Academic journal article Texas International Law Journal

Delimiting Culture: Implications for Individual Rights in the Basque Country Today

Academic journal article Texas International Law Journal

Delimiting Culture: Implications for Individual Rights in the Basque Country Today

Article excerpt


For millennia the Basque people have inhabited a small inverted triangle of land in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. Long regarded as rugged and persevering, the Basques are often portrayed one-dimensionally as fierce and primitive in their desire to preserve their heritage.1 Subsumed by the nation-building efforts of Spain and France, Basque society in the late nineteenth century gave rise to a strong nationalist movement that has steadily grown louder and more demanding. Perhaps the most visible manifestation of Basque nationalism is ETA, a leftist group that uses violence to advocate for full independence from Spain. ETA stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, which means Basque homeland and liberty.2 Today, despite the fact that the majority of Basque society does not support armed resistance3 and, in fact, attempts to engage violent nationalistic factions in political discussion,4 the image of the Basque Country presented to the world is increasingly one of a violent, contentious society.5

The reaction to a recent proposal by the president of the Basque regional parliament, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, to hold a referendum on whether the Basque region will renegotiate the current arrangement with the Spanish state has highlighted the dissension that increasingly characterizes Basque culture today. The concepts of increased autonomy and independence enjoy wide, but by no means full, support in the region. A significant portion of citizens living in the Basque Country do not identify with or support nationalist initiatives. This divide in the community is quite marked; tolerance for those who do not support the nationalist cause is in many ways very limited, as evidenced by the large number of Spanish-sympathizing citizens who require bodyguards.

The Spanish national government has been very successful at controlling discourse regarding the situation in the region, refusing to negotiate or even to acknowledge that there is an issue to be discussed.6 The bias of the Spanish national media and the lack of viable alternative fora for negotiating a political solution with Madrid mean Basque nationalists must work within alternative, discursive frameworks to advance their cause. In what is perhaps an unintentional alliance, the moderate nationalists in the Basque regional government and the violent separatist movement effectively neutralize and ostracize opposing constituencies by appropriating Basque culture and identity and equating them with Basque nationalistic fervor.

The political debate, in the end, centers on how best to achieve recognition of the Basque nation and culture by the Spanish state and the international community, on how much power the nation should have vis-à-vis the State, and on what it means to be Basque. These questions increasingly may be used to define who is inside and who is outside Basque culture. For some actors, to be a Basque is to be a nationalist. For others, to be Basque may also allow one to be Spanish or French or may merely signify that an individual lives in the Basque region.

This comment will attempt to deconstruct the stance of each group, examining exactly what political end each seeks to achieve, how each proceeds toward its goals, how each conceptualizes and characterizes Basque culture, and how control of the parameters of Basque culture may be used as a political tool, appealing to or alienating portions of the electorate. Part II will provide a brief geopolitical and historical context within which to consider the problem. Part III will analyze each faction in order to clarify the political objectives each espouses and the assumptions each makes about Basque culture and identity. Part IV will consider how the existing power structures-both legitimate and terrorist-attempt to delineate what it means to be Basque and how this contested definition determines who is cast as part of Basque culture and who is considered anti-Basque. It will consider the deleterious effect the polarization of Basque society and culture has on those who may live in and identify themselves with the region but choose not to support the nationalist movement. …

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