The Esperanto Nation That Almost Was
In 1815, after the fall of Napoleon, the borders within Europe had to be re-established. Prussia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands experienced a disagreement over the territory known as Moresnet where an important zinc mine was located. As neither Prussia nor the Netherlands wanted the other one to own the mine, negotiations dragged on for a year. Finally, it was decided that Moresnet would be divided into three parts: One to the Netherlands, one to Prussia, and one declared a neutral territory around the disputed zinc mine called Neutral-Moresnet, Neutrales Gebiet, or "Neutral Region." Neutral-Moresnet (contained within the red triangle in the map to the right) comprised only seventy acres but was strategically important.
In 1816, only 256 people lived in the disputed territory, but the number of inhabitants grew steadily, especially due to the development of the zinc mine. In 1830, there were 500 inhabitants, and, by 1858, this number had grown to 2,572. Of these, 695 were so-called "Neutrals" (mainly offspring of the first inhabitants); 852 were Belgians; 807, Prussians; 204, Dutch; and 14 were immigrants from other countries. Imports from the surrounding countries were toll free; the taxes were very low; and prices were lower and wages higher than in the surrounding countries. A disadvantage for the "Neutrals" was that they were stateless if they were abroad.
The Esperanto connection to Neutral-Moresnet comes with the legendary Dr. Wilhelm Molly. Born in Wetzlar, Germany, Dr. Molly emigrated to the territory and set up a medical practice. He became admired for his low fees and became even more popular when he helped to quell a cholera epidemic. In 1906, Dr. Molly met the French professor Gustave Roy. Roy and Molly, both avid Esperantists, decided to establish an Esperanto state and Neutral-Moresnet seemed the most suitable territory. In 1908, a great demonstration was held and glowing speeches were given for the establishment of the Esperanto free state to be called "Amikejo" ("friend-place" in Esperanto). During this gathering, the zinc miners' band even played the proposed national anthem, "Amikejo-march." The February 23, 1908, edition of the New York Times carried a short article heralding the "new European state," albeit with some skepticism.
However, the fate of "Amikejo" was sealed when the local zinc mine was depleted. Prussia began to reassert claims over the territory, and the inhabitants of Moresnet petitioned for annexation by Belgium, which had declared independence from the Netherlands in 1830. The Prussians occupied the territory and asserted control. However, in 1919, final control of the territory was ceded to Belgium, bringing an end to the existence of Neutral-Moresnet and the dream of "Amikejo."
For more on Neutral Moresnet (including postcards, maps, photos, and more), visit www.moresnet.nl.
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