Monday, September 8, 2014

Esperanto — A Nest of Spies?

So much for holding the UK in Moscow
Such was the contention of the Russian government in 1911 after convicting the president (and founder) of the Russian Esperanto League[1] of treason. An article appeared in various papers[2] in early September 1911 of the September 8 trial. It was clearly big news out of Russia.

Other reading I’ve done has made it clear that the Russian government was suspicious of Esperanto from the start. There were reports that the Czarist censors were learning Esperanto, and at other times that sending Esperanto materials into Russia was forbidden. It’s one of the oft-told Esperanto tales that Marcus Zamenhof, Ludovik’s father, worried what the official response to his son’s language would be, and if it would have an effect on Marcus’s job as a censor.

I suspect the Russian government was looking for a reason to shut down the Esperanto League, and with Captain Aleksandr Postnikoff they found it.

President Convicted of Treason—Russian League Closed.
St. Petersburg, Sept. 8—A military court sitting in camera to-day tried and sentenced to eight years’ penal servitude and a loss of his rights Captain Postnikoff, of the General Staff. The charge against him was selling secret documents to agents of three powers.

Captain Postnikoff was president of the Universal League of Peace and of the Russian Esperanto League. He frequently travelled abroad, and a few years ago visited the United States. The case was indirectly connected with recent sensational trials. The witnesses included Baron de Ungern Stenrburg, former correspondent in St. Petersburg of the semi-official Austro-Hungarian News Agency, who was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment last November for delivering secret documents to a a foreign state, and Mlle. Muse Zikke, a sister of the widow of Count Vassilli Bouturlin, who was poisoned by Dr. Pantchenko, in 1910.

As a result of the conviction of Captina Postnikoff, the government has closed the Esperanto League, which it declared to be a convenient screen for international spies.
Although the article uses the spelling “Postnikoff,” the spelling “Postnikov” seems to be currently preferred, so I’m using it here.

An earlier visit by Postnikov to the United States was mentioned in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser on July 8, 1902. Then a lieutenant, Postnikov is noted as being on his way to St. Petersburg from Vladivistok (a quick check on Google Maps confirms that Vladivistok is that part of Russia that’s right near Japan and quite distant from Moscow). Postnikov also was the official representative of the Russian government to the 1910 Universala Kongreso.

But the poisoner bit, now there’s a story. What I’ve gleaned out of that one is that is that Dr. Pantchenko deliberately infected Count Vassilli Bouturlin. He claimed that he was bribed to do so by (or under the hypnotic influence of) Count Patrick O’Brien De Lassy (a Russian nobleman with both Irish and French ancestry, hence the name). De Lassy’s motive was to see an inheritance go to his sister, Bourturlin’s wife, instead of Bourturlin himself. Presumably, Ms Zikke was another sister of De Lassy. The doctor actually confessed to committing more than forty murders for hire.

The Baron von Ungern Sternberg clearly worked his way back into the good graces of the Czar’s government after selling military secrets to the Austrians in 1910. In June 1916, the Washington Herald reported that he was the second secretary to the Russian embassy to the United States (the occasion of the report was that the embassy was moving to Newport for the summer). During the Russian Revolution, the Baron became a general in the anti-Bolshevik forces. Wikipedia notes that he was executed by the Red Army in 1921. He was 35 when he died, so during Postnikoff’s trial, he was only 29.

  1. Ruslanda Ligo Esperantista.  ↩
  2. Including the New-York Tribune, San Francisco Call, Omaha Daily Bee, Salt Lake Tribune, Urbana Daily Courier, and the Goshen Weekly News Times. Other newspapers ran an abbreviated version of the article.  ↩

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1 comment:

  1. Legindas
    Istvan Ertl


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