This article was translated by John R. Bopp

Talitha Ilacqua is a specialist in Basque and French history, and a doctoral candidate at King’s College in London.  We “discovered” her thanks to the announcement of the conference “Basque and French: Ethnicity, Culture, and Geography in Basque Political Thought (1780s-1850s)” that she is going to offer at the University of Cambridge.

We must admit that, despite our evident interest in the history of the Basques, we know decidedly little about the history and evolution of Basque territories north of the Pyrenees, which we imagine happens with a lot of Basques on the peninsula.

As we commented when we wrote about a tour guide book written about the Lower Basque Country for readers in the Upper Basque Country, a “more trivial” but no less important matter regarding the border that divides the Basques:

This border, which is not ours and which, despite what Orson Welles stated at the beginning of his wonderful documentary The Land of the Basques, has, over the centuries, has deeply separated the Basques on either side.  Serving different kings, and then different states, has set the Basques on either side against each other many times.  Plus, there has been an immense effort on the part of both state to eliminate the feeling of being Basque, in order to feel Spanish or French.

That’s why we were so interested to hear about a conference on this very topic at the University of Cambridge.  So, we dug a little deeper online to get some more clues, and we discovered an article titled “Territory and the Politics of Identity in the Basque Country during the French Revolution” that was published in French History magazine at the University of Oxford.

We can imagine that the focus of the conference at Cambridge will be based on the same lines that the author laid in that article.  In it, she speaks of the consequences the Basques suffered because of the “parisification” that the French revolutionaries imposed on the entirety of (what was until then) the Kingdom of France.

The disappearance of the traditional forms of self-government of the Basques in that part of our nation, in a process that had begun in the previous century by the Bourbon absolutists, had catastrophic effects on those Basques.

The French Revolution had enormous political, economic, and personal consequences for the Basques.  A commemorative plaque in St. Martin’s Church to a victim of the repression 1793-1795 (Sare, Labourd).
The French Revolution had enormous political, economic, and personal consequences for the Basques.  A commemorative plaque in St. Martin’s Church to a victim of the repression 1793-1795 (Sare, Labourd).

It was also a process that was strongly opposed by the inhabitants of those lands, which resulted in strong repression on the part of the Republican forces.  While not reaching the levels suffered by the citizens of Vendée, the northern Basques suffered not only the elimination of their historic rights, but also the consequence of the “iron hand” policy the “revolutionaries” applied.

There is one thing that we’ll admit sits poorly with us in her interesting line of thought.  The idea that the formulas of Basque self-government were a privilege.  This term, in common use, presupposes that it’s an advantage that was handed out and that benefits those who have it while others, who are their equals, do not benefit.  The Basque system of self-government was nothing more than that, their system of self-government.  It was neither a privilege nor a concession.  It was a right that belonged to them as Basques and which was taken away from them–until today.

University of Cambridge  – 9/2017 – Gran Bretaña

Basque and French: Ethnicity, Culture, and Geography in Basque Political Thought (1780s-1850s)

Modern European History Workshop

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French History/Oxford University – 9/2017 – Gran Bretaña

Territory and the politics of identity in the Basque country during the French Revolution

The abolition of privileges and the administrative division of French territory into eighty-three départements were the most long-lasting and arguably most significant reforms enacted by the French revolutionaries in the first phase of the French Revolution (1789–90). This article analyses the development of political ideas produced by such revolutionary reforms, from the convocation of the Estates-General in January 1789 to the creation of a new département in January 1790 in the Basque country.

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