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The legal status of the Basque languaje today: one languaje, three administrations, seven different geographies and a diaspora

Prologue of the book The Legal Status of the Basque Language Today: One Language, Three Administrations, Seven Different Geographies and a Diaspora / Gloria Totoricagüena, Iñigo Urrutia, eds. – 265 p.; 24 cm. – Donostia : Eusko Ikaskuntza, 2008. – ISBN: 978-84-8419-164-3. Download pdf

Since its foundation in 1918, and throughout its long history, the Society for Basque Studies-Eusko Ikaskuntza (EI-SEV) has professed and demonstrated its love for the Basque language. At the Congress for Basque Studies of 1918, from which the Society would later arise, the extraordinary importance that the founders gave to the study and protection of Euskara was already evident. It was as a result of that Congress that the Academy of the Basque Language, “Euskaltzaindia” emerged which, as we all know, was destined to drive the process of linguistic unification of the language.

“Euskera” publication

“Euskera” publication.

Euskara was the main concern of the magazine Revista Internacional de los Estudios Vascos (RIEV) founded by Julio de Urquijo with the view to offer to linguists all over the world a suitable scientific means for the study of the language. Various authors have highlighted its decisive influence on the field of philology from 1907 until 1919, the year when Euskaltzaindia was first founded; even after its foundation and in spite of the appearance of the publication “Euskera”, the range of contributors to RIEV with philological topics is unsurpassable. Urquijo also reviewed in RIEV the fundamental task of recovering and editing traditional texts, which were and are essential to the history of the Basque language.

It was not enough for the members of Eusko Ikaskuntza that it should lay the basis for a solid and scientific study of the Basque language and propitiate its future normalization. Idoia Estornés, in her study of the Society for Basque Studies, pointed out that the purpose of its foundation also had a decidedly restorative character: it was not only about dissecting and analyzing the language as if on an operating table, but also about restoring it the health and life stolen by a policy of persecution and abandonment. During the early days, EI-SEV, in addition to its work in the field of education organizing Euskara courses and examinations, also welcomed and sponsored the Federation for Popular Euskera Action (FAPE) and created in Araba (Alava) the “Baraibar” Section, dedicated to reviving the Basque language of Araba in its last remaining strongholds. From its foundation until 1936, the Society created several professorships in Euskara and protected all those chairs and courses which emerged or responded to the call of the 1918 Congress.

V Congress of Basque Studies

V Congress of Basque Studies.

Furthermore, the V Congress of Basque Studies of 1930 is remembered for having introduced, through the Federation for Popular Euskera Action, the Day of Euskera, which brought together six organizations dedicated to the promotion of the Basque language, and responsible for the diffusion and restoration of Euskara in the Basque Country on both sides of the Pyrenees, that is, both in France and in Spain. Following that event, Euskara has celebrated its International Day since 1948. It was actually during the VII Congress of Eusko Ikaskuntza celebrated that year in Baiona, Lapurdi, or Bayonne, Labourd, when the following agreement was reached: “Une journée de la Langue Basque dans le monde entier sera celebrée une fois par an, le 3 décembre, jour de la fête de Saint-François Xavier, sous les auspices d’Eskualzaleen Biltzarra et d’Eusko Ikaskuntzen Lagunartea”.

Following its revitalization since 1978, the Society has recovered its commitment to Euskara, promoting study seminars and various publications, as well as public events of all types. Although the Society’s commitment is as binding now as it was when it was first acquired in its beginnings, if not more, the fact that XXI century society is very different to that of the XIX century cannot be ignored. It was then when ideologies and feelings were created around the identity and the language, the latter being a key part of society. They must now be updated if they are not to become a hindrance for collective development. As shown by the research published in Basque Identity and Culture in the Beginning of the XXI century, sponsored by Eusko Ikaskuntza, the current society of Euskal Herria is made up of multicultural clusters and diverse identities. The new demographic and migration scenario emphasizes the challenge of amalgamating that new group of citizens, thus avoiding the creation of culturally excluded and socially marginalized populations. The static and essentialist vision of the Basque people, and its translation into an allegedly true and exclusive cause that uses the language as a political weapon, has already caused too much damage, not only in politics, but also by its extension into many other environments in and outside Euskal Herria.

On the other hand, a constructive and integrating attitude of free adhesion to the culture by the various political positions, from different identifying roots, allows the liberation of the language from that “coercive pressure” exerted by intransigent and essentialist positions, as well as its acceptance as an asset for the construction of a shared identity. We have established the real need in the various Basque communities to obtain a new open integrating model of coexistence, but with common roots and feelings of adhesion to the language. A very significant sign is the growing interest of parents in Navarre to have their children taught in Basque, in spite of the little interest shown by the different administrations of the Foral Community in the promotion of the language, as is demonstrated by the contents of this work you have in hand. The Basque language and culture must be clearly visible as a collective asset belonging to the entire population and as a space for free and enthusiastic participation. In this sense, the mere existence of the EI-SEV, free of any political influence, must be a shared paradigmatic project of coexistence around the language.

With this spirit, and loyal to our traditions, once again we have wanted to drive a study of the language aimed especially at the non-Basque and non-specialist audience. In this work, a balance is taken of the achievements and adversities of the different policies regarding the language that have been designed and implemented by the territories where Basque is spoken. After a quarter century since it was enforced, the Act of Normalization of Euskara issued by the Parliament of the Basque Autonomous Community, the more recent Chartered Law of Navarre relating to the Basque language, as well as the dispersed regulationsissued by the French government for Iparralde, and special programs for the Basque diaspora are all analyzed and evaluated by reputable specialists in the following pages.

With the future in mind, EI-SEV, ever loyal to its foundational vocation which throbs with the desire to promote and validate the Basque language, hopes that the contributions compiled in this work will aid in the reflection on what has occurred in the last quarter of a century with regards to language policy, to improve what has been achieved and to correct any mistakes.

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