The Second Universal Congress of Esperanto: Opening Address,
Geneva, Switzerland, 28 August 1906

L. L. Zamenhof 

Partial translation from Esperanto by Marjorie Boulton
completed by Ralph Dumain

Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen! I hope I am satisfying the wishes of all present, if I may take this moment as our second congress opens to express my heartfelt thanks on behalf of you all to the brave Swiss land for the hospitality it has shown our congress, and to his Excellency the President of the Swiss Confederation, who congenially accepted our delegation two months ago. Special greetings to the city of Geneva, which many times has inscribed its name in glory in the history of various important international affairs.

Permit me also to express in the name of you all heartfelt thanks to the organizers of the present congress, to the devoted Swiss Esperantists, who worked so long and tirelessly throughout the past year, founded  Esperantist groups in almost every Swiss city, and diligently did all they could to ensure a successful preparation for our congress; to the Provisional Central Organizing Committee, which mainly in the person of its president worked so energetically and so diligently undertook all preparations; and last but certainly not least, to those anonymous friends, whose generous establishment of the Central Office provided a strong foundation for all the most important work.

Ladies and Gentlemen! At the opening of our Congress you expect some kind of speech from me; perhaps you are expecting something official, indifferent, pale and without content, such as official speeches generally are. However, I cannot give you a speech like that. In general I do not like such speeches, but especially now, this year, such a colourless official speech would be a great sin on my part. I come to you from a country, where now many millions are having a difficult struggle for their freedom, for the most elementary human freedom, for the rights of man. About that, however, I would not speak to you; for though each of you perhaps follow with interest, in private, the hard struggle in our country of many millions, yet that struggle cannot touch you as Esperantists, and our Congress has nothing to do with politics. But, besides the struggle, something is happening in that country which we, as Esperantists, cannot mention: in that country we see a cruel struggle between the races, There, it is not a man from one country who, from political patriotic motives attacks men from another country—there the natural sons of the same country hurl themselves like cruel beasts against the equally natural sons of that same land, because they belong to another race. Every day many human lives are destroyed there in the political struggle, but many more in the inter-racial struggle. The state of things is fearful in the many-languaged Caucasus, fearful in West Russia. Accursed, a thousand times accursed, be racial hatred!

When I was still a child in the town of Bialystok, I gazed with sorrow on the mutual hostility which divided the natural sons of the same land and the same town. And I dreamed then that after some years everything would be changed for the better. And the years have passed; and instead of my beautiful dream I have seen a terrible reality; in the streets of my unhappy native town savages with axes and iron stakes have flung themselves, like the fiercest wild beasts, against the quiet town-dwellers, whose sole crime was that they spoke another language and practised another racial religion than that of the savage brutes. For this reason they smashed the skulls and stabbed out the eyes of men and women, of feeble old men and helpless infants! I do not want to tell you the dreadful details of the butchery in Bialystok; to you as Esperantists I want to say only that the walls between the peoples, the walls against which we fight, are still fearfully high and thick.

We know that the Russian people is not responsible for the bestial butchery in Bialystok and many other towns; for the Russian people have never been cruel and bloodthirsty; we know that the Tartars and Armenians are not responsible for the constant butchery, for these are peaceable races, who do not wish to force their rule upon anyone else, and only want to be left to live in peace. It is now quite clearly known that the guilt lies with a group of vile criminals, who, by various very ignoble means, by the wide broadcasting of lies and slanders, have created a dreadful hatred between one race and another. But would the worst lies and slanders have such dreadful results, if the races knew one another well, if between them there were not high and thick walls, which forbid them to communicate freely one with another, and see that the members of one race are just the same human creatures as members of another race, that their literature does not urge them to any sort of horrible crimes, but contains ethics and ideas similar to our own? Break down, break down, the walls between the peoples; give them the possibility of meeting and communication on a neutral basis, and only then those atrocities which we now see in various places will come to an end.

We are not as naive as some people think: we do not believe that such a neutral basis will turn human beings into angels; we know very well that evil men will still remain evil; but we believe that communication and meeting on a neutral basis will remove at least a large part of those atrocities and crimes, which are caused not by real malice but by lack of knowledge of one another and by wilful imposition on one another.

Now, when in various parts of the world the struggle between the races has become so cruel, we, the Esperantists, must work harder than ever. But in order that our work may be fruitful, we must first of all explain thoroughly to ourselves the inner idea of Esperantism. We have all unconsciously often referred to this inner idea in our speeches and writings, but have never spoken of it more clearly. It is already time to speak of it clearly and precisely.

