A brief history of the relationship between two lovely free cultural tools, ready for those who want to use them to build our own meanings.
Bruno Rüger was the first great Go activist in Germany. His tireless activity during the difficult years of the ’20s and ’30s sustained the first European magazine about Go and lead to the creation of the German federation. He was the author of the first didactic textbook for beginners and of nearly a dozen more books on the game, in the no-less-difficult years of the Cold War – when practically all the literature on Go in German had burned in the bombings and the country was divided in two antagonistic states – he had the courage to begin again and promote the game in the then-recently founded Democratic Republic of Germany. Before his death in 1972, he could paraphrase Bismarck saying:
I have placed German Go on the saddle and shown that it can ride alone.
What the homages and biographies on the Internet don’t usually tell is how he achieved level of play sufficient to beat Emmanuel Lasker himself in their first game, in an era where hardly any references existed and the isolation of European players was such that they had that build their own boards. It is known that he knew how to get ahold of Japanese literature of first level and exchanged letters with Japanese masters since the beginning of the ’20s. But they didn’t speak German and he didn’t speak Japanese. The mystery is solved by Rüger himself in a autobiographical review: he had learned Esperanto in the Teens, and through Esperantista correspondence networks, had talked with a well-known Japanese aficionado and player, Dr. Tsutsumi.
It is the first reference that we have of the relationship between Esperanto and Go in the first years of the Western expansion of the game. But if we look a little we find that many of the figures that we have followed in this series, starting with Alan Turing, who was passionate about synthetic languages, actively spoke Zamenhof’s language.
But if the World War set back the expansion of Go in Europe by decades, la repression of the Esperanto by totalitarian regimes had a still more sweeping effect. And while Go maintained a certain development in the US during the war and benefitted from the libertarian boom of ’68, Esperanto always was a fundamentally European phenomenon, and France in the ’70s and ’80s, marked by the anti-utopian tradition of Marxism and the maximalism of social revolution, did not put linguistic democracy back on the table.
But there was a place where Esperantism was developed after the war: Japan. Introduced early to progressive settings and intellectuals, the Esperanto movement, centered on Tokyo and Kioto, included more than a thousand of people for the first time in the second half of the Fifties.
In 1979, the “Japana Esperanto Go Asocio” emerges, led by Emori Minosuke, author of the first books on Go originally written in Esperanto: “Invito al Go-ludo” (also available on paper) and “Fundamento de Taktiko kaj strategio in Go-ludo.”
The association soon leads to la “Internacia Go Asocio” with 150 members distributed across 28 countries, that, today, continues publishing an annual newsletter. Soon, they begin to work on a glossary that will give way to the first illustrated vocabulary and an extensive specialized dictionary of 400 terms.
Though not very active on the Internet, work of the original core has left an important pedagogical legacy that includes the translations of two books by the master Sakata Eio: “Facila Formaciado” and “Vivo aŭ morto,” making Go game with the most publications in Esperanto and embodying their motto: “Go-on per Esperanto, Esperanton per Go-or” (“Go, instrument of Esperanto, Esperanto, instrument of Go”).
With that early push, the Internet reached Esperantism on the eve of the new century, and with it, there appeared new tools for basic learning, new groups of players linked to virtual game servers, glossaries, email lists and literary references.
Little by little, both worlds will approach each other once again, people will go back to playing Go at Esperantista congresses and a new kind of connector will appear, people like Russ Williams, habitual visitor of Esperantista congresses and Go tournaments, who organizes his summers around the congresses of one topic or another.
Both Go and Esperanto were part of the culture of illuminated Europe before the Great War: open to the new, fascinated by the surprising Japanese development and the sophistication of Asian cultures. It was an era in which optimism and the idea of improvement began to be confronted by the darkness of the new totalitarianism, but in which faith in the future still seemed unshakeable. Destroyed by world wars, persecution, and the Cold War, both environments, which had overlapped, were reduced, and will have to learn to become networks.
It will be this profound community experience that, thanks to the Internet, breathes new life into them in new ways. I don’t know any player of Go that thinks of the game as an alternative to the once omnipresent hegemony of chess, but rather as a game that helps develop skills, self-control and values; similarly, there are more than a few of us who think of Esperanto as a stupendous community tool, independent from both its institutional role and from the social cost of English as the false “lingua franca.”