Focus: Political-cultural situation of the Basque nation

In our geopolitical context, nation means a human group belonging to a people who share their own history, language, culture, experiences and personality. Accordingly, nation is synonym to people. In order to distinguish it from ethnic group, it is frequently asserted that a nation is an ethnic group with a political awareness. The San people or Bushmen, for instance, stand for an ethnic group, hanging onto a culture and language, but they do not constitute a nation because of their lack of political awareness. By contrast, Catalans, Basques or Quebecois feel they all belong in an original nation, since their cultural identity also holds a clear political dimension. When it comes to culture it may be defined as a set of references shared by a human community: language, customs, experiences, etc.

However, the activity pursued by our discussion group Naziogintza is cultural and political; we intend to invigorate the Basque nation and aspire to contribute to establish a Basque state. Therefore, like any state in the world, we intend to encourage the symbolic universe, references and traits that belong in a state, our language and culture, and present ourselves as such in the face of nation states. Additionally, we need to get a better insight into our culture in order to improve our identification and self-knowledge. We need to upgrade the understanding of our symbolic universe, references and traits, and draw a line between those our own and those alien to us imported from outside, especially those instilled with a perverse political intent aimed at discarding our own signs of identity. As it happens in all societies, those hallmarks will be classical, neoclassical or recently fashioned, since a society continuously changes and mutes its cultural and social practices, and it needs to treasure its own past, present, and ambitions for the future.

In our geopolitical context, a state’s typical identity signs are waning, with cultural features, namely language, and overall symbolic representations gradually turning into the main traits safeguarding symbolic and internal cohesion of that state. A state’s recognition is measured in accordance to the success achieved through its symbolic representation; it garners renown from the qualities attributed to its artists, sportspeople, musicians, and scientists, or based on the success achieved by its national team. In a Europe where military clashes are virtually inexistent, symbolic disputes have replaced former conflicts. Winning a world football championship, for instance, greatly adds to the national sentiment of a state, as those preventing us from having our own national sports team are well aware.

The Basque society is indeed subject to a cultural and political degradation at an assimilation stage, much unaware as we often are of the political and cultural implications our actions have. We do not actually represent ourselves as Basques in spite of the fact of being Basque and not feeling French or Spanish. From a cultural and political standpoint, Basque language and Basque references mean nothing if they brought into practice, they are pointless if they are not used on a daily basis, since identity does not only stand for what we hold on our mind; social practice is as important, what we do is what matters. That is actually the real dimension of our culture, what shapes us. When a Basque responds in Basque their first word on the phone, they cast fresh air on the Basque people and, just the opposite, when someone responds their first word in French or Spanish, they buttress those languages, and not Basque; and by doing so they represent themselves as belonging to that cultural and political community.

National awareness
On those grounds, on the purpose of bolstering the Basque nation and creating a Basque state, it is necessary to kindle the awareness of belonging in the Basque nation, a national awareness. From a cultural and political standpoint, it is not enough to feel Basque, it is necessary to be aware and get that competence down to practice, i.e. act accordingly on a daily basis.

Political situation
As the examples we present later confirm, Basque society is significantly lacking in national awareness, and when it occurs, it remains of poor quality.

Our political class is not homogeneous when it comes to national awareness. Of course, it holds true that not all politicians or political parties act the same, nor all nationalist parties either. However, except for a few cases, these politicians show little determination and seriousness with respect to national matters, as compared to the attitude shown when addressing other matters, e.g. Basque language has vanished or closes the list of the political agenda. As regards potential integration, Basque culture is linked to a new brand of Hispanism, neglecting the implications derived from such an assumption: We face greater risk than ever of being assimilated into Spain or France, as observed in attitudes found in the street or people. Regardless, the most substantial criticism against that situation originates in a few sectors other than official politics, and not official parties; no plan seems to be in place directed towards rekindling national awareness, while demands to politicize Basque language do not cease and, inversely, Spanish and French permeates all domains. Attitudes against repression and injustice are very strong in the Basque Country, even largely imbued with a Messianic streak, in stark contrast to their stance towards national topics. Suddenly the Basque clans come up to stage, in other words, partisanship takes over.

