At the Esperanto Museum

In Vienna, I found the Esperanto Museum. It was not, as I supposed, the shop window of a local Esperanto Society, where I would be greeted by samideanoj with cries of “Saluton! Ĉu vi parolas Esperanton? Kiel vi fartas?”, but was rather a department of the Austrian National Library. The Museum was founded in 1927 by Hugo Steiner, and opened in 1929. It contains over 35,000 books, 2,500 magazines, 22,000 photographs as well as thousands of other items. After the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, it faced the same hostility from the regime as did individual Esperantists. The German authorities demanded that the books be moved to Berlin to be housed in a library of disapproved books, but the director of the Austrian National Library insisted that the collection belonged to the nation, and so was able to resist the edict.

picture from Esperanto museum

Reopened in the late 1940s, the Museum is now part of the Department of Planned Languages. The public display is small and limited: some important volumes for the history of the language, from different editions of Zamenhof’s Unua Libro onwards, to posters and other artefacts illustrating much of what I already knew about the history, but also shedding fascinating new light.

What emerges from the display is the persistent idealism of the movado. In the early decades of the 20th century, Esperantists had a vision for a unified Europe that was far ahead of its time. They also made two attempts at setting up a unified international monetary system, which both failed for lack of interest from governments or financial institutions.

Living in the midst of the misery and fear of a world post-Brexit, and facing the possibility of a Trump presidency, I am confirmed in my love of Esperanto’s interna ideo. As Esther Schor writes in her new book Bridge of Words:

“Multiculturalism, which is the lifeblood of Esperanto, has acquired prestige in our day as the last, best challenge to militaristic nationalism and violent sectarianism.”

Anything whose lifeblood represents the last, best challenge to those world-threatening evils, deserves our fullest, most whole-hearted involvement and support.

Written on October 5, 2016