Jim Jacob

Political Sciences professor

"Back in the 13th Century the Basques were already negotiating their political circumstances in a way that was very unique at the time"Escuchar artículo - Artikulua entzun

Robert Scarcia
Itzulpena euskaraz

Jim Jacob an American academic and Political Sciences professor was in Bayonne last July 30th. Professor Jacob spoke about an old political passion of his: Basque Nationalism past and present.

How did you first get involved in Basque issues?

I had the opportunity to spend an academic year at the Institut des Etudes Politiques at the University of Bordeaux in 1970. While I was a student there, I met a number of Basques. For me, as an American it was amazing to find people who seemed to be French, but who told me: “Non, non, non, je ne suis pas français, je suis Basque...” This was incidentally also at the time of the Process of Burgos in Spain carried out by the Franco regime against a handful of ETA militants, and I became aware of the nature of the Basque problem. So when I returned to the United States, I graduated from the University of California, Berkley. I then continued my studies at Cornell University for a doctorate in Political Sciences, and I decided I wanted to write about the question of cultural minorities in France. I then worked on a doctoral thesis on the history and the doctrines in the Basque and Occitanian movements. After I became a professor in Political Sciences I decided to focus my research specifically on the Basques.

What did you find so interesting in the Basques?

There was an affinity, a closeness of sorts with the people. The Basques are strong, dynamic and fun-loving. The people have a profound attachment to their land and their roots.

Are you aware that there are Basques in the United States?

Yes, I actually first spent a month in the University of Nevada in Reno, where there is a famous Basque Studies Program with a very complete library. So I began my research there, and with letters of reference from Jon Bilbao, who was the great Basque bibliographer at Nevada, I came here to meet Eugène Goyeneche, Chanoine Lafitte and others. Other than that, since I lived in California I knew there were Basque restaurants in San Francisco and elsewhere. As I grew more interested in Basque issues I found that many of the gardeners and the butchers were Basques. I also learnt about the Basque summer festival in Nevada.

Could you walk us through the book you wrote on the Basque problem: Hills of Conflict. What is it about?

It started in reverse chronological order. Initially, I wanted to write about the current generation of Basque nationalism in France: the contemporary movement's ideological and political choices, and its structure.

Then I realized that to write about the modern era I had to go all the way back to the French Revolution… Then much of the complaints and the requests in the pre-Revolutionary Cahiers de Doléances for the three Basque Provinces of France, had their roots much further back in the history of the Fors. So I felt that to write about Basque Nationalism in France today I had to begin in the 13th Century.

Jim Jacob and Jean-Claude Larronde

What happened in the 13th Century?

There is a fascinating story in the book that explains why go back to the 13th Century. Thanks to the force or the foral system, the Basques enjoyed exemptions from a certain number of taxes and obligations. Now, this document tells the story of the king of England's lieutenant in Soule who began to tax the people, and the Basque Souletins in Mauleon protested in the name of the foral tradition. Remember that in the sermon of feudal loyalty, the pledge was reciprocal: the people pledged loyalty to the king, the king pledged loyalty to the people. So the Basques wrote the king of England and complained.

The king sent emissaries from London and he said that if the charges alleged against the lieutenant were to be true, the king was going to act against the lieutenant “in such away to deter others by fear and horror from imitating his example…”

Within the next days the emissaries repeated the kings pledge of loyalty to the people and reaffirmed the foral tradition.

This story was interesting to me because it is an example of the Basques negotiating their political circumstances in a way that was very unique at the time. Here were people who wanted to be respected according to the rule of law.

What about your original interests for Basque nationalism in the 20th Century?

