The Basque Solution

Like vultures, the worldwide press is starting to celebrate the anticipated disintegration of Spain.

The Catalans are determined to go.  Considering that Catalonia is the richest province in Spain (by absolute numbers), Spain would suffer an economic hit should Catalonia go.

However, always alongside the separatist Catalans are the Basque, who have the highest per capita output in Spain – but only one third the population base.  Navarre Province (which is heavily Basque in the north) came in second per capita in 2010.  Madrid was a mere third per capita, but much of that is artificial wealth, because the national bureaucracy sucks in money from the rest of the country.  Catalonia is fourth.  However, because Catalonia has a much larger population overall, it comes in first for absolute income (2014).

The northern Spanish region of the Basque country has Spain's highest GDP per capita, at €30,051 ($32,600), almost double that of Spain's poorest region[.] ...

The Basque Country has traditionally been one of Spain's main industrial hubs, and today is home to thriving aeronautics and energy industries[.] –The Local.es (2015)

Everyone knows that the Basque, the real powerhouse on the Iberian peninsula, are paying close attention to what is happening in Catalonia.

Pro-independence parties in Basque Country are showing their support for Catalonia's referendum on Sunday.

Tens of thousands of people attended a rally on Friday in the capital of the autonomous community in northern Spain backing Catalan separatists.

So it would seems that Spain is in for a roller coaster ride.

To be up front, as an American, I do not think Spain will break up.  I do have sympathies for those who desire independence, but it is more for the Basque than the Catalans.

Why?

While it is true that the Catalans are a different people, they are not so different from the Spanish.  They have a separate language, true!  But that language, while it is different, looks like two parts Spanish, one part French, with a little Italian tossed in.  In other words, Catalan is a close Romance cognate of Spanish, which a Castilian-speaking Spaniard could pick up with a degree of capability in probably just a few months, with minimal effort.

buenos días (Spanish) – bon dia (Catalan) – bonjour (French)

buenas noches (Spanish) – bona nit (Catalan) – bonsoir (French)

amigo (Spanish) – amic (Catalan) – ami (French)

hombre (Spanish) – home (Catalan) – homme (French)

Not so with the Basque tongue, which is a language isolate that might as well be from Mars.  A Spaniard in the Basque country might have an easier time learning Norwegian that Euskera (Basque).

So what is the outlook for Basque independence now?

In the Basque country, while language was a driver of separatism, historically, the Basque also considered ethnic affiliation.  Sabino Arana, the founder of Basque nationalism, considered the Spanish an inferior people.  While he could be sympathetic to Catalan regionalism at times, Arana considered the Catalans ethnically indistinct from the Spanish, unlike the Basque.  Contrast Arana's attitude with that of the immigrant-welcoming Catalans.  Ironically, the Catalans seem willing to mix themselves out of a claim to a distinct ethnicity.  Basque nationalism was grounded partly in blood and ethnicity to an extent stronger than in the Catalans' situation.

Meanwhile, Spain – no doubt partly motivated by a decades-long guerrilla war with the Basque – has given a lot of autonomy, even in taxation, to the Basque, who are all but independent in almost everything but foreign affairs.  This has quieted down many of the Basque.

Moreover, separatist sentiment is now less audible in the Basque Country than in Catalonia – a historic change of events – in part because the region already possesses the fiscal sovereignty Catalonia craves and also has lower unemployment levels, making the cause for independence a little cloudier.

The PNV (Partido Nacionalista Vasco, or Basque National Party) is a center-right-wing nationalist party in the Basque country, but even its members have recently given support to Spain's Prime Minister Rajoy's government – albeit for stiff concessions.

Nothing the PNV does is for free, so its support has come with hefty price tags. The tradeoffs agreed so far include, for example, funds and a clear timeline to progress long-awaited Basque routes for Spain's high speed train network.

In 2008, the PNV backed down when Spanish courts ruled that a self-determination referendum would be illegal in the Basque country.  The PNV sought to avoid a conflict.  The Basque have much of what they wanted – namely, a form of home rule.  This compromise has upset some of the more ardent Basque nationalists, but the PNV has always been conservative.  Historically, the Basque have usually been far more conservative culturally than the Catalans.

Contrariwise, in Catalonia, the local government did not back down when Spanish courts outlawed a referendum.  One major reason is that, earlier in 2010, Spanish courts interfered with the amount of autonomy given to the Catalans, an autonomy approved by the Spanish parliament.

Among other things, the [court] ruling struck down attempts to place the distinctive Catalan language above Spanish in the region; ruled as unconstitutional regional powers over courts and judges; and said: "The interpretation of the references to 'Catalonia as a nation' and to 'the national reality of Catalonia' in the preamble of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia have no legal effect."

So a meddling court overruled a law passed by the Spanish parliament, and the results have ballooned to Spain's crisis today.  The Catalans have no respect for the Spanish judiciary.

