VELEZ DE MENDIZABAL AZKARRAGA
Photograph and videos: Ekain VELEZ DE MENDIZABAL ETXABE
Translator: BELAXE. ITZULPEN ZERBITZUA
Jatorrizko bertsioa euskaraz
Traducción al español
Traduction au français
Our weekly magazine Euskonews & Media will reach its tenth anniversary in 2008. To mark this event, within a very extensive programme of activities, every month until December we will publish a special interview with an inportant figure in the recent history of our country. It is the best gift we can give the thousands of readers who read our magazine every week.
Jean Haritschelhar, from Baigorri, is well-known in Basque society for the great efforts over many years in the area of the Basque language. Subsequently, he was appointed President of Euskaltzaindia, and with great mastery has demonstrated that Basque needs not only diplomats but also researchers and scientists if the language is to continue progressing and remain alive. Haritschelhar is a versatile person who over the last fifty years has followed step by step the evolution of our society on both sides of the river Bidasoa.
A long time ago many of us Basques had a book on the table, and its title was Etre Basque (To be Basque), written by Jean Haritschelhar. What does it mean to be Basque?
To be Basque? Basically, there are two sides to that question: blood and land. When I refer to blood, I think of the history of each individual family, starting with their ancestors, and of something that is passed on from generation to generation, right down to this 21st century. Blood produces the family line; it is Basque in its origins, and goes on being Basque; the Basque language is «the language of the blood», as the deceased Xalbador [extempore Basque verse maker] so beautifully put it.
When I say land, I am talking about the Basque Country as a whole. A person does not get his or her identity from blood alone, but also from the land, because Euskalduna –Basque– refers to the person who is born in the Basque Country. In that case, I prefer to choose another term, the one coined by Sabino Arana Goiri [1865-1903 - founder of the Basque Nationalist Party-EAJ-PNV]: euskotarra –inhabitant of the Basque Country. In fact, just as the person born in France is French, the person born in the Basque Country is euskotarra.
History shows that Basques have gone outside the Basque Country to live; they’ve gone to South America, first to Mexico and then to most of South America except Brazil, to North America too, to the United States or Canada, and all over the world. I don’t think you can deny that they are Basques, even if they can’t speak Basque because they live abroad; the same applies to the Basque families in the Basque Country itself who don’t speak the language of their ancestors any more, because blood gives them their Basque identity.
In the case of the land, if the children of people who have come from abroad are born in the Basque Country, they should learn Basque. If they don’t learn it, they lose part of the treasure that belongs to the country, even though they continue to be Basques. However, in the Southern Basque Country [the part administered by Spain] it is clear that more and more Basque children are encouraged to learn Basque, and that is what they do, because the political atmosphere is conducive to that. In the Northern Basque Country [the part administered by France], however, people are divided into two categories. There are some people who, despite being foreigners, want to immerse themselves in the Basque atmosphere, and send their children to Ikastolas [Basque-medium schools] or to public or private schools where they are taught in the B [bilingual] education models. A wonderful way of learning Basque. Others, however, live in the Basque Country as if they were foreigners, as if in a colony. These people should be asked to give the Basque Country and the Basque people the respect they deserve.
Of course, if we bear in mind that those who live in the Basque Country are Basque, they should all share the same aim. People who are Basque-speakers born in the Basque Country should maintain their Basque in the family, at school, in the street, everywhere, whereas non-Basque-speaking Basque inhabitants should take the necessary steps to learn the language and become Basque speakers.
That definition somehow implies ethical frontiers, but if we were to look at it from an anthropological perspective, the coordinates of being Basque have changed. Recently, a very far-reaching change has been taking place. And an even more profound change will occur in the future. In this process how do you see the Basque area defined by Jose Miguel Barandiaran at one time?
Obviously, I see it as something broader, but at the same time I would ask those who come here to show respect towards the Country and its language. I think in that respect Basque will gradually acquire its dignity when 50 percent of us speak it. That is when Basque will have its dignity, it won’t be a localism if you like, and then, I don’t think there is any doubt that those who live here will have to speak the two languages. In other words, those of us who have learnt Basque from the moment we were born have an obligation to make use of it constantly, but at the same time, too, those who live here will have to see that, as far as the future is concerned, they will need to learn the language of here, simply because it is the language of here.