In the 1930s Basque nationalism in France clustered around a very interesting figure, a priest called Pierre Lafitte who was very much a social moderate, profound catholic, maybe a christian social-democrat. This group eventually founded a movement called Aintzina (Forward). Then in the 1940s we begin to see individuals such as Marc Legasse and Eugène Goyeneche take front stage, the roots of the modern movement become to take shape and eventually develop into the movement Enbata. The 1930s and 1940s were marked by a sort of clerical regionalism which developed later in the 1960s into a secular nationalism based partly on the experience of the dismantling of the French Colonial Empire in the Third World. Many of the cultural minorities in France, the Basques, the Bretons and the Occitanians, were profoundly affected by what was going on in the French colonies. Then there is the growing influence of ETA on Enbata in the 1960s, finally by the 1970s the beginning of violent action and the appearance of Iparretarrak. Eugène Goyeneche speaks of the tradition of tribal struggle among the Basques…

What does he mean by that?

In each step when there was a possibility of creating a unified Basque movement, internal conflicts, either about ideology or personality emerged, these conflicts cost the group to shatter. So if you look at the history of the last decades, it is one of a schism after another.

We call it Irish Alzheimer's in the English language: a situation where you forget everything but your grievances… I don't mean this as a criticism but as a simple observation by an outsider who has spent an incredible amount of time caring about the Basques. But I do think there has been a loss of potential and power, because of this tradition of tribal struggle. I should add that I have Scottish heritage so I don't have any problem understanding clan wars…

Jim Jacob and Robert Scarcia

As an American and a political scientist what would you say are the consequences of September 11 for Basque nationalism?

After September 11 and Bush's declaration that “you are either with us or against us,” there was a wholesale joining of forces and countries that did not want to be left behind in the war against terrorism. Well it turned out that Spain did much more than simply go along with Bush. Spain also supported Bush on Iraq. Then Spain produced a wish list of sorts in exchange for support of the United States. Spain told the U.S. it had a problem with ETA. The U.S. always considered ETA as a problem unique to Spain, until suddenly two things happened: The whole Al-Quaida thing made Spain more important as an ally for the US. We have proof that some of the funds to sponsor the September 11 terrorist attacks transited via Spain from Saudi Arabia to the United States. Then Spain arrested more alleged members of Al-Quaida than any other country in Europe.

The second thing is that members of ETA and the IRA have been identified training the FARC guerrillas of Columbia. Now, 85% of the attacks that occurred in 2001 against American interests in the world took place in Columbia. At that point ETA became a part of what was called the worldwide terrorist threat.

Then Spain targeted Batasuna, not only with the support of the United States but also with the support of the European Union. Going even further and I think this is of gravest concern, Spain went against the Basque Parliament because it had not been zealous enough in confronting Batasuna. So the consequence for Basque nationalism writ large consists really of a threat to the Basques’ ability to express themselves in a democratic way, quite apart from violence. This has nothing to do with violence. The question is whether we can have an open expression of Basque democracy in which a legislature that supports Basque interests is regarded as a legitimate force in Spanish and European politics. I think the danger we are witnessing right now is that the attack is not simply against the armed struggle, and ETA's terrorism. Now, it seems that Spain's attack is against legitimate Basque institutions that are the seed corn of the future because they represent a Basque moderate center that will work for Basque culture, language and interests of all sorts.

Does Basque nationalism have any friends left in the United States today?

I don't think there is a Basque lobby in the United States, like there is an Israeli lobby, a Greek lobby, etc. I think the Basques concentrated their efforts on lobbying in Europe because they hoped Europe would develop into a federal system. There are however Americans who could support the Basques as they support the expression of cultural diversity around the world.

Do you think the United States will have some day a specific Basque policy?

I think that today, in the eyes of the American government the Basque question is subordinate to the question of Spain. In the post September 11 context America was interested in improving relations with the government of Spain. Aznar certainly facilitated that by supporting the Unites States in the war in Iraq. So there will not be an American Basque policy. There can be however American pressure for a politically stable Spain, which basically means pressure in favor of the political resolution of the Basque problem.

Jim Jacob

Jim Jacob is Professor of Political Sciences at the California State University in Chico. Professor Jacob's interest in Basque issues dates back to the early 1970s when he started to study Basque nationalism in France and had the opportunity to meet some of the nationalist movement's founders and spokesmen. Based on his scholarly research, which dates as far back as the 13th Century, he wrote Hills of Conflict, a book on Basque Nationalism in France.

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