Stalin period. Arriving in a small village by train, he was immediately taken to an elderly villager whose first question was about the state of Esperanto in the outside world. "I was sorry to have to inform him that Esperanto was dead," the American recounted.
Just as surprised, but much happier, was the Russian Esperanto veteran Stepan Titov, who in 1961 heard from the outside world for the first time since before the war when he received a telegram in Esperanto from the 2000 participants in the World Esperanto Congress at Harrogate, England, congratulating his son Gherman, through him, on just becoming the second man to orbit the earth.
The rehabilitation of Esperanto in Central and Eastern Europe came, more or less, just in time; the first major Esperanto memorial year, the "Zamenhof Year," was scheduled for 1959 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of L.L. Zamenhof, and for that particular year it seemed important to the Esperanto movement to hold its World Congress in Warsaw, Poland -- the birthplace of Esperanto, if not of Zamenhof. More than three thousand Esperantists turned out for this centennial congress, the first to be held behind the Iron Curtain and the largest to that time of the postwar congresses.
As an experiment, Radio Poland began, because of the Congress, to broadcast three half-hour programs per day in Esperanto -- certainly the first daily Esperanto broadcasts since the war. The results were apparently satisfactory; the broadcasts were allowed to continue after the end of 1959, and have continued ever since, with only one minor hiatus -- for a period of one or two months after the imposition of martial law during the Solidarity crisis. Radio Poland continued to broadcast six such programs per day through 1990, after which the number had to be reduced again to three because of the post-Socialist depression; and the station continues to reap a harvest of thousands of fan letters in Esperanto per year from around the world. Radio Beijing in China also began to broadcast three half-hour programs a day in Esperanto, in the mid-sixties, and today broadcasts four. Other stations broadcasting in Esperanto include Zagreb, Bern, Havana, Radio Vatican, and a number of others, including some stations that can be heard only locally.(36) In this latter category are several Rumanian stations that have begun occasional Esperanto broadcasts since the overthrow of Ceaucescu at the end of 1989.
It was during the Zamenhof Year that I first became involved in the Esperanto movement (37), and my own perception of its history has certainly been colored by this fact; 1959, in that sense, marked a major discontinuity in that history. The next few years were, for me, revealing and busy as far as Esperanto was concerned. Objectively, however, the Esperanto movement was progressing -- but only slowly. From 1959 to 1965 there was little change in the perception of Esperanto by outsiders; it was a period of internal consolidation and preparation for possible further advances later. There are few objective statistics to show that Esperanto was in fact progressing during that period.
In 1964 Prof. Ivo Lapenna was elected President of UEA. Lapenna, as a student in Zagreb, had been one of the motors of the prewar Croatian Esperanto movement, and unlike many other Esperantist leaders of the period he had early on recognized the impossibility of reaching any kind of accomodation with the forces of Naziism, whose ideology was diametrically opposed to the driving principles behind the Esperanto movement.(38) Later he had been one of the forces reuniting the movement after the War, and in 1954 he was acclaimed the "hero of Montevideo." In 1955 he was elected Secretary-General of UEA, an office he carried out with distinction. Now, as President, he was prepared to undertake a new, major campaign to present Esperanto to the outside world.
During 1965 and early 1966 members of UEA and other Esperantists were urged to collect signatures for a new Petition to the United Nations. We did so with gusto. I collected one page of signatures myself, during my stay at Texas A&M University under the auspices of the U.S. Air Force, and I suspect that I was probably in violation of some military directive or other by doing so. The ultimate result was a collection of one million individual signatures, plus signatures of responsible officials for organizations representing almost another hundred million people. The signatures were carefully collected, bound, and in 1966 presented by Lapenna and a group of important North American Esperantists to the United Nations. The accepting official was an Undersecretary named Chakravarthi Narasimhan.
I do not know the whole story of the 1966 Petition; some or all of what I have heard may be a part of Esperanto's mythology, alluded to elsewhere in this book. To start with, the Secretariat of the United Nations informed UEA that it could do nothing about this Petition, because any resolution having to do with language would have to be introduced in the General Assembly by one of the member-states of the U.N. UEA prepared, from time to time, to raise the matter again, but each time it came up -- or so I remember! -- one or more member-states seemed also prepared to raise the matter, and UEA held its intervention in abeyance, not wanting to offend or interfere with any possible ally. In this way, nothing ever got done. Eventually UEA inquired into the status of the Petition, and was coolly informed that in the course of events it had been lost. To my knowledge, that was the end of the affair.
Since I played a (very minor) role in collection of that Petition, the question of its loss has bothered me for many years now. If I remember the page I collected correctly, and assuming that not all sheets were completely filled with signatures, the Petition must have contained between twenty-five and a hundred thousand pages -- the equivalent of several shelves of Steven King novels. Lost? I hope that the high officials of the U.N. Secretariat during that period will pardon my public incredulity!
