Tag Archives: mark bieter

The Rise and Fall of ETA by Mark Bieter

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do any updates. I hope to do a series of them over the next few weeks and get reasonably “caught up”.

“We need to turn the page. But we should read it first.”  –Gorka Landaburu.

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 9.18.14 PMTo understand the recent history and current reality of the Basque Country, one cannot ignore Euskadi ta Askatasuna, better known by its initials ETA. Since the 1960s, ETA has been a constant presence in the politics of the Basque Country. Only a few years ago did ETA finally declare, nominally, a permanent cease fire, though there are still some who doubt it is real.

Mark Bieter, who also writes an excellent blog, has written an insightful perspective on the history of ETA and ETA’s place in the history of Spain and the Basque Country entitled “The Rise and Fall of ETA”, published in The Blue Review. The focus is on the aftermath of ETA, now that it has presumably ceased activity, but Mark also summarizes ETA’s origins and its history. His article is peppered with commentary from politicians, journalists, and historians who try to place ETA in the context of the Basque Country’s history.

There are two incidents that stand out in the things I remember most from my year in the Basque Country (1991-92). First, I recall entering a bar in the Parte Vieja of Donosti, which must have had strong sympathies with ETA. When one of the patrons learned that me and my friend were Basque-American, he began telling us, in his alcohol-induced slur, that we were brothers and that we must fight the Spanish, together. A second event occurred in a small town in Bizkaia. I was driving with a friend and we passed a Renault dealership that ETA had fire-bombed, because it was a French company and the French had just arrested some members of ETA. My friend reacted very strongly, saying how ETA was destroying the Basque Country. This wasn’t an “immigrant” from the southern part of Spain, but a man from the rural countryside who’s first language as a kid, even in Franco’s Spain, was Basque.

So, even to a visitor, ETA’s presence was strong, but the context for its existence and actions was something that was difficult for someone who was not from the region to fully appreciate. Mark does this nicely, providing both a history and a perspective that is written both well and compellingly. Eskerrik asko, Mark!

Kindred Basque Spirits

A couple of weeks ago, during a work trip to Washington, DC, I met up with a couple of the members of the DC Euskal Etxea. I’ve mentioned Mark Bieter a few times in the past, as he writes a very insightful blog about many things, including things Basque. Sam Zengotitabengoa (ok, I admit, I had to look that up) has been heavily involved in the DC club for a while. While I’ve chatted with them virtually, we’d never met, and I figured this was a good opportunity to meet a few more Basque-os.

Talking with these guys was a real treat. They both have strong interests in the Basque Country — the politics, the culture, the now of the Basque Country. For me, this is the heart of my own interest. I understand the importance of the things that are central to Basque-American culture, particularly the dancing, but the dancing and such holds little interest to me. My personal passion for things Basque was ignited when I went to live there. I went with the goal of learning Euskara, but during that year I discovered music beyond the accordion, both odd folk music such as txalaparta but also avant garde punk music that resonated more with me. I discovered rural villages where basseriak dotted the landscape and people lived off the land, but also thriving metropolises where anything and everything modern existed, including spectacular buildings, gorgeous beaches, and polluted rivers (big cities do have downsides…). I discovered a culture that was firmly rooted in tradition with an odd and ancient language celebrated through bertsos but also one that kept an eye on the future, invested heavily in cutting edge science and technology. It was this dynamic blend of tradition and progress that captured my imagination. This, for me, is the essence of the Basque experience.

So, it is always a great pleasure to meet others that share the same passion, the same perspectives on the Basque Country. Over maybe one or two too many beers, settled in a bar in a way that isn’t all that possible in the Basque Country (I do like both ways of enjoying fine beverages), we chatted about many things, including politics, identity, sports, and Basque culture in America. It was simply just nice to talk about Basque culture and the Basque Country with people who had a deep and personal investment in the Basque Country itself.

Eskerrik asko Mark and Sam. I look forward to future “meetings” in the pub.

Mark Bieter interviews Lehendakari Urkullu

inigo_urkullu-haMark Bieter is a Basque-American originally from Idaho who finds himself in Washington DC. He keeps a blog that touches pretty much any and all topics (Taylor Swift, really?), including many on the Basques and the Basque culture. Not only is Mark a very good writer, making each blog post interesting and intriguing, but he has some great insights and connections as well. His latest Basque-related blog, posted way back in early May (I just can’t keep up with things sometimes), is an interview with the current Basque Lenendakari (President), Inigo Urkullu.

