The basque people, whose militant nationalism is such a thorn in the flesh to the authorities in Spain, are not confined to that country alone.
The basque people, whose militant nationalism is such a thorn in the flesh to the authorities in Spain, are not confined to that country alone. Their homeland stretches across the French frontier, at the western end of the Pyrenees, and includes several famous French holiday resorts, such as Biarritz and St. Jean de Luz.
They themselves claim to be about three million strong. But this figure is almost certainly exaggerated by including people who live in the predominantly Basque provinces but are not genuine Basques. Fewer than a million probably speak the Basque language as their mother tongue. The majority live on the Spanish side; the number of Basque-speaking people in France is put at around a hundred thousand.
Basque nationalism has not taken up the militant posture in France that it has in Spain. But from time to time violence has spilled over the frontier. Several hundred members of the Basque nationalist movement E.T.A. (which stands for Basque Homeland and Liberty in the Basque language), on the run from the Spanish police, have taken refuge among their fellow-Basques across the frontier. Several men have been shot and wounded on the French side; one killed in a bomb explosion; and many more threatened. A Spanish right-wing organisation called "The Guerrillas of Christ the King" has claimed responsibility for some of these attacks; but the French authorities say agents of the Spanish police have also been active across the frontier.
Apart from these occasional incidents, the French Basque country is a peaceful place, with its seaside resorts and fishing villages on the coast, and hill-farms and picturesque villages inland. In the village cafes, men gather to drink wine and play cards; and talk together in the Basque language. It is quite unlike any other western European language and is extremely difficult to learn. Scholars think it was brought by immigrants from Asia Minor three thousand years ago.
In the tourist resorts, Basque cooking and the special Basque game, pelota, are a popular attraction. Shops sell Basque crafts and records of Basque folk music. There are specialist bookshops, selling works in the Basque language -- and some of these are highly political, dealing with the nationalist struggle. One such shop, in Hendaye, right by the Spanish frontier, has been bombed twice this year, and has now closed.
Every effort is made to make sure that the children grow up Basque-speaking. Families gather round the radio sets every Sunday morning, for a half-hour programme in Basque. And the people have set up nursery schools at their own expenses, in which the teaching is in Basque. The children can only go to them until they are six, the age at which compulsory education starts in France. After that, they must go to the state schools, where the teaching is all in French.
SYNOPSIS: Rugged territory in the extreme South-West of France, where the Pyrennes sweep down to the sea. It is part of the Basque country: for the home of those tough independent people straddles the Franco-Spanish frontier.
On the French side, as the traveller moves inland from a string of famous seaside resorts, it looks a peaceful land of small hill-farms. But occasionally violence spills over the frontier from the Basque nationalist activity in Spain. Basque militants who have escaped here have been followed -- either by rival guerrilla groups or by agents of the Spanish police.
In the picturesque villages on the Pyrenean slopes, the people still speak the Basque language. It is a strong cultural bond between french and Spanish Basques, and is extremely difficult for anyone else to learn; for it is quite unlike any other Western European language, and is thought to have been brought by immigrants from Asia Minor about three thousand years ago.
This bookshop in the town of Biarritz specialises in works in the Basque language, and records of Basque music. Many of the books deal with the Basque political struggle. A similar shop in Hendaye, right on the Spanish frontier, has been bombed twice this year, and is now closed.
There are only about a hundred thousand genuine Basque-speaking people on the French side of the border, but they have their own radio programme, for half-an-hour on a Sunday morning.
At home end at school, the Basque people show their determination to keep their language and culture alive. They have set up private nursery schools at their own expense, where the teaching is in Basque.
But the children can only go to these schools until they are six -- the age when compulsory education starts in France. After that, they must go to state schools, where the teaching is all in French.