Hurricane of persecutions


The fall of the bureaucratic socialist regimes in the USSR and Eastern Europe was a body blow to the Esperantist international language movement, removing at a stroke substantial material resources, such as subsidised premises and publications, paid officials and teachers. Esperantist organisations were decimated and clubs closed down as the cold hand of capitalism focused workers’ attention on bread and butter questions.

For historical reasons Russia and the Soviet Union have, ever since the birth of the language in 1887, held the largest numbers of Esperanto speakers, while the greatest concentrations have been in Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria. And this despite the persecution of Esperanto speakers under Stalin’s Great Russian chauvinism.

The closing down of the Soviet Esperantist Union at the height of Stalin’s xenophobia as a “counterrevolutionary organisation” gave the international language a bad press in the ‘official’ communist movement which has left its mark of anti-Esperanto prejudice to this day. When Khrushchev declared the banning of the SEU to have been illegal, for many imprisoned, executed or disappeared Esperantists it was too late.

The survival and flourishing of Esperanto after the ‘hurricane of persecutions’ wrought by both the Hitler and Stalin regimes underlines the fact that it is no mere project, but a living language with a substantial international population of speakers, not to mention a body of literature which surpasses many a small national language.

The revival of the movement in Soviet bloc states in the 1950s and 60s was tolerated, but only as a wing of the official peace movement, and as long as it fell in line with the needs of state diplomacy. Full-time officials were imposed from above to keep the Esperantists in check. Incredibly, the bureaucrat sent to ‘represent’ Soviet Esperantists at the 1973 World Esperanto Congress in London was not even able to speak the language.

When the International Collective of Communist Esperantists (IKEK), with its journal Internaciisto, was set up a few years later by Austrian comrades with the financial backing of the Communist Party of Austria, this small step forward was, by and large, frowned upon by the salaried ‘communist’ bureaucrats of the official state-sponsored Esperantists. Organising under the diplomatic banner of ‘peace’ was OK. Organising ourselves as communists, we were told, was sectarian and either old-fashioned or premature.

Now the ‘official’ communist Esperanto movement has been blown away. Communist Esperantists must organise themselves - as communists, not pacifists. In place of the mind-numbing diplomatic resolutions of the World Esperantist Peace Movement (MEM), the IKEK can make itself into a weapon in the struggle for clarification, to learn the lessons of failure of the ‘official’ communist movement, and to reforge it at a higher level.

The 11th conference of the IKEK, held in France in August 1998, pointed towards this potential role by confirming that the organisation is open to all tendencies of the workers’ movement. The new president, Fausto Castano Vallina from Spain, is calling for the pages of Internaciisto to become “the tool of ideological debate of the Esperantist communists” (Internaciisto January-February 1999). All members can attend the annual conference, elect the leadership and change the rules by a simple majority.

The 12th conference is planned for Cuba at the end of 1999 and beginning of 2000. Given the relative ease of learning, it is not too late to study the language in time to take part in the debates in Havana.

A section of the organisation has been founded in Britain, with regular meetings in London.

Stan Keable