I take Belgium as an example; some people there speak Dutch and some people speak French, and if Belgium wants to survive, both the French speakers will have to learn Dutch and the Dutch speakers will have to learn French. That way they will be able to coexist. I believe that the Basque Country will never have just one language, but two or three, and in that respect I take away the border, because we have three languages. I believe that one day the people living in the Southern Basque Country will undoubtedly need two languages, Basque as well as Spanish, and naturally those who live here in the Northern Basque Country will need to speak French and Basque. Because that is the true interaction between the two languages. It also means that the two languages will then be on a par with each other. That is something that will have to be achieved little by little.
I have the impression that in the Northern Basque Country the Basque language, and Basque nationalism, for want of a better term, have not gone hand in hand. I think than in the Southern Basque Country speaking the Basque language has more nationalist connotations.
But why? Is the State or education responsible for this? Or has that forty-year tunnel we went through in the Southern Basque Country provided the connection, which is not the case here?
To be honest, I think you are right in that respect; we did not go through the history you went through. There have been three wars on one side –the two 19th century Carlist wars– and nationalism undoubtedly arose out of them and ended in what I refer to as the third Carlist war, in other words, the civil war [Spanish Civil War 1936-39].
So the three of them have, if you like, been a little anti-Madrid, but what has happened here? Well, in the 19th century France lost its war against Germany and at that time French nationalism emerged stronger than ever; and in contrast with that first war that was lost, the second was won, the 1914-1918 war; at that time, however, some Basques joined the army in support of France, others went to the Southern Basque Country and others to America; the third war was the one that started in 1939, lasted five or six years and ended in 1945. That created an atmosphere, in other words, French nationalism has always won here. That is where the differences lie; you have always been in favour of the Basque Country and against Madrid, whereas here people have supported France and that is the reason for the imbalance.
Is the German a foreign tyrant?
That is what happened. What has happened now? We have become friends with Germany and Europe is the aim, if you like. Even if that is taking place little by little. And I have made it very clear on more than one occasion that I am Basque by birth, French by law and European according to my ideals. My aim is Europe for I don’t know how many years to come…
It is true that that the European sentiment is much more deeply rooted in the Northern Basque Country than in the South for the reasons you cite. But don’t you think that a sense of citizenship is slowly growing in the Northern Basque Country?
I’m sure it is, because we have suffered a tremendous decline and that is a fact, and there’s no denying it, because it is true, but at the same time the Ikastolas have been set up. And we are seeing more and more how Basque is being accepted, even if our authorities, important authorities, don’t speak any Basque at all; but they accept it, and it also means that the dignity of Basque is slowly growing. And I can see that the decline has been halted, according to the latest figures; we have been on a kind of plain for a time and now we have gone up a little. And I do think that we will move higher and higher. Why?
Because we have been gradually seeing that this behaviour means that Basque needs its place. And we have seen it accepted by others and now I can see, for example, that in the Euskal Kultur Erakundea [Basque Cultural Institute] everything is done in Basque during its Annual General Meeting and there is a translation service, so anyone who wishes can simply avail him- or herself of it, but the meetings are conducted in Basque. I can also see that Basque is in fact always used in any kind inauguration. In the Euskal Kultur Erakundea speeches are delivered first in Basque and then in French and our authorities accept that Basque should come first. I think that in that respect we have taken an excellent step forward. And also recently, during the tribute that was paid to me in Bilbao on January 24. At the same time an agreement was signed whereby the Royal Academy of the Basque Language –Euskaltzaindia–, was acknowledged as the adviser in Basque language affairs by the Euskararen Erakunde Publikoa [Public Bureau for the Basque Language] here. It is official because it involves the [French] State, the General Council of Aquitaine, plus the association of nearly all the town councils. That, as I see it, is also a great step forward. I think the atmosphere is gradually changing; I don’t think a revolution will be needed, I prefer to work step by step and that is what I have done all my life, if you always take a step at a time, you will achieve your objectives.
