Pais Vasco & Northern Ireland – The Triumph of Nonviolence & the Futility of Terror

The tree is a gutted stump.  Leafless and hollow, rootless and pale, it’s only apparent purpose seems to be as an up-ended boat, perhaps, or a reminder of the ravages of time.  This old robla, or oak tree, however, symbolizes the home rule of an entire region named Pais Vasco in northern Spain.  In its gnarled trunk and knotty bark is contained the story of terror, hate, rebellion, nonviolence, and diplomacy. 

Much like Northern Ireland had its Troubles, Vasco still has its ETA.  The ETA is a nationalist terrorist group who continues to perpetuate a self-defeating cycle of violence to plead for Vasco’s secession from Spain.  A clear minority, especially in cosmopolitan cities such as Bilbao, the ETA and Northern Ireland’s IRA both have hurt public opinion via their efforts, detracting from the largely successful nonviolent diplomacy of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement or the Vasco home-rule compromise.  Both of these nonviolently reshaped their countries, permitting a peaceful resolution to decades-old problems of colonialism and home-rule rebellions.

The forest here is beautiful and full.  Acorns adorn the ground, just as they surely did in the 10th and 11th centuries when the first Vasque representatives met around an oak tree to discuss commonalities and compromises.  They developed a charter and representatives from each of every town in the region, so that all had a say in collective decisions.  Because of their unique form of democracy, they abolished torture and instituted habeus corpus much earlier than the rest of Europe during the Dark Ages.  Aroun this oak tree in Gernika, the Vasques could gather, despite their regional dialectical differences and provincial distinctions, to dialogue and come to working solutions.

Picasso\'s Guernica

All changed, though, with repression beginning in the late 1800s.  During the Spanish Civil War, the anti-Franco opposition centered in the Vasque region.  On April 26, 1937, Franco’s troops destroyed Gernika, burning it to the ground not because it was a military base or an important port, but because it stood as the heart of the citizenry of Pais Vasco.  Franco wanted to send tremors through the heart of the resistance, and that end he demolished centuries-old cathedrals, leveled familial homes, and destroyed most the meeting hall dating back nine centuries.  The oak tree was obliterated in this intense bombing.

But even violence can be redeemed, even hate can be cured.  Today a new tree grows in the old one’s place, right next to the Meeting Hall where Pais Vasco governs itself with home rule within the constraints of Spain.  Euskara, the official Vasque language which is a unique cross between Romanian and Finnish, is taught in the primarios right alongside Castellano Spanish.  The ETA, with all its bluster and hate, has killed 1000 people in the last 40 years, including a parking lot I used in Santender.  But largely, the people here have developed a workable peace with the rest of Spain and the E.U. 

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