Monday, December 22, 2014

Esperanto’s Comeback Stunt

Can't come a moment to soon
It is rare that internal Esperanto politics are reported in the general press, but for whatever reason, the Evening Herald of Klamath Falls, Oregon, covered the merger of the UEA and the Esperanto Central Office in their edition of December 22, 1920.

1920 was a tough time (one of many, really) for the Esperanto movement. The Universala Esperanto-Asocio (the UEA) was founded in 1908 by Hector Hodler, the son of the Swiss painter Ferdinand Holder (when I was wandering around Swiss museums, looking at the many Holders, I kept asking myself why the name was familiar). Hector Hodler died at the age of thirty-three in May 1920, so the UEA was in need of new leadership. The Esperanto Wikipedia article on Hector Hodler only notes that “At the end of his life, during the war, when he was often sick, he turned chiefly to scientific problems.”[1]

In December 1920 the UEA had a leadership problems as did the entire Esperanto movement. As with any organization, there was tension between the local groups, the national organizations, and the international ones (since there were at many points in Esperanto history rival international organizations). One clear problem is that someone can belong at any level of organization, without necessarily belonging to any other. For example, I belong to a local organization; we get together about every month for Esperanto conversation.[2] Members are not required to be members of Esperanto-USA, and there are local members of Esperanto-USA who have never responded to meeting announcements.[3] Likewise, there are members of UEA who live near me, but are not part of my group.[4] The Esperanto movement would be strongest if everyone involved at any level (I’m looking at you, members of Esperanto groups on Facebook) were involved at all levels.[5]

It’s not clear what the “comeback stunt” was that that the Evening Herald refers to in its headline. Here’s what they reported:
Esperanto Seems Due to Stage a Comeback Stunt
THE HAGUE, Dec. 1—(By Mail)—Esperanto, the language which its advocates hoped to make a world-wide tongue is now beginning to make up the loss in prestige it suffered in the war, according to J. Isbrucker,[6] president of the Dutch Esperanto society and one of the international committeemen charged by the “Universal Esperanto association” to bring all Esperanto organizations under one general head.

The “Universal Esperanto association” it its international convention in The Hague last August, voted to seek combination with the “Centrala Oficejo”[7] and other similar organizations, in an effort to make the 1921 convention, to be held at Prague, Czecho-Slovakia, the greatest gathering of international language enthusiasts in history.[8]
“Although Esperanto suffered during the war, the language showed its usefulness in prison camps and hospitals,” Isbrucker said, “Now, it is making a great headway, as it is taught in the public schools of Czecho-Slovakia, and to some extent in Spain, Italy, and Holland. The Bohemian government will invite representatives of every nation in the world to attend our 1921 convention.”

Isbrucker said the Moscow Pravda, official organ of the soviet government, reported that Esperanto was to be made an obligatory court in the Russian schools. The language, he said, had not made very much headway in the United States.
That last bit brings to mind[9] the word litotes, ironic understatement in the negative, as in Esperanto has made little headway in the United States.

Despite the comments of the Evening Herald, the Universala Kongreso is specifically a gathering of Esperantists, who may or may not be enthusiasts of other international languages. Non-Esperanto speakers of Volapük, Ido, Interlingua, just as any other person who did not speak Esperanto, would not likely enjoy a Universala Kongreso. “They’re enthusiastic, but I don’t understand a word of what they’re saying.”

Wikipedia makes it clear that this reorganization of the Esperanto movement on the international level was short-lived, with the UEA breaking the arrangement in 1932. Subsequently, the UEA saw the rise (and fall) of two other rival international organizations, the Universala Federacio Esperantista (from 1932–1933) and the Internacia Esperanto-Ligo (1936–1947). In the end, each of these organizations merged back into the UEA. Still, I am aware that many people are critical of Esperanto leadership at the national and international level.

To return to the title of the article in the Evening Herald, if Esperanto is due to stage a comeback stunt, it can’t come a moment too soon.

  1. “Je la fino de sia vivo, dum la milito, kiam li jam estis ofte malsana, li turnis sin ĉefe al sciencaj problemoj.” Kaj mi demandas, malsana de kiu kaŭzo? Kiaj tipoj de sciencaj problemoj?  ↩
  2. On the occasions that we’ve had beginners present, we’ve also done lessons and even translated everything into English (which does make conversation a little slow). When there are no beginners, we just chat in Esperanto.  ↩
  3. Nor are they obligated. If they don’t want to meet, chat in Esperanto, and eat cake, that’s their problem. It does make me wonder to what use they put Esperanto.  ↩
  4. The UEA does not make the full membership list available to all members, however, those who are delegates have their names published in the Jarlibro. One of the delegates from my area has never responded. I should probably apply to become a UEA delegate.  ↩
  5. See: Cats, herding.  ↩
  6. The Evening Herald wrote “Issbruker” throughout. The person in question was Johannes Rijk Gerardus Isbrücker. Vikpedio notes that after WWII, he dropped the umlaut in his name. I have corrected the spelling of Mr. Isbruker’s name throughout.  ↩
  7. The Evening Herald has “Central Oficio,” but they mean the ECO, the Esperantista Centra Oficejo, which was founded by Hippolyte Sebert in 1905, and which organized the Universalaj Kongresoj until 1922.  ↩
  8. It was the largest gathering of Esperantists to that date, although since then there have been larger Universalaj Kongresoj. The 1987 Warsaw Kongreso is the one to beat.  ↩
  9. My mind at least. Your experience may differ.  ↩

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