The little bit of support that comes from the South is bound to have a good effect, because I think the people in the North need a base like that...
The help that has come from the South has not been just a little. I think certain things need to be said in that respect, and here I would like to highlight the work that Josemari Muñoa has done. I was with him for goodness knows how many years in Ustaritze, with the Euskal Kultur Erakundea, in fact, and I know how much he has done there. There one can see a genuinely clever man, broad-minded, too, but at the same time he makes it clear that Basque needs its place. And I feel I must mention the attitude of Miren Azkarate [Academy member, and Minister for Culture in the Government of the Basque Autonomous Community–Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa in the Southern Basque Country], because I appreciate her very much. The fact is, agreements have also been signed between the Euskararen Erakunde Publikoa and the Department for Culture [of the Basque Autonomous Community Government] and we see Miren here frequently, and there are relations not only with the Academy, but also with the [Basque Autonomous Community] Government; I don’t think that relations with the Basque Autonomous Community Government would have been possible at one time; now they happen normally. That is also a big step forward.
Indeed, we still remember the conversations at the time between Ardanza [Lehendakari or President of the Basque Autonomous Community] and Bayrou, the President of the General Council. Bayrou viewed the Southern Basque Country as if it were Mars, because he regarded it as being so far away. Fortunately the two sensibilities seem to be gradually moving closer to one another...
I’d like to analyse Bayrou’s conduct a little bit and I’d like to point out first of all that Bayrou is from Béarn and that he speaks Béarnese. That means he is close to us. The Ikastolas were permitted while Bayrou was France’s Minister for Education. He struck a deal with Seaska [association of Ikastolas in the Northern Basque Country] and we should not forget that. At the same time, too, I would like to say that on the day Bayrou was appointed as Head of the General Council, I got in touch with him and here in Baiona [Bayonne] a meeting was held between him and the executive board of the Academy. During it I explained to him what the Academy was, what we did, what our perspective was and that day –that was back in 1992– he invited us to go to Pau. The Academy had a meeting in Pau, firstly the usual one amongst ourselves, then an open one in which Bayrou was the host. I replied to him firstly in Basque and then in French and then in Spanish, because the Head of the Department of Education of Navarre [Charter Community of Navarre in the Southern Basque Country] was also there, sent by Alli [President of Charter Community of Navarre at the time] as well as Ardanza; also present were Eli Galdos, the Head of the Provincial Government of Gipuzkoa; Pradera, the head of the Provincial Government of Bizkaia; and Ansola sent a representative from Araba. I’d like to add that on that day, 30 July 1993, it was as if the seven Basque Provinces had become one in Pau, in the so-called Parliament of [Lower] Navarre. So that, too, was a step forward. Then I know that the Academy got official recognition [reconnaissance officielle d’utilité publique] in 1995 thanks to two men, who were Bayrou, the French Minister for Education, and Lamasoure, the Minister for Europe. The two of them secured this recognition for the Academy from Pascua. It must be said that when you are talking to people who don’t know Basque and they see what we do and how we behave, in other words, directly and not under the table, this way they, to, understand who we are.
