Month: January 2016 (page 1 of 2)

January 27, 1794: The French Revolution and the Basque Language

On January 27, 1794, during the initial period of Revolutionary fervor in France, the French politician Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac presented a report by the Committee of Public Safety (the de facto executive authority in France during this early stage of the Revolution) on the different languages spoken in France. The report famously states that, “Federalism and superstition speak Breton; emigration and hatred for the Revolution speak German; the counter revolution speaks Italian, and fanaticism speaks Basque. let us cast out the instruments of shame and terror” (emphasis added).

File written by Adobe Photoshop¨ 4.0

Portrait of  by Bertrand Barère de Vieuzac byJean-Louis Laneuville. Image uploaded by Alberia torkenluvin, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to studies on Basque history, this is a much quoted text, with many observers seeing it as the starting point for a systematic attempt by the new French Republic to eliminate Basque from public life in Iparralde. It has also been commented on by various Center publications.

Juan Madariaga Orbea’s Anthology of Apologists and Detractors of the Basque Language dedicates a whole section to Barère de Vieuzac (pp. 451-58) in which a substantial part of the report (translated into English) is reproduced.  In Madariaga Orbea’s own words, earlier in the work (p. 148):

From a theoretical and symbolic standpoint French was presented as the instrument that could attain universal values, the “general will,” and express philosophical and scientific concepts; it was to be a tool of unity and progress. All other languages spoken in the land were the legacy of diversity, of “individual will,” of confusion, discord, and the inability to speak in a civilized fashion. Otherwise, as these other languages were presented in profoundly inferior terms, they were rarely, if ever, called languages, rather, in the best of cases, they were referred to as “speech” and most commonly “cant,” “dialects,” or “manners of speech.” It should not be forgotten that among those patois were tongues that in other countries were considered national languages, such as Italian and German. Be that as it may, as the Revolution advanced, the language = unity equation (as opposed to patois = diversity) became deeply entrenched. From a political standpoint, the French language was the expression of all things national and revolutionary, whereas the patois were vehicles for servility, feudalistic thinking, fanaticism, superstition, slavery, barbarity, etc. French was “the language of liberty,” whereas mention was made of “servile” or “slave” tongues. In simple terms, the political message of the French Revolution was “one nation, one language.”

For Joseba Agirreazkenuaga, in The Making of the Basque Question, the report implied that “people who spoke other languages apart from the French language became ‘enemies’ of France and the use of languages began to become a political issue” (p. 134).

Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga, however, in The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006, points out that, “as the Barère Report also demonstrated, there was a high degree of republican public spirit in Iparralde, even if it was accompanied by an equally high degree of ideological activism by the clergy against the Republic. Thus, once again initially, at least, there was an attempt to instrumentalize Euskara to disseminate republican values through the translation of legal and revolutionary texts into the Basque language” (p. 35), even if this policy was soon dropped by the Revolutionary authorities.

See also, more generally on the issue of minority languages and nation-states, Language Rights and Cultural Diversity, edited by Xabier Irujo and Viola Miglio. This work also discusses Barère de Vieuzac’s report and (p. 16) contends that:

Barère does not argue for any intrinsic superiority of French—its superiority comes from its status as the national language, as a unifying principle for the newly minted post-Revolutionary state. Barère does comment on the supposed inferiority of the other languages present on the French territory (jargons barbares, idiomes grossiers, see below), claiming that they must be sacrificed in the name of national unity and internal coherence, that is, cultural standardization.

Pintxoak Highlight Reno’s First Artown Heritage Sessions This Friday, January 29

Photo Jan 27, 3 36 40 PM

The pintxo, a little bite of heaven.

Pintxoak and live music are going to be served up at the inaugural Heritage Sessions event partnership between Reno’s beloved cultural juggernaut Artown—which takes over most Reno-ites’ social schedules for in-town events during the month of July—and the Heritage Restaurant at the Whitney Peak Hotel (Reno’s only full-service nongaming and nonsmoking hotel) on Friday night. These events will celebrate up-and-coming indie music acts and innovative culinary arts and so of course it is no surprise at all, given their innovative and constantly evolving nature, that executive chef Ben Deinken has chosen to prepare Donostia*-style pintxoak. They will be served accompanied by the indie folk/baroque pop of Paper Bird from Denver, Colorado.

