The Unique Basque Country

We are so pleased to offer our readers the very first English translation of the “Prologue,” by the great scholar of modern Spain, Professor Stanley Payne, to the new book, Vascos y navarros: Mitos, historia y realidades identitarias (Basques and Navarrese: Myths, History and Realities of Identity), by the renowned historian Dr. Arnaud Imatz whose work we have had the great privilege to present in the Postil.

In another place I have observed that all history is individual and singular, and that of all the lands of the West none has a more singular history than Spain. Within Spain, there is no other region as unique as the Basque Country, not even the Catalonia of the fet diferencial.

The Basque Country is especially individual for several reasons – its native language, its specific institutions (individualized by provinces even within the region) and its history. However, it also participates in the same general social structure and common culture of Spain; and its anthropological basis is, despite everything, and if we follow the conclusions of Julio Caro Baroja, probably more similar than the ultra-nationalists want to admit.

Arnaud Imatz is a French writer and intellectual who has devoted a long time to the history and problems of Spain, although he is not as well known within the country as he deserves. His important works published in Spain have dealt with Francoism and other significant issues, from Al-Ándalus to current problems. As a Basque-French with a long background on both sides of the Pyrenees, it is only natural that he has devoted a lot of attention to Basque history.

A dominant aspect of current Spanish culture is the misrepresentation of history, both within and without the country. And the part of Spain whose history that has been the most misrepresented is the Basque Country proper. All nationalism, without the slightest exception, mythologizes the history of the nation; but the myths of Basque history are even more outlandish than those of some other nations or regions.

That is why Arnaud Imatz has prepared this book on Basques and Navarrese, which constitutes a profile or tracing of the most important events, personalities and factors in Basque history, with the goal of presenting the facts and realities of this story.

In addition – which is equally important – it offers a much more complete perspective, because it includes the history of the French Basque Country and Navarre. Given the oppressive self-absorption of historiography in Spain, this fuller perspective is usually lacking, however indispensable it may be. For this reason, such a historical profile by Imatz constitutes a unique work, indispensable to understand the basic historical structure of “both” Basque Countries, and also how Navarra is related to this history, while also following its own history.

I would like to illustrate the complexity of this story with a personal anecdote, which has to do with the very origin of my own interest in the Basque Country, and which refers to the personality of the original Basque Lehendakari, José Antonio de Aguirre, who has been, as Imatz says, both the most famous and the most popular of all those who have occupied that position. Unlike the other Republican leaders in exile, Aguirre spent most of World War II in the United States, a circumstance that no doubt had to do with the perpetual search at that time for an international sponsor.

During the war, I had presented a short cycle of lectures at my university, Columbia (USA), and my thesis supervisor, who had known him, provided me with a personal letter of introduction, because in 1958, I had thought to start my first research trip to Spain, with a brief stay in Paris to meet the main republican exiles, some of whom helped me generously.

Aguirre received me immediately and with great cordiality at his office at the “Délégation d’Euzkadi” on rue Singer de la Rive Droite in Paris. The President had a great gift for being with people, and was easygoing and open in his dealings, with a lot of human warmth. Furthermore, he had the time to chat for an hour with an unknown 24-year-old North American PhD candidate, in part because nationalism was at a low point in those years.

I visited him again in June 1959, after my research in Spain, and he received me in the same cordial manner. With his great personal geniality, Aguirre spoke extensively on the history of nationalism and the Basque Country and was very open to questions. In other venues, he was undoubtedly a lot more controversial; but on a personal level he was not controversial at all.

As an example of his frankness, I will mention the fact that it was Aguirre who first explained to me that in 1936, opinion in the Basque Country was divided into three, with a third in favor of nationalism, another in favor of Spanish Catholic rights and the last, a third, supporting the Spanish left, which was true. Or, as Imatz says, the Spanish civil war was also a civil war between Basques. Aside from the historical issues, I will always remember the Basque President with the greatest affection for his generosity and kindness.

He also introduced me to other personalities, especially the great Basque bibliographer Jon Bilbao, who would soon be a good friend and colleague for life. Jon, who had been born in Puerto Rico, was an American citizen but had been a young gudaris officer in the war. He later earned a Ph.D. at Columbia, where his professors, somewhat baffled by the uniqueness of the Basque language in which Jon wanted to specialize, placed his research project in none other than the Ural-Altaic languages section, another example of the perplexity raised by the language (as Imatz will explain).