The Basque are now jealous of the Catalans, who have defied the courts to strike for independence, but the Catalans have always been jealous of the amount of home rule given to the Basque.

Spain's refusal to extend the tax-and-spend privileges enjoyed by the wealthy Basque region, which collects its own taxes and spends the money as it pleases, has fuelled the rise of separatism in Catalonia, experts and commentators say.

Had the Spanish courts stayed out of the matter in 2010, and had the Catalans been given the autonomy tendered to the Basque, this crisis might not have arisen.

Of the two groups, the Basques are the more deserving of independence.  They existed as a people long before Spain or France even existed.  They are slightly more ethnically insular.  However, part of their historical territory extends into France and the adjacent Spanish province of Navarre, where they do not hold majorities.  The centralized French will never cede the Pays Basque.  And while Navarre – which has the ancient capital of the Basque country, Pamplona – is heavily Basque in the north, the south of Navarre is not Basque and will not agree to separation.  Most of the historic Basque territories are lost.

My sympathies for the Basque notwithstanding, I do not see the Basque obtaining independence.  They will probably thrive under the autonomy they have now – and may even get some more – but even though they deserve a nation-state, they almost certainly will not get it.  The policy of the conservative PNV is probably the correct one.

The European Union has come out decidedly against Catalan independence.  Though the E.U. is starting to criticize Spain for the thuggish response of the Civil Guard, the E.U. has made it clear that an independent Catalonia will not be welcome.

Catalonia's case is a bit weaker historically than the Basque one.  Yes, there was a Catalan nation, sort of: the Principality of Catalonia.  But Catalonia's demarcation with the Spanish was never as clear as the Basque demarcation, which goes back to Roman times.  The Catalans mixed more with the Spanish.  The Irish and Scots might both be Gaels, but the Scots have mixed more with the English.  Likewise with the Basque and the Catalans.  This does not mean that Catalan won't become independent – just that its case is not as good as the Basque one.

I do not expect Spain to break up.  Excepting the Basque country and Catalonia, there is a strong sentiment in Spain to keep Spain unified.  The solution that may work is to give Catalonia all the autonomy that was given to the Basque.

I do not say this is what is perfectly right, but it is doable and will limit violence.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who wishes he had availed himself more fully of the opportunity to learn Spanish in high school, lo those many decades ago.  He also just started a website about small computers at http://thetinydesktop.com.

Like vultures, the worldwide press is starting to celebrate the anticipated disintegration of Spain.

The Catalans are determined to go.  Considering that Catalonia is the richest province in Spain (by absolute numbers), Spain would suffer an economic hit should Catalonia go.

However, always alongside the separatist Catalans are the Basque, who have the highest per capita output in Spain – but only one third the population base.  Navarre Province (which is heavily Basque in the north) came in second per capita in 2010.  Madrid was a mere third per capita, but much of that is artificial wealth, because the national bureaucracy sucks in money from the rest of the country.  Catalonia is fourth.  However, because Catalonia has a much larger population overall, it comes in first for absolute income (2014).

The northern Spanish region of the Basque country has Spain's highest GDP per capita, at €30,051 ($32,600), almost double that of Spain's poorest region[.] ...

The Basque Country has traditionally been one of Spain's main industrial hubs, and today is home to thriving aeronautics and energy industries[.] –The Local.es (2015)

Everyone knows that the Basque, the real powerhouse on the Iberian peninsula, are paying close attention to what is happening in Catalonia.

Pro-independence parties in Basque Country are showing their support for Catalonia's referendum on Sunday.

Tens of thousands of people attended a rally on Friday in the capital of the autonomous community in northern Spain backing Catalan separatists.

So it would seems that Spain is in for a roller coaster ride.

To be up front, as an American, I do not think Spain will break up.  I do have sympathies for those who desire independence, but it is more for the Basque than the Catalans.

Why?

While it is true that the Catalans are a different people, they are not so different from the Spanish.  They have a separate language, true!  But that language, while it is different, looks like two parts Spanish, one part French, with a little Italian tossed in.  In other words, Catalan is a close Romance cognate of Spanish, which a Castilian-speaking Spaniard could pick up with a degree of capability in probably just a few months, with minimal effort.

buenos días (Spanish) – bon dia (Catalan) – bonjour (French)

buenas noches (Spanish) – bona nit (Catalan) – bonsoir (French)

amigo (Spanish) – amic (Catalan) – ami (French)

hombre (Spanish) – home (Catalan) – homme (French)

Not so with the Basque tongue, which is a language isolate that might as well be from Mars.  A Spaniard in the Basque country might have an easier time learning Norwegian that Euskera (Basque).

So what is the outlook for Basque independence now?