1. Since national awareness is so poor, people often are unaware that
A) the Basque Country is a Nation comprising seven districts, not Spain, neither France.
B) Basque is the national language of the Basque Country, the only one spoken across the seven districts.
C) Basque has been successively subject to contempt, disdain and prohibition throughout history. The first ban to Basque speaking came in 1239 when the residents of Ojacastro, Rioja, were banned from speaking it; secondly in 1349, referring to a ban to use Basque in Huesca’s marketplace. Therefore, present-day bans and contempt are nothing new.
D) Basque Country is a Nation, like many other nations in Europe, despite its not having a state for now. We hold a specific view towards the universe, our own vision on music, dance, literature, sports, festivals, approach to nature, social values, etc.
E) Culture could mean a variety of things, but in our case cultural expression refer first of all to the means of transmitting feelings, ideas, situations, and things; secondly, they refer to external traits directed at self-identification and, externally, making oneself identified by other communities.
F) The Basque culture, like any other, clusters around a set of references shared by its community, with us the Basques sharing a wide range of cultural references and feelings besides the Basque language, such as the sentiment of integrating a single People.

2. Since national awareness is so poor:
A) Many Basque speakers speak in Spanish/French with no feeling of concern or contradiction;
B) Many non-Basque speakers feel no need for learning Basque;
C) Many people in the Southern Basque Country are prone to phrases like “here in Spain”, “he has come to Madrid”, “on a national level”, “national road” and like Spanish politically charged phrases with no feeling of inadequacy; also “this car (brake shoe, appliance, etc.) is nationally manufactured” referring to Spain, or “I am going to France”, meaning driving across the border to Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz in French).
D) Furthermore, different locations or references from Spain and France strike a chord on Basque ears often louder than Basque references, i.e. we know where Huelva sits (1,200 km away), but we fail to pinpoint the town of Atharratze, for example.
E) Many people read Spanish and French media and the “national” sections included in these newspapers undisturbed or without feeling some kind of twinge inside.
F) We show no acquaintance with our history and fail to attempt to learn from it, which in turn results in a neglect towards Basque nation’s oppression and deprivation of rights, which amounts to being politically at a par with slaves in terms of culture.
G) We lack any official national teams in sport; we lack a national library or museum; no national university; no national ballet; no national radio or TV broadcaster; and overall no other national institution attributed to any regular states.
H) We have no instituted anthem and, except for a few cases, we avoid using a symbol we all accept, the ikurriña or Basque flag.

Historical regression of the Basque language (image: Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia)

3. Since national awareness is so poor, no independence process like that of Catalonia has been triggered, with no overt support shown to the Catalans either, nor can we count on any party, social movement or society prioritising a demand for independence from a nationalist point of view. Our political institutions are keen on raising many social issues onto the centre of their agenda, sidelining national matters amidst a conundrum of social and humanitarian demands, while central state institutions, parties and associations keep insisting that we, the Basques, discard social issues. Spanish and French institutions and politicians recurrently push us into that position, showing in that respect a clear purpose, i.e. taking advantage of our sensitivities for us to sideline national matters, pushing us to invest our efforts in working out a solution for them or divert our attention from relevant national topics. Concerning Spanish politicians and institutions, they incidentally overlook or omit those very issues in Spain, which happen to be much more serious, like unemployment or gender related violence. In face of the challenge, we firmly sustain that the national issue is also a social issue. We would also like to remind those allegedly concerned only with social aspects, those who dismiss the Basque national issue and hold onto a Spanish and French rhetoric, that a People’s or Nation’s identity is indeed a social issue, the main social issue, when sovereignty is missing.

4. Since national awareness is so poor, no Basque curriculum is pressed into service: our pupils learn English (bravo!), but often showing no command of Basque first, or having not achieved an acceptable level of Basque (no way!). We do not design our mid- and long-term economic structure according to our situation and with a view to facing up to our own challenges. We do not have a national institution for finances responsible for true public management. We are lacking in a Basque public university focused on Basque culture, knowledge and technology operating in Basque, with a national vocation and, at the same time, open to the world, while lately fresh winds are blowing. Not only are we weakened and unable to face up to the challenges of globalization, we show likewise an inability to counter the process of Spanish and French assimilation.

