Odder Højskole, Rørthvej 34A, 8300 Odder, Denmark
Authors: Veronika Hejduková
Page Range: 3-24
No. of Pages: 22
Keywords: Basques; Basque language; identity; nation; nationalism; minority; generation differences; language revitalization
This article focuses on the identity of Basque people who live mainly in Spain and generational differences regarding their perception. In so doing, the author attempts to understand the contemporary identity of Basque people. The main objective is to determine and highlight the symbols that are vital in constructing the ethnic identity of Basque people, and to establish whether there are clear generational differences in perceptions of their own identity. It is mainly based on qualitative research with a contribution from quantitative data. The practical part presents the results of research conducted over a long period in Biscay, a part of Spain. The methodology comprises an exploration and analysis of information resources and field research. In the final part of the thesis, the author presents their own conclusions. The main conclusion will be formulated based on a synthesis of theoretical and practical components, the results of the author’s own work, and evaluation of the data.
Česká verze: HTML
This study focuses on the Basques, looking at the perception of their national identity and the generational differences evident in many areas. The text is based on longer-term field research, conducted mainly in the Spanish Basque Country, namely in the region of Euskadi, province of Bizkaia, as part of the project „Diverse Europe“ and from the following thesis of the author of this study.
The development of the Basque Country is reflected in the perception of the ethnic identity of the local population, the political and economic situation and many other areas. The Basques are often presented in the media in rather negative connotations, which are mainly linked to their quest for independence. However, this media image has gradually begun to change over the last three years.
The aim of this study is to shed light on the position of the Basque Country in Europe, the perception of ethnic identity across generations, and to shed light on the current position of the Basque minority and to some extent explain their separatist aspirations. The main research question is: „What are the main attributes on the formation and perception of ethnic identity among the Basques?“, „In what ways are they manifested?“ Having established the answers to the above questions, it was possible to pose a further research question: „Is it possible to find differences in the perception of their (Basque) identity across generations?“.
The topic of generational differences and the complex perception of one’s own identity was chosen based on the observation of certain differences during the stays in different areas of the Basque Country. The following article focuses mainly on the Basque areas within Spain, although the French part is not completely omitted.
Qualitative research was used to answer the main and secondary research questions with the help of respondents in different age categories. Part of the thesis was also supported by quantitative research using questionnaires, the main aim of which was to obtain more information regarding the factors that arouse respondents‘ sense of distinct ethnic identity.
Statistical data were mainly used from official sources, but are supplemented by Spanish or foreign sources. As the work touches on a rather sensitive topic, especially because of the Basques‘ notoriety as separatists, it is very important to be able to distinguish and recognise in the text whether the information is politically coloured (nationalist or rather pro-Spanish).
The actual field research was a very important part of the development of the article, as the current generational situation of the Basques has not been approached by virtually anyone in the literature. A certain part of the paper is also devoted to the perspective of the majority population (Spaniards) on the Basque minority. The field research was carried out over an extended period of time (2009-2013), within the framework of the project ‚A Diverse Europe‘, under the auspices of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague.
The output of the thesis is evaluated using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, mainly semi-structured, unstructured interviews and participant observation. The interviews were conducted with residents aged 17-87, while the generational research focused on the group aged 0-34, 35-64, 65 and over. The first informants were already selected on the basis of previous contacts, which to some extent removed the element of mistrust that often arises at the beginning (but also during) interviews. In order to carry out the non-standardised interviews, the author was provided with many contacts for other possible respondents. The technique chosen was the snowballing principle, more specifically contacting other potential respondents through existing informants. The first interviews took place in 2011 and 2012, and the generational research was conducted in 2013 during a repeat stay in the Basque Country. The collection of information was carried out during longer-term observation of the daily life of the population in all provinces, especially in the Spanish territory. Prior knowledge of the terrain and the local population allowed for reaching a wider number of respondents. The qualitative research was mainly carried out in the province of Bizkaia (País Vasco region), specifically in the city of Bilbao and adjacent smaller towns and villages (Zalla, Güeñes, Balmaseda, Mungia, Meñaka, Galdakao, Bermeo). The author went to the local areas in 2010, but most intensively focused on the issue in 2011-2013, during her long-term stays in the Basque Country, when the primary need was to understand the current situation of the Basques, linked to their history and their acceptance of their own identity. Thus, the inevitable topics were Basque nationalism and its manifestations, separatism, the Euskera language, culture, politics, Basque origins, and the phenomenon of ETA was not neglected. It was important to find out what makes the Basques different and also what factors they consider to be the main differences from others that put them in the role of a minority in the territory of Spain and France.
The Basque Country itself was a very interesting topic, if only because there is still virtually no concrete and confirmed information about the origins of its people and language. In most cases, one can only hear about the organisation of ETA, but what is far more important and interesting is the fact that there is a revitalisation of the Basque language and a strong awareness of national identity in these places, with the associated call for independence.
Overview of thematic literature
This review of the existing literature deals mainly with the political situation of the Basques, their history, but not with the present situation or the factors contributing to their perception of their own identity.
Roger Collins is one of the authors translated into Czech, who mainly discusses the history of the Basques with an overlap into the 20th century, while also dealing with theories of their origins. In his work, the Basques are described as a people resisting over many centuries against other cultures present for many years on the Iberian Peninsula. He also concludes by talking about the Basques‘ complete uniqueness, not least because they were able to maintain their own culture and language despite the absence of their own state and political independence.