In 1987 the Secretary-General of the U.N., Mr. Javier Perez de Cuellar, sent his personal representative, Mr. Nigel Cassar, to the Jubilee Congress in Warsaw. The editor of the magazine esperanto, reporting Mr. Cassar's speech at the Inaugural, commented: "By his presence and observation of the congress during the whole week -- later to be made concrete in a report -- Cassar gave some substance to [his speech]. It seems that the Jubilee has had some positive effect at the UN, too, because we don't remember such serious attention in any previous congress. But of course, as previous experiences with the UN have proved, the way from report to action is a long one!"(39) In the December 1987 issue of Alitalia's house organ, as mentioned earlier, the Secretary-General himself stated that he no longer considered Esperanto a practical solution to the language problem, since "...in any case the multiplicity of languages is not a real problem in the framework of the international community" -- at least not if, like Mr. Perez de Cuellar, you have 266 interpreters and 437 translators working for you at taxpayer expense. In a later letter to UEA, Mr. Perez de Cuellar retreated slightly, though not as publicly, from this position.
Because the entire question has implications for the internal functioning of the Esperanto movement, I will here express my opinion on it. My impression is that the relationship between Esperanto and the United Nations has always been one of hope on one side and disdain on the other. Many Esperantists believe that Esperanto will attain legitimacy only through the actions of some high-level organization such as the United Nations. The "reformists" discussed in Chapter 3, and other opponents of Esperanto, often claim that Esperanto's failure to be adopted by such organizations is due to some defect in the language itself (usually its supersigned letters or the -N ending). My own response to this is that Esperanto, or any other language -- constructed or ethnic! -- will be adopted by the U.N. either when 97% of the world's people speak it ... or when one trillion bbl of oil is discovered under UEA's headquarters. "Language," one minor U.N. official once told an official of UEA, "is political dynamite."
It must also be remembered that the United Nations, as an intergovernmental forum, represents neither popular opinion nor popular needs, but those of its member-states, and more particularly those of its most powerful member-states, as the recent history of the authorization of Operation Desert Storm should amply demonstrate.
Lapenna during this period occupied two posts: President of UEA and Director of its London-based Centre for Research and Documentation. As Director, Lapenna made great strides in acquiring, collating, and preparing for publication information about the language problem in general and Esperanto in particular. The result was a major work on Esperanto's history and the Esperanto movement's organization, Esperanto en Perspektivo, written by Lapenna in collaboration with Ulrich Lins and Tazio Carlevaro and published in 1974. Although terribly dated today, it remains an indispensable source of information for the researcher about Esperanto.
Lapenna's tenure as President of UEA was less successful. While the time was coming when the position of English, established at the end of the War, would become less secure and Esperanto would appear more attractive to many people, the situation was not yet ripe for this, and Lapenna -- who specialized in external developments rather than internal consolidation -- gradually lost much of his hold over the imagination of the world's Esperantists. By 1968 there was significant opposition to his Presidency; the opposition had more or less united by 1971; and in 1974, over Lapenna's opposition, it elected to the Committee of UEA a slate of candidates that guaranteed that Lapenna's period of ascendancy had come to an end. Incensed, Lapenna withdrew from all official activity in UEA and set out to establish his own schismatic organization, the Neu^trala Esperanto-Movado (NEM). NEM never had the strength to even be considered a viable alternative to UEA, the more so since Lapenna's ostensible reason for founding it -- capture of UEA by a Communist cabal -- was obviously at best a delusion. Lapenna himself died in 1987, appropriately enough on December 15, Zamenhof's birthday, the only "holiday" recognized by Esperantists in all parts of the world. NEM appears to have passed on with him.
Lapenna's successor in the office of President was Humphrey Tonkin, a young Englishman with a winning manner and a thorough understanding of the problems involved in making Esperanto a marketable commodity on the international stage. Tonkin, who had come up through the ranks of the Esperanto youth movement as Lapenna had done before the war, made a creditable President for UEA. But I suspect that Tonkin's period of accession in the Esperanto movement would not have been so markedly successful had external conditions not been quite so ripe.
