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Only Polish Spoken

Updated on September 18, 2009

 Last summer (2009), I participated in the Universal Congress of Esperanto in Bialystok, Poland.

Now I read a short article about a strange incident at the web site of the Polish radio, at

What happened was that two Italian participants of the congress went to the railway station and wanted to buy tickets to Vienna.

One of them asked if he could have a student discount.

He didn't ask in Esperanto, suspecting that the cashier might not understand that noble language, in spite of the fact that its initiator - LL Zamenhof - was born in Bialystok.

Neither in Italian, for the same reason.

He used the most common Esperanto substitute of our times - English.

Not a very good substitute, admittedly; but better than nothing.

The cashier refused to answer.

A lady present wanted to help the Italians.

The cashier was not amused. She shouted:


Whereupon she called over some security guards and proceded to sell the tickets.

Without giving any discount.

The lady present, mentioned above, was, in her turn, not amused.

She happened to be a journalist from one of the leading Polish newspapers, Gazeta Wyborcza, so an article about the matter appeared there later.

As I said, I was there myself, participating in the congress, but I didn't have any similar problems.

Although in my case, there would have been some logics in the madness.

You see, I'm Swedish, and Swedes have been quite nasty in Poland. Same as Germans, Russians and, to a certain degree, Turks.

Some centuries ago, and I'm not quite old enough to be personally guilty; but still...

But as far as I know, Italians have not attacked Poland.

As a matter of fact, the Polish national anthem was written in Italy.

The original version of the text was written in Reggio nell'Emilia in 1797 by Józef Wybicki, and the original title was Pieśń Legionów Polskich we Włoszech - "Song of the Polish Legions in Italy". It contains the lines Marsz, marsz, Dąbrowski/z ziemi włoskiej do Polski - "March, march, Dąbrowski, from Italian soil to Poland!".

Another ironic detail is the fact that Bialystok, today so extremely Polish, was at Zamenhofs time not very Polish at all. The mother-tongue of at least sixty percent of the inhabitants was Yiddish, and the administrative language was Russian. In the administration of Czarist Russia, it didn't even belong to the Russian part of divided Poland, but to Belarus.

The Italian roots of Polish nationalism was something I learned about at a lecture during the congress. You may learn some interesting things during Esperanto congresses.

But nationalists/patriots/chauvinists (pick your synonym) are not always very knowledgeable about history.


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