From the declaration accepted unanimously at the Boulogne congress, we all know what Esperantism is in a strictly practical sense; from this declaration we also know, that “an Esperantist is a label for every person who uses the language, with no distinctions, for whatever goals he utilizes it.” It follows that an Esperantist is not exclusively a person who uses Esperanto solely for practical purposes; an Esperantist is also a person who uses Esperanto to make money; an Esperantist can be a person who uses Esperanto for amusement only; at the end of the day an Esperantist could be a person who utilizes Esperanto for the most nefarious and hateful ends. But in addition to this practical side, obligatory for all and designated in the declaration, Esperantism has also another side, not obligatory but much more important, an ideal side. Various Esperantists can determine this side for themselves in the most diverse ways and degrees. For that reason, to avoid strife, Esperantists have decided to cede to everyone complete liberty to accept the internal idea of Esperantism to whatever form and degree they desire, or, if they wish, to reject totally any ideal attached to Esperantism. In order to relieve individual Esperantists of all responsibility for the actions and ideals of other Esperantists, the Boulogne declaration laid out the official essence of Esperantism, accepted without argument by everyone with the addition of the following words: “Every other hope or dream, which that or the other person associated with Esperantism, is his purely private affair, for which Esperantism is not responsible.” But unfortunately the word “private” was interpreted by some of our Esperantist friends as “prohibited,” and thus, instead of reserving the right for the internal idea of Esperantism to develop freely, wanted to kill that idea.

If we, fighters for Esperanto, have of our own free will given to the world at large the full right to regard Esperanto only from the practical point of view and use it only thus, this of course gives no-one the right to insist that we should all see in Esperanto only something with a practical purpose. Unfortunately of late there have been voices in the Esperanto Movement saying, “Esperanto is only a language; avoid even privately connecting it with any kind of idea, for otherwise people will think that we all have this idea, and we shall displease various people who do not have this idea!” Oh, what words! From the fear, that perhaps we may displease those people, who themselves wish to use Esperanto only for their practical purposes, we are all to tear out of our hearts that part of Esperantism which is the most important, the most sacred, that idea which is the chief aim of the Esperanto business, which is the star that has always guided all fighters for Esperanto! Oh, no, no, never! With vigorous protest we reject that demand. If we, the first fighters for Esperanto, are to be obliged to avoid in our activities everything idealistic, we shall indignantly tear up and burn everything we have written for the sake of Esperanto, with sorrow we shall obliterate the work and the sacrifices of our whole life, we shall throw the green star that we wear on our breasts far away, and we shall cry out in disgust, “With that Esperanto, which must serve only for commercial and practical purposes, we want nothing in common!” There will come a time when Esperanto, having become the possession of all of humanity, will lose its ideal character; then it will have been rendered only a language, people won’t fight for it, they will just profit from it. But now, when nearly all Esperantists are still not profiting, but only fighting, we all know very well that we are motivated to work for Esperanto not by the thought of practical utility, but only by the thought of the sacred, huge and important ideal that an international language in itself contains. This idea—you all very well feel it—is fraternity and justice among all peoples. This idea went hand in hand with Esperantism from the moment of its birth to the present time. It moved the creator of Esperanto, when he was still a small child; when twenty-eight years ago a small circle of young gymnasium students of diverse backgrounds celebrated the first signs of life of the Esperanto-to-be, they sang a song in which after each stanza these words are repeated: “Enmity of the nations, fall away, fall away, the time has come.”

Our anthem sings of the “new feeling that entered the world,” all the writings, words, and actions of the originator and of Esperantists now all breathe that same clear ideal. Never have we concealed that ideal, never could we entertain the slightest doubt about it, because everyone talked about it and sweated and sacrificed for it. Why then were we joined by people who see in Esperanto “only a language”? Why were they not afraid that the world would accuse them of a great crime, namely of the desire to assist in the step-by-step unification of the human race? Do they not see that their words contradict their own feelings and that they subconsciously dream the same dream as we, though out of misplaced fear of senseless attacks they try to deny it?

If I, for the better part of my life have willingly undergone great sufferings and sacrifices and have not even reserved for myself any rights of authorship whatever—did I do this out of some practical need? If the first Esperantists patiently held out not only under unrelenting mockery but made great sacrifices, for example a poor schoolteacher who went hungry for a long time so that she could save a little money to propagate Esperanto—did they all do this out of some practical calculation?

If oftentimes people confined to their deathbeds have written to me, that Esperanto is their sole consolation as their lives come to an end, were they thinking of practical utility? Oh, no, no, no! They all kept in mind only the internal idea contained in Esperantism; they all loved Esperanto not because it brings the bodies of people together, nor even because it brings their brains together, but because it brings their hearts together.

