Today is International Basque Language Day — who knew? 😳 …And another diatribe on the destructiveness of identity politics

6 Dec

Yesterday was “The International Day of Persons with Disabilities”. Soon it’s going to be like the Orthodox Church calendar and there’ll be a long list of “International” days on each and every one of the year’s 365, all commemorating identity till the point where all identity just “melts into air”.

I’ve been unfriendly to Basques in the past, not for any reason particular to Basques but because I’m against the wild reification of any social or cultural group’s self-perception (“identity”) and the pointless violence and other costs that leads to.

These are some of my money quotes:

And then there are the Basques.  Do you know how many inhabitants of the Basque regions of Spain who identify as Basque actually speak the language?  Some 18%!  And yet, this practically identity-less identity has been the motivation for decades of violence and terror.  There’s no more twisted example of post-modern identity foolishness than I can think of.  A violent political struggle to save a museum culture.  When 50% of you have bothered to actually learn the devilishly difficult language you’re so proud of, then go ahead and engage in any kind of separatist resistance — violent or non — that you feel like.

And…

There are more dangerous and toxic manifestations of that kind of localized-identity nationalism as well, most noticeably the Basques.  Less than 25% of the people who claim that they are Basques ethnically in Spain can actually speak the language at all — at all.  I once caught a hysterical comedy skit on Spanish television where a man in San Sebastian was trying to pull off a bank robbery in Basque — on principle.  And it wasn’t working because the teller couldn’t understand him.  Then the neighboring teller chimes in about the robber’s grammar and that it’s incorrect according to the teacher at the night-school Basque classes she goes to and the other customers on line start arguing with him and the tellers about noun declensions and whether his use of the subjunctive is correct or not.  And the robber starts to scream, frustrated: “I’m in Donostia (San Sebastian in Basque) goddammit!  Not Burgos!  And I can’t even hold up a bank in my own language!”  Finally, the cops arrive and instead of apprehending him, they get caught up in the one-upmanship of the group of barely Basque-speaking Basques’ grammar arguments and the robber, frustrated, makes his escape.  It was hilarious and it was on YouTube for a while but I haven’t been able to find it again.  But that’s not all a joke.  People killed each other in the hundreds for decades for an identity with only the most fragile of real footing and a language that none of them spoke; and in post-Franco Spain, one of the most liberal, progressive on social issues nations in Europe, where you’re free to learn any language you want and maintain any kind of culture you like.  So, at the risk of sounding glib, make the effort to  learn the language first — BE a Basque first —  before you start killing people.

And a quote where I lump Basques and Catalan together with the twentieth century’s most vicious and destructive separatists, Croatians; I’ve often referred to Croats as Balkan Catalans, and referred to Catalans as Iberian Croatians:

I have a serious repellent reflex towards Catalans. This is largely because I love Spain so much, and their anti-Spanishness really gets my goat. I find their Gallic delusions that they’re so much more European and Mediterranean and civilized than the rest of Spain to be insufferable. (And some day I’ll get around to dismantling the cult of “Mediterranean-ness” itself that’s grown since the 1980s and that I find a completely false and fabricated pop-multi-culti identity that grew out of tourist literature, the public relations campaigns of olive oil companies and a popular sprinkling of Braudel, and nothing else. When even Turks start acting and feeling like they’re “Mediterraneans,” you know that a discourse is b.s. and needs to be taken apart; the extremeness of the hype surrounding Barcelona is part of this, and is why I love the gravitas and even crudeness of Madrid and Castille so much more deeply.)  I find Catalans’ ‘noli me tangere’ squeamishness about how they shouldn’t have to suffer by being a part of this barbaric country of monarcho-fascists and Catholics and gypsies and bull-torturers to be racist pure and simple. They’re Iberian Croatians, in short. There are plenty out there who will get the analogy, I believe.

And more:

All of us on the periphery, and yes you can include Spain, struggle to define ourselves and maintain an identity against the enormous centripetal power of the center.  So when one of us — Catalans, Croatians, Neo-Greeks — latches onto something — usually some totally imaginary construct — that they think puts them a notch above their neighbors on the periphery and will get them a privileged relationship to the center, I find it pandering and irritating and in many cases, “racist pure and simple.”  It’s a kind of Uncle-Tom-ism that damages the rest of us: damages our chances to define ourselves independent of the center, and damages a healthy, balanced understanding of our self culturally and historically and ideologically and spiritually…

Spain — in part because it’s felt it had to compensate for the darker elements of its past — has transformed itself in just a few decades, and in a way I find extremely moving and mature, into perhaps one of the most progressive countries in Europe on a whole range of moral and social issues and especially in being open to regional autonomy and regional, cultural rights.  There is no way you can’t be happily and solidly Catalan, and maintain your culture and language to the fullest degree, within the Spanish state.  Objections are nonsense.

But they had already lost me when they banned bullfighting.

Thanks for letting me rant and re-rant. 🙂

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