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.