UK2008 logo EAB News 2008-07-19 to 26: British Esperantists at 93rd World Esperanto Congress, Rotterdam

Centenary Celebrations at the 93rd World Esperanto Congress

Around 50 British Esperantists were among the 1845 participants from 73 countries at the 93rd Universala Kongreso [World Esperanto Congress] in Rotterdam, Netherlands, from 19th to 26th July 2008.

The headquarters of the Universala Esperanto Asocio [World Esperanto Association] has been located in Rotterdam since 1955; UEA was founded in 1908 and so celebrates its centenary in 2008. Holding a World Congress in Rotterdam to celebrate that centenary seemed the obvious thing to do! Many of the events and lectures during the congress covered the history of UEA and celebrated the centenary. Participants were also able to visit UEA's headquarters building, the Centra Oficejo [Central Office]. Because of limited space here, these visits had to happen in small groups, but this made them all the more intimate and personal.

UEA Centra Oficejo UEA Biblioteko Holder
UEA's HQ in Nieuwe Binnenweg; a group visiting the Hodler library

A second theme of the congress programme was the Netherlands (our host country), and included talks on van Gogh's life, detecting Rembrandt forgeries, the works of Erasmus, the Dutch language, and how the local government is organised around the management of dikes and waterways.

UEA Centra Oficejo UEA Biblioteko Holder
Vera BARANDOVSKA-FRANK presents the life and works of Erasmus; Katalin KOVATS presents the life and works of Vincent van Gough

The programme also contained talks and lectures on more general topics, plus a lively and varied mix of entertainment and musical events.

lecture presentation
Hans MAITZEN explores the cosmos (in the dark because of technical problems); Anna LOWENSTEIN and Emilo CID (by videoconference from Brazil) present the Esperanto community in Second Life.
concert auction
A musical interlude; Humphrey TONKIN runs the auction

The congress was held in the Rotterdam World Trade Centre, which is well situated in the centre of Rotterdam and had a large open foyer for people to gather, mingle and chat informally. However in other respects it was less than ideal; the main hall had insufficient capacity so for the formal and more popular events some people had to decamp to a curtained-off overflow area in the corner of the (noisy) foyer, where there was an attempt to relay pictures and sound from the main hall - but this relay wasn't particularly reliable, and the people sitting there didn't really feel like participants. [Why applaud to a TV screen, when the speaker or performer can't hear you?] Many of the other popular events were held in rooms of limited capacity and many would-be attendees had to be turned away because of insufficient space. Some of these and other events were delayed by technical problems or lack of technical support. We do have to remember that most of a World Congress is run by volunteers so there are bound to be some "rough edges" - nevertheless this is not the first World Congress that UEA has organised, and people who have paid up to 200 Euros to attend (plus travel and accommodation costs) might expect to be able to participate in the events.

the Rotterdam World Trade Centre Esperanto flags
The Rotterdam World Trade Centre; the Esperanto flags flying outside
wtc foyer wtc foyer
Friends old and new from around the world meet up and chat in the foyer - in Esperanto of course!

The congress extended beyond the confines of the World Trade Centre. Although some of the planned excursions had to be cancelled "for technical reasons", there were still many enjoyable and informative guided tours and visits to Rotterdam and its surroundings.

zaanse schans delfshaven
Windmills at the Zaanse Schans open-air museum; Rotterdam's historic old quarter Delfshaven
haveno wtc foyer
A boat trip around Rotterdam's modern container port; A boat trip through Amsterdam

Background

This was the 93rd World Esperanto Congress in a series which started in 1905 and has taken place each year, interrupted only by the two world wars. At these events, Esperantists participate in a rich programme of talks, lectures, concerts, plays and excursions, all conducted in Esperanto, and all without the need for translators or interpreters (apart from an occasional concession to the few visiting dignitaries who haven't mastered the language). For many Esperantists, the real highlight of the event is simply to meet face-to-face and chat directly with people from across the world, without having to learn their many national languages, and without imposing our own national language and culture on them.

Each year's congress is organised by Esperantists in the hosting country and the Universala Esperanto-Asocio [World-wide Esperanto Association]. Some previous congresses have taken place in Britain; in 1907 (Cambridge), 1926 (Edinburgh), 1930 (Oxford), 1938 (London), 1949 (Bournemouth), 1961 (Harrogate), 1971 (London) and 1989 (Brighton). Next year's congress will be in Byalistok, Poland.

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