As I see it, the Academy made a very wise choice when it appointed Haritschelhar to be its chairman, because the appointment did the Basque language a tremendous favour. And not just because Haritschelhar did some splendid work in connection with the language, but because he also worked to bridge the two sides. What you are suggesting now is the work of a diplomat. Goodness knows what might have happened if, instead of Haritschelhar, a person from Araba, for example, had been its chairman, with less sensibility with respect to the Northern Basque Country…
That happened because Villasante [previous chairman of the Academy and Haritschelhar’s predecessor] had an accident in the mountains. He realised he had to stand down and one day he mentioned to me that perhaps I could be the chairman of the Academy and my immediate reply was whether he thought it would be feasible. Would I be accepted? And he told me then that he would look into it and within two or three months he approached me saying it was, and that it was very likely I would be accepted. So the changeover took place and I remember that the ceremony was held at the Provincial Council of Bizkaia, in fact. Ardanza was there and it was done in front of him. I also remember that Krutwig [a member of the Academy] asked me at the time: “What is going on? Something like this has never happened before.” And I said to him: “But Krutwig, things have changed, it isn’t the same, now we have moved into another situation and I think it will be beneficial for us.” So I was the chairman of the Academy for sixteen years. At the same time I should like to say that in France, too, Jack Lang, the then French Minister for Culture, wrote to me to express his congratulations. That is no small thing! I’ve kept the letter, and this is the first time I have mentioned it. I feel that these things also need to be said. I said that when the new chairman was appointed, the Academy was already involved in far-reaching pieces of work and that there was no doubt we would have to continue, and that is what has happened.
You have referred to the contacts you have had during your career and I, too, am a witness, for example, in 2005 when you were awarded the Manuel Lekuona Prize by Eusko Ikaskuntza [Basque Studies Society] in your native village of Baigorri, all different kinds of people were there as well as politicians of all persuasions. That means that you have nurtured your relationships, you have developed the diplomatic side. Basque and the Basque Country need diplomats, don’t they?
In fact, I remember that when that event took place in Baigorri, it was attended by Joxe Juan Gonzalez de Txabarri and Laserre, too. In other words, the head of Gipuzkoa as well as the head of the département of the Pyrenées Atlantiques [the département currently made up of the Northern Basque Country –Lapurdi-Labourd, Nafarroa Beherea-Lower Navarre and Zuberoa-Soule– plus Béarn.] The two of them were there and I found it rather surprising, because I did not think I would receive such an honour. I think I have been accepted on both sides. Of course! Basque (language) needs diplomatic people.
You have told us how you were appointed as chairman of the Academy. What I particularly admire is the work you did, because you knew how to strike a balance. But what I would like to know is what your best and worst moments were.
When we signed the 1989 agreement with the three provincial councils [of Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa] and the Charter Community of Navarre, they all acknowledged that the Academy was important for the Basque language and that it was necessary to help it. That was a good moment, if you like. Then followed some very tough times, in particular, from the financial point of view. We were involved in some big projects and these projects needed time and I think that some people felt that we were not working properly and for that reason they cut back the grants. But they gradually came to realise that the projects we were working on were really big ones.
When you consider the sixteen volumes of the general dictionary, you can see that this work cannot be done overnight. When you see the results of the surveys on the Atlas, it becomes clear that the Academy, through its researchers, has compiled five centuries’ worth of written as well as spoken Basque, which together constitute a priceless treasure. Just as in France you have «Le trésor de la langue française», one day the Academy will have to compile all the dialects of spoken and written Basque in the seven provinces in a dictionary that will be called «The Treasure of the Basque Language».
A difficult moment was when [the Charter Community of] Navarre broke the agreement it had signed in 1989, because it did not want to have anything to do with the Basque Autonomous Community. We restored relations with Navarre, but that breaking off of relations is a dark memory for me.
Then a pleasant memory for me was when I was appointed chairman of the Academy and when we went down to Madrid to the Royal Palace [of the Spanish King and Queen] thinking that a person from the Northern Basque Country was going to speak in their presence; it was clear for me that the Academy members should, at my request, write the speech I would be giving there. When you speak to everyone, you see that the only policy of the Academy is to preserve and promote the Basque language.
The King of Spain must have been surprised to see a French citizen speaking in defence of Basque. He would most likely have thought that Basque was a treasure that belonged exclusively to the Spanish State...
I don’t know, but I’d like to add that when the ceremony was over, His Majesty the King told the media present that he wanted to continue speaking to us and asked them to leave. And then I remember that Her Majesty the Queen asked me about Basque in France. I told her and when I had finished, I shook hands with Her Majesty first and then with His Majesty, who said eskerrik asko [thank you in Basque] to me. He knew that at least.
You said earlier that the academy should not get mixed up in politics, didn’t you?