A prominent author dealing with linguistics in the study of the Basque language is Bohumil Zavadil , who presents in great detail sociolinguistic questions concerning the Basque language and answers specific features of Euskera as well as its development. Zavadil mentions the large number of dialects and the general characteristics of Basque grammar, which is completely different from Castilian, as well as from other languages within Europe. Basque linguistics is also dealt with by John D. Bengtson, exploring the possibility of the origin of the language based on common features with other languages. Bengtson conducts analyses in his research and tries to reach a conclusion as to the most likely origin of this linguistic isolate, pointing out the possibility that the cultural vocabulary also gives us information regarding cultural contacts, which may bring new insights into the origin of its speakers.
The history of national minorities in the Iberian Peninsula has quite deep roots and an interesting development within recent years, with nationalist tendencies becoming increasingly strong. The Basques live in north-eastern Spain and south-western France. The Basque Country, or Euskal Herria, is one of the countries claiming independence on the basis of its history. As Collins states, „Many national minorities, and in some cases entire populations of independent states, often invoke history and the past to justify their struggle against oppressors, real or imagined, and to draw attention to their national identity. But in few cases do the arguments touch such a distant past, and the ancient history of the nation is in such close contact with the present for the Basques.“
With the Basques, the situation is all the more complicated because to this day their origins have not been explained. Often referring to their history and past without knowing exactly where they themselves come from, they are nevertheless very keen to subscribe to the autochthonous theory. As Petráš points out, the Basques have never directly had an independent Basque state in the past, but they nevertheless claim independence. What they can never be denied, however, is a specific language and culture, preserved over centuries, and difficult moments during the Francoist regime in the 20th century.
First of all, it is very important to specify the territory called the Basque Country and to define the terms associated with it. The names translated in the Czech language do not necessarily correspond to the same territory named in Basque or Spanish. The thesis also reveals the culture of the Basque people, the main attributes influencing the awareness of national identity and the image of the strong cohesion of the Basque nation.
The Basque Country is located on Spanish and French territory, which is a surprising piece of information for many – it is usually assumed that the Basques exist only on Spanish territory, as they are numerically the majority within Europe. Euskal Herria consists of seven provinces – four provinces on Spanish territory and three provinces on French territory. The Spanish part is made up of two regions – one is Naffaroa (Spanish: Navarra) and the other is Euskadi (Spanish: El País Vasco), which is divided into three provinces – Araba (Spanish: Álava), Bizkaia (Spanish: Vizcaya) and Gipuzkoa (Spanish: Gipúzcoa).
The region (officially called „Comunidad“ in Spanish) of Euskadi forms an autonomous community  within Spain, as is the case for Catalonia, which was granted autonomous status in 1979, although the Basque entity has the highest degree of autonomy, which is reflected in many of the areas also mentioned in the following chapters. „Among European ethnic groups without a state of their own, Catalans occupy a special place. They are by far the most numerous of them (figures vary between 5-7 million, due to different criteria); the Catalans are thus more numerous than, for example, the Norwegians, Finns, Irish, Albanians and other „state“ peoples of Europe.“ Despite the fact that a very large number of them live in Spain and also have their own specific language, they do not have a recognised autonomy as extensive as, for example, the Euskadi region. As Petráš states, they are probably the largest European nation without its own state.
The Basque Country is divided into northern and southern parts, with the Spanish provinces collectively being called „hegoalde“ (south) and the French provinces „iparralde“ (north).  The definition of the Czech word „Basque Country“ can still be understood in several ways – in fact, in a literal translation, the word used by us in Czech means only one region located in the territory of Spain, the aforementioned Euskadi region (El País Vasco in Spanish), or Basque Autonomous Region (in Spanish „Comunidad Autónoma Vasca“, abbreviated CAV, in Basque „Euskal Autonomia Erkidegoa“). In a broader sense, we can think of all seven of these provinces, or the Basque Country – Euskal Herria. Since the provinces are divided into both Spanish (4) and French territory (3), Basques often use the symbol „4 + 3 = 1“.
Figure 1: Map of the Basque region.
The use of signs is one of the manifestations of the revitalization of national identity, as Shatava also points out. Nomenclature is very tricky when it comes to characterizing Basque territory, and it depends on the language and context in which the topic is discussed. For the name „Euskal Herria“ it would be appropriate to use the name „Basque Country“ in the Czech language, although it does not officially exist.  In English, the name „Basque country“ is used, in French the name „Pays Basque“ is used, and in Spanish there is no name for the whole territory as it is not recognised – hence the Basque name Euskal Herria is often used, or the Spanish name for the three provinces „El País Vasco„. If we translate the name literally, it is „Euskal“ or „Basque“ and „Herri“ – „people„. By this is meant the territory belonging to the Basque people. Many Basque people, despite the division of their territory between two officially recognized states, see the Basque Country as a single entity, following the motto „Zazpiak bat!“, which means „Seven in Unity!“.