5. Furthermore, since national awareness is so poor, we fail to work out a decent approach towards immigration that will not be detrimental to Basque society and culture: Overall immigrants are integrating in Spain, not in the Basque Country. Unfortunately, we are overall not equipped with the resources regularly available to a state that manage immigrants’ integration. We do have instead a fantastic means to integrate immigrants in our People: Basque. An immigrant turned Basque is actually one of us, a member of our national community, regardless of their skin colour, religion, place of birth or ideology. Sadly, due to the goody-goody outlook and political naiveté prevailing in our society, linguistic integration does not rank, unfortunately, as a priority, in the agenda of our political class.

6. Since our national awareness is so poor, the media are lacking in TV and radio channels, press or groups bent on building up national awareness. Inversely, Catalunya Radio (“Catalonia’s national radio”) or the digital periodical might exemplify the crude reality of the points stated above, since in these radio and periodical, independence and national subjects are central to their editorial line. By contrast, TV and radio channels and press in the Southern Basque Country are devoted to a “healthy regionalism”, with any topic originating here or abroad taking more coverage than national matters. Basque Autonomous Community’s broadcaster EITB practices coarse Basque language and Basque-Spanish cultural mingling, with official commentators using a non-standard Basque language presented as native but actually alien to the northern, continental Basques, who can identify cultural phrases and idioms as originating from a Spanish practice. Save for a few cases, our communication network belongs in Spain when it comes to the Southern Basque Country, while in continental Basque Country, it refers to France. The relevance assigned to politicians and sportspeople from France and Spain, as well as the importance attributed to French and Spanish references in the program grid, further testifies to that obedience.

7. Since national awareness is so poor, no one is concerned with our low birth rate and demographic issue. The non-existing strategic plan aimed at boosting birth rate growth and ideological objections to address the issue are telltale indicators of the issue’s dimension. Improvements to legal provisions aimed at assisting in motherhood tend to be underrepresented in fair women equality demands. Plans to assist in motherhood are riddled with deficiencies, and do not properly help women, nor at a personal level, neither on the professional or economic level. In the public domain, some action is taken, but both on the private domain and welfare assistance, gaps are immense. From a national policies perspective, that issue is very important, since demographics, as well as geographic shifts in population, are paramount considerations in the evolution of a small nation. It is worth noting that empires and imperialists have resorted to population displacements, also in the Basque Country, in order to

acculturate and crush natural peoples and nations. Incidentally, we are very concerned about the new Diaspora going on nowadays, our trained and qualified youth are off abroad in search of employment, absent in the Basque Country, a phenomenon that will no doubt take a heavy toll in our future. We denounce the neglect shown by our politicians in the face of this woe.

8. Since national awareness is so poor, environmental issues are not either addressed from a national standpoint. These issues, besides taking a health and environmental approach, should be subject to study from a national perspective, in order to have them focus, for one, on energy sovereignty, or the road and railway network and the role played by them in the Basque Country’s internal cohesion, e.g. Upper Navarre and Lower Navarre are nowadays unconnected from a mobility perspective.

9. Since national awareness is so poor, we get stuck in hang-ups, with the Basque Country showing a strong Messianic inclination, exemplified by San Francis Xavier and Saint Ignatius of Loiola. In a grand pursuit of metaphysical sublimation and following the loss of their homes, they, one defeated in war and the other on the winning side, devoted themselves to solving the issues of the world. We assert that political naiveté is closely associated to Messianism and a goody-goody political outlook. We seem to be inclined to solve all the world’s issues. Now like in the past, our youth and those not so young are attempting to set themselves as models and examples for the world, engaging straight in a “missionary” pursuit. Some are attempting to revolutionize the world, while others join Spanish and French “non-governmental” organizations, for the glory and honour of these groups. In the meantime, we remain deprived of our own home property, with our domestic issues unsettled; as the saying goes, “physician, heal thyself”.

10. Since national awareness is so poor, there is little interaction with other European stateless nations like ours, e.g. Wales, Scotland, Catalonia, Flanders, Friesland, Corsica, Galicia, South Tyrol. Where some activists cry “internationalism” we understand “inter-state solidarity”, since they are based on international relations with states far away from us, both geographically and sociologically: Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Palestine…

11. Since national awareness is so poor, our politicians have prioritized the establishment of a new state, if anything, neglecting or playing down the relevance of nation. We fear in turn that Txillardegi’s most pessimistic model, the “Irish model”, may be looming ever closer. Ireland achieved its state, but lost the nation. Therefore, we reject deprecating nation in order to build a state