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Amikejo: The Esperanto-Speaking Country

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The flag of Neutral Morensat, or Amikejo.

After the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815, the victorious nations in the conflict got to redraw the map of Europe.  The Netherlands were set up as an independent country for the first time, which was welcome news in the eyes of Great Britain, who saw the new country as a kind of buffer state between France and Prussia.  The thinking was that that would help when the next war on continental Europe started, which the United Kingdom figured would come along sooner or later.

After the new nation was designed, there was some territory to the south that was disputed.  It was a small region between the Netherlands and Prussia (now Germany) called Neutral Moresnet.  It was about 1.35 square miles in area and shaped like a long, skinny pizza slice, pointing north.  Neutral Moresnet was divided into Prussian and Dutch zones.  It became particularly desirable after a zinc mine was discovered in the area in 1850, which was coveted by both countries.  When Belgium broke away from the Netherlands in 1830, it took over the administration of the Dutch zone (though the Netherlands never formally recognized this).  The people of Moresnet preferred Belgian rule, but Belgium was reluctant to officially annex the land, worried that they would upset the other two nations—especially Prussia.  The situation allowed the people of Neutral Moresnet to avoid military service and taxes, but the downside was that they were technically stateless; no one in the region could get a passport, because the 2,500 inhabitants were not really citizens of anywhere.

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Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, the Polish ophthamologist and linguist who invented Esperanto, his idea for an international language.

In 1906, two men tried to change this.  A German doctor named Wilhelm Moly and a French professor named Gustave Roy proposed to turn Neutral Moresnet into the world’s first Esperanto state.  Esperanto was a constructed language designed in the middle of the 19th century by a Polish doctor named L. L. Zamenhof, who hoped the new language would help to bridge the linguistic divides that separate Europeans.  Finally, someone would try it.

In 1908, they were ready to launch their project formally.  A rally was held in its capital city of Kelmis, and the entire population is said to have been in attendance.  The new country was to be called Amikejo, after the Esperanto word for a place for friendship.  A band was hired to play the new national anthem, the Amikejo March.  At the 1908 gathering of the World Congress of Esperanto, Amikejo was declared to be the world capital of the Esperanto language.  Things were going great.

Except that they weren’t really going so great.  Germany (formerly Prussia) still wielded the old claim to the land.  Belgium still asserted its right to the land, too.  When World War I broke out in 1914, Germany and Belgium were on opposite sides, and German troops rolled into Amikejo, wreaking havoc and destruction.  In 1915, Germany officially annexed Amikejo, though only its allies of Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria recognized this claim.  Following Germany’s loss in the war, the Treaty of Versailles assigned this land to Belgium, and the only Esperanto-speaking country in the world disappeared under the churning waves of international conflict.

Today, the land is known as Kelmis in Dutch, or La Calamine in French, and is still part of Belgium.  Of the 60 markers originally set in the ground to mark the borders of Neutral Moresnet, 50 are still there.  There is also a small museum you can visit to learn more about the history of this neutral zone that briefly became a nation.  The zinc mine that was discovered in 1850 is still in operation.  It has since become Umicore, a global mining company still operating today, which is perhaps the best known remnant of Amikejo.

The flag of Amikejo was three stripes: black on top, white across the middle, and blue along the bottom, probably chosen because those were the official colors of that mining company.  If you’d like to listen to this forgotten nation’s forgotten national anthem, here’s 45 seconds of the Amikejo March.  

As one might say in Esperanto: Bonan tagon, legantoj!


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