At NAZIOGINTZA we analyze those factors affecting the Basque nation, its evolution and transformation. Since we promote the dissemination of Basque national consciousness, its language, its culture and its collective personality, we believe it is essential to identify and study those parameters which affect them. One of those parameters, of great importance, is the demographic one; therefore, we will dedicate the following two articles to it.
In the linguistic, cultural, sociological and political evolution of a small nation like ours, demography is of paramount importance. Moreover, from the point of view of nation-building it is a strategic issue. In the Basque Country, however, it is a subject that has been little analysed from an objective point of view, since it is an uncomfortable subject in certain nationalist environments, almost a taboo. To tell the truth, being an issue peppered with ideological prejudices, it is not easy to make a neutral analysis, despite being necessary. In our opinion, there is an urgent need to carry out a calm and measured reflection on the demographic problem of the Basque Country, beyond ideological prejudices. We cannot forget that the ideologues of the extreme right inevitably contaminate this debate with their xenophobic discourse.
Before beginning, it must be recognized that Euskal Herria, the Basque Country, one of the oldest nations in Europe, is experiencing a profound demographic crisis, which could lead to its disappearance if adequate policies are not applied: a low birth rate of its autochthonous population, a rapid aging process, a large flow of immigrants (400,000 new immigrants in the last 15 years, according to data from the GAINDEGIA observatory), an exodus of many young Basques, etc. We consider it urgent to apply measures such as those that work in the most advanced countries of Europe (to increase the birth rate, for example) if we want to avoid the risk of disappearance. As we will discuss later, our birth rate is one of the lowest in Europe, 1.4 specifically (in all of Europe, only Greece, Portugal and Italy have a lower rate than ours). Behind this ominous data there are many reasons, as we will see later, but it is clear that our public institutions bear a great responsibility in this situation because they do not address the demographic crisis as should be done. However, close to us, in France for example, policies and budgets to promote the birth rate are of great importance, which is reflected in the healthy French demographic situation.
To face the demographic challenge, it is essential that the Governments of the Western and Eastern Basque Country (Basque Autonomous Community and Navarre, respectively) prioritise this matter and that they implement social policies to increase the birth rate. The irresponsibility and negligence of our political class on this issue is reflected very well in their duplicitous speech: “to deal with the demographic problem, we need more immigrants”, they tell us. But that statement only takes into account one component of the equation, that of immigration. And it discards the other component, that of the birth rate. It is evident that it is much more comfortable for our political class to solve the demographic crisis by bringing more immigrants (and big businesses are also happy, since they get cheap labour) than developing social policies to encourage the birth rate of the natives, since these social policies require planning, resources and a lot of money.
THE BASQUE BIRTH RATE — EVERY TIME LOWER:
A People without generational replacement has no future. It is doomed to disappear, inevitably. In the evolution of a language and a culture, the birth rate is a fundamental variable. In the medium term, those who have more children are the ones who will spread their language and culture the most in a territory. The linguistic substitution that has taken place in certain territories of Europe is closely linked to historical demographic evolution.
Fewer children are being born in the Basque Country and, according to forecasts, this trend will increase even more. In the last 10 years in the Western Basque Country, births have decreased by 30%. Therefore, the main cause of the Basque demographic crisis is not immigration (we will discuss that in the second part of this article) but the low birth rate of the natives. In our case, this rate is 1.4 (1.4 children per woman,), one of the lowest in Europe. According to demographic experts, once below 1.3 a human community is at risk of disappearing. In the case of the Southern Basque Country (under Spanish domination), without taking into account the birth rate of immigrants, that of natives is even lower, around 0.9, which is really worrying. It must be taken into account that one of every three children born in our country has a foreign mother or father.
For this reason, the aging profile of our population is accelerating remarkably. There are more and more older people, and fewer and fewer young people. This brings us negative consequences at a sociological level: the lack of youth implies a lack of social dynamism. A society without young people is a more conservative society, without initiative at all levels. A society that is unwilling to take risk. This, at a political level, plays in favour of the current “status quo”, that is, it plays in favour of perpetuating the situation of subjugation that our nation suffers, since the majority of older people do not want “independence adventures”.
The following data very well reflects the aging process of Basque society: in 1981, in the Western Basque Country the percentage of inhabitants over 65 years of age was 9.2%, today it is around 25%. In that year, the proportion of young people (up to 19 years old) was 34.2%, today it is 16.6%. The change that has happened in the last 40 years has been enormous.
Public institutions have a great responsibility in this unfortunate demographic situation. In the Southern Basque Country (the situation in the Northern Basque Country, under French administration, is better) assistance for families and children is ridiculous compared to that of other European countries. For example, while in France almost €500 per inhabitant are invested in aid for the family, in the Western Basque Country only €127. In demographic policies, our data is more similar to the Spanish than to the European.
Let us view see amounts invested in family policy in various states (data on Gross Domestic Product):
-Norway: 3% of Gross Domestic Product
-France: 3.5% of the Gross Domestic Product
-Denmark: 4% of Gross Domestic Product
-Spain: 1.5% of the Gross Domestic Product
We do not have the exact data referring to the Southern Basque Country (Basque Autonomous Community and Navarre), but we are sure that they are much closer to the Spanish case than to those of Denmark.
The Government of the Western Basque Country announced the creation of the Pact for the Family and Children with great publicity in 2018, which sought to increase the low birth rate. Four years have passed, and the balance is depressing. The Pact contemplated an investment of €5 million annually, which is clearly an insufficient amount to tackle the great challenge that we have before us. The majority of young people in the Basque Autonomous Community (72%) say that they would like to have two children, but it is not possible for them. There are many obstacles and they will not be solved with a meager budget of €5 million from the Basque Government: job insecurity, low wages, very high housing prices (one of the most expensive in Europe), difficulties in family conciliation, lack of economic aid to families, etc. The consequences are many, of which we will cite two: our young people become independent 10 years later, on average, than young people from northern Europe, and our women have their first child late, at 34 years of age.
The need is urgent to find solutions to this demographic crisis. It is essential that the governments of the Western and Eastern Basque Country and the public institutions allocate resources proportional to the challenge before us as soon as possible. To begin with, the Government of the Basque Autonomous Community and that of Navarre must create a Ministry of Family and Demography. And along with this, promote robust public policies aimed, mainly, at the young sector of the population: decent wages, abolition of temporary work contracts, social housing, free child care, lengthening maternity or paternity sick leave, possibility of combining work and family, tax relief when having children… If ambitious social policies are not implemented, we will not be able to turn the demographic crisis around. Therefore we must denounce the carelessness shown by our politicians in the face of an emergency like the one we have before us.
If we turn motherhood or fatherhood into a heroic effort and an obstacle course, it should not surprise us that young people refuse to have children. This situation, in addition to being unfair to couples who wish to have children, leads us to the cultural, political and economic suicide of our People.
A reflection before ending this chapter. There are not a few women who, in the name of a misunderstood feminism, renounce motherhood. It is a personal decision, totally to be respected. But it should be noted that the most advanced States in terms of gender equality (France, northern European countries…) are, at the same time, those with the highest birth rates. Feminism should not collide, in any way, with birth support policies. Of course, these policies must necessarily be progressive and promote equality between the sexes.
(To be continued in Part 2nd)