Each one should stick to his or her own work: let the politicians engage in politics, the Academy members should conduct themselves as ordinary citizens, if they want, but the Academy should not get involved in politics, it has other things to do. This way everyone will accept the Academy. For example, when the Provincial Government of Bizkaia gave us the premises in the Plaza Barria [in Bilbao], it had invested a lot of money, the Government of the Basque Autonomous Community paid for the fittings with the help of the Government of [the Charter Community of] Navarre and the other two Provincial Governments. When the premises were inaugurated in 1991, it was a truly wonderful day because all the authorities were there, like Ardanza and Alli –the two presidents [of the Basque Autonomous Community and Charter Community of Navarre, respectively]– and the heads of the three Provincial Councils.
It is true that when a person is appointed to a position of high authority, the Academy pays a courtesy visit, whatever the political persuasion of the person concerned. That is what it has done with two heads of government, with presidents of provincial councils, with city mayors, with Bayrou as well. I have got on well with all of them; I have been welcomed not only in the Southern Basque Country and in the Northern Basque Country, but also in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and other places.
The same thing happens to the present Chairman of the Academy, for example, when the new office was opened in Baiona or when he attends the Herri Urrats [yearly event to raise funds for the Ikastolas in the Northern Basque Country] in Senpere [Saint-Pée-Sur-Nivelle]. He is the Chairman of the Academy and for Basque speakers, for Basque language loyalists, it doesn’t matter whether he is from the South or the North. He’s the chairman.
Jean Haritschelhar: a Basque language loyalist, politician, linguist. As a lecturer at the University of Bordeaux how do you see the university situation in the Northern Basque Country? When will it get its own university?
I don’t know when that will be, but I am sure it will happen one day. Everyone tells me that I’m an optimist, and that I’m always brimming with hope. But in this respect, too, it is a question of moving step by step. I’ll tell you what has happened. At one time we felt that things had to be done properly. In other words, Basque was regarded as a second language both in Bordeaux and in Pau, that it was not on the level of other languages, but our dream was for it to be on the first level. The first step was to set up the UEU [Basque Summer University] (set up in the Northern Basque Country during the Franco dictatorship when we were the symbol of freedom). Myself, Xarriton and others set up the UEU, but not just any old how, in other words I had permission from the Vice-Chancellor of Bordeaux to do this at the Lycée Maurice Ravel in Donibane Lohizune [St. Jean de Luz]. In other words, in an official place, and that is what was done for three years. Then because of lack of space we moved to the Landagoien house in Uztaritze and remained there for four years before moving to the South. We set it up and at the same time we decided that all the classes were to be given in Basque.
That was followed by another era when Mitterrand was elected president of France. Then we took a second step, because we formed a group in the meantime with a single aim: to establish Basque Studies at the Faculty of Baiona. It was set up by the University of Bordeaux when permission was obtained from Perez, who was the Chairman at that time. Bordeaux II also gave its permission, whereas the University of Pau did not. I would like to emphasise that point, because I have not forgotten the disagreements I had with the representatives of Pau.
I have to point out, however, that the person who was head of the Baiona faculty at the time opened the door for us, despite being a lecturer at the University of Pau, and that we were also able to make use of the administrative facilities. On the opening day in October, 1981, the following people spoke: Henri Grenet, Mayor of Baiona; Mr. Lavrof, the President of Bordeaux II; Perez of Bordeaux III; and the chairman of our group, who was Julian de Ajuriagerra, a former teacher at the Collège de France. The degrees we awarded were university ones, with four UVs (unité de valeur) and the certificate in the third year. I ran the studies from 1981 to 1986, when I stepped down. I was surprised because there were 129 students during the first year, which indicated the need for such a framework.
