On June 25, 1937, barely a year into the Spanish Civil War, the Basque poet Estepan Urkiaga, better known as Lauaxeta, having been convicted of sustaining “nationalist beliefs” by a military tribunal, was executed by firing squad as an enemy of the rebel forces led by General Franco. He was thirty-two years old.

 

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Estepan Urkiaga, “Lauaxeta” (1005-1937). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Lauaxeta had been a leading member of the Basque cultural renaissance, Euskal Pizkundea, in the 1930s. “He had,” as Lourdes Otaegi remarks in her chapter on Basque poetry in Basque Literary History, “the charisma of an iconoclast and embodied the most controversial facet of the renewal of Basque poetry with his work Bide Barrijak (New Paths, 1931).”

Shortly before being executed Lauaxeta wrote to a friend:

In a few hours I am to be executed. I die happy because I feel Jesus close to me and I love as never before the only homeland of the Basques. . . . When you think of me, who has loved you like a father, love Christ, be pure and chaste, love Euzkadi as your parents have done. Visit my poor mother and kiss her forehead. Farewell until heaven. I bless you a thousand times.

In That Old Bilbao Moon, Joseba Zulaika explores the significance of Lauaxeta, and explains how he was also another victim of the infamous bombing of Gernika in April 1937:

One of the victims of Gernika was “Lauaxeta”—the pen name of Estepan Urkiaga, a well-known poet working in Bilbao for Aguirre’s Basque government. The Gernika bombing was followed by a propaganda war in which Franco and the Germans claimed that the town had been bombed and burned by its Republican Basque defenders. It was Lauaxeta’s role to show evidence to the contrary to the international media. As he led a French journalist to the charred town, both men were arrested. The journalist was freed and Lauaxeta was executed. Before facing the firing squad at dawn, Lauaxeta spent the night writing a farewell poem to his country—“Agur, Euzkadi” (Goodbye, Euskadi), which concluded:

Let the spirit go to luminous heaven
Let the body be thrown to the dark earth.

In another poem, “Azken oyua” (The Last Howl), Lauaxeta wrote:

Oh Lord, please grant me this death;
Let the smell of the roses be for cowards.
Send me blessed freedom.

Lauxeta’s axiom and testament was his line “Everything must be given to the freedom we love.” Freedom was a political sacrament.

If you’d like to learn more about the life and work as well as influence of Lauaxeta, in addition to the abovementioned works, check out the following:

In The Basque Poetic Tradition, Gorka Aulestia devotes a chapter to the life and work of Lauaxeta. Meanwhile, the political dimension and legacy of Lauaxeta’s execution is discussed in Cameron J. Watson’s Basque Nationalism and Political Violence. And there is an interesting examination of film representations of Lauaxeta in Santiago de Pablo’s The Basque Nation On-Screen.