Opening of MondaFest, the World Festival of Esperanto, 20 June 2020

Address by Humphrey Tonkin,
Representative of the Universal Esperanto Association to the United Nations

The topic of the 105th World Congress of Esperanto in Montreal was to have been “The United Nations at 75: Dialogue and understanding in a changing world.” We chose this topic to emphasize the importance of the 75th anniversary, but primarily to draw attention to the importance of worldwide action to bring about worldwide harmony not only among people everywhere, but also among the many species that make up our world. And we wanted to stress the importance of Esperanto as a means for the discussion and realization of that harmony.

This topic, on the present and future of the United Nations, became the principal theme of the World Festival of Esperanto.

Let’s begin with a little history. When in 1945 the world began to think about the post-war agreement, the principal independent states at the time met in San Francisco to work out a plan. That plan foresaw the creation of an international organization that would unite all the peoples of the world in a single locus of consultation equipped to solve international disputes, regulate contacts among the states, and at the same time protect individual human rights and develop those parts of the world that remained underdeveloped and that lacked independence.

The first signatures were affixed to the funding document at the end of the San Francisco Conference, on June 25, 1945.

From this optimism and clarity of vision the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born in 1948, and a whole series of other conventions and agreements followed. The Universal Esperanto Association enthusiastically aligned itself with the Universal Declaration. In fact, on the team that drew up the Universal Declaration was a young Esperanto speaker, the diplomat Ralph Harry, of Australia. If the later agreements were not always universally acted upon, they reduced disputes and wars and often replaced hostilities with discussion. And, as early as 1947, the constitution of UEA contained an allusion to human rights as essential for the work of the Association.

If June 25, 1945 marked the beginning of a process that led to the formal founding of the United Nations on October 24 of that year, it did not mark the end of the war. On August 6 the greatest single loss of life of the entire war took place when an atomic bomb destroyed the city of Hiroshima in Japan. And earlier in the year, on January 27, 1945, the Russian army liberated the death camp of Auschwitz and thus exposed to the eyes of the world a horror that had been continuing for years. On August 9, the Americans, the nation that had launched the process leading to the foundation of the United Nations, dropped a second atom bomb, on Nagasaki.

In every part of the world speakers of the International Language died, either as combatants or, directly or indirectly, as victims of the hatred that seemed to engulf the world. In Auschwitz and Siberia, and also in Dresden and London – and in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Earlier, in Spain, in the years before the world war, idealistic Esperantists died on the battlefields of that country. Those Esperantists, believers in peace, often people who made war to have peace or to protect themselves against annihilation, wanted to create a world of understanding, a world not necessarily of identical opinions, but a world in which it would be possible to solve disputes, to live in peace, to respect human rights. To them, the United Nations offered hope, humanity in the best sense.

The new organization, the UN, had three principal pillars: the preservation of peace, the protection of human rights, and economic development. The states supported these pillars only selectively. Soon they were thrust into the great division between capitalism and socialism that lasted for four decades and a half—years in which we Esperantists worked on both sides, and across both sides, to maintain direct communication and hold high the flag of peace. At the same time the old empires dissolved: decolonization doubled, even tripled, the membership of the United Nations, and UN members covered the globe. In parallel with this expansion, Esperanto began to extend its influence across the world.

Exactly five years ago, the nations agreed on seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, seventeen priorities for reducing inequalities, integrating world systems, and combating threats to the shared life of all living things on our planet. This momentous understanding is already threatened by deviations from the idea of global co-operation. Those who believe that individual nations can solve their problems independently nurture beliefs that are much less realistic than those of the highest idealists – for example those who believe in peace, or even in an international language. We Esperantists work against linguistic discrimination and for linguistic equality and intercommunication: we are aware that only by cooperation between and above nations can the world prosper. To achieve this, we will need the United Nations – a UN that works more smoothly, interrelates in greater equality, and shares its problems and its riches with a greater generosity.

Has the UN been successful? No one, under the best of circumstances, would say that it has been one hundred percent successful. Has it been partially successful? The existence of international institutions has undoubtedly reduced the causes of conflict, has undoubtedly made it possible for the states to understand how they have still not attained the ideals of the UN. The complicated, often ponderous, often opaque machinery of the UN has none the less kept alive the spirit of multilateralism – the notion that worldwide problems require worldwide responses, and that the cooperation of all humankind is necessary to solve the problems often created by that same humankind. We should not lose faith. We should not fall into pessimism. As Martin Luther King once said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Never have these words resounded as strongly as they do now, in the midst of a pandemic and a crisis of inequality which threaten the whole world and which can be addressed only by multilateral collaboration at the level both of institutions and of ordinary people.

Sign up on the side of love. Put aside the burden of hatred. And do so with practicality, clearness of vision, and persistence. The world will never be perfect. In fact, the very notion of hope implies incompleteness: we always aspire to something better. That was the essence of the “Nova Sento,” the “new feeling” of Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto.

To work against pessimism and to discover the opinions of ordinary people, the United Nations has launched this year, the year of its 75th anniversary, a worldwide survey. The survey asks: What do we expect of the UN in the years ahead? What kind of UN do we want? If, in your judgment, the UN needs improvement (and who would deny that?), we should come together to express our opinions, to contribute to the dialogue, and to inspire non-speakers of Esperanto to contribute too. “We need to come together,” said Secretary-General António Guterres recently, “not only to talk but to listen.” Accept the Secretary-General’s invitation: express your opinion.

The Universal Esperanto Association enthusiastically joins this campaign. As early as 1954 UEA began active collaboration with UNESCO and the United Nations. Twice UNESCO has passed resolutions favourable to Esperanto, thanks to the efforts in their day of Ivo Lapenna and Tibor Sekelj respectively. UNESCO’s journal, the Courier, is published in Esperanto, and we work together in a whole range of other fields.

Our World Festival, then, has as its topic “The UN at 75”: in the coming weeks and months we will invite lectures by experts, organize discussion groups where all Esperantists can contribute in the International Language, and encourage Esperantists to complete the survey – and, above all, examine how the movement for the International Language Esperanto can contribute to the mission that constitutes its reason for being: worldwide understanding.