Posts Tagged ‘Gernika’

The History of the World in America

May 25, 2008

Traveling Europe, one is enmeshed in a profound history reminiscent of Tolkien´s Middle Earth.  The oaks of Gernika which give the Basques shade also survived both world wars and a bloody civil war as well.  The cathedrals like St. Maria´s in Vitoria or the Cathedral in Burgos have endured the changing of styles, religions, plagues, and multiple conquests, and are still being updated and remodeled today.  Murallas, or city walls, have lasted far beyond their initial purpose of staving of the Moors, or the Romans, or the Crusaders, or the Vikings.  Storefronts and house facades have seen a seemingly infinite cycle of businesses, hopes, and dreams flow through their doors.  Traditional music harks back centuries, foods to times immemorable.  One is overwhelmed with the constant reminders of mankind´s propensity for benificence, penchant for creativity, susceptibility to power´s corrupting influence, and ability to endure, endure, endure.

 America makes up for its lack of profound history with its wide open spaces, its distances which both offer hope and anonymity.  This fledgling country has struggled and largely succeeded in creating a rich history in a matter of centuries.  Being young, it still views itself outside of the history of the rest of the world.  Being new, the United States has been able to escape some of the deep-rooted tribal wars, linguistic and cultural disparities, and woeful dictatorships which have shaped so much of the rest of the world.  Being still green, the United States has been able to be progressive and forward thinking at a rate much faster than more established nations in the rest of the world. 

However, in the past few decades, America has seemingly tried to catch up with the rest of the world´s bloody history by becoming the aggressor and instigator in several violent conflicts which have destroyed nations and families while bolstering our military power in a time when nations should be disarming.  Caught up in a global power struggle for economic dominance, we have been unable to ensure all citizens are ensured basic medical care which is standard throughout the E.U. and our neighbor Canada.  The American motto seems to be that if businesses succeed, then people will also succeed.  In Europe, I have lived with the opposite, this philosophy that if people benefit then surely businesses will also prosper by proxy.  And now our xenophobic and nativist sentiments have become so loud that we are already constructing portions of a 700-mile border wall on our nation´s southern border. 

Traveling Europe, it is impossible to ignore how every decision is steeped in history and every choice has far-reaching repercussions.  Haphazard borders have plagued Europe every bit as much as Asia and Africa.  Rigid borders ignore real problems and so also avoid real solutions.  Rather than focusing on renewed diplomacy and meaningful compromise, borders insist that neighboring countries can continue existing despite a gross disparity of wealth, rights, and standard of living just across an imaginary line. 

The permeability of the E.U.’s open borders should be a model of the rest of the world. Though not perfected as yet, the idea of flexible borders legitimizes the basic human propensity and right to migrate.  It has occurred for thousands and thousands of years, from Phoenicians to the Gaels, from Vikings to African tribes, from the Moors to the Hebrews, from the Greeks to the Romans, from the Gauls and the Polynesians to the Huns and the Mongolians, from the Persians and Babylonians to the Egyptians and Europeans.  Humans migrate.  To deny this basic fact by erecting impassable borders or sinister Secure Fences is to design a system which, by definition, must fall because it is contrary to natural law. 

As a teacher, it pains me to think of the billions which have been spent and the billions proposed to be spent on the completion of a border wall touted as a stalling tactic for immigration.  Working with eager ESL students and their families desiring assimiliation, I weep to think of how much those billions of dollars could mean for their integration into modern American society.  For in the end, the history of the world teaches us that it is not conquest but community that matters, integration not destruction, assimilation not annihilation, love and not fear, nonviolence and not violence.  Dr. King warned us that, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”  I believe MLK would also have extended this apt warning to programs such as anti-immigration tactics like border walls.  Nations which spend more money on separation than integration are bound for disaster.  Countries which hold national security above international community are in a sad state indeed; as Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty or security.” 

From the banks of the Rio Bravo in Texas to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Spain, the whole world is hoping America will learn from history as it continues to write history in this 21st century.  Our legacy is yet unfinished; we still have time to stop such medieval gestures as a border wall and to regain our place as a progressive nation embracing the global community.   

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

May 12, 2008

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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