Stateless people in a multinational state: the case of the Basques

Raphael Tsavkko Garcia
12 min readDec 16, 2021
Razpotja 44

This article was originally published in the Slovenian magazine Razpotja, in Slovenian (translated by Luka Lisjak) as “Narod brez države v večnarodni državi: primer Baskov.” Here’s the full version in English.

Before the idea of Nation-States was born — commonly associated with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, but with greater traction after the French Revolution and the idea of a universal education system -, different peoples lived in their villages and cities, speaking their languages undisturbed.

The centre of life was the church and the noble family that dominated the land at a given time, but in general each region had its own language or dialect that was spoken freely. Not that tensions sometimes did not exist, or even that there were not pressures from monarchies that sought to centralize power also through the imposition of the language of the ruler — as well as local elites who sought to learn the language that would bring them closer to power.

But “modernity” brought changes and with the State a new category was created — of those stateless. Stateless nations of those who were left behind in the building of the modern nation states and had to struggle to keep their languages and identity alive despite prejudice, abuse and often violence and brutality. The turn of the 19th to the 20th century was traumatic.

The Basque society has developed somewhat differently from its Spanish counterpart, particularly until mid-19th century. The relationship between the Basque Country and Spain was dictated by the Fueros, a special arrangement giving broad autonomy to the Basque region, up until the 19th century Carlist Wars and the abolition of that special status — but the ethos of the Basque society was never fully absorbed into Spain. A little while came the Francoist regime, which tried to crush every and all local identities within Spain, notably the Basque, Catalan and Galician.

The Basques and the Spanish Empire

That is not to say that Basques didn’t partake in the Spanish colonial endeavour or that there was not a level of integration or at least exchanges and cooperation, quite the contrary Basque sailors and ships were paramount for the Spanish conquest of the Americas and its…

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Raphael Tsavkko Garcia

Journalist, PhD in Human Rights (University of Deusto). MA in Communication Sciences, BA in International Relations. www.tsavkko.com.br