An outsider’s glimpse of the Basque cause [Part IV: So, why exactly?]

So, why exactly?

Many of the other foreign students at the language school expressed great difficulty in understanding or even in beginning to understand why Basque people want independence from Spain. In general, everyday life it doesn’t appear as if they are in danger of losing their cultural identity and uniqueness; their language is one of the oldest in the world, the entrenchment of their roots is not exactly in question here. Furthermore it is assumed that any new, independent state would be much worse off economically, and would probably have to depend on Spain anyway. So why do they demand more?

Here is my own cobbled-together representation of the Basque perspective:

They truly do not feel Spanish, in fact it could even be said that while they can recognise it, the Spanish identity is something that would be alien for them to take on. They know what they want, and believe that their priorities and way of going about things are different to Spain’s. There’s almost the sense that they should have independence because it is inevitable, because they are that sure that they are ready to be a coherent state of their own. There is absolutely no air of desperation or bravado, not even in their persistently strong displays of activism; instead the impression is that they are matter-of-fact in stating what they require. It’s quite curious because on one hand there is much cynicism about Spain’s motives and views of the Basque Country; on the other, they give off the vibe that they are just waiting for the full deal that they know Spain will end up giving to them.

While I have felt a natural immediate empathy for the desire of the Basque people to have independence from Spain, for a long while I didn’t have a grounded sense of understanding as to the Why. To a Basque person it is obvious, they are not Spanish. But I in myself don’t understand what it feels like to feel part of a group, let alone part of a group that is involuntarily under the dominion of another. So I sat down one day and spent a bit of time writing out ideas for why a people might want independence and not be content with recognition.

“Why would you feel like you needed a state of your own?”

– You don’t want to feel like you have to ask, or more emotively, “beg” for things from others who on the one hand brand you as different, but on the other insist you are part of them.

– Along similar lines, you know that you can forget trusting that the rulers of the country will keep your people’s interests at heart when making and effecting state decisions.

– You want to be seen. You want to be heard. You don’t want to disappear for having been swallowed up into the homogeny.

– It’s a matter of true and complete self-expression. Just as an individual person puts their beliefs into practice through how they choose to live their life and how they interact with others and society as a whole; a country lives its cultural and philosophical values through its policies, laws, freedoms and relationships with other countries. It’s one thing to be able to express yourself through pretty, showy and descriptive means, such as having traditional festivals and keeping the names of buildings in the original language. It’s entirely another to be able to express yourself through active self-determination.

There is also of course the obvious point that well… maybe the people have always been there, maybe they were there before the modern-day rulers. This is an important factor in why the people feel so justified in their objections, and in why they find imposed sovreignty so baffling. What I’m not so sure about is whether this fact in itself naturally leads to a call for independence.

Independence vs. recognition

Where does it all end though? Aren’t we just playing at Russian dolls here, if we recognise that there are many many many culturally distinct groups in the world, small and large, and that even these “groups” will have their minorities? Might not the reason for all this return to the simple, base cries of the ego?

It seems to me that the problem with recognition is that it is often an act – indicative of bad faith and of trying to get away with doing the least possible. So I see the problem as being more of what’s real in human interactions than of whether independence is always better or whether a certain level of recognition would be acceptable. I don’t know what the right answer is for each separate conflict of such a nature. What I think I do know is that the answers to the following 2 questions would be very telling.

Question 1. Does the group in power genuinely care about the welfare of these “others”? Really? Or are they just keeping them around to prop themselves up higher, or to feed themselves better at the expense of the minority’s well-being?

Question 2. Do they negotiate in a way that recognises that both sides have validity and are allowed to differ in their perspectives?

I think the heart of it is a question of respect and genuine acknowledgement of people’s otherness. Clearly an entirely hippie sentiment. But I do see it as more than idealistic musing: whether you are an individual person who refuses to give another credit for being their own person, or a nation who does so with groups of people, you invite nothing but trouble by attempting to disallow another’s identity. Fighting and grabbing might be necessary when resources are down-to-the-wire scarce. However if you really want to be healthy and get ahead the rest of the time, your best bet is generally working with, not against, others.

But hey, Spain can always continue what it’s doing now and say that the problem lies only in the bloodthirstiness and lack of integrity of the Basque separatists; rather than see its attitude towards people as having any relevance here too. It obviously thinks it gains enough in other areas to make up for the losses from this conflict.


2 thoughts on “An outsider’s glimpse of the Basque cause [Part IV: So, why exactly?]

  1. Wow, Scotland 🙂 I love your adventures. And I love the photos ! (I found a way to unblock the Flickr site (and all the other blocked sites for that matter) in Dubai) Keep them coming !

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