Identity politics is a complex concept that concerns the loosely connected aspects of culture that determine the interests, objectives and ideologies of people. It is important to mention that the cultural practices of people are the foundation for the political structures. For the purpose of the current paper, the case of Basques is given prominence. The Basques have the longest history among the cultural group in the European continent. The peculiarity is explained by the fact that its cultural aspects are older than the core characteristics of many Indo-European groups. For instance, the language natively spoken by the Basques is older than any of the Indo-European languages in existence today. According to Bienefield (2015), the Basques have a special constitutional status, because their culture has some distinctive characteristics that make the community unique. The current paper is a comprehensive effort to elucidate the identity politics of the Basques, evaluate their political organization, social structures, cultural practices, as well as the historical backgrounds.
The Basques are remnants of the ethnic groups that occupied the European continent before the Indo-European languages were established. Therefore, the Basques could be the oldest ethnic group on the continent. The members of the group occupy the Basque region and are inhabitants of two countries, which are Spain and France. According to the experts in European history, the Basques represent the groups that inhabited the western parts of the continent, particularly the Franco-Cantabrian region. Currently, the language used by the native Basques has about five dialects. The language variety is linked to the fact that the historically Basques spoke the same language with different variations. The history of the Basque people can be traced back to the earliest arrival of agriculture in the Iberian Peninsula 7 millennia ago.
The earliest known political activities of the Basques occurred in the middle ages when they occupied the region between two major rivers – Ebro and Garonne. In the historic period, they bore the name Vasconia, which is an amorphous and vague cultural and political entity that was under pressure from all sides. From the South, the people were threatened by the Muslim settlers. From the North, the Basques were facing economic and political pressure from the Frankish political groups and the Iberian Kingdom. The tension, which came practically from all sides, weakened the Basques significantly, derailing their fight for self-government. Thus, Bienefield (2015) identifies the location challenge as a definitive characteristic of the Basques’ political topography.
For a long time, the Basques enjoyed self-government, until the beginning of the French Revolution in the late 1790s and the fierce Carlist battles of 1839 and 1876. During the wars, the Basques took very risky decisions that altered their political endeavors to a great extent. During the wars, for instance, the Basques opted to defend their Carlos V. The choice resulted in the Basques losing their traditional laws and their native institutions during the Ancient Regime.
Primarily, the fundamental aims of the Basques were clear and included self-government and autonomy (Bienefield, 2015). The limited self-government status of the Basques was the key reason for the conflict to arise between the Basques and the Spanish government for many centuries. The Basques did not have their political interests considered, especially because they had two national governments to convince, which are the French and the Spanish administrations. Moreover, there are a number of Basques in the Diaspora, primarily the Americas and other European countries.
Currently, there are about 2,123,000 people in the Basque Autonomous Community. While the culture of the Basques seems to be fading, the distinctive characteristics of the people remain noticeable. For instance, 33% of the Basques speak native Basque language. Ordinarily, the Basques use both Spanish and Basque languages. They speak Spanish because it is constitutionally mandatory in the region. Additionally, their decision to give prominence to their native language is supported by the Spanish constitution’s Article No. 6, which allows the people to speak their native language. It passes for a fact that language is an integral part of a culture. However, the use of Basque language faced serious political challenges. However, the difficulties are the factors that define the identity politics of a group because, in the absence of challenge and opposition, it is not easy to comprehend the political ideologies that the people represent.
Considering the political challenges, under the Restorationism and Francoist Spain, speaking Basque language in public was considered a form of separatism. However, through the years, the Basque people have been consistent in their bid to prioritize their language along with their cultural values. While the culture of the Basques is several millennia old, it is evident that the values of the people have survived and passed the test of time. The proof is that such aspect as national clothing is existent today. In the contemporary world, the term Basque can be used differently to bear varying connotations. The term, for instance, can be associated with a type of clothes worn by women. It is a tight fitting and highly contoured attire worn to cover the area between the upper chest and the region just above the waist. It is commonly referred to as the corset in the fashion terms. Moreover, it has the significance to the historians and anthropologists concerned about the past practices of the Basques. Considering that the corset is referred to as the Basque, it is clear that the Basques dressed in closely fitting and heavily contoured attire, which was similar to the metallic armor of the soldiers.