Each of the aforementioned regions has its own capital city – for the province of Bizkaia, the centre is Bilbao (Bilbo in Basque), which is also the most important city in the whole of the Basque Country thanks to its industry, its coastal location and one of the most important ports in Spain. Donostia/San Sebastián is the centre of the province of Gipuzkoa, Vitoria-Gasteiz the centre of Araba, Pamplona/Iruña the centre of Navarre, Bayonne the French province of Lapurdi, Mauléon the province of Zuberoa and St. Jean Pied de Port the French part of Navarre. Again, there can be a lot of confusion about nomenclature as people often use different names. For example, among the Basques, who speak mainly Basque, the name Iruña is used for the capital of Navarre, although the Spanish speak of Pamplona. The names have changed over time, where for many years in Spain the official name was only Basque, or conversely Spanish, and nowadays the official names are both, or conversely the official names were bilingual and nowadays there is only one, mostly Basque. Locals understand both the Spanish and Basque names, but for foreigners the dual names are confusing to say the least.
Other towns include Gernika-Lumo, which became „famous“ for the tragedy of 1937, when General Franco, with Hitler’s cooperation, had the town bombed in broad daylight. The effort and goal of killing as many Basque residents as possible was fulfilled due to the market taking place, during which the concentration of local people was at its highest at midday.
A person who loves art and the work of Pablo Picasso can appreciate the artist’s painting from this time, aptly titled „Guernica“. The Guernica has a huge significance for the Basque people, which is quite evident, and brings to mind a recent history that extends into the current situation of the local population and their struggle for independence. Many strongly nationalistic Basques even refer to the territory where Basque was primarily spoken in times past as Basque – today, however, it is already a Spanish region.
Euskal Herria is a 20,664 km2 territory spanning Spain and France on the Bay of Biscay. Although the French parts are not spoken of to the same extent as the Spanish parts and are much smaller in area, the territory is no less important. The distinguishing feature of the provinces, apart from size, population and other elements, is the use of the Basque language, or euskery. Basque is the most widely spoken language in the provinces of Zuberoa and Nafarroa Beherea, that is to say, in the mountainous areas of France, where the language has retained a relatively important meaning for the local population. On the other hand, Basque is probably the least used language in the coastal province of Lapurdi (also in the French part), where there are more French than Basque people, which is one of the reasons for the minimal presence of Euskera. In France, the Basques also have a completely different status than in the Spanish part, their provinces being part of the department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques located in the Aquitaine region. There can be no question of even minimal autonomy, since France does not recognise any national minorities in the vast majority.
Thanks to their geographical location, Basque men have been skilled fishermen or mountain herders since ancient times. Many of them were involved in the voyages of discovery of the newly discovered continent of the Americas, and for their skills, prowess, courage and strength they have made their mark on many people’s minds. The Basques also helped many people escape during World War II by navigating the Pyrenees.
The territory in which the Basques live also plays a large role in their language. The degree to which Basque is used varies depending on the geographical area – for example, in border areas with Spanish provinces, Basques are more likely to be able to speak both languages (Spanish and Basque), while the mountainous areas lying in the central Basque Country and in the north of Navarre tend to be Basque-only.
Spain is a relatively large country within Europe, with a population of around 40 million, with over 70% being Spanish, the largest minority being Catalans at 13-18% of the total, followed by Galicians (around 8%). The Basques are a relatively small group at 2%.  The total number of Basques living is rather difficult to estimate, however, according to statistics from a survey conducted in 2006, there are around 2.6 million Basques living within Spanish and French territory.
Table 1: Number of inhabitants living in each Basque region
|Age group||Euskal Herria||CAV (Euskadi)||Navarra||País Vasco N. (French part of Basque Country)|
|65 years and over||557,500||393,200||104,700||59,600|
Source: own elaboration according to http://www.euskara.euskadi.net
However, only the population in the over-16 age category has been included in these figures, which distorts the results as well as making it unclear whether this is in fact a truly Basque population and on what criteria it is characterised as such.
Overall, there are approximately three million Basques living in Europe, with figures sometimes higher than that, especially when including the estimated number of Basques living outside Europe, particularly in the Americas, where there are estimates of up to 10 million. It must be said, however, that the reliability of these figures is very low, as they are rather estimates and the numbers are very imprecise.
However, the life of the Basques, with their activity in the American territory, is a fact attested by the many associations founded mainly in the United States or Argentina. For example, at the University of Reno, Nevada, there is the „Prgram of Basque Studies“, which has been responsible for much research on just the traditions and activities of the Basques living in America. Here, many migrants have maintained their knowledge of the Basque language and are at least partially trying to strengthen it. The game of pelota (Basque ball game), which is relatively unique in the world, is also popular in some parts of the United States. Among other things, there are also many places named in Basque and there are a large number of associations, Basque houses called euskal etxuak or a library preserving realia in Basque and other international languages.
The Basques arrived on the American continent primarily through the settlement of an increasingly large area of South and North America, and apart from temporary restrictions due to the period of the American wars of independence, the migration of the Basques was a smooth process. The long maritime tradition of the Basques played an important role in the conquest of the American continent on voyages of exploration or transporting treasure back to Europe. There is also speculation that the Basques were in Canada’s Red Bay territory in Labrador before other recognized conquistadors, thanks to the discovery of excavations of a 16th-century Basque whaling station in the local area. Other waves of migration took place, for example during the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent Francoist regime, when not only Basques were oppressed.
