There is a long tradition in the Basque Country of international aid work. Among the illustrious roll call of names through history that we could mention, today it’s time to remember the figure of Begoña Sopelana Basauri. Born in Iurreta, Bizkaia, on June 23, 1944, she studied education, graduating in 1962.
After working in an administrative capacity through the 1960s, in 1968 she took up a new challenge and spent two years in El Salvador on a volunteer program, teaching daycare techniques as well as working as a medical advisor. On her return to the Basque Country she went on to study sociology and in 1977 she returned to El Salvador, where she worked in the field of education for marginalized persons. It was there that she met, and worked with, Archbishop Óscar Romero, who was assassinated in 1980 for speaking out against the injustices of the regime in his homeland.
She worked in the violent unstable atmosphere of El Salvador through the early 1980s, principally in the field of providing a basic education for the children of the economically impoverished and socially excluded. In 1987, she was central to the construction of Las Vueltas, a purpose-built community in which she organized classes to train people to become teachers. She was especially interested in empowering women in this regard as well as in promoting community projects.
In 1993 she returned to Iurreta on account of her failing health. She died in her home town in 1999.
On November 14, 2012, Las Vueltas was declared a city with zero illiteracy. This was officially communicated as the “Begoña Sopelana” declaration.
In 2015, a monument was erected in her honor in Las Vueltas.
If you’re interested in the topic of international aid work and Basque involvement therein, check out the CBS publication Development Cooperation: Facing the Challenges of Global Change, edited by Koldo Unceta and Amaia Arrinda. The book is available free to download here.
We have already come across one of the great bertsolariak, improvisers, Fernando Aire Etxart, better known as Xalbador, on a couple of other occasions here on the blog. He was present during the events surrounding the creation of the San Francisco Basque Club, as noted here, and he was involved in one of the most (in)famous moments in the history of bertsolaritza or Basque improvised oral poetry, as recounted here.
A dedication to Xalbador in Urepele. Photo by Harrieta171. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
Born on June 19, 1920 in Urepele, Lower Navarre, Aire took the name Xalbador from that of the family baserri or farmstead, “Xalbadorenea.” Interestingly, his mother had been born in Los Angeles, into a family from the same area, before returning to the Basque Country. He remained in Urepele all his life, working as a shepherd, and from an early age discovered a talent for improvising verses. He married Leoni Etxebarren in 1943 and the couple had four children. In his bertsoak, verses, he was serious and at time melancholic, but also highly lyrical and poetic, and was at the top of his game in the 1960s. He died of a heart attack in his home village of Urepele in 1976.
For more information about bertsiolaritza in general and Xalbador, see Voicing the Moment, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika, available free to download here.
Nowadays, a defining feature of political life in the Basque Country is the system of autonomy that allows for a significant amount of decentralized decision-making authority. Currently, there are two different statues of autonomy for the Basque Country and Navarre. In the early 1930s, however, prior to the passing of a constitution for the Second Spanish Republic, a project for joint statute for the four provinces in Hegoalde was agreed on at a meeting of Basque mayors at the Gayarre Theater in Pamplona-Iruñea.
The Gayarre Theater in Pamplona-Iruñea. Photo by Eaeaea. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The draft Statute of Estella as it was known, drawn up by Eusko Ikaskuntza (the Society of Basque Studies), was approved on June 14, 1931 by a varied collective of mayors, with a Basque nationalist and traditionalist Carlist majority, from the four provinces of Hegoalde. One interesting feature of this draft proposal was to reserve the right for the projected Basque-Navarrese autonomous region to establish a separate and distinct relationship with the Vatican.
Ultimately, however, this draft proposal was never implemented and it was not until civil war broke out in 1936 that an autonomy statute was granted to the provinces of Araba, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa.
To read more about the political development of Hegoalde, check out Modern Basque History by Cameron Watson, available free to download here. And see Basque Political Systems, edited by Pedro Ibarra and Xabier Irujo, free to download here.
One of the grimmest episodes in the whole French Revolution took place in 1794 with the forced deportation of thousands of Basques from several border communities in Lapurdi, a forced population transfer (long before Stalin’s infamous demographic machinations) that was part of the Jacobin excesses associated with Robespierre’s reign of terror and that resulted in deprivation and death for many innocent people; an event we covered in a previous post here.
City Hall in Donibane Lohizune (1823). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
With the fall of Robespierre and the Jacobins, the Girondins returned to power and set about seeking revenge for their own persecution during the reign of terror. In the Basque Country, this was played out against the backdrop of the deportation, with those responsible being sought out. Thus on June 3, 1795, in Donibane Lohizune, a military judge from the Army of the Western Pyrenees (one of the French Republic’s military forces) sentenced six councilmembers from that town, including the former mayor Alexis Pagès, as well as two people from neighboring Azkaine, to prison for their role in the deportation.
For more information on the French Revolution in the Basque Country, check out Philippe Veyrin, The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, amnd Lower Navarre, available free to download here.