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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Basques in France

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France Facts
Area:    543,965 sq. km.
Capital:    Paris
Total Population:    58,805,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The risk of rebellion by French Basques is likely to be substantially influenced by what happens in Spain. This diverges somewhat from other minorities because factors leading to increased risk of rebellion such as 1) persistent protest, 2) high levels of group organization and cohesion, 3) regime instability and 4) government repression are virtually non-existent in the French Basque territory. The French Basques are at a risk of rebellion due to the presence of persistent attacks carried out by Basques activists in neighboring Spain.

The French Basques are at little risk of protest as they lack many of the risk factors for protest such as political and cultural restriction, living in an unstable democratic regime and recent repression.

When the Basques in Spain slow down their terrorist activities, the same occurs in France, and it seems that terrorist acts committed in France are often, if not always, bolstered by Spanish activists. ETA activists continue to take refuge among welcoming kindred on the French side of the border. Large quantities of weapons and explosives discovered periodically by French police seem to indicate that at least a small group of separatists is willing to continue fighting for independence, and the recent threat directed towards soccer player Bixente Lizarazu shows the attempts of separatists to put their causes on the front page of newspapers.


Analytic Summary

As a whole, the Basques have defended territory in northern Spain and southern France for centuries, controlling passages through the Pyrénées. They were invaded as early as 194 BC by the Romans, but maintained some autonomy. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the Basques faced campaigns by the Visgoths and later North Africans in 714 AD. When in 1234 AD, the Basque King had no heirs to rule the Spanish Navarra, French monarchs were asked to rule. The French rulers of the Basque country were later pushed to the other side of the Pyrénées by King Ferdinand of Spain in 1512 AD. This would appear to be the beginning of the division between French and Spanish Basques. A high level of autonomy was maintained by the French Basques under the French monarchy, but was later lost with the French Revolution and the subsequent annexation of the Basque territory to Béarn to create the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department.

The Basques in France comprise a very small proportion of the country’s population and mainly inhabit rural inland areas of southwestern France in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department of the Aquitaine region (known in Basque as Iparralde) (GROUPCON = 3). This region is the northernmost part of the Basques’ historical homeland, which stretches southward into northern Spain. Unlike their Spanish kindred, the Basques of France are more assimilated into French society. Relatively few of them speak Euskera, although there have been efforts to increase the dwindling number of Euskera speakers (LANG = 1) and they lack other traits - aside from a sense of collective identity - that distinguish them from the dominant group. Also, unlike the Basques in Spain, French Basques are not highly cohesive nor is there consensus on group objectives.

The group has no demographic disadvantages and is subject to no political restrictions (POLDIS06 = 0). Most French Basques reside in poor, predominantly rural areas. While historically the Basque had suffered from the effects of economic marginalization, recent census information shows their department to have relatively average levels of unemployment and GDP (ECDIS06 = 0). Laws allowing Basque to be taught in schools were first passed in 1951; however, French continues to be the primary language and the official language for exams, theses, dissertations, etc. (CULPO2 = 2). In 1982 an agreement was signed with the region in which the Basque are located in order to establish a program for teaching adults conversational Basque. Repressive acts by the French government have been directed not at French Basques but, rather, at Basque militants from Spain who have sought shelter in France (REPGENCIV04-06 = 0; REPNVIOL04-06 = 0), with arrests of members of a French Basque militant organization in 2005 being the only for of repression found from 2004-2006 (REPVIOL04 = 0; REPVIOL05 = 2; REPVIOL06 = 0).

As mentioned, the Basques of France do not have a common political program other than recognition and protection of their language and culture. In part this would entail a loosening of the language laws and more opportunities for use of their language. Where disagreement lies is in the level of autonomy the group seeks and the means to obtain it. A few advocate a separate Basque state (SEPX = 3), which would entail unification of Basques in both Spain and France. Others seek enough political autonomy to protect and promote group culture. And still others, perhaps the majority, appear disinterested in the autonomy issue.

Moderates tend to support the various conventional Basque political parties that form and reform before every election. Those who call for more militant action tend to support Iparretarrek (IK), or the newly formed Haika- a coalition of some members of Iparretarrek and a Spanish-based Basque youth group. The latter groups have been involved in harboring Basques from Spain, stockpiling weapons, and other limited acts of rebellion (REB01-03 = 1; REB04 = -99), which has been the general strategy of militant members of the group since the late 1970s and early 1980s (REBEL80X = 2). Efforts at political mobilization have been underway since the 1970s (PROTX70 = 1), increasing during the 1990s (PROTX90 = 3) and then abating somewhat (PROT01-02 = 2; PROT04 ,06 = 0; PROT05 = 3).



Jacob, James E. Hills of Conflict: Basque Nationalism in France Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1994.

Minorities at Risk: Phase I Summary.

Lexis-Nexis news reports, 1990-2006.

Kurlansky, Mark. The Basque History of the World. Walker and Company: New York, 1999.

Safran, William. “The Mitterrand Regime and Its Policies of Ethnocultural Accommodation.” Comparative Politics, Vol. 18, No. 1. (Oct., 1985), pp. 41-63.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006