Monday, August 18, 2014

A Death at the Esperanto Congress

President Montt
At the end of July, 1910, it was announced that John Barrett, the director of the Bureau of American Republics (now the Organization of American States), and himself a prominent Esperantist,[1] announced a diplomatic reception to be held at the Peace Palace, the newly built headquarters of the Bureau of American Publics. As I noted, the reception didn’t happen. This is why.

On July 17, 1910, it was announced that Pedro Montt, the President of Chile, had died. President Montt was also an Esperanto speaker, and he had been promoting Esperanto in Chile. President Montt was not attending the Congress, and he was in Bremen, Germany when he died. He had just travelled there from the United States, but died of a heart attack shortly after arrival. However, as an expression of sympathy, the event was postponed and then cancelled, as a measure official mourning. Obviously, if you’re sincerely in mourning, you don’t hold a diplomatic event.

The Esperanto Congress also issued a resolution of sympathy to the Chilean government.

The Washington Herald reported on August 18, 1910 that

Informal Affair Is Held at Bureau of Republics.
Lights blazed brightly at the Bureau of American Republics last night for the first time in more than two months. Director John Barrett informally received the delegates to the Esperanto Congress.

The formal reception by Director Barrett was called off on account of the death of President Pedro Montt, of Chile. It had been on the program me as the most brilliant social event in connection with the gathering of Esperantists.

Dr. L. L. Zamenhof, inventor of Esperanto, and Mrs. Zamenhof, were among the most interested of the guests who inspected the beautiful building last night. Director Barrett, who has been ill in New York, personally conducted Dr. Zamenhof and some of the other leading Esperantists through the building.

There has been a persistent rumor going the rounds since the congress started to the effect that Mr. Barrett, though president of the American Esperanto Society, is not very proficient in the tongue. But this was denied emphatically at the Arlington last night. Delegates who ought to know declared Mr. Barrett can rattle off Esperantisms as swiftly as the best of them.
Similar questions had been raised about Barrett’s predecessor, George Harvey. Obviously, there’s a problem if the main promotor of Esperanto is not an able Esperanto speaker. On the other hand, why skip an able executive in favor of a wonderful linguist without any administrative skills?
The sixth Universala Kongreso went quickly from a prediction of thousands (just prior to the congress, there was still claims that thousands would be there) to a reality of just over three hundred. The reception that was to be the highlight of the Congress was cancelled. At the play went on.

  1. He was the president of the Esperanto Association of North America.  ↩

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