On the European continent, the largest number of Basques are found in the officially Spanish part in the Euskadi region, with a population of about two million. In the Navarre region, the population is around 640 000, and in the French provinces the total population is around 200 000. Official documents show that, of the total, 71% of Basques live in the Euskadi region, 20% in Navarre and the remaining 9% in the French parts. In the Basque parts, whether in Spain or France, it is not only Basques themselves who live, although they are outnumbered. The exact numbers of Basques living there may not be entirely accurate for this reason as well.
The largest city in the Basque Country is Bilbao (sometimes called Bilbo), which is also the largest conurbation with 1.2 million inhabitants, including the surrounding areas. It is also one of the most important industrial and commercial cities not only in the Basque Country but in the whole of Spain. During the Industrial Revolution, the city and the territory as a whole experienced a great increase in the number of inhabitants moving from other places to the centre of industrial activity that Bilbao had been. The city’s current appearance is no more than 20 years old, when it underwent a major modern transformation. Today’s city was once only industrial, which is why it attracted people from all other parts of Spain, precisely because of the employment opportunities. Other important cities are Vitoria-Gasteiz, which is the seat of the País Vasco regional parliament (for the provinces of Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Araba/Álava) and is also the capital of the province of Araba. The seaside resort of Donostia/San Sebastián (Donostia in Basque, San Sebastián in Spanish), which is the main centre of the province of Gipuzkoa, is also very well known. Every year, the famous film festival (Festival de San Sebastián, Basque: Donostia Zinemaldia) takes place here.
For many, the most famous place in the Basque region is Pamplona/Iruña (Basque: Iruña, Spanish: Pamplona, officially Pamplona/Iruña), which is best known for its annual celebration of the Feast of San Fermín (also called Sanfermines, or Sanferminak in Basque), when the popular bull run takes place in the streets of the city, and for the writer Ernest Hemingway, who fell in love with the place.
In the French part of the Basque Country, the town of Baiona, officially known as Bayonne, in the province of Lapurdi, is certainly worth mentioning. The town is a seaside resort, especially popular with the French who come here for the summer. The province of Lapurdi, and with it the city of Bayonne, does not offer many opportunities to encounter the typical Basque culture, with a few exceptions in the form of street names, bars, restaurants and typical dishes.
More elements of Basque culture can be seen in the other two provinces, which are Zuberoa, with its capital Mauléon (Basque: Maule-Lextarre), and Nafarroa Beherea, with its capital St Jean Pied de Port (Basque: Donibane Garazi), about ten kilometres from the Spanish border, which is best known as the starting point of the Camino de Santiago, the gateway to which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the French parts, the promotion of the Basque Country was used mainly for commercial reasons. Many tourists came to the area to see the typical products, which was mainly used by the tourist trade.
In Spain, for example, as recently as 2010, there was hardly a single souvenir shop in Bilbao, as is usual in any country or place with a large number of tourists. Since 2011, the situation has changed fundamentally and the number of gift shops in the Basque Country has also increased, with a greater number of shops selling gifts that highlight the local area. According to press sources, there has been a surge in interest in the Basque Country due, on the one hand, to the increased promotion of the Basque Country in Europe and, on the other, to the official cessation of the activities of the terrorist organisation ETA in 2011 because of the ceasefire and the statements reassuring the public to lay down all arms and continue to pursue separatism peacefully.
Despite the best efforts of many anthropologists, historians and experts, no clear-cut theory of the origin of the Basques has been arrived at. The Basques most likely lived on the Iberian Peninsula before the Indo-Europeans, although this theory has not been conclusively proven either. Naturally, the local population is inclined to the theory that strongly claims and points to the Basque origin from ancient times, and this also plays into the efforts for complete autonomy of the Basque Country. The British historian Roger Collins, to whom the Basques themselves often refer, has written a book focusing on important milestones in their history, extending into the 20th century.
There are many theories and conjectures pointing to the life of the Basque population in areas of the Iberian Peninsula before the arrival of other inhabitants, although they have never been proven. Theories pointing to the presence of Basques in the present-day areas are very often politicised and used in favour of the remembrance of the past and the right to independence, so these arguments must be accepted with caution. The same is true from the other side, where there is an attempt to suppress any rights of minority groups within Spain.
The Basque language is one of the most important factors and probably the most appropriate way of tracing the origins of the Basque people, since the material culture of ancient times cannot be discussed in any great detail, even though the earliest written texts survive from the late Middle Ages. Thus, written evidence of the Basques comes from foreign inhabitants or invaders long before the actual writing in Basque, or a language very close to it and from which Basque is based, was found. Basque is not classified in any linguistic group, and is thus a group of isolated languages whose origins are shrouded in as much mystery as the origins of the Basque population. Just as many theories have been put forward regarding the origins of Basque, it is also possible to frequently encounter hypotheses about Basque, its origins and its affinities with other languages.
The Basque people have many specific symbols that they use to present themselves in public and to show their distinctiveness. Many Basques refer to the Basque language to reassure everyone that they are fundamentally different. For the Basques, language is one of the most important factors shaping their national identity and is one of the main features of the current revitalisation. Basque does not belong to the group of Indo-European languages and is a so-called linguistic isolate, as it has many differences and characteristics compared to other languages and was probably present on the European continent before other languages (some experts believe that Euskera is the oldest living language today) that belong to the Indo-European language family.