Years later, Jon became the librarian, and special, advisor at the Basque Studies Program at the University of Nevada, the first in North America with that specialty. Then, during the brief period of my research on the Basque Country (1971-1973), it was Jon who insisted that I expand my limited monograph on nationalism under the Second Republic, requested by the Rivista Storica Italiana, into a short book on the entire first phase of nationalism. In those last years of the Franco regime, it was the first professional study on a subject that later, in the democratic era, would become an extensive industry.

For these and other reasons, it is a real pleasure to write this foreword to the work of Arnaud Imatz, which because of its unusually broad perspective and its objectivity constitutes a unique book, short but absolutely basic. His text is sober, exact, very concise, objective and demystifying, but without controversial tones. It is especially useful at this time for any reader interested in knowing the fundamental data of the history of the Basque provinces and Navarra – without myths.

The image shows, “The Little Village Girl with Red Carnation,” by Adolfo Guiard, painted in 1903.

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.

History As A Revolutionary Tool

This month we are so very honored to present the English version of an interview undertaken by Jesús Palacios, with Professor Stanley Payne. The launching point of this valuable discussion is the move by the current Spanish government to “re-fight” the Spanish Civil War by way of lawfare. Versions of this “fight” are t be seen throughout the West. As is widely known, Professor Payne is the world authority on modern Spain, whose most recent books include, The Spanish Civil War, and Spain: A Unique History. Jesús Palacios is a Spanish essayist and writer and is the co-author, with Professor Payne, of Franco: A Personal and Political Biography.

Jesús Palacios (JP): When Zapatero came to power, after the state of national shock that was 11-M – the great hidden black hole of democratic time – the subsequent Law of Historical Memory of December 2007 broke the so-called spirit of Right-Left concord of the Transition; and with it, the reconciliation between all social groups by way of two amnesty laws, promoted and defended by the Left and the Communist Party. Thirty years later, the PSOE broke all this by linking its political legitimacy with the revolutionary process of the Left in the Second Republic. In that law, the decoy and trap, was the search for, and the burial of, the victims of the Civil War, but exclusively those of the Left. This opened, as a first step, the Civil War as a dialectical confrontation.

Stanley Payne (SP): In the Democratic Transition, the main parties agreed that no one should use historical questions for partisan and confrontational purposes, leaving history to historians, researchers and writers. In other words, a categorical decision was made to leave the Civil War as a fact of history, so as never to enliven it. Later the Left, or a part of them, argued that a “pact of silence” was made so as not to touch “memory” or history. Nothing was more false. During the initial decade of the Transition, more attention was devoted to this fratricidal war than at any other time, with all kinds of research, studies, books, newspaper, magazine articles, public lectures, plays and movies. Quite the opposite of the myth that has been concocted.

JP: Examining the bill presented by the Socialist Party in Congress at the end of January 2020, which has gone practically unnoticed, and whose draft was approved by the Government last September, we must come to the conclusion, given its substance and content, that underlying the misnamed Historical Memory – now updated as “Democratic Memory “– is the implantation of a new extreme Left regime. It is like a silent revolution that is being carried out by way of power.

SP: The new project represents the ambition to completely dominate the historical and political discussion, together with the entire educational system, encompassing, in effect, the courts, and with that the entire rule of law. It would be the highest expression of turning history into a political weapon for the greatest sectarianism.

But this new law will constitute the maximum attempt, to date, of the spurious politicization of the Civil War and the Franco regime; the new phase of a process that began in earnest almost twenty years ago, and which must be approached from two perspectives:

The political culture of the West on the one hand, and the current strategy of the Left in Spain on the other. The first represents an almost universal strategy in all Western countries, including Latin America. You hate and you want to repudiate history and “cancel” it, because history has not been Leftist in spreading culture and traditional values, which for the Left are abhorrent. Thus, the United States seeks to repudiate almost the entire history of the country by demolishing statues, a process that becomes so nihilistic that they even demolish statues of historic Leftists.

JP: Based on the culture of so-called victimhood.

SP: Exactly. In this culture of denunciation and the destruction of history, the so-called “victimhood” plays a fundamental role. The unique thought of radical progressivism inverts all cultural and moral values, and unlike the traditional culture that respected and consecrated the heroes, the revolutionary culture extols the victims. For them, history deserves no more attention than that of “unmasking” “oppression,” where heroism and heroes do not deserve the least respect, because they cannot be conceived as anything other than “oppressors,” giving the place of honor to the victims.

As for the Second Republic and the Civil War, a person outside this culture would think that the recognized victims would be the tens of thousands of people massacred by revolutionaries, since the first republican revolt of December 1930 (even before the Republic itself) – up to approximately 55,000 people murdered – sometimes tortured in the most sadistic way – by the Left during the war.

