The Basque Diaspora, NABO and Politics
by John Ysursa
Generally N.A.B.O. has followed its original charter to remain an apolitical organization, but this was contrasted recently when delegations gathered at the V World Congress of Basque Communities revealing a difference in the approach to politics and the definition of Basqueness.
DISCLAIMER: Not an official statement on behalf of NABO; just an editorial piece. jmy
Arguably the trickiest topic for N.A.B.O. and most of our member organizations is the subject of politics. Many a Basque club, including N.A.B.O., began with a clear statement that there would be no discussion of politics. Now of course, depending on how one defines politics, this might well be impossible. If politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions, then NABO is constantly involved in politics; three times a year, for example, we get together for meetings to make collective decisions. But generally, the meaning of politics in this discussion is more narrow by definition. In practice it means avoiding taking political positions--the "no politics" mantra.
In a narrow sense the "no politics" mantra applies to domestic issues; e.g., the club is not going to support one or the other political party (in the American case Republican or Democrat). But in a general sense what is addressed is the taking of positions on politics in the Basque homeland. The Basque Country has been highly politicized. Basques on the French side of Euskal Herria found themselves a part of France's experiment in redefining society during its Revolution of the late 18th century, for example, while in the 19th century Basques on the Spanish side found themselves engulfed in the Carlist Wars; then in the 20th century a civil war shattered Spain. These and other such conflicts produced a powerful incentive for many Basque immigrants to depart.
Still today, politics in the Basque Country remains contentious in many areas and the fact of the matter is it does divide some Basques from Basques. This is reflected when Basque delegations gather once every four years at the World Congress of Basque Communities. And like clockwork, there is always a tense moment of political tension. In Basque guztion artean means "all together" and this was the motto for the V World Congress of Basque Communities back in November of 2011. It's a great sentiment, and most of the time it works fine, but there are limits.
Basques of the Diaspora (those who define themselves as Basques living outside the Basque Country) do not share a common view on politics. Whereas southern American Basque communities (e.g., clubs in Argentina, Chile, etc.) are more inclined to be political, European Basque clubs (e.g, clubs outside of the Iparralde in France, Rome, London, etc.) want to stay away from this. And at the Congresses there were various proposals put forth to emerge as potential unified statements from the Basque Diaspora. But these proposals revealed the deep differences of opinion on this matter, and how Basqueness is defined.
"It is patently obvious that the institutional [Basque] Diaspora is not a homogeneous community free of tensions and disagreements. That said, this division is not black or white. It is not about being for or against ETA [context of the recent proclamation of an ETA permanent ceasefire] but the feeling that the [Diaspora is being] used openly for partisan purposes, which goes against the principles of the supposed apolitical and nonpartisan nature that sustain most of the associations of the Basque Diaspora. The ideological divide between various segments of the institutional Diaspora--particularly between Europe and South America--neutralizes any preconceived interpretation of the Diaspora as a passive entity and homogeneous. Thus there is evidence today that the Basque Diaspora is as plural, even politically, as is the Basque society of Europe."
~Pedro Oiarzabal http://www.blogseitb.us/basqueidentity20/2011/11/21/2003-2011/
NABO's origins vis-a-vis politics was very clear: either no politics or no NABO. The original NABO bylaws declared that "nothing herein contained shall be construed as authorizing or empowering the Corporation to promote, encourage, aid or advance any political ideology, movement, cause, party or activity, wherever located." The context of this statement was based on real reservations that some Basque community leaders had when discussions began about forming a federation. Keep in mind that in the 1970s when NABO was founded, politics were quite intense: E.T.A. was coalescing into a real force. This is not to say that Basques in the United States were directly connected with ETA in Europe, but the intensity of the conflict in Europe was now impeding the formation of NABO. Many "non-political" Iparralde (North or French side) Basque leaders, for example, were worried that perhaps their Hegoalde (Southern or Spanish side) counterparts were far too politicized. So for NABO to be formed, it required that there be a clear statement on NABO's apolitical nature.
For the most part NABO has adhered to this policy, but there are some exceptions. A notable instance was NABO's support for the Ibarretxe Plan to the extent that it called for self-determination. Back in 2008 the then Lehendakri or President of the Basque Government Juan Jose Ibarretxe was putting forth a political initiative to bring an end to ETA violence and to normalize Basque-Spanish relations. So at the Sept. 2008 meeting of NABO delegates a proposal was put forth to the delegates for consideration of whether to join with other Basques in the Diaspora:
- Do you agree to support a negotiated end to violence, if ETA delivers unequivocally its wish to put an end to violence once and for all: Yes or No?