I am not sure what led to the "explosion" of interest about Esperanto in Iran in 1975. It may have been revolutionary fervor seeking some kind of outlet. The fact is that Esperanto courses and Esperantists suddenly appeared en masse in what had previously been a part of the world where the only Esperantist (that anyone ever saw) had been an elderly UEA delegate living in Teheran. At one point, almost three thousand students at the capitol city's university were studying the International Language. Tehran Esperantist M. H. Saheb-Zamani explains the phenomenon in this way:
"Iranians have a wider world-view for several reasons, among them Sufi. They have no wish to stay chauvinistically in their own isolated country. At first, for 500 years after the adoption of Islam in Iran, they made first-rate contributions to medieval world literature in a learned second language, Arabic. ... Today they have been occupied for the past hundred years with French, German, Russian and English, but the result is not worth mentioning. In high-schools we learn foreign languages, mainly English, for around six years, with results a little bit better than zero. So the Iranians instinctively recognize that through their own language then cannot take part in the arena of world literature, they have an enthusiasm for learning other languages, but the majority of them have no hope of doing so. Esperanto gives them the key, solves the so-called inferiority complex."(40)In the various Esperanto magazines around the world, the correspondence columns filled up with brand new and usually young Persian Esperantists seeking pen pals in the East, the West, wherever. Like the East European workers of the twenties, these young Third Worlders had discovered a fascinating window on the world. This situation persists today, despite disarray caused by the long Iran-Iraq war.
Iran was not the only third-world country to discover, or rediscover, Esperanto during this period. Activity in China had abounded, ever since the middle 1960's, only on the official level, where Esperanto was used to promote Chinese policies abroad(41). Study of Esperanto by individuals for their own purposes was not tolerated, and could be punishable by prison; it is not clear whether the case of the young Chinese Esperantist poet Armand Su, who was condemned to a twenty-year imprisonment for his Esperanto activities, was or was not unique. A change in the situation occurred with the reform movement, the deposing of the so-called Gang of Four, and the transition to a new, somewhat more liberal regime. Esperanto for its own sake became permissible. New Esperanto organizations sprang up all over the country, and thousands -- perhaps hundreds of thousands -- of Chinese began to study the language.(42)
Whether these developments played any role in Tonkin's success, during his second term, in obtaining a certain amount of official recognition for Esperanto is questionable. His success in bringing UNESCO's Director-General Amadou Mahtar M'Bow as a keynote speaker to the World Esperanto Congress in Reykjavik in 1977, and his similar success with Undersecretary-General Robert Müller at Luzern, Switzerland, in 1979 may have been completely his own, as was the establishment and opening of a UEA-UN liaison office in New York in 1979.
The late seventies and eighties appear, to many Esperantists, to have been a period as heady and ebullient -- and perhaps as fraught with potential pitfalls -- as the twenties. This is true both in terms of the increase in the number of speakers and development of organization.
The Soviet Union, after years of suppressing Esperanto and more years of trying to pretend that it didn't exist, in 1979 founded the Association of Soviet Esperantists. After the formation of the Esperanto Federation of Bharat (India) in 1982, each of the four largest nations in the world finally had a national Esperanto organization.
Esperanto appeared in Latin America early in its life, but only in the seventies and eighties has it appeared to be making much progress there, at least beyond the borders of Brazil. Esperantists attending the World Esperanto Congress in Brasilia in 1981 were surprised to find a vigorous, growing Esperanto movement on our neighbor continent to the south.
Around 1982 a series of small attempts to penetrate into black Africa produced surprising results. A number of citizens of several African countries welcomed Esperanto with open arms -- a situation that many European Esperantists had supposed impossible, because of the poor economic and educational situation in that part of the world. If Esperanto today is not strong in Africa, it at least exists there -- a situation quite different from the one only half a decade ago. African names and addresses are becoming quite as common in Esperanto pen-pal columns as Iranian ones.
In 1985 UNESCO once again, after a 31-year hiatus, passed a resolution favorable to Esperanto. I have reproduced both resolutions as an appendix to this work. The 1985 resolution, upon careful reading, differs in certain important regards. Most notably, the earlier resolution asks member states which might introduce Esperanto into their schools to keep the Director-General informed of the results of this action; the later resolution encourages such introduction. Whether this resolution was in any way connected with the recent withdrawal of the United States and Great Britain from UNESCO, I have no way of knowing, but that absence of the two major English-speaking powers -- and their influence -- is at least suggestive.
The hundredth anniversary of Esperanto in 1987 was supposed to be, to some extent, a breather in the ongoing process, a chance to stop, take a look backwards, and plan for forward motion in the language's second century. This does not seem to have happened, and for many Esperantists and Esperanto groups 1987 was a year of "business as usual." However, the so-called Jubilee Congress, which was held in Warsaw, Poland, in July of that year, did top all other congresses in the number of participants and events planned and carried out: around six thousand people from seventy-three different countries, including thirteen African nations, were present.
