This article was translated by John R. Bopp
On this day in 1904, one of the people who would, a few years later, become one of the most important and valuable figures in the history of the Basques was born in the Old Town of Bilbao. He was a man who was faithful to his ideas and convictions, a man who led his people through their worst moments in recent history, a man who never lost sight of his ethic, moral, social, or religious principles, even as all those around him did. He was a man who was one of the leading figures in the creation of the idea of Europe, and who, throughout his life, maintained his dignity and that of the office he received from the Basque citizenry. Once again, this date goes by almost unnoticed, and once again we use it as an excuse to remember his example and bring this extraordinary figure back to life.
Jose Antonio de Aguirre y Lecube. The first lehendakari, and not just the first chronologically, that we Basques have had. He led a hard, intense life in which he assumed an extraordinary responsibility with dignity and commitment until the day he dies.
On the 114th anniversary of his birth, we’d like to recall three very specific moments of that facet of his life, that of Lehendakari.
These were three terribly hard moments when he understood that resilience is one of the main reasons the Basque people has survived for millennia. He and his government, along with thousands and thousands of Basques, accepted and fulfilled the responsibilities given to them by the Basque people. They did so in the worst circumstances: exiled, jailed, suffering relentless persecution for decades.
They kept the Cause of the Basque People alive, and saved the lives and futures of tens of thousands of Basques who were forced to be refugees or exiles because of the military uprising and the war it brought about.
And, as we said, they did so while all the while maintaining their ethical, moral, social, and religious principles in tact, while so many around them lost them to the hardships they faced.
We just hope that we’re worthy of continuing their work and spreading their teachings
Lehendakari Aguirre in New York
Today, we’d like to recall three especially important moments for our people and country, at least for those Basques who defended democracy and freedom. We’d also like to share a series of interesting articles about the Lehendakari that we’ve found on the Aberriberri blog, which help get to know better this fundamentally important figure in the history of the Basques.
Agur eta Ohore
The swearing-in of lehendakari Agirre in Gernika (Oct. 7, 1937)
““Humbly before God, standing on Basque soil, with the memory of our forebears, under the Tree of Gernika, I swear to faithfully carry out my mandate.”
Trucios Manifest (June 30, 1937)
I have arrived with Basque troops to the Basque Country border. I have remained among them, admiring the temple of our people, whose spirit will never be beaten. And before leaving the Basque Country, I protest, in its name, before the world the plundering that the Basques have suffered, even in the 20th century, which has deprived us of our Homeland, which we have the right to because it’s ours and we love it so. And we doubly protest, because in order to cause that suffering and deprivation, Spanish fascism needed the help of foreign mercenaries with German and Italian elements of war. With absolute insolence our enemies have invoked the right to conquer. We deny it forever. The territory may have been conquered, but the soul of the Basque people has not, nor will it ever be.
We have acted nobly; our conduct has not varied, even at the end. We left Bilbao intact, along with its means of production. We’ve generously freed the prisoners, which has been repaid by our enemy with persecution and firing squads. No plundering can be blamed on the Basque Army.
The Basque People are looking forward to the future; its soul belongs to us. Our conduct is its conduct. We will recover the land of our fathers to restore our ridiculed language, our outraged law, our stolen freedom. What did fascism ever promise for the Basque Country? Nothing as once it stamped its foot over Bilbao, it took away not only the conquered region’s autonomy, but even its Economic Agreement, the last vestige of the historical freedoms which were respected in the times of the Monarchy. I also protest this final suffering, speaking for this subjugated people, who are no longer allowed to speak.
My emigrated people is pushed up to the sea, finding itself before a double danger. I don’t want to think that friendly or enemy peoples must remain silent. Is it so serious that a people defend its freedom?
To defend it, to stay worthy of the Homeland, hundreds of thousands of Basques today suffer moments of anguish and deprivation. I don’t want to believe that the world has lost its sensitivity.
The Basque Government is still at its post, either within the borders of the Basque Country, or wherever it may be. It is the legitimate government of the Basques, because it interprets the meaning of a people which has not been conquered, but merely humiliated and outraged. And the affection of our compatriots will go with them until the day of victory.
The President of the Basque Government
José Antonio Aguirre
June 30, 1937
The Creation of Eresoinka (Oct. 7, 1937)
On August 19, 1937, when all seemed lost, Lehendakari Aguirre thought that the struggle needed to continue to be fought with peaceful means. He met with Gabriel Olaizola and commended him to be a peaceful cultural ambassador before a Europe in the grips of fascism:
I told him this: it’s possible that we may not be able to leave here. However, our task has not finished and I would like it to also extend to the artistic world. I ask you to immediately go out to France and form, from among our best refugees, the best possible chorus, so they may take the memory of a people dying for freedom around the world, thanks to its melodies.
Articles from Aberriberri
Since the best option in these cases is to turn to the best sources, we’ll leave you with a series of articles about the Lehendakari that appeared on the Aberriberri blog