Month: July 2016 (page 1 of 2)

July 29, 1940: British government agrees to back Basque independence in event of Spanish support for Hitler

The tumultuous period between the end of the Spanish Civil War in April 1939 and the outbreak of World War II in September that same year marked a critical time in Basque history. Basques exiles who had fled into France and beyond during and after the Spanish Civil War suddenly found themselves once more prey to the advance of Fascism.

Following the fall of Poland in 1939,  Hitler’s forces swept north and westward in the spring of 1940, taking Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and, finally, France, with Paris falling to the Germans on June 14. In the less than a year most of Western Europe had fallen to the Nazis. Only the United Kingdom held out.

The charismatic leader of the Basque government-in-exile, Jose Antonio Agirre, had gotten caught up in these events and had been forced underground–ultimately in of all places, Berlin–into an incognito existence as he sought an escape from the Fascist clutches (on this, if you haven’t already done so, check out his riveting memoir Escape via Berlin: Eluding Franco in Hitler’s Europe). In his absence, the Basque government-in-exile was replaced by a Basque National Council, headed by Manuel Irujo and based in London.

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Manuel Irujo, Jose Antonio Agirre, and Jose Ignacio Lizaso, London, 1945.

It is during that time, in the interesting period before Agirre’s reappearance in October 1941, that the Basque National Council carried out a series of negotiations, most notably with both the British government and the representatives of Free France (effectively the exiled democratic French government) led by Charles de Gaulle. Most famously, perhaps, these negotiations resulted in the creation of the Gernika Battalion, made up of Basque exiles, which fought with distinction with the French army in defeating the Germans in 1945 (the story of which we covered in a previous post here).

Less well known, certainly, was a fascinating agreement brokered by the Basque National Council in London. Xabier Irujo picks up the story in his Expelled from the Motherland (p. 17):

In less than a month the Basque National Council and the British government had made their first agreement on military collaboration. Robert J. G. Boothby, representing the British government, and Jose Ignacio Lizaso, representing the Basque National Council, signed the first agreement on July 29, 1940, which spelled out that the British government was committed to defending the independence of the Basque Country if the Spanish government went to war on the side of the Axis powers.

Ultimately, and despite plenty of willing on the part of Franco, Spain did not enter the war on the side of Hitler and this agreement was never implemented; yet another example of one of those twists of fate around which history revolves.

If you’re interested in this topic, as well as the abovementioned works, see also War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, available free to download here; and, for more general background, Modern Basque History, by Cameron Watson, available free to download here.

 

Basque dancer joins English National Ballet company: Latest in long line of Basque ballet stars

We know how important dance is to Basques, so it’s interesting to hear that ballet dancer Aitor Arrieta, from Errenteria, Gipuzkoa, has joined the acclaimed English National Ballet company as a junior soloist from his previous position with the Compañía Nacional de Danza in Madrid. What makes Arrieta’s story all the more interesting is that he has a grounding in traditional Basque dance and later made the progression to more classical dance (see videos below).

Other Basques, of course, have also made their name on the international classical dance stage. Fermin Aldabaldetreku or “Pirmin Treku” (1930-2006) from Zarautz, Gipuzkoa, fled the Spanish Civil War as a child for England where he later danced with the Saddler’s Wells Ballet and the Royal Ballet between the late 1940s and early 1960s. At the same time, Gerardo Viana or “Vladimiro” (1925-2013), from Ortuella, Bizkaia, was evacuated to the Soviet Union, where he danced for the Tula Music and Theater company in the 1940s. And they were followed by the likes of (among many others) Xabier Urbeltz (Iruñea-Pamplona, 1942); Ion Beitia (Gueñes, 1947-2016), who danced for the Joffrey Ballet in New York and was nicknamed the “Basque Nijinsky”; Josu Mujika (Elgoibar, 1958); Ion Garnika (Lizarra-Estella, 1962); Jose Antonio Begiristain (Olaberria, 1963); José Anjel Pellejero or “Katxua”; Leire Ortueta (Leioa, 1971), who danced for the Royal Ballet in London in the 1990s; Monica Zamora (Ordizia, 1974); Igor Yebra (Bilbao, 1974); and Asier Uriagereka (Mungia, 1975). Arguably the two most prominent Basque classical dancers on the international stage today, however, are Lucia Lacarra and Itziar Mendizabal.

