Last Thursday, April 20, Lehendakari Urkullu participated in the planting of the Tree of Gernika in Zasole Park (Oświęcim, Poland), close to the infamous Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. As Urkullu put it: “Auschwitz and Gernika represent a heartbreaking cry that lasts throughout time.” This event mirrors the numerous plantings of the tree throughout the world as a symbol of peace.
Urkullu noted, “We planted this tree of Gernika in this land of Auschwitz, together affirming our commitment to and sowing of hope in a better world, a world respectful of life, dignity, and the human rights of all people.” The mayor of Oświęcim, Janusz Chwierut, attended the event alongside the president of the Bizkaian Juntas, Ana Otadui, and the president of the Association Pro-Tradition and Culture in Europe (APTCE), Enrique Villamor. Both Basques and Poles were present, including around 500 young people.
The Tree of Gernika represents so much to Basques, and symbolically, its plantings around the world bring light to its history, that of the town of Gernika, and Basque culture more generally. It’s heartwarming to see so many people come together for an event such as this one.
Information for this post from Noticias de Gipuzkoa, published in Deia (in Spanish): http://www.noticiasdegipuzkoa.com/2017/04/20/politica/euskadi/urkullu-auschwitz-y-gernika-representan-un-grito-desgarrador-que-perdura-en-el-tiempo
To read more about other plantings, check out this article in Deia (also in Spanish): http://www.deia.com/2017/04/23/bizkaia/el-legado-de-iparragirre-se-abre-al-mundo
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.
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.
This sapling from the Tree of Gernika takes up its new home at UNR.
On Friday, May 20, 2016, the sapling from the Tree of Gernika was planted on the UNR campus. Here are some photos from this great and momentous event. May you live long and prosper young sapling!
Technicians from the Nevada State Arboretum plant the sapling.
Professor Joseba Zulaika presents the significance of the tree. All photos courtesy of Iñaki Arrieta Baro.
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.