Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Basque Country/ Pays Basque, Northern Spain and Southern France

The region of the world I'm living in at the moment is a fascinating place. I'm really enjoying living here. It's provided me with an opportunity to reflect on the reality of life in the Basque Country, Spain and France.

I recently found out that the Basque nationalists don't even like to refer to Spain or France. The Spanish Basque provinces of Nafarroa, Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia and Alavá, located in the north of Spain, are the Southern Basque Country. The French Pays Basque, consisting of Lapurdi, Behe Nafarroa, and Zuberoa, are in Southern France and are referred to as the Northern Basque Country. Confused yet?

It gets better. The officially recognized Comunidad Autónoma Vasca (CAV, or Autonomus Basque Community) consists only of Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia and Alavá. Nafarroa is another separate entity, and is much more pro Spanish as the Basques only have a strong presence in the province's north. The Pays Basque, which is Lapurdi, Behe Nafarroa, and Zuberoa, is not a separate political entity. They are part of Aquitaine and the Atlantic-Pyrenees Department in France. Furthermore, euskara is not as widely used/displayed in France. I certainly heard it but I saw less of it.

As a slightly related note, Biskaia is the province that I've visited that seems to display the most Basque. I've heard this is because the unified Basque language, euskara batua, is heavily influenced by the Gipuzkoan dialect and Bizkaia believes this to be unfair and fights harder for their particular dialect to be preserved. 

Also interesting is the uses of Euskadi and Euskal Herria as the name for the Basque Country. It's widely agreed that Euskal Herria is the Basque Country as a whole. Herria is town or country and euskal is the combing form of euskara, the Basque language. Euskal Herria is usually the more formal, offical name used. Euskadi is a little more complicated. Euskadi has meant different things at different times, but can still refer to those meanings. It now refers to both the seven provinces as whole and also the CAV. When the CAV came into existence, Euskadi became attached to the collective of those three provinces, when it had previously referred to all seven provinces. Today it is not incorrect to call the seven provinces Euskadi, but it is usually used in reference to the CAV.

Another interesting factor in the dynamic between the Basque Country and Spain and France is, of course, the economy, and the political implications of such a dynamic. I study international political economy so it was only a matter of time until I got to writing a blog post on this topic. In France, the three Basque provinces have very little automous rights. They are not given any special treatment as it were. Basque is not really an official language. The three provinces do not have their own government or representation. Furthermore, France wishes to hold on to these provinces because of the population they give France more power within the EU. For Spain, this is even more important. 

Spain is a medium sized country in terms of EU representation and power. There are strong calls for independence in many region of Spain, but Catalunya and the Basque Country are the most vocal about it. 

A common misconception about Spain is that all the people only speak Spanish. They all speak Spanish because its the official language but there are many languages in Spain. There's euskara in the Basque Country, Catalan in Catalunya, valenciano in Valencia, bablé in Asturias, Gallego in Galicia and andlé in Andalucia. Some are more official than others. Euskara is the most linguistically fascinating because it is unrelated to any other language in existence. Catalan has similarities to French and Gallego to Portuguese, for example. Euskara is not similar to anything.

If separatist regions are allowed to separate from Spain, Spain will lose power within the EU as they will have a smaller population. Madrid has its reasons for keeping hold on its indepence-minded regions but I think it's more interesting to look at the cases for indepence, especially in light of Spain's financial woes in the Eurozone Crisis.


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