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A Dangerous Language?

Updated on September 28, 2009

Can a language be dangerous?

Some think it can.

We see some of them just now, in North America among the most rabiate Obama-haters; those who are so far out at the extreme right-wing that they think George Soros is a leftist (which he definitively isn't when seen from a European perspective).

The say Soros has bought the Democratic party, and the soul of Obama, and since Soros' father was an active Esperantist (and the name "Soros" may be interpreted as an Esperanto word, meaning "will soar"), this is something that is held against him.

(Actually, Mr. Soros' links to Esperanto seem to be very weak nowadays; as far as I know, he hasn't given a single kopek to any Esperanto project.)

These Obama- and Soros-haters are not the first to see Esperanto as an abomination and a threat to humanity, or at least to their own power and ambitions.

Two of their most famous predecessors were Hitler and Stalin.

I have read a book about this: La dan─Łera lingvo ("The Dangerous Language"), written by Ulrich Lins in Esperanto and first published in 1973 by Omnibus, Kyoto, Japan; an extended version was published in 1988 by Bleicher in Germany, and still another in 1990 by Progreso in Moscow (where it finally was possible to publish this kind of books).

I don't know if there is an English translation in existence, or in planning, but the book has been translated into Japanese, German, Italian, Russian, and Lithuanian.

(Sometimes I am feeling sorry for you native Anglophones. The English language has a great original literature, but in the field of translations some less used languages are actually better off. That's a good reason for even you to study languages.)

The main departments of the book are:

1. Suspicions Towards a New Language (about the first decades of the Esperanto movement, e. g. the French battle against Esperanto in the League of Nations)

2. "Language of Jews and Communists" (about Nazi Germany and its occupied countries)

3. Persecutions in East Asia

4. "Language of Petite Bourgeoisie and Cosmopolitans" (about the Soviet Union, especially during the Stalin era)

After Stalin's death, I may add, the attitude of Communist countries towards Esperanto varied vastly; some encouraged the movement (especially Poland - Esperanto was after all born in Warsaw - and Bulgaria, but also Hungary, China, and Cuba), some tolerated it (Soviet Union, Vietnam, East Germany, Czechoslovakia), some forbade it, if not officially at least in practice (Romania, Albania, North Korea; the latter country actually makes use of Esperanto for propaganda purposes, but through foreign collaborators).

Fascist dictatorships had been equally split at an earlier stage. Hitler was consistently against Esperanto, probably for the simple reason that it was initiated by a Jew. Salazar and Caetano also seem to have been rather consistently against it. Mussolini was rather positive to begin with, but turned against it when he got under Hitler's dominance. Franco was against it to begin with (in the 1930:s, many Spanish Esperantists were Republicans or Anarchists), but in 1968 the Universal Congress of Esperanto took place in Madrid, with him as High Protector.

In dictatorships where Esperanto was tolerated or even encouraged, but whose borders were rather closed, the language and its movement was of course used by many as a window to the external world

And democracies?

Most democracies seem to me to have been, at an official level, rather lukewarm to Esperanto.

Esperanto was used by the Obama camp during the latest President elections in the USA, but as far as I know not by his opponents.

On the other hand, countries like France and Britain have sometimes acted against Esperanto, wanting their own respective language to be the global Lingua Franca - perhaps in modified forms, like Winston Churchill's favourite Basic English. (Of course, it's debatable whether France and Britain were really to be regarded as democracies as long as they had colonies. Which, to a certain extent, both countries still have.)


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