Category: Basque history (page 1 of 29)

September 18, 1970: Political self-immolation by Joseba Elosegi

On September 18, 1970, the Basque nationalist activist Joseba Elosegi set fire to and threw himself in front of General Franco, the dictator of Spain, while he was attending an international pelota championship in Donostia-San Sebastián.

Joseba Elosegi (1915-1990).

Joseba Elosegi (1915-1990).

As a soldier in the Basque army in the civil war, he had witnessed the bombing of Durango on March 31, 1937, and was present in Gernika during its infamous bombardment on April 26 that same year. He was ultimately captured and sentenced to death but his was life was spared when he was exchanged for a pro-Franco prisoner being held by the pro-Republic forces. He subsequently went into exile in France, from where he took part in the anti-Franco resistance movement, as well as aiding the Allies in getting airmen whose planes had been shot down across the border from occupied France into neutral Spain. On July 18, 1946, he was involved in one of the most daring acts of civil disobedience against the Franco regime. That day marked the tenth anniversary of Franco’s military uprising and a group of activists hoisted the banned Basque flag, the ikurriña, atop the Buen Pastor Cathedral in Donostia-San Sebastián. He was detained by the police and served some jail time before returning to exile.

In September 1970, the fifty-four-year-old Elosegi carried out an act of self-immolation in protest at the horrors of the Franco regime.  In the words of Cameron J. Watson, in Basque Nationalism and Political Violence (pp. 161-62):

Elosegi, a witness to the destruction of Gernika, in an act of self-immolation,set his own body on fire and threw himself before the dictator, shouting “Gora Euskadi Askatuta!” [Long live the free Basque Country!] He survived, however, and later recalled that the incident represented the last desperate act of a former gudari [Basque soldier] who had obsessively remembered the scenes he saw in Gernika for over thirty years before feeling the compulsion to repeat in his protest the flames he had witnessed in the town that day. “Death does not frighten me,” he later wrote . . .  “it is an obligatory end. When one is born, the journey toward death has begun.” In throwing himself before Franco, he had “symbolically wanted to convey to him the fire of Gernika,” for its destruction, a Holocaust-like offering to the technological advances of Nazi Germany, represented for many Basques an attack on their very existence.

He almost died as a result of the act and spent several days in a critical condition. He survived, only to be condemned to seven years in prison, of which he served three. After Franco’s death, he served as an elected representative in the Spanish Senate for both the EAJ-PNV and later EA, two Basque nationalist parties, between 1979 and 1989. In June 1984, in one final act of civil disobedience, he removed physically a Basque flag from an exhibition in Madrid titled “Flags of the Republican side during the war of liberation,” and was spared legal action against him on account of his position in the Senate.

He died at the age of seventy-four in 1990.

Getting to Know Basque Books: Journeys, Fruits, Neighbors

Journeys, Fruits, Neighbors by Maite Gonzalez Esnal is a beautifully written book about the life experiences of Esnal, all under the three themes; her journeys as an adult linguist, the fruits she associates with her school days (figs and pomegranates) and the neighbors of her childhood home growing up in the Basque country during Franco’s dictatorship. 

Journeys, Fruits, Neighbors  is one of my favorites of the books we publish here at the Center for Basque Studies Press for multiple reasons. First and foremost, it is written so well, at times it feels as though you are reading poetry, you can see how red the pomegranate juice is, you can smell the coffee the Good Samaritan gives her. There are quotes that cut deeply and explain emotion and memory in a way only fantastic writing can. I was talking to the editor here, Daniel Montero, last week about how the author not only wrote this novel, but did her own translations from Basque to English, and I was amazed. To be this gifted at writing, not only in your native language but to be able to translate it into another language and have such beautiful, almost surreal imagery translate, was an unimaginable talent to me.

Maite Gonzalez Esnal; to read more about the publication of Journeys, Fruits, Neighbors, click here: https://bit.ly/2M03wXc

Maite Gonzalez Esnal; to read more about the publication of Journeys, Fruits, Neighbors, click here: https://bit.ly/2M03wXc

This novel, aside from the beauty of it, is also an incredibly interesting story, my favorite being the “neighbors” section of it. It is so heart-breaking, yet innocent, since Esnal wrote it from her experiences as a child, she hints towards tragedy in a way that makes it even more devastating than if she had blatantly said it. Despite the tragedy in the last section, there is a comforting glimmer of hope at the end of the book. The other sections are also great, the “journeys” section being a incredibly detailed travel journal and the “fruits” section being a bit more of a short story collection. It is hard to put this book in a box, which makes it even better. From anyone who liked Eat, Pray, Love to The Book Thief, this book has something for anyone.