The Basque Country held elections back in October, elections in which the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which had been the party that held the presidency of the Basque Parliament ever since it was formed in the 1980s, retook that position after having lost it in the last election cycle, for the first time, to the Socialist Party. Inigo Urkullu, a former teacher, was elected president of the parliament and now has the task of guiding the Basque government through the economic crisis in Europe as well as past the legacy of ETA.

In this interview, Lehendakari Urkullu touches on the foreign policy goals of his government, the impact of the crisis on the Basque Country, the connections to other independence movements in Europe, and the importance of the Basque diaspora to the present and future of Euskadi. A true politician, however, he doesn’t take sides in the crucial question of Athletic vs Real Sociedad… They always seem to evade the hard questions.

If you aren’t reading Mark’s blog, I highly recommend it, both for the pleasure of reading such great writing and for the perspective on a variety of topics. Thanks for sharing with all of us, Mark!

Celebrating Boise’s Fronton

Anyone who has been to the Basque Country and visited any of the villages that dot the coast and the valleys between those peaks shrouded in mythology certainly knows the importance of the fronton to the Basque people. The plaza of most any town is often surrounded by the three corner-stones of Basque life: the Church, the tavern, and the fronton. I know best the one in my dad’s home town of Munitibar. Festivities may always begin with a mass at the Church, but they always center on the fronton, either a game of pelota or animal tests or a bertsolari contest. The fronton is the public space in which life happens.

The Basques who immigrated to the US brought their games with them. And, the fronton. A wonderful open-air fronton sits in my mom’s home town, Jordan Valley, Oregon. But, the oldest is in Boise. In fact, the fronton in Boise is probably one of the oldest sporting venues in the US. Like Wrigley Field in Chicago, it will turn 100 in 2014. The Jacobs-Uberuaga boarding house will turn 150 the same year. The Basque community in Boise is gearing up to celebrate these milestones, important not only in the history of Boise Basques, but Basques in the US as a whole. The fronton endures, just as the Basques have endured.

I personally am not overly familiar with Boise’s fronton. I may have stepped foot in it once as a kid. However, both Mark Bieter and Henar Chico have written wonderful testimonies about the role the Boise fronton has played in their lives. Mark describes the history of the fronton and how, to pelota players in the US, it is sort of the Wrigley Field of pelota. Henar, a newer resident of Boise, has become an aficionado of the fronton and the pala leagues that are very active. The fronton has become a very important part of her life in Boise. Both paint a picture, both past and present, of a building that has served as the cornerstone of the Boise Basque community for nearly 100 years. And, knowing the Basques, will likely be standing strong for another 100 years.

More perspective on the end of ETA

Continuing on the big news of ETA ending violence, here are two more perspectives that might be of interest.

First, Mark Bieter, who, by the way, has a wonderful blog that you should be reading if you aren’t already, has an interview he did with Jaime Otamendi, who is “a long-time ETB journalist and host, about ETA and when one of his friends was killed by ETA members as the two were having coffee in a bar in Tolosa.  Pretty amazing guy.”

Second, if you are in Reno, you might want to check out this discussion on Wednesday night.  Experts from the University of Nevada’s Basque Studies Center — Joseba Zulaika, Imanol Murua and Xabier Irujo — will be discussing ideas about Basque identity and nationhood. You can be sure that how the end of ETA changes the future of Euskadi will be a central part of the discussion. This event is free and open to the public. Here are some details:

Wednesday, November 16· 7:00pm9:00pm
University of Nevada, Reno
Knowledge Center, Wells Fargo Auditorium

A 6-year-old in Franco’s Basque Country

The Basque Country has changed dramatically since the time my father left for a new life in the United States.  Not only politically, with the death of Franco, the activity of ETA, and the rise of the Basque Autonomous Community, but socially, as well, as the Basque people have taken their culture into the 21st century with the big green recycling tubs, punk music, and wifi.  How would it be for a 6-year-old, accustomed to life in the United States, to just be uprooted and replanted in the Basque Country of the 70s, with Franco still ruling and Guardia Civil on every corner?

That is just the life Mark Bieter describes in his blog posting My Life Under Franco, capturing life the way only a 6 year old can (well, or a grown man remembering life when he was 6).  From the ever-pervasive Ducados to the terror of a kid starting school when no one knows his language, or vice versa, Mark does a nice job of drawing you into the life he experienced those many years ago.