At the beginning of the year, French Prime Minister Jean Castex, while in the heart of Alsace, stated that he was not convinced by the creation of the macro-regions in France born of the territorial reform led by François Hollande.

«Je voudrais vous faire une confidence personnelle: je n’ai jamais été convaincu par la création de ces immenses régions (en 2015), dont certaines ne répondent à aucune légitimité historique et surtout ne me paraissent pas répondre aux besoins grandissants de nos concitoyens pour une action publique de proximité»
(“I’d like to share a personal secret: I’ve never been convinced by the creation of these immense regions (in 2015), some of which do not meet any historical legitimacy and above all which do not seem to satisfy the growing needs of our fellow citizens for local public action“)

It was a statement, made in Alsace, an area with quite a strong, unique cultural and historical reality, that did not go unnoticed.  Alsace is divided into two departments, Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin, which are now currently “diluted” in the Grand-Est region.  This happened to some national communities, while for others, such as Brittany and Corsica, the administrative and cultural and historical realities coincide.

División administrativa de Francia desde 1 de enero de 2016 (Wikilpedia - Superbenjamin)
First-level administrative divisions of France since January 1, 2016 (Wikilpedia – Superbenjamin)

It goes without saying that the Prime Minister’s statement has triggered a flurry of opinions, for and against.  We can’t forget that France was where the Jacobins‘ idea of a single nation-state that canceled out any cultural, social, historial, or national reality that was different to the one they defended was born, and anyone who didn’t speak in French or who defended the local languages or dialects was branded a traitor.

A report from the French network LCI tells us about what this debate looks like in the Northern Basque Country, and what it’s like to belong to a macro-region, in this case, New Aquitaine.

Fachada del Ayuntamiento de Eskiula (Wikilpedia Utolou)
Façade of the City Hall of Eskiula (Wikilpedia Utolou)

We mustn’t forget that for the French Jacobins, these Basque have never had the right to any recognition as a historical or cultural community.  For example, they have never had a differentiated department.  In fact, it took more than 220 years for all the Basque territory under French administration to get its own administrative body that encompassed the whole of the Basque Country north of the Pyrenees (minus one town).  We’re referring to the Communauté d’agglomération Pays Basque – Euskal Hirigune Elkargoa which includes 157 of the 158 communes that belong to the historical Iparralde region, lacking only EsquiuleEskiula, which is part of Bearn but which is usually included on the list of towns in Soule, one of the historical territories of the Northern Basque Country, as most of its citizens speak Basque).

There are some clear ideas which, from our point of view, can be drawn from this fracas, and from the opinions gathered in the report about the opinions and feelings of Northern Basques.

One is that despite more than two centuries of the “republican school” aimed at creating citizens who felt they belonged only to the “French nation,” the nations that make up the French Republic are still alive and kicking.

Another is that the Northern Basques defend their culture, history, and way of life with energy and conviction, despite the obstacles, difficulties, and impositions their culture has suffered under for centuries.

A final one is that the French government may try to push back, ignore, or dodge the problem, try to not see the elephant in the room.  But that elephant is definitely there, and it’s not going anywhere.

In the case of Iparralde, there seems to us to be a reaffirmation of belonging to their own national community, the Basque one.  It reminds us of, we hope, the rebirth of the Basque feeling which that part of our nation underwent at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries and which ad, to the surprise of many today, such important and universal representatives as Maurice Ravel.

We’ll leave you with the LCI article, the articles from France 3 and France Culture that shared Jean Castex’s statement, and the reactions to it.

 LCI – 26/1/2021 – France

Identité régionale : quels points communs entre un Basque et un Limougeaud en Nouvelle-Aquitaine?

ux côtés des drapeaux européen et français, le drapeau basque flotte au-dessus de la mairie. À Arbonne (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), un village de 2000 habitants, la Nouvelle-Aquitaine semble un peu trop grande. Avec l’application de la nouvelle répartition en 2016, la région s’est étalée jusqu’à Limoges. Les Arbonnais ne semblent pourtant partager aucun point commun avec les Limougeauds. Même constat avec les habitants de Bayonne, à quelques kilomètres de là, qui se réclament quant à eux du Pays-basque.

(Follow) (Automatic translation)

France 3 – 23/1/2021  – France

Grand Est : après les déclarations de Jean Castex contre les grandes régions, les élus Lorrains réagissent

C’est une petite phrase de Jean Castex prononcée samedi 23 janvier à Colmar au siège de la Collectivité Européenne d’Alsace (CEA) qui n’est pas passée inaperçue en Lorraine. Alors qu’a dit exactement le premier ministre le week-end dernier dans le Haut-Rhin ?

(Follow) (Automatic translation)

France Culture -28/1/2021 – France

Les “grandes régions” sont-elles trop grandes ?

‘histoire que nous vous racontons ce matin pourrait être un exercice pour les orthophonistes : à l’Est, Jean Castex lâche du lest.  Mais plus que la diction, ce qui pose problème dans ce dossier, c’est le rapport de l’État aux régions.Alors disons-le, ce qui se joue ici n’est pas extrêmement spectaculaire. Il est question de collectivités locales et de rapports entre les institutions. On a déjà vu plus croustillant.

(Follow) (Automatic translation)