In the Basque country, while language was a driver of separatism, historically, the Basque also considered ethnic affiliation.  Sabino Arana, the founder of Basque nationalism, considered the Spanish an inferior people.  While he could be sympathetic to Catalan regionalism at times, Arana considered the Catalans ethnically indistinct from the Spanish, unlike the Basque.  Contrast Arana's attitude with that of the immigrant-welcoming Catalans.  Ironically, the Catalans seem willing to mix themselves out of a claim to a distinct ethnicity.  Basque nationalism was grounded partly in blood and ethnicity to an extent stronger than in the Catalans' situation.

Meanwhile, Spain – no doubt partly motivated by a decades-long guerrilla war with the Basque – has given a lot of autonomy, even in taxation, to the Basque, who are all but independent in almost everything but foreign affairs.  This has quieted down many of the Basque.

Moreover, separatist sentiment is now less audible in the Basque Country than in Catalonia – a historic change of events – in part because the region already possesses the fiscal sovereignty Catalonia craves and also has lower unemployment levels, making the cause for independence a little cloudier.

The PNV (Partido Nacionalista Vasco, or Basque National Party) is a center-right-wing nationalist party in the Basque country, but even its members have recently given support to Spain's Prime Minister Rajoy's government – albeit for stiff concessions.

Nothing the PNV does is for free, so its support has come with hefty price tags. The tradeoffs agreed so far include, for example, funds and a clear timeline to progress long-awaited Basque routes for Spain's high speed train network.

In 2008, the PNV backed down when Spanish courts ruled that a self-determination referendum would be illegal in the Basque country.  The PNV sought to avoid a conflict.  The Basque have much of what they wanted – namely, a form of home rule.  This compromise has upset some of the more ardent Basque nationalists, but the PNV has always been conservative.  Historically, the Basque have usually been far more conservative culturally than the Catalans.

Contrariwise, in Catalonia, the local government did not back down when Spanish courts outlawed a referendum.  One major reason is that, earlier in 2010, Spanish courts interfered with the amount of autonomy given to the Catalans, an autonomy approved by the Spanish parliament.

Among other things, the [court] ruling struck down attempts to place the distinctive Catalan language above Spanish in the region; ruled as unconstitutional regional powers over courts and judges; and said: "The interpretation of the references to 'Catalonia as a nation' and to 'the national reality of Catalonia' in the preamble of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia have no legal effect."

So a meddling court overruled a law passed by the Spanish parliament, and the results have ballooned to Spain's crisis today.  The Catalans have no respect for the Spanish judiciary.

The Basque are now jealous of the Catalans, who have defied the courts to strike for independence, but the Catalans have always been jealous of the amount of home rule given to the Basque.

Spain's refusal to extend the tax-and-spend privileges enjoyed by the wealthy Basque region, which collects its own taxes and spends the money as it pleases, has fuelled the rise of separatism in Catalonia, experts and commentators say.

Had the Spanish courts stayed out of the matter in 2010, and had the Catalans been given the autonomy tendered to the Basque, this crisis might not have arisen.

Of the two groups, the Basques are the more deserving of independence.  They existed as a people long before Spain or France even existed.  They are slightly more ethnically insular.  However, part of their historical territory extends into France and the adjacent Spanish province of Navarre, where they do not hold majorities.  The centralized French will never cede the Pays Basque.  And while Navarre – which has the ancient capital of the Basque country, Pamplona – is heavily Basque in the north, the south of Navarre is not Basque and will not agree to separation.  Most of the historic Basque territories are lost.

My sympathies for the Basque notwithstanding, I do not see the Basque obtaining independence.  They will probably thrive under the autonomy they have now – and may even get some more – but even though they deserve a nation-state, they almost certainly will not get it.  The policy of the conservative PNV is probably the correct one.

The European Union has come out decidedly against Catalan independence.  Though the E.U. is starting to criticize Spain for the thuggish response of the Civil Guard, the E.U. has made it clear that an independent Catalonia will not be welcome.

Catalonia's case is a bit weaker historically than the Basque one.  Yes, there was a Catalan nation, sort of: the Principality of Catalonia.  But Catalonia's demarcation with the Spanish was never as clear as the Basque demarcation, which goes back to Roman times.  The Catalans mixed more with the Spanish.  The Irish and Scots might both be Gaels, but the Scots have mixed more with the English.  Likewise with the Basque and the Catalans.  This does not mean that Catalan won't become independent – just that its case is not as good as the Basque one.

I do not expect Spain to break up.  Excepting the Basque country and Catalonia, there is a strong sentiment in Spain to keep Spain unified.  The solution that may work is to give Catalonia all the autonomy that was given to the Basque.

I do not say this is what is perfectly right, but it is doable and will limit violence.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who wishes he had availed himself more fully of the opportunity to learn Spanish in high school, lo those many decades ago.  He also just started a website about small computers at http://thetinydesktop.com.

RECENT VIDEOS