The end of the 1980's has raised important questions about the future of the organized Esperanto movement in Central and Eastern Europe. The major changes that have been occurring there since 1988 have not been without their echoes in the Esperanto movement. Esperanto has been expanding at a rapid rate in several countries, most notably in the former Soviet Union and its successor states and Romania, where it was formerly either discouraged or effectively banned; on the other hand, the organized Esperanto movement has fallen into a state of disarray in those countries where it enjoyed a measure of state support, Vilmos Benczik's "soft dictatorships," especially Poland and Hungary. The results in this area are, of course, not all in yet. The collapse of memberships in various national organizations in this area is frightening; the appearance of new high-quality Esperanto magazines such as Litova Stelo ("Lithuanian Star") and Eventoj ("Events") is encouraging. One interesting aspect of this change is the growth in importance of private or privatized Esperanto operations in this area, such as Andrzej Grzebowski's tourist organization Esperantotur in Poland, Phoenix Publishers in Hungary (formerly the publishing arm of the Hungarian Esperanto Association), the publisher Sezonoj in Russia, and Esperanto-Press in Bulgaria (formerly part of the Bulgarian Esperanto Association). The short-term health of the Esperanto movement throughout the entire area, of course, is heavily dependent on financial resources, which are in terribly short supply for everybody there.
Many individuals, looking superficially at Esperanto's history, ask: "Why has Esperanto failed?" The more astute, less prejudiced, observer will ask, reasonably enough: "Why has Esperanto not succeeded?"
In fact, when we propose such a question, we must also consider in what terms Esperanto has failed, or not succeeded. If we assume that Esperanto's only raison d'etre is to be spoken by everybody in the world, then lack of success is obvious; if we add to that a time limit of 100 years or less from the language's inception, then we must confess abject failure, and return to our knitting.
But if we consider that Zamenhof's original motives were to provide a language usable by people interested in communicating with native speakers of other languages, then in fact Esperanto was a success from the moment the Pole Grabowski and the Russian Jew Zamenhof sat down for their mythical first conversation in the fall of 1887.
Zamenhof's major failure appears to have lain in his inability to predict just how many people would genuinely be interested in communicating with their other-language counterparts and solving their mutual problems. His forecast came from his own experience and feelings; and how applicable that experience might be to someone from a completely different part of the world is questionable. It would be premature, however, to permanently discount Zamenhof's assumptions. My own readings of his works have taught me over the past thirty years that he was a man with an almost unparalleled understanding of human nature. Many of the barriers established in human minds against communication with their contemporaries abroad are artificially produced and maintained; and I suspect that many practicing isolationists, given a free choice, would be glad to enter communication with those contemporaries.
For those who have learned and do use Esperanto, it is hardly a failure; quite the opposite, it is an unparalleled and unparallelable success. I speak now from my own experience when I say that my life would have been immeasurably less colorful, my personal experiences less educational, without it. I know for a fact that I am hardly unique; there are tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people throughout the world who have had similar or even more meaningful experiences through Esperanto.
What of Esperanto's future? In one way, its history is not too promising: out of a hundred years of existence, a mere thirty or so have offered significant progress. In another way, this history is rather hopeful: of those thirty or so years, the last fifteen have been almost the longest consecutive period of growth in the history of the language, and this steady strengthening of the Esperanto movement does not appear to be approaching an end.
Esperanto's past failures have often been attributed to factors intrinsic to the language: the -N ending, for instance, or disorganization within the Esperanto movement. This is nonsense. Most opposition to Esperanto comes from individuals or groups unaware that it has an -N ending; such opposition is generally based either on ideology or on support for some competing ideal. And disorganization in the Esperanto movement is a perennial problem, equally present in times of stagnation and in times of growth; such disorganization is the bete noir of every movement which, for whatever reason, has eschewed professionalism in favor of amateurism in its organization.
In fact, every period of stagnation or retrogression was the product of uncontrollable external factors; and every period of advance came about during a period of relaxation of those factors. The growth period 1900-1914 came about not only because Esperanto was imported to the West, but because in the West the decline of French as an international language was being strongly felt, particularly in combination with the growth of communications technology. The similar period 1920-1931 came about as a result of the lack of any apparent alternative to Esperanto in the Western world. The decline of 1931-1945 was, as has been stated, the result of the global economic catastrophe and the subsequent rise of European dictatorships around and in the Esperanto heartland. The subsequent thirty-year period of relative stagnation accompanied a planet-wide perception of English as the coming world language, and it was only with the beginnings of a general acceptance of the failure of English to attain this position that Esperanto began again to grow.
And what of the future? "It is difficult," physicist Neils Bohr is reported to have once said, "to make predictions, especially about the future." Nonetheless, we can make some observations based on the past experience of the Esperanto movement. When French declined, English was there to replace it; and it was only during the two decades when the perception of that replacement had not yet developed that Esperanto made significant headway. There appears to be no ethnic language waiting in the wings to replace English; only Spanish, of the other major languages, has real global currency, and that only in specified geographical areas. So, in the absence of some global catastrophe or a resurgence of deliberate suppression of Esperanto, it should continue to progress, well into the 21st century.
In fact, the foreseeable future looks bright indeed.