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Heading Westwards

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Wednesday is typically a day for excursions at the World Esperanto Congress and participants in Lisbon will be spoiled for choice. Many of them took a local train to Belém, a beautiful parish of Lisbon only a short train journey away. Among the sites for them stands the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monumento de la malkovroj, Monument of the Discoveries).


The monument pays homage to Portugal's Age of Discovery in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when, alongside Spain, the country headed westwards towards a new world:


Esperanto too had to leave the security of its European base and head westwards. The first sojourn was remarkably soon after Esperanto's birth, when Henry Phillips Jr, secretary of the American Philosophical Society, published a translation of the first Esperanto book in 1889, only two years after the Russian original appeared:


Europe remained Esperanto's base and the first five World Congresses were held there. In 1910, however, the Esperanto world looked westwards and for the first time the event was held outside Europe, when Washington DC hosted it:


The distance prevented the majority of Europeans from attending, with the result that this was the smallest congress at that time with 357 participants, down from the previous year's 1287. A photo from the event indicates quite the coup, though: among that small number was no other than Ludwig Zamenhof, the inventor of Esperanto, who had travelled across the Atlantic. He's the short man in the front row:


Although the modern World Esperanto Congress is organised by the World Esperanto Association (UEA), this wasn't always the case. UEA was only formed in 1908, by which time there had already been several of the events. In the same year that the World Esperanto Congress was in the USA, UEA held its own one back in Fortress Europe, in Augsburg, Germany:


The event soon returned across the Atlantic with very short notice. The 1914 World Esperanto Congress in Paris was cancelled because of the mobilisation of armed forces ahead of the outbreak of war. Rather than see another year without the event, a group of volunteers held it in San Francisco.


Clearly the Europeans were unable to attend and their absence told in the attendance figures; at 163, this was the smallest World Esperanto Congress there has ever been and the next one wouldn't be held until 1920. But for 50 years it held the title of the last World Esperanto Congress to be held outside of Europe, until Tokyo hosted it in 1965.

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