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Eŭgeno Lanti: Manifesto de la Sennaciistoj
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Gary Mickle:

A Symbiosis of Esperantism and Language Nationalism?

The once much talked-about idea of building an alliance of Esperantists and so-called language defenders seems to have passed its peak. The perceived "competition" between Esperanto and English, however, remains a prevalent theme in the mainstream Esperanto-movement, where it continues to appear in conjunction with dubious ideologies. Hence the current interest of the debate to which this article pertains.

It was originally published (July 27, 2003) in Esperanto in the internet magazine Libera Folio: Mickle: "Simbiozo de esperantismo kaj lingvonaciismo?" Charles Durand's speech (to which it is a reaction) was in French (Les Espérantistes et les associations de défense des langues nationales: Une symbiose naturelle), and was also made available in English translation (Esperanto-speakers and associations who are defending their national languages. A natural symbiosis).

"A nationalism that pollutes the political environment with a spirit of mistrust and rivalry among ethnic groups and civilizations is in my estimation never acceptable, even when it appears at first sight to be a convenient means to attack imperialism…"

As we have been informed by the Brussels Communication Center (BKC) [1], the French scientist Charles Durand is taking part in the Gothenburg Universal Congress of Esperanto [2] and will contribute to the congress theme ("Language Rights and Duties") with a speech in French, which is fortunately already available to us in Esperanto translation (see: Starto 3/2003 (207)).

One of Durand's central messages to the Esperantists is that an alliance, one that should develop into "the truest symbiosis" between Esperantists and "associations that are defending their national languages", is definitely desirable. The reason, in his opinion, is that the two groups defend similar values, for example, that the peoples should have the right to "live according to their own cultures" and "be themselves". Although no one can object to peoples (and any other human collective, I might add) enjoying those rights, we are at this point confronted with a type of rhetoric that is typical of those who adhere to theories about the clash of civilizations and to New Right ethnopluralism. Further reading confirms this dubious first impression.

Durand advances the thesis that the English language is being deliberately instrumentalized by English-speaking countries in order to dominate the rest of the world more effectively. Up to this point I wouldn't quarrel with his argument. But it ceases to be acceptable at the point where his chain of reasoning can be paraphrased as follows: Some proclaim English a universal language. By doing so, they accord it a superior status, thus treating other languages as inferior. Consequently, native English speakers also come to be regarded as superior to all other humans. And that is a state of affairs that resembles the relations between "colonizers and the colonized", or between the "rulers and ruled".

Here we have, quite simply, just one more variation on the theme that the clash of civilizations is the main factor that propels world events. It is imagined that the main line of confrontation in the world runs between English-speakers or Anglo-Saxons" on the one hand, and all other peoples of the world on the other. This impression becomes more distinct when one examines the websites of French "language defenders" at www.voxlatina.com or sovereignists [3] at www.jeune-france.org – of which the latter can safely be called nationalists. Durand deals with political matters on both of them.

The address to the Universal Congress of Esperanto contains the usual lamentation about national languages being damaged by lexical borrowings from English, as "the media are injecting into national languages, quite artificially, hundreds of new English-American words, which thus replace the local vocabulary". With a view to provoking jealousy and mistrust between language groups, it is argued that "… the possessors of words and language also possess thought and that possessors of another's thought possess everything else…".

Nevertheless, this speech is moderate in comparison to an (English-language) text by Durand, Is English a new Esperanto?, which appeared first on the SAT-Amikaro website and which Renato Corsetti later circulated on various websites at the end of last year along with the request that is be translated into other languages and disseminated.

The text in question is one in which Durand states that "English is the vehicle of the most horrendous propaganda machine that was ever conceived by man", as if political propaganda that uses English as its medium had essential qualities that set it apart from political propaganda in other languages. Durand ascribes to English a wondrous power to "reprogram" people's minds and fill them up with a "a view of the world roughly equivalent to that of an American" – while the victims are all the while incapable of resisting the mental manipulation.

"For someone who studies it as a second language in most of the developing world, English quickly denies people the right to think for themselves by themselves. It results in cultural alienation and dispossession." With reference to Nigeria and India: "… the eradication of English in those two countries would be a lot more effective as English indeed carries the germs and the means of what boils down to mind enslavement." This time Durand is directing his helpful suggestion that people be more assiduous in the struggle against English to northern Nigerian radical islamists and to Hindu nationalists, in whom he sees – as he does Esperantists – his potential political allies.

It no longer comes as a surprise that Durand cleverly introduces the term "national preference" in order to have it become positively connoted in readers' minds. The French National Front quite deliberately introduced this notion into public debate in France, something Durand can hardly be unaware of.

It would greatly benefit the political quality of the forthcoming deliberations at the congress if there were a frank general discussion of US imperialism and its latest adventure in Iraq, unencumbered by any false "neutralism" [4] that excludes debate on political topics of overall importance while at the same time holding the door wide open to fundamentally nationalistic discourse of the type described, under the pretence that it is centered on linguistic matters. Only in such a wide-ranging debate will a proper critique of imperialism be distinguished from a false critique with ulterior motives. Only such a debate will keep anti-imperialism separate from anti-Americanism based on nationalism, or, as the case may well be, ethnopluralism of the New Right kind.

By the way, it is not my intent to propose a "boycott" of Durand or anyone else in the name of "political correctness", as some might object. It's fine to listen to opinions on language problems that reflect any and all political viewpoints. The real problem is that the organizers of the Universal Congress program, as well as other meetings between UEA members and non-Esperanto-movement language activists, avoid letting the Esperantist public in on the political leanings of their guests of honor whenever that orientation is unlikely to engender trust. In this case as in earlier cases.

The fact that Durand belongs to a political tendency that functions as a hinge between the extreme right in the strict sense and other segments of the political spectrum (including national-minded and ethnophile parts of the left) is something shouldn't be concealed in the spirit of "neutrality". To the contrary: it is absolutely necessary to know about it if one is to arrive at a comprehensive and educated assessment of his theses.

A nationalism that pollutes the political environment with a spirit of mistrust and rivalry among ethnic groups and civilizations is in my estimation never acceptable, even when it appears at first sight to be a convenient means to attack imperialism. US and British imperialism have taken root ideologically in those countries' populations through exactly the same spirit of patriotic zeal and civilization-based pride that Durand wishes to instill – polarized another way – in other populations.

Here is a form of diversity that would be a real opportunity for Esperanto: let political ideas in national-language Esperanto PR openly compete, instead of having everyone reel off standardized arguments that are designed to sound progressive, but which have a reactionary core. In this light, the collapse of the Brussels Communication Center, which habitually built its arguments for Esperanto around ideas provided by self-proclaimed "language defenders" and which also had too much of Esperanto's public relations concentrated in its hands, is not at all regrettable.

[1] The Brussels Communication Center (BKC = Brusela Komunikad-Centro) was an office operated by the Universal Esperanto Association (UEA) and its affiliate, the European Esperanto Union (EEU), in 2002 and 2003. Among other things, it maintained a large website in many languages. [return]
[2] The Universal Congress is an annual Esperanto congress, the largest of its kind, which is organized by the UEA. [return]
[3] formerly known as Gaullists [return]
[4] The UEA, in accordance with its statute, purports to maintain neutrality on political and religious questions, with the exception of matters pertaining to language policy and Esperanto. [return]

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