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T-Rauma for the Traditionalists

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We've travelled today to a town which you've most likely never heard of but which has a memorable place in Esperanto history, giving its name to an ideology which probably applies to most Esperanto speakers even though they've never heard of it. That town is in western Finland and is called Rauma.


It was here in the near-constant daylight of the Finnish summertime that 332 people spent a week in 1980 participating in the 36th Internacia Junulara Kongreso (International Youth Esperanto Congress), 


Yes, there were the usual cultural activities plus some ones specific to this event, such as sweating in sauna cabins and basking in pine forests.


But it was for a declaration presented to and signed off by the congress's participants that the event lasted into posterity.

Traditionally, the Esperanto movement was run with a goal in mind; the dissemination of Esperanto and its worldwide adoption as a neutral international language for people from different language backgrounds. There isn't anything particularly controversial about this; businesses every day make international deals in dollars or euros or sell things in litres or metric tonnes without giving up their pounds or yen, gallons or ounces back home. Esperanto would work the same way; the Thai speaker and the Spanish speaker would use their own languages as normal but Esperanto when talking together.

What happened in 1980 challenged this traditional outlook. It wasn't necessarily anything new in concept; at the first Universala Kongreso (World Esperanto Congress), a definition of what actually constituted an Esperantist was proposed by Ludoviko Zamenhof: "Esperantisto estas nomata ĉiu persono, kiu scias kaj uzas la lingvon Esperanto, tute egale por kia celo." (An Esperantist is a person who knows and uses Esperanto, for whatever purpose.)

Still, within the Esperanto movement there wasn't really any way of demarking those traditionally minded Esperantists from the people who use it for some other purpose. It was understood that to be an active Esperantist, a member of a traditional Esperanto organisation, you were a supporter of the traditional aims of the Esperanto movement. It certainly wouldn't have been considered that the bulk of participants at a movement congress would actually be part of the "other purpose" group.

That changed in 1980 when the young people participating in the Tutmonda Esperantista Junulara Organizo's (World Esperanto Youth Organisation) flagship annual event issued a statement. The Manifesto of Rauma was the result of a debate during the IJK about the goals for Esperanto during the 1980s. It criticised the traditional approach and acknowledged that the fruition of the traditional goal was not going to happen in the 1980s. It went further and outright stated that defeating English, the de facto occupant of the role of international bridge language, wasn't something that Esperanto speakers should be concerning themselves with.

What they proposed were new goals for spreading Esperanto, rather than defaulting to repeating the traditional ones when asked about the language. They noted alternative reasons to want to spread Esperanto: because its relative simplicity could make it an ideal first foreign language en route to people learning others; because it could serve as a nondiscriminatory tool of contact between ordinary people; and because it contained its own, new culture, worth preserving and promoting in its own right.

The signatories went even further, asserting that "Esperantishness" was akin to belonging to a self-selected linguistic minority spread around the world, as opposed to the traditional mindset of "pacaj batalantoj" (peaceful warriors), striving to see the universal adoption of Esperanto as a language for international communication. 

Raumism became the word to describe this ideology, that Esperanto is worth learning, spreading and preserving because of its own inherent cultural values, irrespective of the original goal.

The declaration wasn't written in TEJO's name but it emanated from the participants at its event. As time has progressed the meaning seems to have changed, with certain people speaking about an Esperanto citizenship and one of the two authors of the manifesto distancing himself from this interpretation. Others have characterised the declaration unfairly as people not wanting to spread Esperanto at all, only enjoy it. The wording of the manifesto counters this; they wanted to spread Esperanto but for different reasons.

Most Esperanto speakers probably fall into the same camp as those young people from decades ago. And indeed it can be very annoying even today to still hear the same slogans ("The FInal Victory will happen! English is our enemy!") asserted by a few die-hards among the traditionalists. But in the main, even the majority of those people still working towards the traditional probably acknowledge that it's very unlikely to happen and that Esperanto is worth preserving and promoting for those other reasons.

And it's important to remember that without those pioneering traditionalists from a century and more ago, there would never have been the dictionaries, magazines, books and so on to create the culture for the non-traditionalists to enjoy ... just as there wouldn't have been an event in 1980 for them to have had their debate and issue their declaration. 

There don't appear to be any signs of Esperanto left in this town which long ago gave its name to a philosophy which probably describes the thinking of the majority of the world's Esperanto speakers. The best we could come up with was  somewhat tenuous and unglamorous:


But it is what it is: one of UNESCO's world heritage sites because of the wooden architecture of its old town. And we're glad to have paid it a quick visit.


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