It’s hard not to want to try them all!

(*Donostia is the Basque name for the beautiful Basque seaside city known as San Sebastián in Spanish and officially as Donostia-San Sebastián, which is also coincidentally the 2016 European Capital of Culture.)

Pintxoak (the plural of pintxo in Basque, it is also common to see pintxos in Spanish) are Basque tapas and while sometimes they are relatively “simple” things like Spanish tortilla or jamon serrano and bread, in some places, in Donostia especially, they have evolved into complicated culinary small bites. They come in both hot and cold varieties. In Donostia and elsewhere in the Basque Country an entire evening can easily be filled up with walking from place to place sampling a pintxo  or two, or three, as in my case above 😉 and either a zurito (small beer) or a txikito (small wine).

Of course, Reno is no stranger to Basque food and culture, although Donostia-style pintxoak may be something of a surprise for eaters more used to the heartier fare of the typical family-style Western US Basque restaurant. So, if you’re reading us in Reno, this will be a fun and unique event and I for one won’t miss it!

The Eusko: Basque money aimed at stimulating the local Basque economy

On January 31, 2013, the eusko was launched in Iparralde. It is a local alternative currency in paper format with an equivalency of one eusko to one euro, and available in denominations of one, two, five, ten, and twenty euskos.


“What, you’re still not in the eusko?” “The Eusko in everyone’s hands.” Photo by Joxemai, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The aim of the eusko is to encourage people to spend money locally, in participating stores and businesses (many of which also encourage the presence and use of the Basque language in their establishments), so as to stimulate local economic development and help the environment by cutting down on the use of long supply chains.

Since its launch, the eusko has become increasingly popular. Indeed, just recently Hendaia (Hendaye in French), with a population of 17,000 inhabitants, voted to support the project by officially encouraging use of the eusko in the town. In the words of mayor Kotte Ecenaro, “elected officials of all persuasions have seen in this currency a good deed in favor of the local economy and the Basque language.”

See a report on this initiative at Mediabask (in French) here.

See also the Wikipedia entry on the eusko here.

The association behind this initiative is Euskal Moneta (Basque money). See its website here for news and updates on how the eusko is taking root in Iparralde.

Check out Basque Economy from Industrialization to Globalization, by Mikel Gómez Uranga, free to download here.

Basque Wine Blog: Riojano or Basque wine or both?

Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to keep up on the news that is slowly coming out of the Rioja region in regards to the wishes of Alavesa producers.  Whether its a world-renowned restaurant in New York, or just personal taste, many wine lovers tend to think that the Alavesa sub-region of Rioja produces the best wine in the country.  Like many wine-producing regions of the world, some Alavesa producers would like to differentiate themselves as a sub-region, distinct from the rest of the bigger Rioja DOC (Denominación de Origen Calificada, Qualified designation of origin). Those in charge of the DOC have been, until recently, firmly against any additional labeling of sub-regions. This stand against differentiation was ultimately what contributed to Artadi, a well-known wine-producer, to leave the Rioja DOC and go off on its own.  However, interestingly enough, it appears that the DOC has now agreed to help support the sub-regions in labeling to distinguish themselves from the larger Rioja DOC.

This currently leaves Artadi outside the DOC on its own, but its director, Juan Carlos Lopez de LaCalle, stated that they have had more demand for their wines since the secession, because they are receiving support form people that like the change.

It will be interesting to see what the other Alavesa bodegas do in the near future – can’t help but hear The Clash in the background  “Should I stay or should I go now?”



New Documentary Film on Traditional Basque Sports

Rogue Fitness, and independent fitness equipment sales company, recently produced this interesting documentary about traditional Basque sports (also known as rural sports) based on feats of strength and rooted in rural labor such as farm chores and quarrying. These sports include stone lifting, wood chopping, anvil lifting, tug-of-war, weight carrying, and stone dragging.

As well as explaining what Basque traditional sports are, through the direct testimonies of their most famous exponents, the film also reveals much about Basque culture in general and includes some beautiful cinematography of the Basque Country. Most of the focus of the film is given over to the harrijasotzaileak or stone lifters, with detailed explanations of how the stones themselves are cut, how the stone lifters approach their task, and so on.

For a great introduction to Basque culture in general, click here to download Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives by William A. Douglass and Joseba Zulaika for free.

