The early years, to 1939
The war years and beyond: 1939-1980
From 1980 to today
By Humphrey TONKIN
The early years, to 1939
From its beginnings in 1887, the International Language Esperanto has been recognized as a potential language of diplomacy and has occasionally been used in such a context. One of the earliest to recognize its importance was Nitobe Inazo (1862-1933), under-secretary-general of the League of Nations and a founding director of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation. He attended the 13th World Congress of Esperanto in Prague in 1921 as the official delegate of the lead. His favourable report to the General Assembly of the League has been described as “the first objective report on Esperanto by a high-ranking official representative of an intergovernmental organisation.” Although its recommendations were not accepted, it remains an important milestone in the history of Esperanto.
Diplomats from the years before World War II who spoke Esperanto included George Brinton McClellan Harvey (1864-1928), U.S. ambassador to Britain from 1921 to 1923, and John Barrett (1866-1938), who served as U. S. Minister to Siam under President Grover Cleveland. Later he served successively as diplomatic adviser to Admiral George Dewy, as a delegate to the second Pan-American Conference (1901), and U. S. Minister to (in succession) Argentina, Panama, and Colombia. In 1907 he became the first Director General of the Pan American Union, known today as the Organisation of American States, serving in that capacity for fourteen years.
Gustav John Ramstedt (1873-1950) was Finnish ambassador to Japan, with responsibility also for Siam and China, from 1919 to 1929. A well-known linguist, he carried out fieldwork in China and Mongolia and also edited studies on the Korean language.
Richard Henry Geoghegan (1866-1943), who translated Zamenhof’s first book on Esperanto (1887) into English, served in the office of foreign affairs of the Japanese government from 1893 to 1900 and then as British consul in Washington State, in the U.S.
Nikifor Hristoskov (1888-1915) served in the Bulgarian Legation in Bucharest following the Balkans War (1912-1913).
Karl von Frenckell served as Finnish consul in Dresden in the 1920s. He chaired the World Congress of Esperanto in Helsinki in 1922.
One of the most active supporters of Esperanto, the Swiss Edmond Privat (1889-1962), served as counsellor and deputy for the Persian delegation to the League of Nations from 1921 to 1927. He was active as an advocate for Polish independence and also wrote extensively on international relations.
The Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) learned Esperanto in Britain, where he resided from 1914 to 1917.
The war years and beyond: 1939-1980
Numerous diplomats and politicians were active users of Esperanto in the years following World War II. Among the politicians were such notable figures as Franz Jonas (1899-1974), President of Austria, active in the Esperanto movement from his youth; Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980), President of Yugoslavia, who learned the language as a partisan during World War II; and Willem Drees (1886-1988), prime minister of the Netherlands from 1948 to 1958.
The Yugoslav lawyer Ivo Lapenna (1909-1987) has written most extensively on the potential role of Esperanto in diplomacy and published extensively in Esperanto on problems of international law and diplomacy. He represented Albania in its territorial dispute with Yugoslavia before the International Court of Justice in The Hague and later became Reader in International Law at the London School of Economics.
Among the holders of diplomatic posts in the period following World War II were Tyyne Leivo-Larsson (1902-1977), Finnish ambassador in Oslo and Reykjavik from 1958 to 1964; Rudi Graetz (1907-1977), a member of the diplomatic service of the German Democratic Republic with the rank of ambassador; Mark Starr, United States delegate to the International Labour Organization in the years following the war; and Ivan Hristov Krestanov (1890-1966), who served as first secretary in the Bulgarian General Consulate in Dresden, Germany.
Nguyen Van Kinh (1916-1981), founder of the Vietnamese Esperanto Association and a leader of resistance to the French colonial powers, was ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to the Soviet Union from 1957 to 1968. In 1959, he addressed the World Congress of Esperanto, in Warsaw.
Particularly prominent in UN circles was Ralph L. Harry (1917-2002), who, as a young Australian diplomat, played a significant role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Later he was a major player in the drafting of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982). Harry served as Australian Ambassador in Vietnam, the Soviet Union, and, finally, the United Nations. He collaborated with Ivo Lapenna (see above) in translating the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration into Esperanto.
In a related field, Herbert Lionel Elvin (1905-2005) played a prominent role in UNESCO as assistant secretary-general and head of UNESCO’s Department of Education from 1950 to 1956.