The origin of Basque is thus still not fully known, although there are many theories about its similarity to some languages in the Caucasus region – especially Georgia and Armenia. There is also talk of possible similarities with languages from the North African region. Although it is not known where the Basque language originated, it is certain that it has been able to withstand centuries of pressure and assimilation. For this reason, there are also opinions that Basque might belong to the group of Indo-European languages, but since it has successfully resisted external pressures and influences from other languages, it has managed to preserve its structure and uniqueness. As Kurlansky points out, Basque has retained its form to the present day and has not changed its grammar in adopting foreign words. Today, the language has many dialects. For this reason, the „official“ Basque language, or euskal batúa, was also artificially created.
It is quite difficult to estimate how many people speak Basque at present. Statistics usually range between 650-800 thousand people. Basque is of course most widely spoken in Spain and France, and some descendants of immigrants also speak it in the United States and Argentina. Here, however, its use tends to be rather sporadic. Basque-speaking people are called euskaldunes, a term that refers to a person who speaks Euskera, although they may not have been born in the Basque Country or have ancestors from that region. Ethnicity is thus not a factor and it is possible to infer the very strong role that euskera plays in the identity of the Basque people living at the same time.
Currently, Basque is recognised as one of the official languages of the Spanish monarchy (with which Castilian/Spanish, Catalan and Galician are still jointly official). The language is nowadays used in Basque media, educational institutes, literature and public places such as information boards at railway stations and bus stops, where signs are bilingual with Basque as the primary language. The Euskaltzaindia – the Basque language academy – is responsible for the continuous care of Euskera. Children and students can learn subjects in Basque, which was not possible before. In university education, one can choose to study a course of study in both Spanish and Basque, or a combination of both. Compared to previous years, when the language was suppressed and people could not even claim Basque nationality, this is a big difference and an increase in the possibilities of maintaining traditional values publicly.
There is no doubt that the Basque people are interested in preserving the language, as they are continuously trying to revitalise it and incorporate Basque into education, culture, all media and generally into public spaces. Euskera has great prestige for Basques and some of them want to give priority to the language in the education of their offspring.
During the research, several issues related to the revitalization of the language (perception of younger and older residents), opportunities to study Basque, the education system and accessibility in general were surveyed. Many students nowadays choose to study in a combined language (both Spanish and Basque), some of them only in Basque. At the same time, however, it should be noted that there is a decline in bilingualism within the French territories of the Basque Country and, unfortunately, the forecasts for the future do not look favourable either. One respondent stated that within the Spanish Basque Country there is more financial support for the use and promotion of Basque. There is no funding from France for Basque language learning opportunities, and so the French side is reliant on contributions from Spain, but these are more heavily invested in the Euskadi and Navarra regions.
The name of Sabine Arana, author of the Basque flag known as the ikurriña, is also unquestionably linked to Basque symbols. The flag’s colours signify the Basques‘ ancient rights, God and love of country (rights). During the dictatorship of General Franco, its display was forbidden as one of the manifestations of separatist efforts and disruption of a united Spain.
One of the other symbols is the emblem of euskal armarria, depicting the six Basque provinces, although there are seven in total. Navarre, however, was historically only one territory, with two parts after the division between France and Spain. One of the other and most visible symbols is the lazuru, which translates to four heads and represents the four elements – fire, water, air and earth – and is meant to signal prosperity. It is depicted in many forms in almost every place throughout the Basque Country.
The symbols are very important to the Basque Country and are quite numerous. During the Francoist regime, the use of the lauburu symbol was forbidden. At first sight of this symbol, one might think that it looks a lot like a swastika. The Basques put its emblem on the frames of their front doors, when baking cakes and pies, and it can also be found in local cemeteries. The Lauburu is also made as jewellery or embroidered on the txapel, which is another typical Basque emblem – it is a headdress, similar to the radio cap worn by Basque men.
The gernika oak is also a very important symbol for the Basques. In earlier times, political figures came to the area promising to uphold Basque rights and traditions. One of the branches was also taken from these places and subsequently transported to Buenos Aires, where it is currently planted in the Basque Laurak-Bat association. The oak tree in Gernica is located directly in front of „La Casa de Juntas„, where the main rebuilders of the Basque Country have gathered since ancient times. Not far from this place, there is also a model of Pablo Picasso’s painting on the wall, who dedicated his painting depicting the horrors of war to Gernica.
Gastronomy is also an important symbol for the Basques. Basque cuisine is very well known and famous across not only Spanish regions. This is one of the reasons why the Basque people are very proud of it, and it could be said to be one of the elements of their national identity. Basque cuisine mixes traditional style with a modern way of serving, with fish or other meats being the main dish. The most famous preparation of fish is called Bacalao al pil-pil (cod with sauce), and Basque wine is also known as txakoli. Of the sweet, it is mainly pastel vasco, which often displays a lazuli symbol. The Basques eat a lot of meat (especially beef) and their favourite dish is pintxos, similar to Spanish tapas. These products are similar to our one-pintos, which are served in many variations. Pintxos are especially popular with tourists. Within the Basque Country, the Spanish tortilla de patata, or potato omelette, is also very popular. It is almost impossible to see fast food establishments in the Basque Country. The locals pride themselves on their traditional cuisine and tend not to seek out fast food.
