Nation v. state: What is a Spaniard?

(A little politics, a little literature. First the politics. Then, below, in Spanish, the literature.)

Yesterday the Cámara de Diputados in Madrid rang with the much-anticipated debate over the Plan Ibarretxe, a proposal for a drastic overhaul of the relation between Basque region and the Spanish state. In fact the debate has been going on for over a month, in newspapers and in pronouncements by leaders of all the many political factions, ever since the “Plan” was – to everyone’s surprise – passed by a majority of the Basque parliament on December 30.

Spain is made up of many regions, each proud of its particular identity and history. Several preserve traditional languages -- the most important are Basque, Catalán and Gallego, which help maintain the distinction. Under the Spanish constitution of 1978 and succeeding legislation, they enjoy considerable autonomy but are all parts of the Spanish state, speak Spanish as co-official language with their traditional tongue, and fly the Spanish flag next to their own. They serve in one Spanish army, pay one central taxing authority (besides whatever taxes the autonomous region imposes), and their laws must all conform to the Spanish Constitution. One state, many nations.

What the plan presented by the Basque regional president, Juan José Ibarretxe, proposes is that “Euskadi”-- the Basque name for the region currently comprising three provinces in the north of Spain -- cease to be subject to the Spanish constitution and courts, like other autonomous regions (Cataluña, Andalucía, Galicía, etc.). Instead, it would become in effect a nearly totally independent country with its own economic, immigration and foreign policies. And of course, it would not be obliged (as at present) to fly the Spanish flag beside its own. The plan also declares Euskadi to be the homeland of the entire Basque “nation,” and invites Navarra (a neighboring region of Spain) and the three Basque départements of southern France to join this projected new European country. Immigrants from other parts of Spain could become “citizens,” though it is not clear whether they would be obliged to learn Basque (few ethnic Basques today speak it, though the nationalists are trying to standardize and extend the language.)

This new trans-Pyrannean Republic of Euskadi is not likely to happen in this millennium, in part because half the Spanish Basques (and has anybody asked the French ones?) don’t want it – the proposal won a majority in the Basque parliament only with the votes of the outlawed Batasuna party, mouthpiece of ETA, whose deputies have not yet been expelled from parliament. But it sure is occupying a lot of Spain’s political attention. It raises in especially sharp form a 200-year old conflict between “state” and “nation” in Spain.

The notion of ethnic-based regional rights is an invention of the mid-19th century, when insurgents in the Carlist wars fueled ethnic antagonisms to mobilize troops – much as would happen in Yugoslavia a century later. Back when Spanish peasants were all illiterate and docile, the aristocrats and clergy didn’t care what language they spoke. Ironically but predictably, efforts to unify Spain – by making the central government more effective and by encouraging literacy – had the immediate effect of splitting it, stimulating tribal consciousness.

Whether the Basques have truly been the long-term victims of the Spanish state, as their national leaders and ETA claim, is doubtful – the modern Spanish state is to a large extent their product (along with Catalans, Galicians, Valencianos and others), and the relations between the region and Madrid have always been complex and shifting. Basques were on both sides in the Carlist wars and on both sides in the Civil War of 1936-39. But whatever the historical record, the Basques of Spain today have never had it so good. Their region is the most prosperous (a lot of heavy industry, shipping, etc.), their main market is the rest of Spain, and after that, through Spain’s membership in the European Union, the whole continent. If secession or even distancing from Spain gets to look like a real possibility, there is likely to be a large-scale revolt, by non-nationalist Basques and the many other, non-Basque Spaniards who have gone there for the opportunities.

Otro libro de nuestro Club de Lectura en Carboneras

Cansino, Eliacer (1998). El misterio Velázquez. Madrid, Editorial Bruño.
Nicolasillo Pertusato, joven enano o liliputiense en la corte de Felipe IV, cuenta cómo Velázquez llegó a incluirlo en su cuadro "Las Meninas", y cómo apareció la Cruz de Santiago en el autorretrato del pintor dentro de ese cuadro, pintado antes de que Velázquez fuera nombrado Caballero de Santiago. Esta novela juvenil es fantasiosa y simplona -- argumenta que el diablo mandó a Velázquez cómo pintar el cuadro -- , pero buena para señalar la singularidad e importancia de "Las Meninas" y entender algo de la vida de un pintor de la corte. Incluye notas sobre todas las personas históricas que figuran en la novela.

Para un tratamiento más serio, vea
Portus, Javier (2005). Presentación. Los Grandes Genios del Arte: Velázquez. E. Romano. Firenze, RCS Libri S.p.A.: 7-21. (Serie distribuida con el periódico El Mundo)


New story published

This is rather strange. I hope you like it. Be sure to read the poem at the end (not that it will make my story any clearer, but it is a very good poem). On a Page from Rilke, in MILK.