A BOOK entitled We are not hopeless changed Peter Baláž's life.
Written in Esperanto by Marian Repka, the book gave Peter his first taste of the constructed, international language. Sixteen years later, he is the chairman of SKEJ, an Esperanto-focussed non-government organization.
"I was deeply touched by the book and the message it carried," Peter explains. He got in touch with Esperanto Societo, which introduced him to an international group of people that actively use Esperanto. In only three months, he learned enough to communicate.
Peter says he finds Esperanto "simple, logical and genius".
In 2003, Peter founded his SKEJ to give young people interested in "language democracy" and Esperanto a platform to meet and socialize.
SKEJ cooperates with a variety of international organizations. In August, SKEJ helped organize the largest international Esperanto festival in Poland. The IJK (Internacia Junulara Kongreso) in Zakopané drew 500 people from 41 countries.
Peter would like to see Esperanto widely used as an international communication tool. He imagines Esperanto becoming an official language of the European Union. He believes that a simple and neutral language is becoming a necessity in today's global marketplace and international arena. "Not even English can fully fulfil these criteria," he said.
Slovakia has a unique position in Ján Fígeľ, the Slovak European Commissioner responsible for education and language, to influence the acceptance of Esperanto as an official language of the European Union. Fígeľ recently met with European Union MP Margaréta Handzlíková, an enthusiastic supporter of Esperanto, to discuss the language's diplomatic possibilities.
Peter keeps busy spreading the Esperanto word. Lately he travelled to Vilnius to attend a World Esperanto Congress (Universala Kongreso), where his colleagues elected him to the board of the Esperanto European Union (EEU).
In 1924, the League of Nations recommended that member states implement Esperanto as their auxiliary language. Thirty years later, Esperanto gained additional success when UNESCO recognized it as a viable diplomatic language and established official relations with the Universal Esperanto Association (UEA).
So why does Esperanto still evoke chuckles? Peter says the Esperanto movement happened before its time. Nations, he says, were not ready to "discover" Esperanto. "Today, maybe, nations would vote otherwise," he adds hopefully.
Although Esperanto ranks among the least known languages in Slovakia, Peter is excited for the European day of languages (September 26). He hopes to interest people in SKEU, or at least get them to visit www.esperanto.sk.
Those who would like to but do not have time to attend Esperanto courses in Bratislava or Partizánske can find a complete learning portal on www.lernu.net. The portal offers a complex learning environment in 24 languages including Slovak.
"Just try it!" urges Peter. Thanks to Esperanto he has friends in Latvia, Brazil, Japan, Serbia, Sweden and Canada, among others. According to Peter, people who speak Esperanto or are associated with Esperanto associations are often invited to international conferences, congress events and festivals.
History of Esperanto
"It is so easy to learn, that when, six years ago, I received an Esperanto grammar, a dictionary, and some articles written in the language, I could, after not more than two hours' study, if not write, then at least read freely in the language" - Leo Tolstoy, 1894
Esperanto was developed in the 1870s and 80s by Polish physician L L Zamenhof, and first published in 1887. The number of speakers has grown gradually over time, although it has not had much support from governments and international bodies.
Zamenhof wanted a common language for all people. He first considered reviving Latin, but after learning it in school he decided it was too complicated to be a common means of international communication. When he learned English, he realized that verb conjugations were unnecessary, and that grammatical systems could be much simpler than he had expected. He still had the problem of memorizing a large vocabulary, until he noticed two signs labelled svejcarskaja (porter's lodge - "place of the porter") and konditorskaja (confectioner's shop - "place of sweets"). He then realized that a judicious use of affixes could greatly decrease the number of root words needed for communication. He chose to take his word stock from Romance and Germanic, the languages that were most widely taught in schools around the world and would therefore be recognizable to the largest number of people.
Zamenhof taught an early version of Esperanto to his high-school classmates. For several years, he worked on translations and poetry to refine his creation. In 1895 he wrote: "I worked for six years perfecting and testing the language, even though it had seemed to me in 1878 that it was already completely ready." When he was ready to publish, the Czarist censors would not allow it. Stymied, he spent his time in translating works such as the Bible and Shakespeare. This enforced delay led to Esperanto's continued improvement.
In July 1887, he published his Unua Libro (First Book), a basic introduction to the language. This is essentially the Esperanto spoken today.
Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
12. Sep 2005 at 0:00 | Magdalena MacLeod