EAB News 2005-04-01 Centenary of first World Esperanto Congress

Boulogne 2005 Celebrations

Boulogne 2005 logo The world's first international Esperanto congress took place in 1905 when 688 Esperantists from twenty countries travelled to Boulogne-sur-Mer (France) and demonstrated that Esperanto, hitherto only used for correspondence and at small gatherings, was also a successful international language for large, multi-national meetings.

To celebrate the centenary of that historic event, 550 Esperantists from 22 countries visited Boulogne again. (This time the numbers had to be restricted, because of safety considerations at the venues.) On March 26th 2005 they gathered in the same theatre that had housed the original event, to hear speeches by local dignitaries and prominent Esperantists, including Boulogne's mayor Federic Cuvillier, the Polish ambassador Maria Wodzynska, and Louis-Christophe Zaleskui-Zamenhof (grandson of L. L. Zamenhof, the original initiator of Esperanto). This was followed by a procession through the town, behind the local brass band, to the local square named after Zamenhof, where flowers were laid at the memorial. The procession ended with a reception at the town hall, where the Mayor entertained the Esperantists to more speeches and a champagne buffet.

The five-day event also included several excursions within the town and around the local countryside, lectures, and cultural events (including a display of the local folk-dances and costumes). A workshop session produced a resolution on strategy and promotion of Esperanto, which the local town council agreed to discuss and record in the minutes of their council meeting on March 29th 2005.

In Boulogne, there were plenty of banners and flags mentioning "Esperanto"; many of these were mounted by the local council as part of the town's "official" decorations. Several half- and full-page articles about the event appeared in the local press, and a ten-minute item was broadcast on the regional television channel.

The original 1905 congress had included a day-trip across the Channel to Folkestone and Dover; the 2005 festivities repeated this, but instead of a steam ferry they took advantage of the Channel Tunnel. The Esperanto-Association of Britain co-ordinated this part of the event; several British Esperantists greeted the visitors and helped them to enjoy the sights along the southern-English coast. (See below for an additional report.)

However, despite all the formal and organised events, the highlight of this gathering was something which occurs spontaneously at every international Esperanto meeting: people from different countries and cultures met, chatted, exchanged ideas and got to know each other through a truly neutral language which doesn't belong to any one nation or race. Zamenhof's words in his 1905 speech were still equally relevant a hundred years later: "Hodiaŭ ni renkontas, ne kiel francoj kun britoj, aŭ kiel rusoj kun poloj, sed kiel homoj kun homoj" ["Today we meet, not as Frenchmen meeting Britons, or Russians meeting Poles, but as people meeting people"].

Some photos of the 2005 event are included below; the original event is commemorated at http://boulogne2005.online.fr/eo/index.htm

- Vilĉjo Walker

Pictures

In 2005, Esperantists met in the same theatre that housed the original 1905 meeting (in the background, below) to hear congratulations and salutations, reflections on Esperanto's role in the next hundred years, and Zamenhof's original 1905 speech read aloud. Afterwards they paraded through Boulogne behind the local brass band.

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The parade led them to the Zamenhof square, where a plaque and bust of Esperanto's originator, L. L. Zamenhof, commemorate the original 1905 event. Flowers were laid, and the band played both the French and the Esperanto "national" athems. The mayor anounced a major regeneration package to refurbish and rennovate the square.

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The parade continued to the historic walled "old town" and ended at the town hall, where the Mayor entertained the Esperantists and invited guests to a reception and champagne buffet.

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Other events during the five-day celeberation included lectures and displays at the "Espace de la Faiencerie" (below left, decorated with - among others - Esperanto flags and banners), and excursions around the town and local countryside, with commentaries by local tourist authority guides, translated into Esperanto for the benefit of the non-French speaking visitors.

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- Report and photos by Vilĉjo Walker

Boulogne 2005 Excursion "In the steps of Zamenhof"

On a murky and misty Wednesday morning five coaches from Boulogne in France pulled up outside the Grand Hotel in Folkestone at the end of March 2005. Over 200 Esperantists from many countries in the world, including places as far off as Mexico, poured into the hotel where coffee, tea and biscuits awaited them. What the weather was like on the same day exactly one hundred years ago is not known. Yes, this visit was to commemorate that historic even, the first ever World Esperanto Congress.

Because of technical problems with trains through the Channel Tunnel our visitors arrived an hour late. However the Mayor of Folkestone patiently awaited their arrival and, like her predecessor of 100 years ago, she delivered a speech of welcome, partly in Esperanto. The hour's delay caused some problems with the programme for the day but Terry and Anica Page coped most manfully and our grateful thanks go to them for all their hard work in organising this day. During this time the very suitable anecdote circulated about the (supposed) newspaper poster which said "Dense Fog in Channel - Continent Isolated", causing great amusement about these very insular British people.

After the mayoral reception the buses whisked off everyone on tour following in the footsteps of those pioneers with Ludovik Zamenhof himself. They visited Dover Castle and Dover itself. In the late afternoon there was a reception and buffet hosted by Esperanto Association of Britain at the Southcliffe Hotel at which EAB's president John Wells spoke shortly of the history of Esperanto, and the local press interviewed the mayoress. Then the international guests boarded their coaches and returned to Boulogne, host town for the very first World Esperanto Congress in 1905.

- Eric Walker

NDLR: Terry and Anica Page deserve special thanks for organising the event; they had worked for months to plan the excursion, they were "on duty" throughout the congress in Boulogne dealing with bookings and queries, and they then had to reschedule the excursion's timetable "on the fly" to accommodate the delays caused by the transport difficulties. Thanks are also due to Gordon Hawker, "the man-on-the-spot".

Pictures

The Esperantists visted a foggy Dover Castle.

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At the Grand Hotel, the visitors were greeted by [from left to right] Esperanto-Asocio de Britio President John Wells, Belga Esperanto-Federacio President Flory Witdoeckt, the Lady Mayor, and her consort.

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- Photos by Joyce Bunting

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