- Do you agree to the initiation by all Basque political parties, without exclusions, of a negotiation process to reach a Democratic Agreement on the right of the Basque People to decide their own future, and to the holding of a Referendum on the aforementioned Agreement before the end of 2010: Yes or No?
The discussion included the point that NABO has to be concerned that if delegates agree to support this statement, will it open up the door for future requests of support on other items? After an in-depth discussion, there was a move to vote. The motion: "Does NABO want to join the other organizations in the Basque Diaspora in issuing this declaration?" was passed.
MIDDLE PATH. So NABO might well be in the middle of this continuum: between those who want little or nothing to do with political statements and those Basque communities that are more inclined to engage in politics.
At the 5th World Basque Congress the only tension that arose was when a possible joint declaration was announced on the last day. A handful of delegates had developed a proposal to address the recent ETA permanent ceasefire announcement. The discussion that followed became heated at points, again revealing the profound gap in how Basque communities relate to political statements. In the end there was no formal, joint statement that emerged from the assembled delegates.
"It is good for Basque cultural organizations to be apolitical--that is to the extent possible, to minimize political involvement or the announcing of political positions.... Culture unites us while politics divides us. That became clear at the Congress.
To have an Ikurriña (Basque flag) at a Basque club or to celebrate Aberri Eguna (Basque Nation Day) are now non-political and cultural events, so the Basque Government does not ask us to put up or remove the Ikurriña, nor does it ask us to celebrate or not to celebrate the Aberri Eguna.
A good example of how politics corrodes culture in the Basque Country is how they are unable to get together to celebrate Aberri Eguna, an opportunity to celebrate a common culture. But as politics takes precedence over culture in Euskal Herria, many celebrate this day separately with their own political party. How sad no? I think if you leave politics aside, you leave out what divides us."
~Izaskun Kortazar http://www.blogseitb.us/basqueidentity20/2011/11/21/2003-2011/
The position of the N.A.B.O. delegation at the Congress was largely pre-determined. Maybe if this had been announced beforehand allowing for further discussion about the specifics, it's possible that the N.A.B.O. delegation could have approved. But as one of the delegates at the Congress Izaskun Kortazar stated, we "could not sign a proclamation on behalf of many people [and member Basque organizations] without their authorization, not knowing if they were in accord." Generally speaking then, if a proposal requires a handful of delegates to speak on behalf of over forty member organizations minus a general discussion, then the norm has been to abstain. Of course this does not preclude a NABO member club or organization that wants to make a public political statement.
As the saying goes, there are two topics one should avoid in polite company: religion and politics. One person defined these as follows: religion is what you think is; politics is what you think should be. So in politics, the differences arise in that not all agree on what should be--and what must be done to achieve the should. For over a generation what made Basque politics even more intense was E.T.A. Thus the recent announcement of E.T.A.'s end is a real game-changer; what remains to be seen is how this will impact the ongoing discussion of Basque politics, and to what degree it remains a taboo subject.
The bottom line: some Basque communities of the Diaspora are more politicized than others. For some a political identity and activism comprises a key part of how Basqueness is defined. Generally speaking the Basque communities of South America--for various reasons--emphasize politics more-so than others. Meanwhile, again for various reasons, Basques of North American have generally been more apolitical. However this difference is okay: as long as there's clarity on this difference, it does not preclude or prevent the possibility of continuing to work together on cultural projects.
BASQUE FAMILY. The Basque community is really like a family. As the saying goes, you don't get to choose your relatives but you do get to pick your friends. So it becomes a matter of deciding--despite differences--how much you want to get along with your family. We know how this applies in our own local Basque communities, and the same goes for the global Basque community. We are not all going to agree, but there is general consensus among those who self-define as being Basque in a shared should: agree to disagree, let's keep working together to keep Basque heritage alive.
But NABO understands that politics is a part of life and it is impossible to ignore. So on some occasions NABO has had--and will likely continue to have--discussions on political matters. It is unlikely, however, that NABO will move far away from its mostly apolitical cultural endeavors. Now for some this will be a disappointment, while for others zero politics is desirable. Be that as it may, NABO will likely continue to pursue a middle path vis-a-vis Basque politics.