Probably the best known Basque ballet dancer at the moment, Lucia Lacarra, born in Zumaia, Gipuzkoa, in 1975, danced previously with the San Francisco Ballet (1997-2002) and has been a principal dancer with the Bayerisches Staatsballett (Bavarian State Opera Ballet) since 2002. A recipient of the esteemed Benois de la Danse Prize, she was named the Dancer of the Decade in 2011 at the World Ballet Stars Gala.

Itziar Mendizabal, born in Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa, in 1981, was principal dancer dancer at the Leipzig Ballet, which she joined in 2006, before going to London to join the Royal Ballet in 2010. She is now a first soloist with this renowned English company.

For those of you interested in all aspects of Basque dance, check out Oier Araolaza’s Basque Dance, published by the Etxepare Basque Institute and available free to download here.

Basque Country achieves one of highest Human Development Index scores in world

Eustat, the Basque Statistics Institute, recently revealed that the Basque Country  is now in eighth place in a list of all countries according to the Human Development Index (HDI) ranking.

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UN HDI Rankings for 2014. The darker the blue, the higher the ranking. Image by Tomtom2732, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The HDI is a United Nations measure of well-being in a country, based on multiple factors such as life expectancy, education, and income per capita. Eustat calculated the Basque Country’s HDI for the period of 2010-2014, using the methodology of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It found that, with an HDI of 0.915, the Basque Country was ranked eighth overall in the world, behind Norway, Australia, Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, and Ireland, in joint position with the United States. and ahead of France (22nd, with an HDI of 0.888) and Spain (26th, with an HDI of 0.876).

Of special note is life expectancy in the Basque Country, which at 83.4 means that only the inhabitants of Hong Kong (84) and Japan (83.5) enjoy longer lives.

Read more at the Eustat website: The Basque Country has achieved one of the highest Human Development Index scores in the world

If you’re interested in this topic, check out The Basque Experience: Constructing Sustainable Human Development, by Juan Jose Ibarretxe. In this work, former lehendakari (Basque president) Ibarretxe explores just how the Basque Country has been able to rise so swiftly in the HDI rankings in the face of the multiple challenges it has faced in recent decades.

 

2016 pastorala celebrates life of Jean Pitrau

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The annual pastorala, an epic play performed by a large number of amateurs all from the same locality and a unique cultural phenomenon particular to Zuberoa (or Xiberoa), took place last Sunday, July 24, in Atharratze-Sorholüze and will be repeated once more in the same location on August 7, with a third performance scheduled to take place in Otsagabia (Nafarroa) on August 15.

As noted, this year it is the turn of the people of Atharratze-Sorholüze to perform the pastorala, which celebrates the life of one of the town’s own charismatic historical figures: Jean Pitrau (1929-1975), who went by the nickname of “Erbin.” Pitrau was famed for defending farmers’ rights and the traditional way of life in rural communities. He was among the founders of the European rural labor movement.

The pastorala is a performance comprising the spoken word, song, and dance, which is made up of the rhythmic, almost hypnotic, repetition of ideas. It always celebrates a historical figure of some importance and invariably involves some element of tragedy. Every pastorala portrays a clear picture of good and evil, giving the performance its ancient epic quality. In many ways it is less about spectacle and more about community involvement, binding social ties, and reinforcing communal roots. This year’s pastorala was written by the renowned Basque musician and singer from Xiberoa, Pier Paul Berzaitz.

Check out this short film of the immediate build-up to Sunday’s performance by photographer Séverine Dabadie (and be sure to take a look at her YouTube site here for other great Basque-themed videos).

Follow the pastorala on facebook here. And a DVD of the event can be purchased here.

The wonderful Kanaldude, a local community TV station dedicated to representing the distinct culture and identity of inland Iparralde, has produced a series of reports focusing on the preparations for this year’s pastorala. These reports include interviews with the local people taking part, and show them in their everyday lives as well as rehearsing for the event. Check out these reports, from May 4, June 29, July 12, and July 20.