September 8, 1749: Birth of Dominique-Joseph Garat, early advocate of Basque political unity

On September 8, 1749, Dominique-Joseph Garat was born in Baiona, Lapurdi. An important political figure in the Northern Basque Country, he drew up plans, which he presented to Napoleon, to unite all the Basque provinces in one political unit–New Phoenicia–that would have remained an autonomous part of the French Empire. Napoleon, however, rejected the idea.

Garat painted by Johann Friedrich Dryander (1794). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Garat painted by Johann Friedrich Dryander (1794). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After studying law in Bordeaux, in 1777 Garat moved to Paris where he worked as a journalist (covering the American Revolution) and teacher. In 1789, he was elected representative of the Third Estate for Lapurdi and in 1792 he was appointed the minister of justice in Revolutionary France, charged with communicating to King Louis XVI his death sentence. Garat resigned after this decision and was arrested twice by the Jacobin authorities. However, following the Jacobin fall from power, from 1794 to 1795 he led the commission charged with implementing the new educational system and in 1798 was named French ambassador to Naples. That same year, he was elected president of the Council of Elders (the upper house of the French Directory) and later became a senator in Napoleonic France.

Garat, c.1814-1816. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Garat, c.1814-1816. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As a senior statesman, Garat subsequently used his political influence to present a plan to Napoleon to create what he termed New Phoenicia, incorporating all the Basque provinces north and south of the Pyrenees. This would, in Garat’s scheme, be an autonomous political unit within the French Empire, and serve as a buffer state between the French Republic and the Kingdom  of Spain. He lobbied to implement his plan on several occasions between 1803 and 1811, but ultimately to no avail. In part, wider events–including the course of the Peninsular War of 1807-1814 (covered in a previous post here)–hindered the feasibility of the scheme.  After opposing Napoleon during the events associated with the arrival of Louis XVIII on the French throne and Napoleon’s subsequent (although brief) return to power in 1814–15, he retired from his post in the senate. He abandoned politics altogether and settled once more in Iparralde, where, in Basusarri, on December 9, 1833, he died.

Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga discusses the importance of Garat at length in his The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006.  According to Ahedo (p. 53):

Garat is a key figure in the political history of Iparralde for his role after the abolition of the Basque institutions with the triumph of the French Revolution. Furthermore, he is also important for the plans he drew up to unite the Basque provinces of both Iparralde and Hegoalde in one political unity: New Phoenicia, a confederation that would have formed a part of the Napoleonic French empire.

 

Edurne Arrives Back to Bilbao and the Basque Country

Puerto Viejo, Algorta

Aupa everyone! I thought I’d check in and tell you about my adventures in the Basque Country while conducting my fieldwork for my dissertation. It’s good to be back! As some of you may know, I spent six years here before hopping across the pond again to Reno. My initial trip was for six months and, well, I guess I liked it a bit too much and got interested in Basque history and culture, leading me to complete my M.A. at the UPV/EHU and then two years at the same institution beginning my Ph.D. studies. So, I’m definitely acquainted with the place which makes my research explorations all the more easier.

I arrived mid-July and didn’t have much time to relax since I attended the 56th Annual International Americanists Congress at the University of Salamanca. There, I not only presented but spent time with my co-director, Óscar Álvarez Gila. We participated in different symposia but got a chance to catch up and talk about my plans. As usual, he motivated me and pushed me toward new directions. When it came to the symposium, I took part in “The Visible and Invisible: A Theoretical and Methodological Approach to the Unheard, Unspoken and Unseen in Gender Studies,” alongside sociologists and psychologists studying contemporary manifestations of gender studies. At first, after reading the schedule, I was hesitant: what was I, a historian focusing on the turn of the century and migration, doing on this panel? However, I was pleasantly surprised. We were a small group, so after presenting, we spent two hours chatting and discussing our work. The feedback I received was fantastic! Sometimes you get so into Basque studies (e.g. everything I see is Basque in some way or related in the most far-off way, I’m annoying like that…) you forget to widen your perspective. In all, it was a great way to start off my fieldwork and made contacts for the future.

