The Basques: Their Struggle for Independence

By Luis Núñez Astrain; Meic Stephens | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

A COUNTRY WITHOUT A FRAMEWORK

A Basque attaches such importance to his language that he defines himself by his ability to speak it, that is to say, in linguistic terms. He does not refer to himself in terms of race or tribe, or religion, or geographical locality, but exclusively in relationship to his language. In the Basque language, in order to convey that someone is a Basque, one says that he or she is euskaldun, which means more precisely 'Basque-speaking' or 'in possession of the Basque language'. Basque has no other way of saying 'a Basque'. We therefore have a problem in knowing how to refer to those who are native to the Basque Country but do not speak its language; this, however, is only a secondary problem. For the moment, the most important thing is to underline the supreme significance which the Basque has traditionally given to his or her language.

Furthermore, the Basque Country defines itself in Basque as Euskal Herria, the etymological significance of which is 'the Basquespeaking nation', which refers as much to the country as to the people. Another word denoting the Basque Country or Euskal Herria, which has been in use for a century or more, is Euskadi, but it has more political connotations.

Struck by the Basques' attachment to their language, which he had observed during his visit to the country, Victor Hugo wrote in his book Les Pyrénées ( 1843), 'The Basque language is the land itself, almost a religion.'

'If the history of the last three thousand years,' concluded the historian Roger Collins in his book Les Basques, published by Alianza Editorial in 1989, 'has any lesson to teach us, it is doubtless that the permanence of the Basque identity owes more to linguistic than to political independence.'

'The existence of the Basques today, as a people or community, is essentially due to the survival of the language,' wrote our famous linguist Koldo Mitxelena, who died in 1987. 'It is no accident that

-1-

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