The majority of Basques are nowadays, like the rest of the Iberian population, Catholic, and this dates back to earlier times. Earlier Basque mythology did not survive the arrival of Christians in the area (at least officially), although most information regarding the original religious system is based on the telling of legends and analysis of local names. Due to the lack of conclusive material, it is not possible to say with certainty what is the basis of Basque mythology, although there are legends about the main figure Mari, considered the „goddess“ of Basque culture. To this day, many Basque songwriters still refer to her figure in their compositions. Another well-known figure is Basajaun, the ruler of all wood, who is also well known in Basque mythology – he is said to have helped warn shepherds in the mountains of an approaching storm with his loud cry so that they could quickly drive their cattle to safety. Basque mythology is not only presented to children as a fairy tale, but in many cases people still believe in these creatures sacredly.
For the Basques, sport is also a symbol of their identity. This is particularly noticeable during football matches of Athletic Club Bilbao, which is made up entirely of Basque players. The principle of admission to the club is determined by birth in Basque territory or by Basque ancestry. Previously, the entry requirements were stricter – a person who was not born in one of the seven provinces of the Basque Country could not join the football club. Nowadays, some exceptions are made, where it is possible for a player to join who was not born in the Basque Country but has Basque blood (therefore has parents or grandparents with Basque roots). This makes the club playing in the Spanish first league unique not only in Spain but worldwide. Also, during cycling races (in Spain, it is mainly the Vuelta a España), Basque fans are easy to spot – most of them are holding an ikurriña, independentzia (translated as „independence„), or „Euskal preso eta iheslariak etxera“ (translated as „Basque prisoners and refugees home„. )
At the same time, the Basque Country has many typical dances, designed for different events. They are very popular, both with women and men. Dancing is one of the manifestations of Basque folklore, with „dantzaris“ (dancers) performing solo and in groups. One of the most famous dances is the ‚aurresku‘, where a single man dances to show respect, for example at weddings and important days for Basque women, or other cultural and festive occasions. The „Makil dantza“ dance is accompanied by the playing of wooden sticks. During the dances, both women and men wear typical Basque clothing, which they also wear outside festive events.
Figure 2. Typical attire for dances and festive occasions.
A total of 112 respondents from all Basque regions in Spain participated in the research, with a minimum number of respondents from the French Basque regions. There were 59 respondents under 35 years of age, 37 respondents aged 36-64, and 16 respondents over 65. A total of 57% were male, the rest were female.
Most respondents used the term Basque Country to refer to all seven provinces. Some respondents consider only one of the provinces (Bizkaia was named) as Basque Country, for others it is only the Euskadi region without the other parts. Some respondents divided the Basque Country into two territorial areas (Spanish and French, also Euskadi and Navarra – French and Spanish). The vast majority of respondents answered that they feel themselves Basque, for some the Basque/Spanish (or Basque/French) identity is identical and they do not see a difference between them in terms of their own feelings, a minimum of respondents feel themselves Spanish/French.
Interesting were the answers to the question of what all one must have/meet to be considered Basque. Most of the answers were directed towards being born and living in the Basque Country, love of one’s country and language, which is more important to Basques than the use of the Basque language itself, knowledge of Basque history and culture, and respect for one’s roots. There were also responses that one does not have to meet basically any conditions. The fact that the person feels like it is enough. Some mentioned that the term Basque is synonymous with the word Euskaldun. According to some respondents, a Basque can also be a person who was not born in the Basque Country, but has lived in the area for a long time and accepts Basque customs, culture and other essentials as his or her own.
Most of the responses also show that one can only become Basque over time – one does not necessarily have to have been born in the Basque Country and know the language. Reportedly, in earlier periods, somewhat different conditions prevailed – only a person born in Basque territory, or what is known as a vasco parlantes (euskaldun), was considered Basque. Today, for example, a person born in Valencia and living in the Basque Country can become Basque if he or she identifies with Basque culture. However, until he or she starts speaking Basque, he or she cannot become a euskaldun. For the majority of respondents answering that a person can become Basque during his or her lifetime, it is essential that the person in question integrates, lives in the Basque territory, feels a sense of belonging with the locals, and accepts and defends Basque culture.
As Basques often try to define themselves from the Spanish, one of the questions focused on the coexistence of Basques together with the rest of the Spanish population. Surprisingly, most respondents answered that they did not see a serious problem in communicating and coexisting with the Spanish population. Some respondents would have preferred more possibilities to express their identity (e.g. with the possibility to write „Basque nationality“ on their identity card, or to have more options regarding voting rights and referendums). Many respondents added that they have good relations, although it always depends on the person concerned and also the location, as Basques experience more problems in some parts of Spain than in other regions.
When respondents said the word „Basque/Basque“, the first concept or symbol that came to mind was most often the language, the Basque territory, the aforementioned „Zazpiak bat!“ (Seven in unity!) and then in most cases the answers were Basque culture, customs, traditions, history, ikurriña, the slogan „independence„, typical dances and others.
The majority of the respondents would like to separate and are in favour of the creation of a separate Basque state, independent of Spain and France. Some of the respondents said they were in favour of separatism but would accept the majority view – hence the result of holding a referendum – quite easily. Many of the informants pointed to the economic factor – separatism would make the Basque Country more independent and even richer. Some respondents also noted that although they were in favour of Basque separatism, they did not know whether it would be beneficial for their country overall. Most of the respondents said that the Basque Country should secede because of its own culture, language (Euskera) and economic factors were also frequently mentioned (the Basques would supposedly have more economic advantages).