You may also be interested in Basque Pelota: A Ritual, an Aesthetic by Olatz González Abrisketa, which is the most comprehensive introduction in English to this most Basque of sports, which famously took root in the US in the form of Jai alai.

January 20, 1940: A Milestone in Basque emigration to Argentina

On January 20, 1940, Argentinian president Roberto Marcelino Ortiz and minister of agriculture José Padilla signed into law a decree authorizing expanded Basque immigration into that country and allowing the immigration of Basques from Spain and France “with the documentation that they possess.”


Basque emigrants to Argentina

Xabier Irujo writes about this decree in his Expelled from the Motherland: 

On August 30, 1939, the Basque government delegation in Buenos Aires established the Pro-Basque Immigration Committee. Through this committee, Basque refugees managed to persuade Argentina’s President Ortiz to sign immigration decrees on January 20 and July 18, 1940; Vice President Ramón S. Castillo signed another decree on August 12. According to the decrees, all Basque refugees—without distinction, including those without documents—could enter Argentina without undergoing quarantine, which was obligatory for all other immigrants, and after two weeks they would obtain full Argentine citizenship. There was only one condition: the committee had to verify that the refugees were Basques. (p. 106)

This decree was an important recognition and in the words of Basque president José Antonio Aguirre (as quoted in José  Manuel Azcona Pastor’s Possible Paradises: Basque Emigration to Latin America) the decree meant “the recognition of honor, as men and as a people, for the Basques” (p. 400).

NOTE: Unfortunately (for us!) graduate student Iker Saitua is nearing completion of his dissertation in history so will no longer have the time to share his great “Flashback Friday” posts with us, but we congratulate him on his progress and thank him for sharing so much historical knowledge with us and we will continue in his tradition every sharing a “this week in Basque history” every Friday.

Innovation and Values Reviewed in the Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas

We were pleased to see this great review appear of Javier Echeverria’s book Innovation and Values: A European Perspective in the respected journal the Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas (Spanish Review of Sociological Research). Read the review (in Spanish) here.  The book, part of our Douglass Scholar series, is the result of research that Javier Echeverria conducted while he was here at the Center as the William A. Douglass distinguished scholar.

innovation and values

This important book seeks to understand “innovation,” a rather murky word that suffers from a glut of progandandizing both here and across the Atlantic.  Echeverria tackles the subject by arguing that, rather than solely focusing on R&D processes, true innovation stems from a number of sources that are social, cultural, public, political, and business and combinations of all of the above. In the opinion of the reviewer, and Echeverria, the European communities’ focus solely on R&D is to the detriment of true innovation. Instead, Echeverria argues for a different model of innovation that is based on society, innovation, development, and research.

In summary, the reviewer says:  “El rigor académico mostrado por este trabajo hace que sea una contribución de gran envergadura para el avance del estatus científico de los estudios de innovación y una referencia a la que los interesados en este campo podremos recurrir constantemente en busca de una hoja de ruta para nuestras propias investigaciones y análisis.” (“The academic rigor demonstrated by this work makes it a contribution of great importance for the advancement of the scientific status of innovation studies and a reference that those of us who are interested in the field will return to constantly in search of road map for our own research and analysis.”)

Zorionak Javier on this great review!


January 20th is a special day for every citizen of Donostia. It’s San Sebastian Day, the festival where thousand of people, from kids to adults, take their drums to the streets to play Raimundo Sarriegi’s compositions. You can hear some of the compositions, including Donostiako Martxa, the unofficial hymn of Donostia, in Eresbil’s webpage.

Wearing all kind of fake military uniforms, cook costumes, and traditional Basque costumes, each of the danborrada (tamborrada in Spanish), a group of drum players representing schools, associations, and gastronomic clubs, walk the streets of the Old City, the downtown and the outskirts of Donostia.

Kids playing drums during the 2010 Danborrada, by Donostia-San Sebastian 2016.

Kids playing drums during the 2010 Danborrada, by Donostia-San Sebastian 2016.

The festival has it roots in the Napoleonic invasion of the city, when young people will make fun of the soldiers and their parades. In the late 19th century, the danborrada was one of the various carnival activities. In the 20th century, San Sebastian day grown to become the mayor festival in the city. During the last years, the main change has been the more and more active participation of women, which are now more visible.

In 2016, San Sebastian Day is even more special, because it’s the starting point of Donostia’s year as European Capital of Culture.

