When most Americans think of Spain, they picture small, quaint towns running along the infinite beaches of the Mediterranean basking in the sun.
While this is representative of the tourist-centered south, there is something completely different that comes to mind when talking about the north of Spain, particularly the Basque Country.
Basque Country is in the western Pyrenees and located between France and Spain. While the inhabitants of the region fight for self-determination, neither Spain nor France politically recognizes them.
Living in Bilbao, the largest city in the Basque Country, makes this issue ever present in daily life. The Basque people have an extremely unique and separate culture from the rest of Spain. Euskera, the Basque language which has very little in common with Spanish, is an official language of the autonomous community. All signs and announcements are in Euskera, as well as Spanish. Most street names are Basque and all schools must teach lessons in Euskera.
Many Basques are so proud of the uniqueness of their culture that they don’t consider themselves Spanish. Some refuse to speak Spanish, insisting that Euskera is the proper language for the Basque Country. Tragically, the group most commonly associated with Basque nationalism is the extremist terrorist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or the ETA, which has been responsible for hundreds of deaths through bombings and assassinations. These violent acts are supposedly meant to promote an independent Basque state.
Of course, the vast majority of Basque people are opposed to the ETA’s approach. One topic that is constantly in the Spanish news is ETA’s recent agreement to cease-fire and turn over their arms to the Spanish government, although they have yet to do so.
There are varying degrees of nationalism among the Basques. Most of the older generations are much more nationalistic, many believing that the Basque Country should be an independent nation. The younger generations tend to be much less pro-Basque and generally consider themselves to be Spanish first and Basque second.
In modern Spain, it is difficult to imagine the Basque Country gaining independence. It would be much like New Jersey deciding to break away from the U.S. and becoming its own country. The time for nations based solely on ethnicity has past and it’s time for the Basques to be proud of their culture and history, but embrace their place as Spaniards.