Tag: Gernikako Arbola

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.

June 13, 1854: Famed bard Iparragirre performs in front of 6,000 people

On June 13, 1854, the renowned itinerant Basque bard and troubadour Jose Maria Iparraguirre performed before an extraordinary figure of six thousand people in the hallowed environment of the Urkiola Sanctuary, located in a mountainous area of Bizkaia. His performance was imbued with political comment regarding Basque decision-making powers, and this got him into yet more trouble with the Spanish authorities.

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Jose Maria Iparragirre (1820-1881). Image from the Zumalakarregi Museum, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In the words of Joseba Agirreazkuenaga, in The Making of the Basque Question:

Jose María Iparraguirre (1820–1881) was a Carlist soldier who was exiled in different European countries. In 1853, he was able to return to the Basque Country and there he composed the song “Gernikako Arbola” (The Tree of Guernica), which became the Basque hymn at all cultural demonstrations. He achieved popular success performing traditional verses but set to more modern music. However, because of his ability to mobilize people, the Spanish government banished him from the Basque Country in 1855. He went to Galicia, Portugal, and then immigrated to Uruguay. In 1879, he took part in the Basque language festivals of Elizondo, Navarre, and became a living icon.

For Juan Madariaga Orbea, in Anthology of Apologists and Detractors of the Basque Language,  Iparragirre’s entire life was:

a model of vagabondage and painful survival, always on the verge of economic ruin, incarceration, and exile, either for political reasons or as a social outcast: an individual, like all those of his class, who was intensely embarrassing to the authorities and to power of any kind.

Perhaps this explains why so many people turned up to see him that June day in 1854.

 

The Tree of Gernika puts down roots in the Nevada State Arboretum at UNR

The Arborist, the monthly newsletter of the Nevada State Arboretum, has some really exciting news this month. A sapling from the famous Tree of Gernika has been planted on the grounds of the Nevada State Arboretum at the University of Nevada, Reno. The Tree of Gernika, an ancient oak tree, marks the spot where the General Assemblies of Bizkaia, the principal decision-making authority in the province and a key symbol of Basque political autonomy, have met down the centuries. Indeed, as we noted in a previous post, for the second president of the United States, John Adams, the political system he himself witnessed on a visit to the Basque Country represented a true “democratic republic” and served as an inspiration for his own notion of federal democracy: the model that ultimately came to underpin the current US system of democratic government.

While it will remain unmarked until it takes root, at some time it will be unveiled. Given the importance of Reno, and the Center, a “shining light” in the time of darkness during the Franco dictatorship, this symbolic planting in Reno is a fitting demonstration of the closeness between the Basque Country and Reno. The Center’s own Joseba Zulaika was instrumental in bringing the sapling and also explained the importance in The Arborist article. I would really like to encourage everyone to read that, so I won’t paraphrase it too much, but it is a real honor to share this news with the world and again, please see the article in The Arborist for more photos and information about this really exciting event!

Check out the nineteenth-century hymn, “Gernikako Arbola” (The Tree of Gernika), written by the bard Jose Maria Iparragirre, which plays on the symbolism of the tree as a source of political liberty: “The Tree of Gernika / is blessed / and well loved / among the Basques / Give and share out / your fruit throughout the world / we venerate you / holy tree.”

For more on the historic importance of the Tree of Gernika as a key site representing Basque political difference through the ages, see The Old Law of Bizkaia (1452): Introductory Study and Critical Edition, by Gregorio Monreal Zia. This is the most comprehensive work in English on the legal and political foundations of Basque particularity in Spain. But besides being a scholarly text about government and administration, it is also a lively and informative source about the historical importance of community and popular democratic participation in Basque political life. This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in democracy, citizen participation in politics, and the historical roots of the US political system.