Plaza Mayor, Salamanca

Next up, I visited a part of Gipuzkoa I’d never been to: Bergara, Antzuola, Zumarraga, and Legazpi. Spending time with an old friend of my mom, she and her brother told me about the connections they and others had with the States, especially Boise. We also stopped by the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Arantzazu. Beautiful and bewitching, I marveled at the architecture and views of the valley below. While on that trip, I embarked on a quest for a ceramic txakoli pitcher and cups for my dad. I ended up getting them made in Ollerias, where Blanka Gómez de Segura learned the fading technique from the last potter of the area. She has set up a museum and shop and gladly showed me around. Definitely worth visiting! I ended up buying a katilu of my own and had to resist myself in the shop.

Arantzazu

I’ve also visited Lekunberri (Nafarroa) a few times for various reasons. First of all, it’s cooler (in the sense of temperature) and there’s wonderful cheese everywhere (I’m a cheese addict). But from an academic standpoint, I’ve been put in contact with former sheepherders who have found a home there. Antonio, a neighbor, told me all about his experience in Fresno over a period of 40 years. I look forward to talking to him more in depth. I also became aware of a collection of letters preserved in Elantxobe from a sheepherder in Boise to his sister. The niece, Edurne (!), is willing to let me look through them and talk to me about her family and uncle. Besides, there will be lunch involved so two birds with one stone.

All work, no play…

Sheep! mmm…cheese!

Lastly, I attended the Artzai Eguna (Day of the Sheepherder) in Uharte-Arakil on August 26. Although I regret not taking advantage of my time very well while there (too busy trying cheese and cider), I got to see how cheese is made and specimens of the Latxa breed of sheep. The market was bustling, so my usual strategy of asking older men wearing baseball caps whether they’d been to the West didn’t seem appropriate (although it usually works).

Cheesemaking

Latxa Sheep

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, but I also wanted to mention that I finally met my colleague on the blog, Katu, in person for the first time. It’s crazy to think you’ve worked with someone for so long, exchanged countless emails, talked on skype for hours, yet never been in the same room. Luckily, we’ll be working together on a project dealing with Basque rock music in the 80s, so there’s more to come.

I’ll be updating you, our loyal readers, throughout my stay. Leave a comment if you have any questions, tips, or suggestions for my fieldwork. Ondo izan.

September 7, 1826: Birth of Armand David, first Westerner to “discover” the giant panda

On September 7, 1826, Jean-Pierre-Armand David Halsouet was born in Ezpeleta, Lapurdi. A renowned zoologist and botanist, Père David, as he was also known, was the first person in the West to record the existence of the giant panda, among other species.

Armand David (1826-1900). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Armand David (1826-1900). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Born into a wealthy and influential family, from an early age he demonstrated an interest in the natural world. He also felt a religious calling and was ordained as a Lazarist priest, but was also able to continue studying the natural sciences at a Lazarist seminary near Genoa in Italy. Indeed, he spent a decade there before being chosen to go on a mission to China in 1862. He was chosen at the request of the eminent scientist Henri Milne-Edwards, then chair of zoology at the prestigious National Museum of Natural History in Paris, to help in the creation of an inventory of what were then relatively unknown Chinese flora and fauna; while at the same time carrying out missionary duties in the country.

Once in China, he reveled in the opportunity to carry out his assigned task and was commissioned to make more scientific journeys throughout the vast country. Ultimately, he made an inventory of hundreds of species of animals and plants, many of them unknown to the West. Most famously, he brought news back of the giant panda, the first European to do so; and the milu or elaphure, a rare species of deer, was named Père David’s deer in his honor.

Plaque in honor of Armand David, Ezpeleta, Lapurdi. Image by Harrieta171. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Plaque in honor of Armand David, Ezpeleta, Lapurdi. Image by Harrieta171. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He died in Paris in 1900 at the age of seventy-four, a recognized world authority in the study of the natural sciences.