In the 20th century, there were approximately 850,000 Basques in Spain, 130,000 in France and about 170,000 in the Diaspora. However, Bienefield (2015) points out that the culture has overcome many hurdles, the main one being the attempts of assimilation. The Basques’ resistance to assimilation efforts by other cultures is described by Jeram and Adam (2015) as cultural oppression.
The socio-political topography of people determines their socio-economic activities. The Basques were an economically sound group in the ancient times as they practiced a number of agriculture-based activities for subsistence purposes. Primarily, the Basques, who were associated with settling at the foot of mountains, were prominent smallholding farmers. They practiced basic agriculture along the slopes of the mountains, where they acquired grass for the stabled cows. In addition, they were renowned sheepherders, who kept quite a number of mountain sheep. The scattered farmhouses formed small villages, which were politically significant. The Basques also operated some apple orchards that complemented the primary food crops cultivated. Additionally, the Basques were skillful shipbuilders, famous for seafaring and other adventures.
The household was the most basic functional political unit among the Basques. In the Basque community, the household consisted of the buildings, the farmhouse and the farm itself. The political topography of the people had a comprehensive law of succession. The inheritance of the property was procedural and detailed process. The legal structures were keenly observed in succession so as to reduce the chances of any possible conflicts among the community members.
The Basques pledged strong allegiance to the Roman Catholic practices. However, they did not embrace Christianity until the tenth century. The long unclear history of the Basques has motivated people to develop different ideas and theories, with some purporting that the Basques must be connected to Jesus’ lineage in some way. The assumption was supported by the claim the lifestyle and political topography of the Jews resemble that of the Basques to a great extent. The political, cultural and social influence of the Basques declined significantly due to the industrial development of the region, urbanization and emigration to places like the Americas.
The identity politics of the Basques was clearly defined in the 19th century after the founding of the Spanish Monarchy in 1975. The Basques engaged in the spirited demonstrations seeking local autonomy and self-determination. As mentioned earlier, self-government is a key characteristic of the political topography of the Basques. The quest for self-determination has seen the Basque community become a serious activist in the European Union decision-making process (Bienefield, 2015).
Speaking of a political identity, it is important to mention that the community’s greatest political endeavor is the concept of Basque Nationalism (Zabalo, Mateos & Iraola, 2013). It defines a comprehensive concept that spans around three notable regions, namely the autonomous communities of Basque Country, French Basque region and the Navarra in Spain. The primary endeavor of the Basque Nationalism is the search for ethnic democracy (Ethnic Questions and Democratization: Basque Nationalism, 2015). The aforementioned self-determinism efforts are rooted in Carlism.
One organization that sufficiently defines the political endeavors of the Basque people is ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna). It is a political organization that has been labeled terrorist by the U.S., the UK, France, Spain and the European Union. The group was initially associated with promoting the culture of the Basques; however, it has become a paramilitary group seeking to attain its objectives through unorthodox means such as violence and kidnappings. Currently, 400 ETA members are imprisoned. The terror group has not been able to attain its goals as it has called for ceasefire repeatedly; the latest call was on the 5th of October 2011 (Zabalo & Saratxo, 2015). The ETA leaders have as well complained of torture by the Spanish police, claiming they are treated badly because of their ethnic affiliations.
Therefore, the Basques are a people with a long political history. Their current aims are rooted in self-determinism and ethnic autonomy. They have been influencing the decisions of the EU, but have yet attained their goals (Bienefield, 2015). Their goals are comprehensive and long-term, and the achievement of such aims calls for a well-structured political faction. The Basques have been accused of marginalization of the immigrating communities but they claim that their actions are rooted in the political differences between the community and the Spanish government (Zabalo, Mateos & Iraola, 2013).
From the foregoing, a few facts become clear. Firstly, the Basques are one of the oldest known cultures in the world and indisputably the oldest in Europe. Secondly, the main objectives of the Basques are the quest for self-government, which has seen them engage in various efforts, through both ethical ways and unorthodox means such as murders and violence. Thirdly, the Basques have not yet attained their goals. Thus, it is obvious that the Basques identity politics is a complicated affair, especially considering that the recorded history presents limited knowledge about the group.