Many respondents would welcome the right to decide the future of their country by referendum. However, at present, the holding of a referendum is not allowed. Respondents who disagreed with independence generally did not give reasons for their answer, or stated that they considered separation to be an economic threat to the Basque Country.
When asked whether respondents noticed generational differences of opinion, more than half said they did, although they considered them unimportant and minimal.
- young people: more radical, decisions made without deeper thought, very impulsive behaviour, lack of experience, living in „freedom“ => more radicalism
- older people: more moderate, decisions made with thought, not so important for them to become independent, but to acknowledge a different culture and grant rights
The majority of respondents said they have an active knowledge of Basque (both understand and speak Basque), although many Basques often overestimate their knowledge of Basque. It is also clear from the survey results that Basque is not the most important factor that makes a person feel Basque. As mentioned, it is more about a sense of belonging, love for one’s country, and respect for culture and traditions. However, the explanation is simple. Young people, in particular, see not knowing Basque as a handicap. The current era provides many opportunities to study Basque, and if a young person does not learn Basque, he or she may feel inferior to his or her peers who had an identical starting position (during the interviews, this topic was also addressed). Older people also perceive ignorance of Basque as something of a handicap, although their justification for not speaking Basque is quite logical and understandable – the dictatorship of General Franco, when Basque was completely banned. Middle-aged people’s opinions differ in this respect. They take their knowledge or lack of knowledge of Basque as a fact depending on their parents‘ knowledge of the language – at the time of their studies Basque was not taught, so everything depended on the upbringing of their parents, who had already lived their childhood and schooling under the dictatorship. This generation has mostly already acquired at least a passive knowledge of Basque.
A family living in the Euskadi region, specifically in the province of Bizkaia, approximately 20 kilometres from Bilbao, was selected for qualitative generational research. The selection of this family was based on previous encounters and acquaintance. The generational research took place in an area where Basque is really only sporadically spoken. This is due to the proximity of the town to the Castilian region of Burgos. Castilian is the main language heard in the streets and Basque appears minimally, although many young people can speak it. Of course, there are also „Basque“ places here, where, for example, there are bilingual information boards, typical Basque bars, pelota courts, Basque decorations… The locals here follow Basque traditions and customs, just like in coastal or mountain areas. The province of Bizkaia is currently home to around 1.2 million inhabitants. It is the most populous region among the seven Basque provinces. The research was conducted in a village of about 8,000. All respondents were from the province of Bizkaia, where they were already born. The age of the respondents ranged from 28 to 87 years.
José (representative of the 1st generation) has lived in Zalla since birth. Both his parents were born in the Basque Country and have been nationalists at heart all their lives. During the Civil War and the dictatorial regime of General Franco they had many problems as they were supporters of Basque nationalism. Because of the dictatorial regime, José could not speak to his grandparents as they only spoke Basque and José’s parents did not want him to learn the language out of fear. During the Francoist regime, adults and children were punished for using Basque with corporal punishment, and in many cases there were even death sentences. For this reason, José still does not speak Basque and considers it a handicap, although he points out the importance of feeling Basque in the first place.
Lourdes (2nd generation representative – José’s daughter) was born in the town of Zalla and still lives there. She does not speak Basque (but passively understands it very well) and does not consider the lack of this knowledge to be a handicap. From an early age, she was brought up in the Basque tradition and has continued to do so in the upbringing of her children. Lourdes considers herself to be Basque, mainly because of her sense of belonging to the Basque Country and to all the local population, although she does not speak Euskera. She sees her identity primarily in respecting traditions and language is not a determining factor for her, although she herself has encouraged its study in her two children. In describing her Basque sentiments and main characteristics, she identifies with the definition of Basque nationalism – she believes in God and old rights (Jaungoikoa eta lagizarra), in the struggle for the recognition of the old rights that Basques had before their abolition. On this basis, he considers belonging among the Basques to be unequivocal. To consider oneself Basque, one must identify with Basque culture and local traditions. In summarising the relations between Basques and Spaniards, he notes that they are mostly on a good level, although there are those who dislike the Spanish and consider the relations very bad. She sees a difference between the generations – hers and the older generation is marked by the war and the regime, when it was not appropriate to express their views publicly. Today’s youth have not lived through a time of repression and punishment for any expression of Basque culture, so today they speak out more radically in public and are not afraid to talk about their thoughts, desires, opinions in public.
Xabier (representative of the 3rd generation – son of Lourdes) has been bilingual since birth – his mother, parents and neighborhood have always spoken to him in Spanish, while his father, grandparents and friends on his side speak Basque. Xabier has thus actively used both languages from an early age, not only in his private life but also during his schooling. He attended university in Bilbao, where he studied only in Basque. On this occasion, he pointed out: „…I learned mathematics only in Basque, and then in everyday life I had to often convert this into Spanish, as I always calculated in Basque in my head from school.“ Xabier feels himself to be Basque, having grown up and been raised in Basque culture from a young age. Without hesitation, he replied that he doesn’t feel even minimally Spanish, nor does it bother him greatly if anyone calls him that. He would very much like one day to be able to have Basque nationality on his identity card. So-called „el espíritu vasco“ (Basque spirituality), according to Xabier, consists mainly of honoring traditions, folklore, local sports, celebrations. Of course, knowing Basque is always an advantage to be accepted and respected in the Basque environment.