You will remember how much enthusiasm was generated in Boulogne sur Mer. All the people who participated in the congress there have the most delightful and inspiring memories that will stay with them the rest of their lives; all name it “the unforgettable congress.” What then was so inspiring for the participants in the congress? Was it just fun for the sake of fun? No, anyone can find anywhere much better fun and games, plays to enjoy, songs sung with the greatest of professionalism and not by inexperienced dilettantes. Were we enthused by the great talent of the speakers? No; we did not have that in Boulogne. How about the fact that we could understand one another? But in every congress of people of the same nation our understanding is no less, but nothing has inspired us there. No, you all know full well, that by themselves neither the amusement, reciprocal comprehension, nor the practical utility demonstrated by Esperanto accounts for our excitement, but the internal idea of Esperantism which we all felt in our hearts. We felt, that here begins the toppling of the walls between the people, we felt the spirit of an all-human brotherhood. We were well aware that the final disappearane of the walls is a very very distant expectation, but we felt that we were witnesses to the first forceful break in those walls; we felt we could see before our eyes the vision of a better future, a vision still very cloudy, which nonetheless from now on will take on bodily form and grow powerful.

Yes, my dear co-workers! For an indifferent world Esperanto can only be an affair of practical utility. Everyone who uses Esperanto or labors on its behalf is an Esperantist, and every Esperantist is fully entitled to see in Esperanto only a language that is simple, a cold instrument of international comprehension, similar to the maritime signal system, albeit more perfect. Such Esperantists understandably do not come to our congresses or will participate only for research or practical purposes or for sober discussion of purely linguistic, purely academic questions, and they will not partake of our joy and enthusiasm which may appear to them as naive and childish. But those Esperantists who join our quest not with their heads, but with their hearts, will always feel and value in Esperanto above all its internal idea; they will not be afraid that the world will mock them and tar them as utopians, and that the national chauvinists will go so far as to attack their ideals as a crime; they will take pride in being named utopians. Every new congress of ours will strengthen in them the love of the internal idea of Esperantism, and little by little our annual congresses will be fashioned as a constant celebration of humanity and human brotherhood.


SOURCE: Boulton, Marjorie. Zamenhof, Creator of Esperanto (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960), pp. 107-110. Paragraphs 1, 2, 8, and the balance of the text following the phrase “we want nothing in common!” in paragraph 9, omitted by Boulton, have been translated by Ralph Dumain.

Notes:

Given historical changes in meaning, the word “races” should read “peoples.”

The phrase I render as “Enmity of the nations, fall away, fall away, the time has come” comprises the first two lines of a famous four-line lyric, uttered by Zamenhof here in Esperanto, but which actually derives from an earlier Proto-Esperanto (1878), of which this lyric is the only surviving fragment, well-known in the Esperanto world. In Proto-Esperanto the phrase is: “Malamikete de las nacjes / Kadó, kadó, jam temp’ està”.

Zamenhof’s personal remarks were controversial in his time even among Esperantists, and a couple of his congress speeches were subject to censorship. Note the links below to a text in Esperanto whose title means “What Zamenhof could not say in Geneva.”

RD


Mia Esperantistino
(Partituro, 1906) de W. M. Pace & J. A. Moonie

International Language” by L. L. Zamenhof
(traduko de la suba eseo)

Gentoj kaj Lingvo Internacia (1911) de L. L. Zamenhof

Letero al Kofman (Odeso, 15 [ 28] majo 1901) de L. L. Zamenhof

El Projektata Alvoko al Kongreso por Neŭtrale-Homa Religio
de L. L. Zamenhof / Edmond Privat

Zamenhof & la Hebrea Ligo (1914)

"Esperanto and Its Originator: How a Jew Came to Create a "Universal Language"
by Isidore Harris

“Ahasvero de amo XI”/ “Ahasuerus of Love XI” by Kálmán Kalocsay,
translated from Esperanto by Marjorie Boulton

Vespera Vizitanto” de Marjorie Boulton

Interne kaj Ekstere” de Marjorie Boulton

Nigraj Okuloj” [recenzo de Marjorie Boulton, Okuloj]
de Sándor Szathmári

Zamenhof & Zamenhofologio: Retgvidilo / Web Guide

Esperanto, Vaŝingtono, & la Mondo / Esperanto, Washington, & the World — 1910
Centjara Jubileo / Centennial — 2010

Esperanto & Interlinguistics Study Guide / Esperanto-Gvidilo

On other sites / alireteje:

"Malferma parolado de Zamenhof en la dua Universala Kongreso"
(Svislando, Ĝenevo, la 28-an de aŭgusto, 1906)

Parolado antaŭ la Dua Kongreso Esperantista en Genève en la 28a de aŭgusto 1906

Paroladoj de Zamenhof

Zamenhof, L.L. - Paroladoj

Kion Zamenhof ne povis diri en Ĝenevo

Kion Zamenhof ne povis diri en Ĝenevo (1906)

Du poemoj de L. L. Zamenhof tradukitaj de Marjorie Boulton


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