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Who are the Basques?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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The Basques are a group of people living in the area of northern Spain and southern France. The Basques are a distinct ethnic group, although they have genetic similarities to many Portuguese, Britons, French, Irish, and Spaniards.

The modern-day Basques are thought to be holdouts of the early people of Western Europe, most of whom were exterminated or enveloped by early conquerors. Various Basque tribes, notably the Aquitani and Vascones, were mentioned by Roman writers. The Basque region was known as Vasconia during the Middle Ages, and was eventually divided during the time of Charlemagne into two distinct kingdoms, the Kingdom of Pamplona and the Kingdom of Castille. The Kingdom of Castille annexed a great deal of the Basque territory from the 11th to 16th centuries, and this land eventually became a part of Spain. The rest of the Basque territory would become part of France.

The Basques are fiercely self-deterministic, and many are part of a movement claiming sovereignty throughout the Basque region. The Basques speak their own language, have their own radio and newspapers, have their own educational system, and continue to embrace a culture spanning thousands of years.

During the Spanish Civil War, the Basques joined in with the Separatist movements, hoping to at last have total autonomy. When Franco defeated the Separatists, however, the Basques were reassimilated into the Spanish government. Since then, however, a number of reforms have taken place, granting the Basques steadily more and more autonomy, even while they remain a part of Spain and France. The Basques have been granted the right to speak Euskara, to run their own schools, and to practice their own culture.

At the same time, many Basques see the perceived continued occupation of their homeland as a great injustice. The ETA, a Basque separatist group, or terrorist group according to the US State Department and other governmental bodies, continues to fight for complete autonomy. The Basques convene their own Parliament, and in both 2002 and 2006 this Parliament reasserted their right to self-determination.

Ancient Basques are thought to have worshiped the goddess Mari, and ancient Basque culture was thought to be largely matriarchal. The old Basque religion also included a number of mythical figures, including nymphs, giants, genies, and supernatural beings that supposedly built the stone circles that dot the landscape. Since the advent of Christianity, the Basques have historically been almost entirely Roman Catholic, and a number of prominent saints, including Francis Xavier, have been of Basque origin. In fact, the founder of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius Loyola, was a Basque. In recent years, however, religious attendance has fallen off dramatically, echoing similar shifts in the larger region.

The Basques are well-known for their close ties to their land and their families. Many Basque surnames are derived from the names for traditional Basque farms, giving an immediate tie to the land the people hail from. Inheritance in Basque culture traditionally places a premium on keeping land together, passing it all on to the oldest son. This is one reason why so many Basques, mostly younger men, made their way out into the larger world to seek their fortunes.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon333933 — On May 08, 2013

But before the Spanish Civil War, the PNV had only 25 percent of the popular vote in basque country and needed the support of left parties in order to govern. Nowadays, The PNV support has increased to 35 percent.

In Spain, you need a minimum of 45 percent to govern in minority. If it's less than this popular support, you need to be supported by another party. The problems is that the radical nationalism has increased from the 4 percent of the popular vote before civil war to the 25 percent of the voters at this moment. But the basque support of the independence is in 26 percent of the basque people. So nowadays, the basic social support in PNV is not pro-independence.

The recent poll in Spain said that the basques want: Autonomy (current structure): 42 percent; Federalism: 28 percent; Independence: 26 percent; Centralism: 4 percent.

By anon128696 — On Nov 20, 2010

All wrong. There was a basque government during the spanish Civil war. The first basque president was Jose Antonio Aguirre. before the civil war there was also a Basque separatist party PNV. As far a as ETA is concerned yes they are a terrorist group with a separatist agenda. The PNV still constitutes a major party in the Basque Government with a separatist agenda.

By anon41366 — On Aug 14, 2009

During the spanish civil war there where no "separatists", there was a Republic. the spanish government in fact, after the 1936 elections, and the rebels, with general Franco as the head.

By anon28340 — On Mar 14, 2009

That's right anon28029, the US State Department has designated the ETA as a terrorist organization; the UK Home Office calls it a "proscribed group," and the EU foreign policy body calls it a "terrorist group."

By anon28029 — On Mar 10, 2009

ETA is not a separatist group, ETA is a terrorist group who has killed more than a thousand people.

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