Basque Program at 2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

As we mentioned last Fall, a part of this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival will be dedicated to Basque culture. For an introduction to the Basque Program at the festival, “Innovation by Culture,” click here.


Basque rowing team competing in Zarautz, Gipuzkoa. Photo by Imanol Lasa, at the Gipuzkoa Provincial Archive, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Part of this general introduction includes an interesting outside perspective on Basque culture by one of the festival curators, Anne Sandager Pedersen, who, together with co-curator Mary Linn, carried out a fieldwork trip to the Basque Country last Fall. In her blog post, which you can read in full here, she underscores three important ideas about Basque culture that they took back to the US and that will form part of the Basque Program at this year’s festival: resiliency, innovation, and community-building.

If you haven’t already done so, you can download a free copy of Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives by William A. Douglass and Joseba Zulaika, a great introduction to the culture of this rich land that also incorporates many of the personal fieldwork experiences of these two eminent anthropologists. Click here for your free download.

Prominent American Women of Basque Descent: Cristina Saralegui

Born in Miramar, Cuba, in 1948, journalist, broadcaster, and entrepreneur Cristina Saralegui, whose family later moved to Miami, is the most famous talk-show host of all time on Spanish-language TV in the United States.


Cristina Saralegui during her show at the Beacon Theatre, New York City, March 31, 1992. Photo by José Oquendo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Her own background, recounted in detail in her autobiography Cristina! My Life as  a Blonde, is a fascinating example of how preserving a Basque sense of identity was crucial to her family.  Her grandfather, Francisco Saralegui Arrizubieta from Lizartza, Gipuzkoa, originally went to the Americas at age seven with virtually nothing to his name. Eventually, he became the foremost entrepreneur in the paper industry in Cuba, earning the nickname “the Paper Czar.” With the money he earned, he was determined his own children should not forget their roots and besides a mansion in Miramar, outside Havana, he also set up home in Donostia-San Sebastián for his family. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, the family was left stranded in the Basque Country. Francisco, who was in Cuba at the time, could not return because he was a Basque nationalist, and he had to arrange for them to be smuggled out of the country.

Eventually, the family business in Cuba expanded to include broader publishing interests, and Cristina’s father, Bebo Saralegui, was also involved in running the firm. Following the Cuban Revolution, the family–made up of her mother, Terina Santamarina, as well as younger siblings Vicky, Patxi, and María Eugenia–relocated to Key Biscayne, Florida, where her youngest brother, Iñaki, would later be born. Cristina went on to study journalism at the University of Miami and enjoyed a successful career in print journalism, becoming editor of the Spanish-language version of Cosmopolitan magazine in 1979. In 1989 she launched El Show de Cristina (The Cristina Show) on the Univisión channel, which enjoyed an unprecedented run until its final broadcast in 2010.

She has won 12 Emmys and is also a successful entrepreneur, running both lifestyle brand Casa Cristina and media company Cristina Saralegui Enterprises. In August 2005, she was named one of the “25 Most Influential Hispanics in America” by Time Magazine and in October of the same year, she became the first Latina to be inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame. She has received the Valor Award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) in recognition of her pioneering efforts in educating her viewers on gay and lesbian issues as well as AIDS awareness and education; the ADCOLOR Award’s All-Star Honoree celebrating outstanding achievements by diverse professionals in advertising, marketing, and media; as well as the Raúl Julía Award of Excellence by The National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. Together with husband Marcos Ávila (a former member of the band the Miami Sound Machine) she also established the Arriba la Vida/Up with Life Foundation in 1996 to educate the Hispanic community in the US about AIDS prevention.

Cristina Saralegui has never hidden her Basque heritage. In her own words (from Cristina! My Life as  a Blonde), “if we Cubans are supernationalistic even though we have been a nation only since the beginning of the twentieth century, the Basques have had that characteristic for a thousand years. I am not a direct product of the tropics… My family is only second-generation Cuban. In fact, we are Basques on all four sides.” She continues: “To be Basque is to be argumentative, complex, unique … Theirs is a reverse society in which the men also cook, the women are stubborn and hard as stone, and everyone survives through obstinacy and pure tenacity.” And for her, Basques are “half savage, half saint–a truly wondrous people.”

Find out more about Cristina Saralegui here.


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