September 8: Basque Diaspora Day

By Kate Camino, for Astero:

Basque Diaspora Day Approaches

Basque GovernmentAs you all may remember, the Basque Government designated September 8th as Diaspora Day last January. The date was chosen after receiving several suggestions from Basques around the world, and because it coincides with the first circumnavigation of the globe, in 1522, by a crew led by Juan Sebastian Elkano who was from Getaria, Gipuzkoa. The hope is, by designating a day dedicated to the Diaspora, activities organized would make the Basque presence around the world more visible. In this its first year, the Basque Government would like to know how your club or Basque community is going to mark this date. Lehendakari Urkullu will be holding his own event at the Lehendakaritza on September 8th where he’d like to share what’s happening around the world. If your Basque club or community is planning an event, please share it with us atinfo@nabasque.eus. If you haven’t planned anything yet, you still have time. This video sums it all up “The Basque Country lives in you.” Ondo ospatu!

 

 

 

August 27, 1893: The Night of Sagasta’s Shots

On the night of August 27-28, 1893, there was spontaneous public outcry in Donostia-San Sebastián at the refusal of the municipal band to play the politically-charged Basque hymn “Gernikako Arbola” (The tree of Gernika), due to the presence in the city of both the queen regent of Spain and the prime minister, Práxedes Sagasta. The resulting protest was met with force by the authorities and by the morning of August 28 three protesters had been killed and many injured.

The resort city of Donostia-San Sebastián was full of people that Sunday, August 27. As the municipal band was entertaining a large crowd, there were requests to play “Gernikako Arbola” but, on the prior orders of city hall, the band’s conductor declined to do so. The song was considered too political by the authorities due to is defense of the Basque fueros, the specific rights on which a form of Basque home rule had existed for centuries, until their abolition in 1876. With both the queen regent and prime minster of Spain summering in the city, the public authorities took the decision to ban any rendition of the song for fear of causing offense to the illustrious visitors.

Tempers rose among many of those attending the concert and some young people set off firecrackers in protest. A demonstration was quickly organized, with shouts of “Long live the fueros!” and “Death to Sagasta!” as it passed by the Londres Hotel, at which the prime minister was staying. The atmosphere grew tenser as more people joined in the protest, and stones were thrown at the hotel. Some people even tried to get over the barriers outside and enter the premises, which resulted around midnight in the appearance of a squad of civil guards that opened fire on the public. Three people were killed: Vicente Urcelay, Rufino Aspiazu, and Justo Perez.

In the days that followed there were more demonstrations and more confrontations between protesters and the security forces. Meanwhile, other demonstrations were taking place throughout the Basque Country in sympathy with the people in Donostia-San Sebastián. At this moment, the city hall intervened, calling on the central authorities to withdraw their security forces and promising to take the initiative to quell the unrest, which, ultimately, it did; although not without leaving a simmering resentment among certain sections of the Basque population. The issue of the abolition of the fueros was, then, still very important even nearly twenty years later.

In Basque Nationalism and Political Violence (p.67), Cameron J. Watson comments on the events:

The violence of the event certainly brought public attention not only to the level of social protest within the Basque provinces, but also to the actions of the Civil Guard, an organization associated with the institutionalization of the liberal state in Spain. Indeed, it was the raison d’être of the organization to serve the Spanish government, whatever its political complexion, against any opposition. The incident also reflected that although a liberal state had been institutionalized, traditional recourse to force, a staple tactic of Spanish government throughout the century, had not been relinquished. The evidence suggests, then, that the liberal state in Spain was not as tolerant as may have been perceived. That same day, a strong military presence had been posted to Bilbao in order to offset republican demonstrations in the city. It was clear from the level of social protest of varying political persuasions that Spain was suffering a grave domestic crisis. However, what was perhaps most significant about the Donostia–San Sebastián disturbance was the scene of these events itself, a place of liberal tradition and the summer residence of the monarchy.

Check out some other posts on the significance of “Gernikako Arbola” here, here, and here.

August 22, 1638: Battle of Getaria

On August 22, 1638, the Battle of Getaria–a naval encounter in the Franco-Spanish War (1635-1659)–took place off the coast of Gipuzkoa. It was won by the French fleet, and marked the first significant victory for the French navy that had been revamped under Cardinal Richelieu, in turn consolidating Richelieu’s position as chief minister under Louis XIII.