However, the revolutionary culture intends to “cancel” and “erase” any aspect of history that it does not like. Thus, the only victims are the many thousands killed by the Right wing, or in reprisals, or after military trials during the war, or under Franco. The history of the others disappears, as in the manipulated history in the former Soviet Union.

On the other hand, in the West in general, the destruction of current democratic systems is sought, because with free elections and an objective rule of law, it is always possible for the center or the Right to win. Hence, they want the current system of constitutional and parliamentary democratic monarchy in Spain to be illegitimate, and it seems easier to try to make it illegitimate in its historical origins by discrediting it for its “Francoist roots,” than to try to overthrow it directly.

The current Left would have wanted to have another civil war, but that is not what the vast majority of Spanish Leftists believed in 1976. Then there was the true “historical memory” of the Republic and the Civil War, not this ghostly simulacrum, a true fairytale that is now being sold.

JP: Since Zapatero set in motion the machinery of the so-called Historical Memory, it has been insisting in many areas that what the Left wanted was to win the Civil War eighty years later by way of propaganda. But that was a huge mistake. What the socialists, communists and separatists want is to make a revolution by way of power to bring about a new state, a new regime. That and no other is the objective of these laws that are actually perverted memory.

SP: Yes, but they seek to reverse the outcome of the war, introducing another version of the “benefits” of that radical and authoritarian republic that still existed in a quarter of Spain in the first months of 1939. Now, in the form of the monarchy, for the moment, the objective is to connect with the Second Republic, but not with the democratic system that existed between April 1931 and February 1936 (except for the revolutionary attempt of October 1934), rather with the revolutionary process that began from the falsified elections of this last date.

As Moa has pointed out, the contemporary political history of Spain has developed in cycles of approximately 65 years (1808-1874; 1874-1939; 1939-2004; 2004-). Of these, the last complete cycle encompasses the modernization of Spain under Franco and all the governments from the Transition to 2004.

The current moment is a phase of decline that began with the overturning of the elections as a result of the terrorist acts of 11-M, accentuated by the deconstruction of Spain as a nation that took place under the Zapatero government, followed by the Great Recession and the ravages of the current pandemic, combined with the disastrous Sánchez government.

JP: Therefore, it is not basically about the Civil War, the victims, Franco and the Franco regime, or the outlawing of foundations and associations. These are tricks, lures.

SP: All of them are mere factors or individual weapons in the struggle to achieve a metapolitical goal. Which is not to say that the Left parties do not take seriously this apparatus that they are setting up. All these initiatives are opportunities to propagandize, repress, intimidate and drug the mind of society.

JP: We are facing a totalitarian project to create a new extreme Left regime that will annul all kinds of protests by the dissenting party, who will be persecuted and silenced with fines, plunder and sentences, under the accusation of exalting the Civil War by those who won it, and of Francoism or dictatorship, promoting the figure of the “snitch,” and the creation of a “Council of Memory,” a Checa by way of the “Truth Commission” earlier.

S.P: That’s right. It would be a kind of “Western Sovietism;” or, something in more contemporary terms, a “European Chinese system.” But, of course, without the Chinese economic strength. It would be more like Venezuela (the country that is the origin of the financing of Podemos), which is an unmitigated disaster. A basic aspect is that it can be used as a tool to try to stir up the public spirit by creating a system of “agitprop” (agitation and propaganda) as a great element of distraction from social and economic suffering. And, also, to further weaken the already fully weakened leaders of the center and the Right, most of whom have participated so meekly and cowardly in this whole process of intimidation by fleeing from it. It goes without saying that it would be a project confronted by the Constitution, which they don’t give a damn about, because in the long term they would impose another constitution of a revolutionary type.

JP: In the totalitarian government project that is being pursued for the new state, education is fundamental, whose curriculum will include “Spanish Democratic History,” from primary school to university, by way of which freedom of thought and teaching will be eradicated at the root, without discussion or controversy. We will have new generations indoctrinated from childhood.

SP: Perhaps the most fundamental thing is the elimination of freedom of education and expression. A main part of revolutionary culture is “re-education” with respect to the past and in many other things. The cultural revolution is probably the most important aspect in the long-run, second only to the domination of power itself. They are the steps for the creation of “light totalitarianism,” which is emerging as the great danger of the West in the 21st-century. It is an irony of history that after the triumph of the West over Nazism and Sovietism, it is on the verge of succumbing under its own kind of totalitarianism, a product of the modern West in its last phase, and emerging from the evolution of democracy, itself arising concretely from the radicalism of the 1960s and from all the ideas of deconstruction and postmodernism.