Although not strictly speaking a diplomat, the active Esperantist Valdemar Langlet (1872-1960), representative of the Swedish Red Cross in Hungary during the war years, took advantage of Swedish neutrality and the willingness of Sweden to give him consular authority, to save hundreds of Jews by granting them Swedish visas. In the years following the war, Tivadar Soros (1894-1968), father of the financier George Soros, was employed as legal counsel in the American Interests Section of the Swiss embassy in Budapest.
From 1980 to today
Today, numerous speakers of Esperanto hold or have held diplomatic posts. Among them are three particularly active Esperanto speakers:
Ulrich Brandenburg (1950- ), German ambassador to NATO and, currently, Russia, was active in the Esperanto youth organization TEJO as a young man.
György Nanovfszky (1942- ), Hungarian ambassador to Russia and Singapore (recently retired), was president of the Hungarian Esperanto Association. Holder of a doctorate in linguistics, his particular field of interest is Finno-Ugric languages and during his time in Moscow he worked on preserving these languages in Russia and beyond.
Nijolė Žambaitė, Lithuanian ambassador to Belgium and Luxemburg, formerly active in the Esperanto society in Vilnius.
Among other Esperanto speakers of ambassadorial rank, the following have been particularly prominent:
Romualdas Kalonaitis (1941-2006) was Lithuanian ambassador to the European Union from 1997 to 2001 and later was appointed ambassador to the Netherlands.
Jaroslav Suchanek was ambassador of the Czech Republic to Australia and addressed the 1997 World Congress of Esperanto in Adelaide in that capacity.
Giorgio Novello, who served for a number of years as an Italian diplomat in Vienna, following posts in the UK and Germany, was recently (2013) appointed Italian ambassador to Norway.
Marie-Louise Vanherk served as Belgian ambassador to Lithuania and hosted a reception for delegates to the World Congress of Esperanto in Vilnius in 2005. She was then appointed ambassador to Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, and is now Consul-General in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Abdel Fattah Ezzeldin was Egyptian ambassador to Cuba, after serving as Consul-General in China. He learned Esperanto in Budapest in 1982.
Additional Esperanto-speaking diplomats and consular officials, active or retired, include:
Marko Naoki Lins, cultural attaché in the German embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark, active in TEJO, the Esperanto youth organization, and himself a speaker of Esperanto as a first language.
Miloje Koca, former attaché in the Yugoslav legation in Berlin, who died during a bombing attack on Belgrade.
Pavolas Giannelias, formerly a diplomatic official in the Greek legation in Vienna.
William P. Vathis, former U.S. consul in Zagreb.
Kho Khwat Liat (1927-2002), known as Sunardo, former official in the Indonesian ministry of foreign affairs and vice-president of the Indonesian Esperanto Association.
Pirkko Helena Makikokkila, former press attaché of the Finnish Embassy in Ottawa, Canada.
Eduardo Morilla, Cuban consul in Göteborg and Bonn.
Mário de Menezes, vice-consul of Brazil in Nagoya, Japan.
Ragnar Baldursson, minister and counsellor in the Icelandic embassy in Beijing.
Matthias Geir Palsson, legal adviser to the Icelandic embassy in Brussels.
Horst Gruner, formerly chargé d’affaires in the German embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon, currently chargé d’affaires in the German embassy in Kinshasha, Congo (Democratic Republic).
Seán Ó Riain (1955- ), Irish diplomat, holder of a succession of diplomatic posts in Austria, Australia, Poland, and Germany, and now with the Irish delegation to the European Union in Brussels.
Jozef Reinvart, Slovak diplomat, a specialist in language policy, currently with the Slovak delegation to the European Union.
Alexei Polikin, cultural attaché in the Russian embassy in Havana, Cuba.
Eskil Svane, secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Denmark, international lawyer, later seconded to the United Nations in Geneva, a translator of the UN Charter into Esperanto.
Daniel Kane (1948- ), recently retired as Professor of Chinese at Macquarie University, who joined the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs in 1976 and was posted to Beijing. He returned to China as cultural counsellor in the Australian embassy in the 1990s.
(HT, 25 November 2013, based on an earlier compilation by Henri Masson)