Other Discussions on Spain

When Nations Break Up: The Case of Spain



Many states are breaking up in different ways. Some, such as India, Indonesia and China may do. Canada, Chile, and Great Britain have been mentioned. My great concern is the United States, which has often been compared with Russia.. Both countries expanded across a continent, the one to the east, the other to the west, and both to the south. The Soviet Union and the United States both denounced imperialism, although they are the prime examples of it. Loyalty to the constitution is supposed to unite Americans of different ethnicity, while in a similar effort the Soviet Union tried to create a Soviet man. This plan failed, and now Russia itself is threatened by ethnicity. I invite you to consider the case of a country in which you are especially interested. I myself will consider Spain, which I have had a special opportunity to study. The Iberian Peninsula, united by Philip II, broke up when Portugal reasserted its independence. To appease regional discontent, the first Republic (1870-73) tried a federal system, but it ended in chaos when some regions and cities proclaimed their independence. Fearing that Spain would disintegrate, the Army restored the monarchy. I lived in Spain in 1936, when chaos threatened the country. General Franco proclaimed that Spain must be "one and great," but the brutal suppression of the regions, especially the Basque provinces and Catalonia, simply increased resentment. My comments will concentrate on these regions, with which I am especially familiar. They are the wealthiest in Spain and resent rule from distant Madrid. Apart from the terrorist ETA, all parties are walking on eggs, since the last thing they want is another Civil War. In Oxford I studied Basque with William J. Entwistle, whose method of studying odd languages was through the Lord's Prayer. Basque as a language had been losing ground for centuries. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Prince Louis Bonaparte carefully traced the shrinking of the Basque-speaking area. Actually, Castilian, which originated in the region of La Bureba, was Latin spoken by Basques. The Basque language is an oddity; suggestions that it is related to the languages of the Caucasus have been dropped. When I was in the Basque country in 1931, none of the people I met knew Basque, which was restricted to some mountain areas. Franco's brutality toward the Basques, especially the bombing of Guernica, made the Basque language a symbol of the region's identity. ETA terrorists demand that their trials be conducted in Basque. During this academic year (1987-8) we have had staying with us a National Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, an economist originally from Bilbao We have had a most pleasant relationship, and I shall be sorry when he leaves in the Fall for Brown University. His presence has given me an excellent opportunity to study the present state of Basque identity. Ignacio (Ignati in Basque) is of course a Basque saint. The two familiy names, Palacios and Huerta, are both Castilian, but Ignacio says he is seven-eights Basque. The family name, originally Jauregui, meaning palace, was translated into Palacios, its Castilian counterpart, proof that in those days Spanish names were preferred. What is the Basque country? Ignacio insists that it is not only the three provinces so labelled (Alava, Bizcaya, and Guipuzcoa) but also Navarre and the three Basque regions of France.. Who is a Basque? A Basque is someone born in Basque territory, or elsewhere of Basque parents. Ignacio knows only a few words of Basque, which he regrets. Although Spanish-speaking, he affirms his Basque identity. Is he Spanish? Well yes, but in a fuzzy way. What does he think of the Basque independence movement? Well, let the people decide. Catalonia is a different problem, although its proximity to France and its historic claim to Roussillon parallel the Basque situation. Catalan is a major Mediterranean language, although silly local pride leads Valencia and the Baleares to assert that their languages are different on the basis of minor peculiarities. I studied Catalan language and culture in Barcelona in 1932, when Catalonia, in the first flush of the 1931 Spanish republic, was reasserting its culture. The famous Catalan linguist Pompeu Fabre was proud to have me in his class as evidence that the world was paying attention to the Catalan language. The Catalan family with which I stayed spoke Catalan, but when I returned to Barcelona under Franco they spoke Spanish. After the fall of Franco, Catalan again became the family language. Ignacio Palacios-Huerta is about to leave, but next year (1998-99) we shall have at Stanford as a Knight Fellow Joan Ubeda, who teaches at the Pompeu Fabre University in Barcelona. He was delighted to learn that I had studied under the man after whom his university is named. He wrote me a long letter in Catalan, and asserts without hesitation that he is Catalan. Yet his name is Spanish, and his great grandfather came from a small town near Almeria in southern Spain. The wealth and industry of both the Basque provinces and Catalonia have attracted many immigrants from the poorer regions of Spain. They adapt to Catalonia quite well since both Catalan and Spanish are Romance languages. Basque, however, is a different story, and the number of immigrants who learn it is miniscule. We will welcome Joan Ubeda to Stanford, and through him I shall get a better feel for the present Catalan sense of identity.

Ronald Hilton - 06/13/98



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