The third step came later on. In the meantime, relations between the universities of Bordeaux III and Pau improved. In fact, an agreement was signed during the 1985-1986 academic year allowing lecturers from the two universities to teach, and the diplomas were to have the seals of the two universities. Within two years of Mitterrand’s re-election, Jospin, the French Minister of Education, approved the official diplomas, the DEUG [Diploma of General University Studies] in Basque, degree, master’s degree and also competitive exams to be able to lecture. That was when our dream came true. Basque was included among all the other languages as a first language with the same diploma the other languages had. Since then, primary and secondary school teachers have been trained at the Faculty of Baiona in Basque, it was the first time that this had ever taken place in France.
At the same time, in 1983 if I remember rightly, I set up a research team in Bordeaux linked to the C.N.R.S. in Paris. At that time there were three or four of us researchers. When I left, my place was taken by Orpustan, who was followed by Beñat Oyharzabal and now Rikardo Etxepare. The two universities (Bordeaux and Pau) are involved in that organisation. Now the team is known as Iker and has twenty researchers; it has a publication called «Lapurdum» founded during Orpustan’s time. You can see the steps taken on the university level during a quarter of a century.
For Baiona to have its own university is another matter, because the universities are set up by the French Government and Pau will always oppose it, because it doesn’t want to lose out. The département [for the Northern Basque Country] and the university go hand in hand.
Full of hope! You have also been mayor, you’re a member of the socialist party, aren’t you?
Not me, never! No, no, I voted for Mitterrand, that is perfectly clear, because I refused to accept either Chirac or Giscard d’Estaing and all that lot, but I’ve never been a paid-up member of the Socialist party.
Sorry! You do have that kind of aseptic perspective. How do you see the political situation of the Northern Basque Country with respect to France?
In the Northern Basque Country the French political parties are in the majority, in other words, all the elected representatives belong to the UMP, the centre and the socialists. But little by little the nationalists are coming in. My General Councillor, because I vote in Baigorri, is a nationalist, Jean Michel Galant, and he’s standing again now1. You can see that some nationalists have been fielded in other parties and do not form a proper opposition party; they have been elected in Biarritz and there Jakes Abeberry has shown that the Basque nationalists also know how to conduct things properly and openly. I think the first message is to be found there; then we have seen that some nationalists have been elected mayor little by little. I’ll take an example: in Hiriburu [Saint-Pierre-d’Irube] everyone knows that Alain Iriart is a nationalist, but I don’t know what will happen in Hiriburu now. In the municipal elections no one is standing against him as yet; that means that he conducts affairs properly; he is also standing for the General Council. Some say he’s given up his nationalism. That is no more than a strategy. I know he’s a nationalist and that he will act as a nationalist. In other words, if he wins in Hiriburu, and I think he will, and if Jean Michel Galant were to win in Baigorri, there will be two Basque nationalists. They are gradually getting elected in towns and villages and I think it is necessary. Besides that, if you are in the majority you can do something. When you are in the opposition, you don’t really do anything. There is no doubt that what is also needed is to get into the municipal councils gradually. And there conduct yourself in a way that reflects your nationalism with respect to the Basque language or other issues, too. Nationalists have ideas, and it is clear that nationalism is now gradually advancing in the Northern Basque Country, too.
How long is it since the Arana-Goiri brothers formed the PNV [Basque Nationalist Party] in 1895? They didn’t have a majority in the Provincial Government of Bizkaia until 1917, in other words, for 20 years, or so. Things don’t happen overnight. Changes take time and, as Mitterrand used to say, time needs to be given time.
And is the dream of a Basque département a question of time?
Recently a committee led by Attali proposed, among other things, to abolish the départements. That means that we can say goodbye to a Basque département. But hearing the outcry against the proposal, Sarkozy hastened to make it clear that he wasn’t going to touch the départements. So the départements will continue, but I don’t think the French government will decide, as yet, to split a département.
In other words, all the main elected representatives oppose it: deputies, senators, mayors of Baiona, Miarritze [Biarritz], Angelu [Anglet] and naturally the person who used to be the mayor of Donibane Lohizune [St. Jean de Luz] and who is now the French Interior Minister oppose the splitting. Yet it is true that in France there are départements that are smaller, both in terms of surface area and inhabitants –about thirty in total–. But the French authorities do not trust the Basques, because they are afraid that one day the Southern and Northern Basque Countries might join together. As I’ve already pointed out, the département and the university go hand in hand, and to them we can add the Chamber of Agriculture and the official recognition of the Basque language. France is the country of human rights, but at the same time it is completely centralist and it will not countenance anything like that immediately. One day, perhaps. But the question is when?
