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Bridging cultures with Esperanto: an initiative from the Italian Embassy and the Italian Cultural Institute of Amsterdam

H.E. Mr. Giorgio Novello, Ambassador of Italy with the speakers who highlighted various aspects of Esperanto's historical and contemporary relevance.

By Beatrice Levorato Barsotti

On the 26th of May, the Embassy of Italy in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute of Amsterdam, organized an event dedicated to the Esperanto language, titled ‘Esperanto between Italy and the Netherlands’.

The event featured an impressive lineup of speakers who highlighted various aspects of Esperanto’s historical and contemporary relevance. Prof. Marc van Oostendorp, Professor of Dutch Language and Academic Communication at Radboud University, delved into the intriguing love correspondence between an Italian and a Dutch Esperantist in the 1930s, showcasing the personal connections fostered by the language. Daniela Tasca, a researcher, presented the remarkable figure of Angelo Agosti, an Italian Esperantist who lived between Italy and the Netherlands and founded an international communist union for Esperantists.

‘Esperanto between Italy and the Netherlands’.

Prof. Davide Astori, Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Parma, discussed the history of Esperanto and its function as an instrument of peace, emphasizing its potential for fostering global understanding. Finally, Prof. Federico Gobbo, Professor of Interlinguistic and Esperanto at the University of Amsterdam, provided insights on the topic “Artificial Language or Artificial Intelligence? Esperanto and Human-Machine Communication,” exploring the language’s role in the evolving landscape of technology and communication.

Professor Federico Gobbo further discussed the role of Esperanto as a message of peace highlighting a fascinating historical episode from the 1920s when an Esperanto-speaking kibbutz was established in Israel, bringing together Palestinians and Israelis. Although it lasted only a few months, it was a beautiful experiment demonstrating the potential for Esperanto to bridge national differences while allowing each culture to maintain its identity. Prof. Gobbo noted that even L. L. Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, was wary of establishing Israel in Palestine due to the potential for fratricidal conflict. On the technological front, prof. Gobbo expressed concern over our excessive reliance on technology as a problem solver. He emphasized that technology, as a tool, can be used for good or ill. In contrast, Esperantists are acutely aware of the importance of moral responsibility, recognizing that machines themselves are amoral. This awareness underscores the unique human element that Esperanto brings to both intercultural communication and the ethical use of technology.

In his opening speech, the Ambassador of Italy, H.E. Mr. Giorgio Novello reflected on his long-standing commitment to Esperanto, which began in 1976 after reading “Invented Languages” by Alessandro Bausani. Ambassador Novello, currently a member of the Honorary Committee of the World Esperantist Union, shared insightful thoughts on the significance of Esperanto as a language that promotes peace and serves as a diplomatic tool. He also discussed various initiatives aimed at expanding the reach and influence of Esperanto.

The concept of Esperanto as a diplomatic language date back to the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations, when Nitobe Inazo proposed making Esperanto the League’s official language. However, this initiative was thwarted by French opposition, as French was the dominant international language at the time. While the historical efforts to establish Esperanto as Europe’s diplomatic language are noteworthy, the ambassador believes that considering Esperanto today as a tool for political and diplomatic communication might still be premature. At the same time, Esperanto has the potential to contribute to international relations, as demonstrated by recent progress.

The Universal Esperanto Association, of which the ambassador is an honorary patron, has an official working relationship with UNESCO, which also publishes its quarterly magazine in Esperanto. Furthermore, the language has had significant interfaces with diplomatic authorities. For example, former President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, participated in the Esperanto Congress in Florence twenty years ago, and the Italian Esperanto Congress in San Marino was held under the patronage of the Italian ambassador there.

Academic environments have also embraced Esperanto; the 2023 University Congress in Turin hosted the Esperanto Union as an honorary committee, with the President of the Province of Turin and the President of the Piemonte Region participating. Therefore, Esperanto is making notable progress, contributing to international understanding at both the political and diplomatic levels.

H.E. the Ambassador of Italy,  emphasized the powerful role of Esperanto in building bridges and strengthening the relations between Italy and the Netherlands, underscoring the political relevance of such initiatives. The event successfully brought together Dutch and Italian Esperantists, as well as curious newcomers to the subject, fostering a warm atmosphere of shared curiosity and passion for the language. This gathering not only highlighted the cultural and diplomatic significance of Esperanto but also demonstrated its capacity to unite diverse groups in pursuit of common understanding and collaboration.

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