Between the local, the national, and the international: the emergence of an organized Esperanto youth movement in Brazil

Founded in 1967 in Santos Dumont by the Esperanto youth groups from Rio de Janeiro and Ceará, the Brazilian Esperanto Youth Organization (Brazila Esperantista Junulara Organizo, BEJO) aimed to cross millions of square kilometers in order to bring together isolated groups and individuals, whose worst ennemy was the distance. Notably, how could Esperanto also fulfill its mission as an international language in this continental land? An analysis of early BEJO publications (1967-1969) provides glimpses into some projects of the organization, and an interview with a BEJO pioneer describes in perspective the experience of Esperanto by youth.

BEJO’s first organising team was composed of Francisco Wechsler (president, Rio de Janeiro), Roberto Nogueira (Fortaleza, vicepresident), Umberto Ferreira (vicepresident, Goiânia), Paulo Viana (secretary, Rio de Janeiro), and Aloísio Sartorato (treasurer, Rio de Janeiro). It was elected in the second Brazilian Esperanto-seminar organized by the Cultural Cooperative of Esperantists in 1967. The decision of the official foundation came a year later. With long waiting times for letter correspondence, key decisions were being made during the yearly seminars, when the local Esperanto groups met together.

With the foundation of BEJO, the bulletins “La Meteoro” (“the meteor”) of Guanabara (currently Rio de Janeiro) and “Verda maro” (“green sea”) of Ceará gave way to the culture-centred BEJO-magazine Impulso (“impulse”) and to the BEJO information bulletin BEbo (“baby”), aiming to create a link between Esperantists of young age and other young-minded Esperantists from Brazil. The issues of these two publications contain information on BEJO projects, as listed below. 

Illustration of the arrival of the greens (Esperantists) in BEbo 1969, no 9.
Illustration of the arrival of the greens (Esperantists) in BEbo no 9 / 1969.

Koresponda Servo (“correspondence service”) aimed to facilitate letter exchanges between Esperantists from Brazil and other countries. The service regularly published announcements in international magazines, asking for addresses of worldwide pen pals. Conversely, foreign Esperantists who wanted to exchange letters with Brazilian Esperantists published announcements in BEbo. A statistic made after the first six months of Koresponda Servo showed that the countries of which this service distributed most addresses were Czechoslovakia (11), Hungary (9), Bulgaria (5), Poland (5), the Federal Republic of Germany (5), Japan (3), France (2), Yugoslavia (1), the Soviet Union (1), and US (1). (source: BEbo no 9 / 1969)

Pasporto (“passport”) was a programme that had “propagandistic, practice, touristic and peace aims, to be reached through an exchange of Esperantists between families and individuals”. Founded in 1966, it had its administrative office in Argentina. It became an official programme of the World Esperanto Youth Organization, the youth wing of the Universal Esperanto Association. In Brazil, Pasporto counted in the beginning with representatives in Rio de Janeiro before spreading throughout the country. 

The programme Mini-Pasporto (“mini-passport”) had as objective the exchange of youth people inside Brazil: “Esperantist families have the task to host young people who really speak Esperanto, who have, beyond a touristic aim, also an aim towards Esperanto. […] The guest must act within the family as a true son and accept the same lifestyle as the hosts, without fancy treats.” The young Esperantists participating in the programme were expected to help promote Esperanto and create local youth groups.

Besides this, BEbo advertised for magazines and touristic leaflets that its readers could receive for free, from the Federal Republic of Germany, Finland, Sweden, Austria, Spain, and France. In addition, books were sent to local groups through a library foundation (Biblioteka fonduso).

The bulletins also record exchanges with youth Esperanto-movements from North America and from Argentina (Junularo Esperantista de Nordameriko, respectively ARGENT-EJO). In 1968, BEJO became a section of the World Esperanto Youth Organization.

Despite the strong Brazilian Esperanto-movement and traces of engagement in international projects, Brazilian Esperantists rarely travelled outside Brazil for Esperanto. The fact was noted and criticised in “Impulso”, which noted that out of 1433 registered participants for the Universal Congress in 1968 in Madrid, only five were Brazilian. 

Illustration of “samideanoj” (fellow Esperantists) in BEbo no 6 / 1968.

In an interview conducted with Paulo Sérgio Viana, one of BEJO-founders Rio-based at that time, he describes how the youth movement in which he participated activated rather locally. Yet even though the local youth group was entirely made up of Brazilian people, they would still stick to speaking only in the international language, and being ferocious against “krokodilado” (the use of the national language instead of Esperanto). In his words: “We were almost fanatic in our esperantism, which somewhat got strange to the world; we weren’t that much connected to the worlwide culture and worlwide interest […] the youth is now a lot more open to the world without leaving behind the ideas that led it to Esperanto, it is much more conscious.” As an active Esperantist in the movement throughout his life, Paulo participated in almost all the Esperanto congresses taking place in Brazil, while at international level he would rather be known for his literary work or articles.

Paulo recalls his experience with Esperanto after his “inoculation with the green virus” as a teenage, and gets nostalgic about letter exchanges with friends from Europe.

The full interview in Esperanto is available at

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