And how do you see the Basque Country as a whole?
As I said, I am European according to my ideals, I think that one day there will be a Federal Europe. But we are not heading in that direction, and the Lisbon Agreement due to be accepted shortly does not open the way for that, but I think that one day Europe will need to show that it is one. There are 27 of us and there could be 30 of us in a few years time, but things will need to yield a little among us all.
One day there will have to be a Federal Europe. I don’t know when. But a complete Basque Country could appear in the Federal Europe! Or as a region, who knows? I have no other ideals.
And as the former director of the Basque Museum in Baiona, you do not want, under any circumstances, to see the Northern Basque Country as a museum piece, do you?
I certainly do not! And I’d like to change a view a little bit in that respect. A museum is not a dead thing. It is alive and, in addition to the museum there are certain sources of strength, like the friends of the Basque museum, and they are important. A museum is a treasure and the Basque Country needs that treasure. Research is born out of that treasure. I am referring to the situation when I was there; I got the Bulletin du Musée Basque going again, and it includes goodness knows how many kinds of research done by university people. In that respect, it is clear that it is not just a place for exhibiting things, but at the same time, that place for exhibiting things creates pieces of research and that’s where its vitality lies. So the Northern Basque Country will obviously never be a museum piece in the Basque Country as a whole; it shows what the Basque Country was at one time, but because that belongs to the past, other things are included and they show, too, how the Basque Country is changing.
I think a museum has to show that. In that respect, I myself acted in that way with respect to the kinds of changes we have known over the last 50 years and I feel that a museum needs to display that, too.
I am about to finish, but Jean Haritschelhar, the great multi-faceted gentleman –museum director, university lecturer, Chairman of the Academy, mayor– what is left for him to see in the Basque Country? What else would he like to see in the Basque Country?
I’d like to see Basque growing in strength so that it can be accepted more and more, and thus respected, so that it can be transmitted more. The children who have been to the Ikastolas speak Basque, they do their studies in Basque and one day they, too, will become parents. I think that at the same time they will want to transmit the language and their children will speak Basque and gradually things will change. In other words, seeing what splendid work the Ikastolas have been doing as far as the future is concerned, seeing that in the end, in both public and private schools, the B [bilingual] education model is becoming established, I think we’re on the right road.
The Ikastolas that began in 1969 in the Northern Basque Country are now officially recognised like any other school. My grandchildren have also been there and I honestly think that it has been a revolution. Not something that happens overnight; not at all, a far-reaching revolution, in which things change gradually. I have faith in that and I foresee a totally transformed Northern Basque Country. Why will the Chamber of Agriculture not be officially recognised like the Ikastolas? It has been set up to help our farmers, so they can develop a different kind of farming. The Basque Country needs its help and in that respect I think that things are advancing, and over the next 12 years, by 2020, things will have changed completely.
The Basques are not the same as they used to be; the servant girls used to stay in Baiona, Bordeaux or Paris and the boys would go off to America, Paris or Bordeaux, because there were no jobs here; but now the girls go off to university and study; a Basque is less and less a man who lives in his own corner and farms; now our farmers have the baccalaureate, so today they do things differently and that is the biggest difference that has taken place in the last forty or fifty years. In that respect, tomorrow’s Basque Country is not going to be the same as yesterday’s, the Northern Basque Country of tomorrow is going to show that it is capable of doing something and managing things properly.
On our way to Baiona we noticed that the cabins on the border in Biriatu are gradually disappearing. But will the frontiers we have inside us ever disappear as far as the Northern and Southern Basque Countries are concerned?
