A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Thursday, 17 January 2008

The Basque Country

I was now walking through the beautiful Basque Country, known as Le Pays Basque in French and Euskal Herria in the Basque language. The Basque Country is a distinct cultural and ethnic area (population 3 million) of considerable antiquity in south-west France and north-central Spain.

There are 7 traditional Basque regions: Zuberoa, Lapurdi and Lower Navarre in the Northern Basque Country of France; and Navarre, Guipuscoa, Biscay and Alava in the Southern Basque Country of Spain. It has little autonomy in the French part, but in the Spanish regions - particularly Guipuscoa, Biscay and Alava, united as the Autonomous Basque Community - it enjoys extensive political and cultural freedom under its own Nationalist government. The ABC has its own police force and its own radio and TV stations. It controls its own education and health systems.

The Basque language, Euskara, is fascinating and unique. It's known as an "isolate". That is a language not obviously deriving from or related to any other language.

Despite many attempts over the centuries - for example during the time of the French Revolution or in Franco's Spain - to suppress and marginalize Basque culture, and integrate it into the French and Spanish nation-states, Euskal Herria is well and thriving. And long may it continue. Incidentally, the Spanish Autonomous Basque Community is one of the wealthiest regions in Spain.

A section of Basque society has always been struggling for complete political independence, for the establishment of a sovereign nation-state. In most people's minds the extreme form of this nationalism is represented by the paramilitary organization of ETA, designated as a terrorist organization by the EU. In 2006 ETA declared a permanent ceasefire after 40 years of fighting for independence. But a year later this was annulled.

Today's amazing fact... 75% of all British people can be traced back genetically to this area!

I took the photo in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, capital of the traditional Basque region of Lower Navarre.

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