What makes Basque Country different?

The Basque Country (Euskadi) has been presented by other countries as a completely different being from the rest of Spain too many times, even as opposed to it. They have even tried to make Basque people look as a homogeneous and monolithic ‘nation’: one single ethnic group, one single national identity, one single language, one single culture and one single political ideology. However, there is nothing further from the truth. If there is one thing that has characterized the Basque Country along history, that has precisely been its internal diversity. In 1984 two of the most important Basque intellectuals, the historian Juan Pablo Fusi and the anthropologist Julio Caro Baroja, published separate works in which they coined the word ‘pluralism’ to define Basque society. Fusi, for example, claimed that ‘the Basque Country is characterized by a wide cultural and political pluralism, a linguistic duality and a variety of mentalities and habits of social behavior. The Basque Country would be a modern and complex society defined by a sharpened cultural, political, social and economical variety’1.

There is a great heterogeneity among men and women living in the Basque Country, not to mention in Navarra, another autonomous region that nationalists want to annex to Euskadi. Basques have different origins (natives, immigrants from the rest of Spain and descendants of immigrants or mixed), different territorial identities (only Basque, only Spanish, although the majority feels both Basque and Spanish in different degrees), they speak two languages (Basque and, mainly, Spanish), its European culture comes from the mixture of many others and, at last, they either integrate with or feel close to three great political movements: nationalism, right wing and left wing.

But, is all that internal diversity what makes Basque society different? No, it is not. One of the characteristic features of a modern society is precisely its internal plurality. As Emilio Lamo recalls, homogeneous societies are the unusual ones. First of all, most countries have inside them four or more ethnic groups. In second place almost 6.912 languages are spoken in the planet, although there are only 228 estates. Each one has an average of 30,3 languages. Only less than 15% of those estates can be considered to be linguistically homogeneous. In third place, in America, Europe and other parts of the world democratic regimes are the usual system. In fourth place, the presence of one or several regionalist or nationalist movements in a country is not surprising. In fifth place it is common to have territories where there are people who feel part of different nations (and people who do not believe in the existence of something called ‘nation’). In sixth and final place, some citizens have a multiple territorial identity2. In that sense, the Basque Country (and Spain as a whole) follows the rule. Then, what is the difference? Or, in other words, why did it seem so necessary to remark the plurality of Basque society in 1984? And, why is it still so important to remember that diversity now in the 21st century? The answer is fairly simple: terror. Then and now, ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna, Basque Country and Freedom) not only questions Basque pluralism but also tries to remove it through terroristic violence3.

1 Juan Pablo Fusi. El País Vasco. Pluralismo y nacionalidad (Madrid: Alianza, 1984); Julio Caro Baroja. El laberinto vasco (San Sebastián: Txertoa, 1984).

2 Emilio Lamo de Espinosa, ‘¿Importa ser nación? Lenguas, naciones y Estados’, Revista de Occidente, nº 301 (2006), pp. 118-139.

3 Gurutz Jáuregui, Ideología y estrategia política de ETA. Análisis de su evolución entre 1959 y 1968 (Madrid: Siglo XXI, 1981); John Sullivan, ETA and Basque Nationalism: the Fight for Euskadi, 1890-1986 (New York/London: Routledge, 1988); Antonio Elorza (coord.), La historia de ETA (Madrid: Temas de hoy, 2006); Diego Muro, Ethnicity and violence: the case of radical Basque nationalism (New York: Routledge, 2007); Rogelio Alonso, Florencio Domínguez and Marcos García, Vidas rotas. Historia de los hombres, mujeres y niños víctimas de ETA (Madrid: Espasa, 2010).

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