I think a frontier between states can disappear, but the people have their own frontiers inside them. But when I see how many people from the Southern Basque Country live in Hendaia [Hendaye], I think the atmosphere could change, in other words, people from the Southern Basque Country are gradually getting to know the Northern Basque Country, and vice versa. The 19th century is over, in other words, when each person lived in his or her valley and never left it.
I have a story about that: a classmate of mine at the school in Baigorri lived in Belexi, which is a hamlet in the mountains; so he used to come to school in Baigorri and go home afterwards. In 1942 the Germans rounded up the young people; first of all they were put to work in a quarry in Baigorri and then the STO (Service de Travail Obligatoire) needed them to go to Germany. What did these youngsters of Baigorri do? There is no doubt that most of them crossed the frontier, the real frontier at Erratzu, and made for Elizondo and then went to Miranda de Ebro [in Spain] and from there to Morocco. Then Franco acted very skilfully because since Spain was neutral, he was not supposed to allow people to go there. There this classmate joined the army, because the officer in command there was a man from Baigorri called Minjonet; then the person who became mayor of Baigorri before me finished the war as a colonel and joined the so-called DB [Armoured Division]. They went from Marrakech to London, entered France in June 1944 and liberated Paris and from there went on to liberate Strasbourg before heading for Hitler’s bunker. That lad came home again on leave. He took the train and when he got off the train in Baiona he saw the Cathedral, the Aturri [Adour] river and said: What a beautiful place Baiona is! It was the first time he had ever been to Baiona. That means that many never had the chance to go from Baigorri to Baiona. That was in 1939-1940 when each person lived in his or her own place. They met people from other villages and perhaps they went from Baigorri to Garazi [St. Jean de Pied de Port] on market day. Today all you have to do is get in the car in Maule [Mauléon] and in two and a half hours you’re in Bilbao. There are more links between the people of the Northern and Southern Basque Country. So you see that things are not at all like they used to be and the atmosphere has changed completely.
I see that you are brimming with hope and I sincerely hope that you will continue to be so for many years to come.
Yes, people tell me I’m too optimistic, which doesn’t mean that I don’t see things as they are, but I also see new paths. I came back to the Basque Country in 1962; I had lived far away from the Basque Country in Paris and Agen; I came to the Basque Museum and I’ve been living here for 46 years; my memories from that time are fresh, as are my present ones, and I can see how things used to be, what they are like now, and what a huge change has taken place in the Northern Basque Country.
But you had been to Baiona, hadn’t you?
Yes, I had been there, even though I was from Baigorri.
Excuse me, I didn’t quite catch that: did you say Baigorri or baikorregi [too optimistic, in Basque]?
I’m from Baigorri and I’m baikorra [optimistic, in Basque].
Haritschelhar Duhalde (Baigorri, 1923)
Jean Haritschelhar Duhalde was born in Baigorri on 13 May 1923. He first studied at a local public school and later in Bayona, Mont-de-Marsan and Toulouse. He obtained his Doctor of Arts from the Sorbonne University in Paris with his thesis “The poet Pierre Topet-Echahun” and “The poetic work of Pierre Topet-Etxhaun” in 1969.
In the professional field he was a teacher at Agen Collage from 1951 to 1959. From 1962 to 1986 he was professor of Basque Language and Literature at the University of Bordeaux. In 1962 he was appointed director of the Basque Museum of Bayona and he resuscitated the publication Bulletin du Musée Basque which was published by commander Boissel, founder of the museum, prior to the war but was then silenced in 1943.
On 19 December 1949 he married Colette Neveu. They lived with their children in Boulogne-sur-Seineko and in Agen, Gascuña.
Also in 1962 he was appointed director of the Basque Museum of Bayona. That same year Euskaltzaindia appointed him a member. From 1966 to 1988 he was vice-president of Euskaltzaindia and in 1989 was appointed president, replacing Luis Villasante, a post which he held until 2004.
Between 1971 and 1980 he was mayor of Baigorri, his home town.
In 1988 he was appointed Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of the Basque Country and in 2004 the Society for Basque Studies awarded him the Manuel Lekuona Prize.
1 Galant did not get elected in the elections that took place after this interview was given.
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