In June 1638, Richelieu ordered the invasion of the Kingdom of Spain because French territory was surrounded by hostile Habsburg territories as a result of the Thirty Years’ War. The House of Habsburg was the main rival of the French royal House of Bourbon for political power in much of Europe. French forces crossed the border and besieged the Basque border town of Hondarribia in Gipuzkoa. In turn, the army was accompanied by a fleet between 27 and 44 French warships under Henri de Sourdis, whose mission it was to prevent any aid reaching Hondarribia on the part of the Spanish navy.

The Battle of Getaria, as depicted by Andries van Eertvelt. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Battle of Getaria, as depicted by Andries van Eertvelt. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A Spanish fleet, under Admiral Lope de Hoces, was then ordered to attack the French even though it was significantly smaller in size. De Hoces’ ships sailed into the Basque port of Getaria, further along the coast, from which they took up a defensive position from which to engage the French – the shallower waters preventing the larger French ships from close engagement. However, de Sourdis employed a twofold tactic of prior bombardment followed by the sending in of fireships–vessels deliberately set on fire and allowed to drift into an enemy fleet–before cutting off any escape routes with the smaller ships in his fleet. On August 22, the winds were favorable enough to employ the fireship method and the Spanish fleet was destroyed.

As a result of the victory, the Kingdom of France came to control the Bay of Biscay, although the siege of Hondarribia was ultimately unsuccessful for the French.

The Franco-Spanish War dragged on, somewhat inconclusively, until 1659. However, the end of the war marked an important date in Basque history because the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659), the official agreement signed between the two countries to end the conflict, established for the first time a definitive international border bisecting Basque territory. As Cameron Watson notes in Modern Basque History: Eighteenth Century to the Present (p. 42).

With this treaty, not only was the international border established once and for all, but the two crowns would be unified through marriage (Louis XIV of France would marry the Spanish infanta María Teresa, daughter of the Castilian monarch Felipe IV, the following year), and the king of France, while retaining the title of king of Nafarroa, relinquished any claim to the Nafarroan [territory] within the Castilian political orbit. The treaty thus marked a definitive political partition of the ancient kingdom.

Modern Basque History is available free to download here.

August 11, 1936: Basque-language books burned in Tolosa by Franco’s troops

On August 11, 1936, in an early and telling act on the part of General Franco’s cultural strategy during the Civil War, rebel troops carried out a public mass book burning of Basque-language texts in the Old Square of Tolosa; the historically important Gipuzkoan town that had been one of the epicenters of the so-called Euskal Pizkundea, the Basque cultural renaissance based on a flourishing of artistic creation in Basque.

Book burning in Tolosa, August 11, 1936

Book burning in Tolosa, August 11, 1936

The rebel troops had recently occupied Tolosa in their drive westward across Gipuzkoa. Once entrenched in the town, they entered the printing press of Ixaka Lopez Mendizabal, a writer, editor, and printer at the heart of the aforementioned renaissance and removed all the books they could find in either Basque or concerning Basque culture. Repeating their search in the municipal and school libraries, they stacked their loot up in the Old Square before proceeding to burn the pile in a very public act of cultural negation.

In February 1937, Franco’s rebel government passed an official order to cleanse the Basque Country of all such “seditious” books.

August 6, 1994: First Euskal Encounter, the Basque LAN Party

On August 6, 1994, the town of Urretxu in Gipuzkoa played host to the first Euskal Encounter, a LAN party or a gathering of people with computers or compatible game consoles in which a local area network (LAN) connection is established between the devices, primarily for the purpose of playing multiplayer video games together.

Image from Euskal Encounter 22 (2014). Photo by Fernando Loz, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Image from Euskal Encounter 22 (2014). Photo by Fernando Loz, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The initial event–originally termed the Euskal Amiga Party–took place over the course of one day in the Ederrena fronton and included thirty-six participants. Today, the Euskal Encounter has expanded to become a general meeting place for computing professionals an enthusiasts. The latest edition of the event, Euskal Encounter 26, was held over a four-day period between July 26 and 29 in the Bilbao Exhibition Center (BEC) and was attended by five thousand people.

See reports on the event in Basque and Spanish below.

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