Bombing of Otxandio remembered in emotional gathering

On July 22, 1936, barely days after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the insurgent forces bombed the town of Otxandio in Bizkaia. The town was holding its annual fiesta and was full of people; 61 people (24 of them children) were killed, and many more injured, in the attack that sadly counts as the first airborne bombing of a civilian population on European soil in history.

According to eye-witnesses, some planes started flying over the town that July morning. They bore the insignia of the Spanish Republic, against which the military uprising had just taken place. They were flying low and the pilots even waved to the people beginning to gather in the main square because of the fiesta. naturally the planes attracted special attention among the children of the town. Then everything changed as the planes suddenly started dropping bombs, destroying everyone and everything in the town center. The attack lasted for 25 minutes.

One of the pilots involved in the attack was Ángel Salas, from another Bizkaian town, Urduña. Following Franco’s victory in the war, the pro-Franco authorities in Urduña named him an honored son of the town. At the emotional gathering in Otxandio, yesterday, to remember the event on its 80th anniversary, the current mayoress of Urduña publicly expressed her apologies on the part of her town for this and that the name of Salas would be removed from the list of its honored citizens.

See a report on yesterday’s memorial by Basque public television (in Spanish) here.

 

July 22, 1795: Basque territory included in Peace of Basel

The Peace of Basel, signed on July 22, 1795 between Revolutionary France and the Kingdom of Spain, ended the War of the Pyrenees (1793-1795). During that war, French troops had occupied much of Hegoalde and there was even support among certain groups in Gipuzkoa for the province being fully annexed by France.

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War of the Pyrenees, 1793-1795. Created by Djmaschek, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

In the negotiations leading up to the signing of the Peace of Basel in 1795 the French enjoyed the upper hand and seriously considered holding on to Gipuzkoa, but ultimately the wider global context–and especially the offer of economically appealing terrain in the Caribbean–meant that Gipuzkoa would be returned to the Kingdom of Spain.

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Map of Hispaniola by Nicolas de Fer. Original in The John Carter Brown Library, Brown University. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A century earlier, by the Treaty of Ryswick (1697), the western part of the Spanish-controlled island of Hispaniola had been ceded to the French, who were eager to expand their own power and influence in the Caribbean. Indeed, this was a feature of both pre- and post-revolutionary France. During the negotiations over the 1795 peace treaty, Spain was desperate to recover its lost “national” territory (and punish those people in in Gipuzkoa who had sided with the French), so much so that it offered France complete control of Hispaniola in exchange for the return of the occupied Basque lands (and other territory in Catalonia).

Additionally, there was an annex to the treaty by which any Basques in Hegoalde (and specifically Gipuzkoa) who had shown sympathies for the occupying French were given guarantees of receiving no reprisals from Spanish authorities. Yet the immediate effects of the treaty for Gipuzkoa, and Donostia-San Sebastián in particular, were severe: many of the political and military leaders who had attempted to broker a deal with the French invaders were arrested, along with ordinary citizens, and sentenced to jail sentences, exile, and even in one case–that of José Javier Urbiztondo–death by hanging.

Across the Atlantic, France found it increasingly difficult to hold the island and its forces were withdrawn in 1803. Following a successful slave revolt, the independent Republic of Haiti (in the western part of the island marking the original territory of French settlement) was proclaimed in 1804. In the eastern part of the island, meanwhile, a more tortuous path eventually resulted in a lasting independence (following previous attempts in 1821 and 1844) for the Dominican Republic in 1865.

Errobiko Festibala: Where the global meets the local

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Today, July 21, sees the kick-off of Errobiko Festibala, another great festival of sound and spectacle running through July 24 that, shame on us, we failed to include in our previous post on music festivals this summer in the Basque Country.  So by way of an apology let’s celebrate this great gathering, whose slogan “Izan, Erran, Sortu” (Be, Say, Create) we wholeheartedly endorse!

The festival is held in Itsasu, Lapurdi, and this year’s event includes the specially commissioned performance “Antigone Argia” (The Antigone Light), a blend, of music, dance, and rhythm based on Henry Bauchau’s novel Oedipus on the Road.

