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.
Who doesn’t like trains? Well, ok, let’s put it another way: whatever your opinion of trains, in today’s tech-savvy communication obsessed world, let’s remember that railroads once represented the latest in communications technology. With this in mind, on June 1, 1882 the beloved (for some at least) duranguillo, the Bilbao-Durango railroad line, was opened to the public for the first time. It had the distinction of being the second metric gauge railroad line, a narrower gauge than those established previously, constructed in Spain to serve public transport needs. And its successful implementation, both from an engineering and an economic point of view, established a model of narrow gauge railroad lines for the whole Cantabrian zone. And despite being a mere twenty miles in length, it still serves as an important route today.
After an inaugural run on May 30, trains started circulating on the line on June 1. The line, run by the Compañía del Ferrocarril Central de Vizcaya (Central Railroad Company of Bizkaia), passed from the Bilbao terminus in Atxuri through the stations of Bolueta (Bilbao), Galdakao, Bedia, Lemoa, and Amorebieta before arriving at Durango. On that inaugural run, a giant banner was unfolded in the station at Amorebieta that read “Amorebieta-co erriyac pozes bateric Biscaico burdiñ bide erdigoarrari” (the town of Amorebieta elated at the central railroad of Bizkaia”). This was a true glimpse at the future, at the impact of an amazing new form of technology and communication.
As many of you will know, Basques are known for their mountaineering exploits, a topic we have posed on several times in the past. The Basque Mountaineering Federation was founded in Elgeta, Gipuzkoa, on May 18, 1924 to serve as a source of information, organization, and support for the numerous hiking clubs scattered across the Basque Country. Today it is an umbrella organization that, as well as mountaineering and hiking, incorporates a diverse range of disciplines including caving, competition climbing, Nordic walking, and canyoning.
The eighteenth-century Enlightenment found its expression in the Basque Country primarily in the Real Sociedad Bascongada de Amigos del País (Royal Basque Society of Friends of the Country). This was a multifaceted body whose members came from the privileged classes and it sought to encourage the scientific, cultural, and economic development of the Basque Country along the new liberal Enlightenment values. One figure that benefited from the encouragement of this group was María Rita Nicolasa de Barrenechea y Morante de la Madrid
Portrait of María Rita de Barrenechea (1757–1795) by Francisco Goya. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
In 1775 she married Juan de Sahagún de la Mata Linares, the Count of Carpio, and the couple settled in Barcelona, later moving to Madrid. Their homes became salons for Enlightened debate and she took up writing. Her two best known works are both comedies: Catalin, a one-act play that charts the difficulties a young couple from the rural hinterland outside Portugalete, Bizkaia, have in getting married. Interestingly, the work includes a traditional song in Basque; and La aya (The governess), a rumination on how children should be raised and educated.
Barrenechea died in Madrid in 1795.
Cameron Watson discusses the impact of the Enlightenment in the Basque Country in Modern Basque History.
The eruption on March 27, 2010. Photo by Boaworm. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
In late March 2010 the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland erupted, throwing volcanic ash into the atmosphere that subsequently scattered all over Europe. This led, on May 8, to the unusual and unique closing of all the main Basque airports: in Biarritz, Loiu (BIlbao), Hondarribia (Donostia-San Sebastián), Noian (Pamplona-Iruñea), and Foronda (Vitoria-Gasteiz).
Arrival of Romani group in Bern, Switzerland, 1485. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The Romani (colloquially known as Roma or Gypsies) have been a long established presence in the Basque Country and even developed their own distinct tongue, Erromintxela, which is a mixed language that incorporates most of its vocabulary from Kalderash Romani and its grammar from Basque. The first documented presence of the Romani in the Basque Country dates from April 27, 1435 when a group of fifty people passed through Olite, Navarre, on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The group was led by “Thomas, the Count of Lower Egypt,” and received a donation from Blanche I, Queen of Navarre.
Document signed by Miguel García de Barasoain, secretary to Queen Blanche I of Navarre, detailing the donation, 1435. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The fortunes of the Basque language have historically paralleled those of the Basque Country itself, with high points and low points, triumphs and defeats. Fidela Bernat Aragüés would ultimately be the last native-born speaker of what Koldo Zuazo (see below) classifies as Eastern Navarrese Basque, the Basque spoken in the Erronkari and Zaraitzu Valleys of Navarre.
Fidela Bernat and her husband Pedro Ederra.
She was born in Uztarroze, in the Erronkari Valley, on April 24, 1898 and married Pedro Ederra Lorea in 1925. The couple went on to have six children. Herv husband died in 1988, and she passed away on February 23, 1991, at the age of ninety-three, the last native speaker of Eastern Navarrese.
Eastern navarrese was one of the more distinct dialects. According to expert Zuazo, “The Basque forms in Erronkari and in Zaraitzu have been grouped together. Those two valleys used to be influenced from both the north and the south, but for a long time now their main source of influence has been Navarre, to the south. However, they retained their own special character and did not become completely assimilated into the other areas of Navarre and, because of that, I decided to call this dialect ‘Eastern Navarrese’ Basque.”
Check out Koldo Zuazo, The Dialects of Basque.
The devastation wrought by the Civil War in Spain in the 1930s and beyond led to countless individual stories of exile and the forging of new lives on the other side of the Atlantic, where, as you will all be aware, Basques of the diaspora made significant contributions to their new host countries. One such story concerns Matilde Huici Navaz.
Matilde Huici (1890-1965). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Born into a middle-class liberal family in Pamplona-Iruñea on August 3, 1890, she obtained a teaching certificate at age seventeen and entered into the world of education taking up a position initially in Donostia-San Sebastián. She later relocated to Madrid where she worked in the Residencia de Señoritas, the first official center in Spain established to promote university education for women as well as co-founding the Association of Spanish University Women in 1928. She also studied for a law degree in the 1920s.
During the time of Spain’s Second Republic in the 1930s she joined the Spanish Socialist Party together with her husband and through that decade became involved in various educational and legal initiatives of the republic. This culminated in her appointment as Spain’s delegate to the Commission for the Protection of Children and Youth at the League of Nations in Geneva in 1935. Following the victory of Franco in 1939, she emigrated to Chile, where she established the School for the Education of Children of the University of Chile, which she directed between 1944 and 1962.
Matilde Huici died on April 13, 1965, aged seventy-four.
Street sign in Basque and Spanish in Trebiñu-Treviño, Burgos. Picture by Assar, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
I hope everyone has gotten their running shoes on because we’re coming to the exciting finale of Korrika 21 right now in the Basque Country. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, check out our posts on Korrika, in 2015, in 2017, and even the 2017 edition in Reno. But did you know that, on April 7, 2011 Korrika 17 started Trebiñu-Treviño, an enclave of Burgos entirely surrounded by Araba? While many people in this enclave would like to become a formal part of the Basque Country, to date it remains officially part of the province of Burgos in the autonomous community of Castile and Leon. To the best of our knowledge, then, this is the only time Korrika has started (or indeed finished) outside of Euskal Herria. Now there’s a good fact to impress your friends with the next time you play Basque trivia!