Esperanto speakers hope for peace

Source:AFP Published: 2017/4/14 0:18:39

Language a uniting force 100 years after creator’s death

Instead of a hello, the head of the Esperanto association in the Polish city of Bialystok opts for "saluton," a sign that the universal language created by Ludwik Zamenhof is alive and well a century after the Jewish doctor's death.

"Zamenhof created Esperanto as a counterweight to national languages, which he believed divided people and were a source of conflict," says association president Przemyslaw Wierzbowski.

"Today, we know that it's economic, ethnic or religious differences that divide people, but Esperanto still has the goal of uniting us, helping us communicate," the 30-year-old added.  Wierzbowski spoke from a table at Esperanto Cafe, which is in a tower in Bialystok's market square, near where Zamenhof was born in 1859.

During the 19th century, the tower was at the heart of a market packed with stalls manned by German, Jewish, Lithuanian and Polish merchants. Bialystok belonged to the Russian empire at the time and was the scene of ethnic tensions.

This local Tower of Babel is said to have inspired Zamenhof to construct his universal language to promote exchanges between people and bring peace to the world.

Zamenhof left Bialystok to study medicine in Moscow and Warsaw. Then, in 1887, he published his first book on the language under the pseudonym Doktoro Esperanto (the one who hopes).

By 1905, there were more than 300 Esperanto associations around the world. That  year, nearly 700 people from about 20 countries attended the first Esperanto world congress.

This year the 102nd congress will take place in Seoul, South Korea at a time when more than 1 million people speak the language and Esperanto is even an option on Google Translate.

The Japanese Shinto-based religion Oomoto considers Zamenhof to be a god and propagates Esperanto as a "language of heaven" that will help build a conflict-free world.

Among the 3,200 books in the Esperanto library in Bialystok, there are classics like J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (La Mastro de l'Ringoj). Tolkien actually took an interest in Esperanto and once wrote that the artificial language was "necessary for uniting Europe."


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