On the music side, there will be the Greek-inspired folk of Anatoli, formed by Angélique Ionatos and Katerina Fotinaki, some Basque blues and melodic rock courtesy of Joseba Irazoki and Beñat Achiary, the jazz sounds of two trios, one formed by Andy Emler, Claude Tchamitchian, and Eric Echampard, and the other by Sylvain Darrifourcq, Manuel Hermia, and Valentin Ceccaldi, and the headliner of this year’s festival, the singer-songwriter and poet Danyel Waro, from the Indian Ocean island of Réunion. 

The festival closes on Sunday with the singular opportunity to take part in a poetic hike to nearby Mount Mondarrain, a multi-sensory experience that will include improvised music along the way on the part of the artists taking part in the festival.

 

 


 

Basque locations for upcoming season of HBO Series Game of Thrones

It was confirmed recently that the dramatic setting of the Itzurun Beach in Zumaia, Gipuzkoa, will provide one of the locations for season 7 of HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones. Shooting will take place over 6 days in late October.

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Itzurun Beach, Zumaia. Photo by Kurtxio, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The beach features one of the world’s best examples of the flysch sequence of sedimentary rocks. See a previous post we did on the area here and a report on the story here.

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The Gaztelugatxe islet, Bermeo, Bizkaia. Photo by multisanti, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Basque dailies Gara and Berria report that filming for the series will also take place in Bermeo, Bizkaia; and that the show previously shot some scenes in the equally dramatic “badlands” setting of the Bardenas Reales/Errege Bardeak in Navarre. See the original reports by Gara (in Spanish) here and here, and Berria (in Basque) here.

Mutriku Wave Energy Plant celebrates fifth anniversary

Yesterday, July 18, the Mutriku Wave Energy Plant in Gipuzkoa, the world’s first breakwater wave power plant with a multiple turbine arrangement, run by the Basque Country Energy Agency, celebrated its fifth anniversary. The relatively scarce development of oceanic wave energy makes the Mutriku site a pioneer project at the global level.

The Mutriku Wave Energy Plant has just produced its first gigawatt of electricity from the breakwaters of the Mutriku harbor, enough to supply a hundred homes. But the plant is also also an experimental site, used to test out turbines and auxiliary equipment.

As regards the technical specifications, the plant itself is a hollow, trapezoidal structure with a submerged front opening and an opening at the top. The front opening is 3.20m high and four meters wide. Each of the 16 air chambers in the hollow structure houses a turbine weighing 1,200kg. The turbines are 2.83m high and four meters wide, and work with air. They do not, however, contain a gearbox, hydraulics, or pitching blades.The 16 turbines are connected to an 18.5kW turbo generator. A butterfly valve at the bottom of the generator enables isolation of the generator from the turbines whenever required. Any salts or impurities blocking the blades are removed by injecting fresh water. The plant is also installed with control and power conditioning equipment. The voltage of the current is stepped up using a transformer near the plant. Generated power is transferred through a transmission line.

For further and more detailed information on the project, see “Mutriku Wave Power Plant: From The Thinking Out to The Reality.”

If you’re interested in this topic, check out the Center publication Sustainable Development, Ecological Complexity, and Environmental Values, edited by Ignacio Ayestarán and Miren Onaindia. This is a fascinating study of how global issues such as sustainability are addressed at the local scale, in this case in the Basque Country.

Basque Diaspora under the spotlight at University of the Basque Country Summer School

July 18-19: As part of the University of the Basque Country’s annual summer school, a course titled “El (nuevo) papel de la diáspora vasca en la Euskadi del siglo XXI” (The (new) role of the Basque Diaspora in the 21st-century Basque Country) is being given in Donostia-San Sebastián.

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Food products in Argentina marketed as specifically Basque-Argentinian would seem to suggest a kind of hybrid transatlantic identity. Photo by Gastón Cuello , courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The aim of the course is to explore the current reality of the Basque Diaspora and discuss what role it should play in the contemporary Basque Country. Different speakers will discuss topics ranging from the foreign policy of the Basque government in general and its specific strategy regarding the diaspora, to the nature of particular Basque Diaspora communities in Argentina, the US, and Europe. What’s more there will be general talks about the diaspora concept in general, the challenges posed by globalization, and the comparative case of the Irish Diaspora.

For more information and to see the full program, click here.

If you are interested in the topic of the Basque Diaspora, the Center has published several books in its Diaspora and Migration Studies collection.

 

 

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