Basque Country

The Basque Region

Basque Country - Guggenheim Museum, BilbaoThe Basque Country (el País Vasco in Spanish, Euskadi in Basque) is located on the north coast of Spain. It is bordered by Cantabria (west), Castile-Leon (southwest), La Rioja (south) and Navarre (southeast). Its eastern side borders France: the Basque region actually straddles the French border.

Basque Region of Spain

The Basque region of Spain comprises three provinces: Álava, Guipúzcoa and Vizcaya. These provinces amount to some 7,261 square kms. Its capital city is Vitoria-Gasteiz (in the province of Álava).

Like Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia the Basque Country faces the Cantabrian Sea (el Mar Cantábrico). The coastline has many cliffs and sheer rock faces. The north of the region has many valleys that run parallel to the coast. The tail of the Pyrenees (los Pireneos) is located in the northeast of the region on the French border. The Basque Mountains (los Montes Vascos), between Bilbao and Vitoria, connect the Pyrenees with the Cantabrian Mountains (la Cordillera Cantábrica).

The Basque Country has a mild climate, rarely suffering from extreme temperatures or weather conditions. The northern part of the region (on the coast) has a more Atlantic climate and the southern part has a Mediterranean microclimate.

The provinces of Guipúzcoa and Vizcaya are the most industrialized Basque territories having machine, steel, paper and petrochemical industries. Fishing, agriculture and tourism also play a significant part in these areas. In Álava, agriculture is the most dominant source of revenue.

The Basque Language

Euskara is seemingly unrelated to any other living or dead language: as such it is a language isolate. The Basque language is extremely important in defining the cultural identity of the Basque people (los vascos in Spanish): Basques call themselves Euskaldunak, which literally means "Basque speaker". During Franco’s dictatorship Euskara was outlawed, and its users persecuted.

Today, Euskara is spoken by around 600,000 of the 2.7 million Basques living south of the Pyrenees.

Like their language, the Basques are considered to be ethnically diferent from their neighbours, both in Spain and in Europe. There are more Basques with type "O" blood than in the general European population. There is a lower chance of Basques belonging to either blood type B or AB and a higher incidence of blood type Rhesus negative.

Basque Separatism

The Basque National Party (el Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV) in Spanish, Eusko Alderdi Jeltzalea (EAJ) in Basque) was founded in 1895 by Sabino de Arana y Goiri to campaign for a unified Basque state, and the restoration of self-government in the region. During Miguel Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship (1923-1930), the PNV was outlawed (along with all other nationalist parties) but continued to operate covertly.

During the Spanish Civil War (la Guerra Civil Española), Franco saw the regions of Guipúzcoa and Vizcaya as treacherous for declaring support for democracy (la democracia) and the Republic (la República) against Franco’s fascist party. Franco’s attitude towards the region led to one of the atrocities of the war: the blanket bombing of Guernica by Franco’s ally, Hitler, on April 26th 1937. The bombing of Guernica killed around 1,700 people and destroyed the city, which was the ancient site of Basque government.

When the Spanish Civil War ended in 1939, Franco suppressed ideas of regionalism in an effort to turn Spain into a uniform nation state. Franco abolished the autonomies that had been granted to the region historically, and banned the use of Euskara.

These actions led to the creation in 1968 of a violent separatist movement called Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), which means Freedom for the Basque Homeland. ETA’s campaigns in Spain have involved kidnappings, bombings and executions and have resulted in the deaths of around 800 people to date.