JP: The writer Iñaki Ezquerra in an essay called this process, “soft totalitarianism.”

SP: This was revealed in the United States, the first Western democracy, under the presidency of Obama, the first anti-American American president (while with the Left in Spain it is normal for there to be an anti-Spanish Spanish president). By 2020 this process has reached a well-developed level in the United States, something that is perhaps not so surprising, because the current doctrine of radical progressivism (or “political correctness”) is the first modern radical ideology created largely in North America. not in Europe, although Europeans have contributed to it. It is about the new secular religion or “political religion” of a post-Christian society, a doctrine also based, in part, on victimhood, on the evolution and distortion of Christian doctrines.

JP: There have been many thinkers critical of the democratic system in the hands of elites who pervert and degenerate it – Schmitt, Nietzsche, Michels and especially Tocqueville, who predicted that it could become the worst of dictatorships because of the political corruption of its rulers.

SP: The original prophet of this was Alexis de Tocqueville. In his great work Democracy in America, originally published nearly two centuries ago, Tocqueville warned how it might be possible for egalitarian democracy to evolve into what he called “soft despotism,” without violence or great repression, but with the distortion of elements of democracy itself. Tocqueville was brilliant, the best analyst of classical American democracy, just as he was the best analyst for the origins of the French Revolution. He was the prophet of our time. Right now, the best American analysts refer to Tocqueville, and his ideas are applicable to Spain as well.

JP: We are facing an extreme situation. We have a generation indoctrinated or stunned in hatred through the machinery of propaganda; an opposition, that has been part of the system’s bipartisanship, not only corrupted, but muzzled by the fear of being branded as Francoist; and some groups and political parties who want nothing more than the destruction of Spain – so they support, in this way, a government whose president and second vice president are amoral and are supported by two parties bathed in corruption.

SP: The situation in Spain is unique, in part, as a consequence of its recent history and the existence of not one but multiple separatisms (which are also growing, as in the case of Navarra, where the Basque region is in a position to fashion another entity, with its own identity, like Navarra). However, from a certain level of abstraction, it can be said that, as in 1808, 1820, 1873 or 1936, the current moment in Spain is the most radical or most advanced of what has emerged as a self-destructive process throughout the West.

JP: Stan, as you know, I’ve been maintaining for a long time that the ’78 regime has collapsed. That regime was a partitocratic system, whose institutions were corrupted over time by the interference and control of the two main government political parties (PSOE-PP), but which both are interested in maintaining for the moment, with the PSOE deployed for the conquest of a new revolutionary state, and the PP used for sheer survival.

Now, there is a new political group (Vox) that identifies more with a social movement. But if there is not a reaction from society alienated by government propaganda and the media that society finances, a reaction that will prevent this revolutionary process of a totalitarian takeover, things will be very difficult. I am not saying that the battle is lost, but we do see a Church that has surrendered and the crown tacitly kidnapped, although Felipe VI has reacted lukewarmly to the government’s ban on traveling to Barcelona. And we have already seen the communist fury, and from the government as a whole that has been unleashed against the King.

SP: Yes, to paraphrase Cardinal Sarah, the hour is late and it’s getting dark. Historically, Spanish rights have depended heavily on Catholicism, and in a secular society they are without protection. Its dialectical weakness is truly impressive.

Most seem to lack the desire to make a serious resistance, while the Catholic hierarchy has, as you say, surrendered. In a decadent society, elites collapse and have no real will or capacity to react, which is the definition of decay. With a certain historical perspective, it can be concluded that in the Spanish case the pandemic and its economic depression have created the equivalent of the First World War for Russia.

The extrapolitical crisis offers the conditions for a more centralized and dominant government, to then move on to the revolution, with the difference that Spanish society is very passive, partly because of the crisis, partly as a consequence of constant brainwashing, and partly because of sheer decadence and inertia. But in Spain the Left does not intend to recapitulate 1917 but rather the Spanish experience of 1936, with the revolution led by a theoretically parliamentary government, although in disguise.

The image shows a drawing by Mercedes Comellas Ricart, a 13-year old girl caught up in the Spanish Civil War. The caption at the back reads, “Esta escena representa el día de la evacuación cuando al ir a subir al tren vimos a un avión que ya tiraba y tubimos de ir a un refugio de alli cerca” (“This scene represents the day of the evacuation when we about to get in the train, we saw an airplane that was firing and we had to get into the nearby shelter”).

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.