To Our Readers, Regarding the Term Nationalist

by Iñaki Galdos Irazabal

Basque Tribune has received quite a bit of communication from readers about the use of the term nationalist in its articles. It is primarily from readers who are familiar with the Basque political reality and think that this term is not understood in the same way in the Basque Country as it is in countries outside the Basque Country where readers may be living, and because of this, some confusion and even misunderstanding can arise.

We are aware of the issue. Much like the use of terms such as socialist, adopted throughout history by political leaders as varied as Bernie Sanders, François Mitterrand, Willy Brandt, Fidel Castro or Joseph Stalin, or terms like liberal, with meanings quite different in Europe than in the United States, the word nationalist evokes and transmits multiple meanings, which in many cases can be incompatible.

Basque nationalism has also experienced this challenge. A few years ago, the leadership of the historic PNV political party (“Basque Nationalist Party” with its N standing for Nationalist) surveyed its members about a change of the name of the party, to use the term National rather than Nationalist. The power of its history weighed heavily and such a proposal was not accepted, except for its name in English: BNP (Basque National Party). Certainly, for a party like this one committed historically to Europeanism, solidarity, and democracy, it was tiring to have to explain to the world that its nationalism is not comparable to that other kind of dreadful nationalism that caused so much suffering throughout history and against which PNV members have also fought and suffered.

On the left, the other large family of what usually has been called Basque nationalism, is widely using the expression pro-independence left. In this case, the explanation is more ideological: in many cases (not in all) it’s not about avoiding the difficulty of explaining what nationalism means in this political movement, but about defining itself as a movement which is pro-independence yet not nationalist.

There is currently a term in the Basque language that has been used quite frequently and is synonymous (or almost synonymous) with Basque nationalist and has historically encompassed that world in the Basque Country: abertzale. It is a word constructed from the neologism aberri (homeland) created by Sabino Arana, who is regarded as the father of Basque nationalism, and which is translated as patriot. However, the use of abertzale at Basque Tribune substituting nationalist brings up three problems that inhibit its use: on the one hand, it is an unknown term outside the Basque Country, Spain, France and the Basque diaspora. On the other hand, too often its use has been restricted to one of the abertzale families, the leftist, and especially in some media, it has endowed a radical meaning that distorts the real meaning of the word. Finally, we must recognize that, technically, abertzale is not exactly the same as nationalist.

In addition to all of this, we have an underlying problem that goes beyond the decision of a medium such as Basque Tribune to use or not to use this terminology (nationalist, nationalism), and how to use it: and that’s because the academic world also has trouble agreeing on the range of meanings of this terminology, and even more so establishing more complex issues such as history, types of nationalism, etc.

Performing a review of the political texts published to date, we realize that in some cases we could have avoided the use of the term nationalist and, depending on the context, we could have talked of pro-independence, sovereigntist, pro-Basque, Basque national scope… This way, we would have even more clearly defined what we were writing about. However, in cases in which using the term nationalist may be considered unavoidable, we will add a link to the text, which although it might not be a clarification in the strict sense, we hope it might at least serve to explain what we mean when we speak of Basque nationalism.

Finally, as editor I would like to thank those readers that have expressed concern about this issue. Their suggestions have helped us to become aware of a problem that is much more than terminological, and to deal with it.

About the Author

Iñaki Galdos Irazabal
Iñaki Galdos Irazabal is editor at Basque Tribune. E-Mail | @basquetribune

1 Comment on "To Our Readers, Regarding the Term Nationalist"

  1. As someone who is half Basque half Welsh, being called nationalist by the Spanish or the English who have spent the past 500 years spreading their idea of nation, their culture and their language around the world at the point of a sword or down the barrel of a gun, is frankly hilarious.

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