The field research focused primarily on answering the main research question to clarify whether generational differences in the perception of Basque identity have been demonstrated and what are the main attributes and symbols that specify the perception of their own identity. During the field research, it was necessary to answer the question of what elements are of main importance in the construction of identity. At first glance, it might seem that it is mainly the Basque territory and their language, but during the research it was found that it does not matter whether Basques know and prefer Euskera or Spanish, although for them their language is a cultural heritage and they certainly accept it as one of the basic symbols of the Basque Country and an indicator of their identity, it is not the most important.
The Basques perceive their ethnic identity on the basis of several factors, which are intertwined in many ways. The strongest factor is their culture and their identification with it; their sense of belonging, their adherence to traditions, their family roots, their language and their territory is a certain symbol, although not the main attribute on the basis of which one is considered Basque. An interesting finding was that when the term „Basque“ was uttered, it was the language, territory and culture that most people recalled. However, it was also found that it did not matter whether the person in question spoke Basque or was born in Basque territory, but it was all about feeling and fitting into Basque society, absorbing all the elements associated with Basque culture. Culture and respect for tradition is also the element most passed on from generation to generation.
It is important to note that when asked about the term ‚Basque‘, there are often different answers. Not all of the respondents consider all seven provinces to be Basque Country, but only the Euskadi region, for example. Based on the information studied and participant observation, the author of this thesis assumed that the main attributes in the perception of identity would be the Basque territory, which was not confirmed during the interviews and questioning. Although the territory is a great symbol for Basques, it is not the main attribute on which they perceive their own identity. The Basques living in Spain have maintained their identity and language for many years, of which they are very proud. During the interviews, an interesting topic was to find out their opinions about their origins, of which they are proud, without knowing where their roots come from. Respondents stated that it was not important to know their ancestral roots, but rather to honour their traditions and customs and pass them on to the next generation. This is the main task of all Basques.
From the research conducted, it became clear what are really the main attributes in the perception of one’s own identity and what differences exist across generations. The respondent of the older generation often brought up the concept of nationalism, with Basque and nationalist being almost synonymous. It took a long time for the author of this thesis to learn why the term „nationalist“ was the main identifying symbol for him, when the younger generation expressed themselves in the style of „I feel like a Basque because I speak Basque, I respect traditions, I have a different culture than the Spanish, my ancestors were Basque, etc„. Over time, a reason was found. During the civil war, Basque society was often divided between nationalists and Francoists (supporters of General Franco). Being a „nationalist“ essentially meant being a proud Basque and not submitting to any anti-Basque regime.
The youngest generation respondent, on the other hand, spoke strongly about seeking independence and granting more rights to the Basque Country. He referred mainly to the distinctiveness of their roots, traditions and customs. For the first generation respondent, the impact of the unpleasant experiences of the war and the subsequent dictatorship can be noted, which is why the older respondents also expressed themselves very little on certain issues. On the other hand, the third generation respondent spoke at some length about the Basque Country and his view of his identity. The younger generation talked much more about the dictatorship than the older generation, although they had not directly experienced the period in question and had knowledge of it from school and from stories. Their knowledge of history is very good and they often draw attention to it themselves.
In the future, it is certainly to be expected that the number of Basque speakers will increase in the coming years. The Basque language is receiving a great deal of support from the Basque Government and institutions in other countries in Europe and America have begun to take up Basque as a language. In the United States, the Basque Studies Programme at the University of Reno is very active, and a Basque Centre has been set up in Berlin. Basque is becoming more widely known in the media. The extinction of languages in the world is a pressing problem today. Of the less than seven thousand living languages, a large number are on the verge of extinction or are used by only a small number of speakers. The Basques have even managed to preserve their language over several centuries, despite major threats from other communities and cultures in the Iberian Peninsula. The threat of the gradual extinction of the Basque language is therefore very unlikely (on the contrary, the language is currently experiencing a revitalisation). It should be pointed out that the disappearance of Euskera may occur in certain places in Spain and France, especially where it is no longer being promoted and passed on to future generations. Although the work has shown that language is not the main attribute of the perception of one’s identity, it is certainly one of the most important symbols for Basques.
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 COLLINS, R. Baskové / Basques. 1997, pp. 5-21.
 Autochthonous population = indigenous population, or population settled in a specific territory (in this case, the Basque Country) since time immemorial.
 PETRÁŠ, R. Cizinci ve vlastní zemi: dějiny a současnost národnostního napětí v Evropě / Strangers in their own land: the history and present of national tensions in Europe. 2004, p. 217.
 The remark „within Europe“ is included here mainly because of the continuous migration of the Basque population to the Americas. Thus, today it is not known exactly statistically how many Basques really live in the world. Statistically, the largest number of Basques living in the world is in Spain, although higher numbers of Basques may be found in the United States and Argentina.
 The Spanish name Navarra is predominantly used in this paper, as it is also more commonly heard by Basques.
 „Comunidad Autónoma“= autonomous community.
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 Officially, there is no Basque country, it is mainly referred to as such by the Basques, who consider Euskadi, Navarre and the three French parts mentioned as Basque country.
 The markets are very typical of the Basque Country and most people gather around midday for shopping, but also to meet and chat with friends.
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