The international language Esperanto was created by Ludovik Zamenhof, who was born in Bialystok in 1859. This year's world Esperanto congress was held in the city, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth. Bialystok is proud of its famous son, and has several permanent monuments to him and to Esperanto that were on the "must see" list of sight-seeing attractions for Esperantists attending the congress. Esperanto flags were flying throughout the city centre, Esperanto posters were on display, the local tourist authority published tourist guides in Esperanto, and several local businesses provided sponsorship for the congress. Visitors to the "Zamenhof" cultural centre, which houses a permanent exhibit about Bialystok in Zamehof's time, were greeted in Esperanto by local volunteers and given a guided tour of the exhibits.
Esperanto flags flying throughout the city; Esperanto Cafe in the city centre's historical "town hall"
Monument to Zamenhof; "Zamenhof" cultural centre
The congress itself was housed in the Bialystok Technical University, which provided meeting rooms and lecture halls. A large tent was erected on the lawn in front of the university buildings, accommodating all the congress participants during the largest events. Corridors and communal areas provided plenty of occasions for Esperantists to chat informally, meeting old friends and making new ones. Some chose to stay in the student residence blocks on campus, others stayed in local hotels.
Congress venue in Bialystok Technical University; Opening ceremony
Opportunities to meet and chat
As usual, the congress provided a rich arrangement of talks, lectures, concerts, plays and films - all conducted through the medium of Esperanto.
The congress ball; a concert by Ĵomart, Nataŝa and Karina
A concert by Bialystok troupe "Izabela Branicka"; fire-dancing spectacular by troupe "Avatar"
The World-wide Esperanto Association (UEA) is affiliated to UNESCO, which is one of the organisers of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first observations of Jupiter through a telescope. To support this UNESCO initiative, the Esperanto congress included a series of lectures by professional astronomer Amri Wandel on "Telescopes, from Galileo to the Space Telescope". During evening star-gazing sessions, participants were given a guided tour of the constellations visible from Bialystok in summer, and were able to observe Jupiter and its four largest moons for themselves through a telescope.
Amri Wandel lectures on the development of the astronomical telescope; Star-gazing
Also celebrated were the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille - blind Esperantist Otto Prytz gave a lecture explaining Braille's invention and how it is used - and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's "The Origin of Species" - Klivo Lendon's new translation into Esperanto was one of many new publications on sale in the on-site Esperanto book shop.
Otto Prytz lectures on the invention of Braille; The Origin of Species in Esperanto
Several British (and former-British) Esperantists contributed to the congress programme. Tim Morley greeted the congress during the opening ceremony, on behalf of Esperanto Association of Britain. Kimie Markarian gave a talk and demonstration on the Japanese soroban abacus. Helen Fantom presented some of the activities and publications of the Esperanto Association of Britain and Springboard to Languages project during the "movement fair"; she was also interviewed by Times journalist Valentine Low, who had travelled to Bialystok to report on the congress. During "Author's half-hour" talks in the bookshop, John Wells spoke about his latest project updating his concise Esperanto-English dictionary to reflect modern language usage, and Humphrey Tonkin spoke about his recent Esperanto guide book to Rotterdam, and his earlier Esperanto translations of Shakespeare's Winter's Tale and Henry the Fifth.
Kimie Markarian demonstrates the Soroban; Helen Fantom talks to journalist Valentine Low from The Times
John Wells during "Author's Half-Hour"; The UEA Esperanto book shop
The congress programme also included many sight-seeing opportunities to visit Bialystok and other attractions in the Podlaskie province - all with commentary from local guides, translated into Esperanto.
Kopna Gora Arboretum; Lunch during an excursion
A traditional pottery and forge in Czarna Wies Koscielna
This was the 94th 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 Havana, Poland.
Report and photos by Vilĉjo Walker
This "planned" language, now over 120 years old and spoken in over 100 countries, is very easy to learn. The World Congress takes places in a different country each year. This year's conference discusses the topicality of Esperanto's message "to create a bridge of peace between peoples".
Contact: Esperanto Association of Britain, Esperanto House, Barlaston, Stoke-On-Trent, ST12 9DE. Tel: 0845 230 1887
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