A Basque in Boise

Basque Country president and the NY Basque Center disagree on showing Donostia’s mayor video message

UPDATE (10/18/13): New York Basque Center’s president has resigned from his duties as president, citing personal reasons. I could only find the article in Basque on the EITB.com website

Lehendakari UrkulluI think I was the only Basque in the whole country to miss the party in New York last week for the 100th anniversary of their Basque Center. Lucky for us, fellow blogger Anne-Marie Chirambero was there and wrote a wonderful multimedia recap of the entire weekend for her blog,  Hella Basque.

However, not everything went smooth during the event. As a friend brought to my attention yesterday, there was apparently some protocol battle between the event organizers and the Basque Country representatives at the Gala that not everybody noticed as it unfolded. It all started when the New York Basque Center board was about to show a video (in Basque) sent by Juan Karlos Izagirre, Donostia’s mayor, where he greeted the New York folks, thanked them for their great work, and talked a bit about the importance of keeping the Basque language alive, both in the Basque Country as well as abroad. I’ve listened to it a couple of times, there is nothing in those 60 seconds that could be considered offensive, other than this particular mayor doesn’t belong to the Basque Nationalist Party (as does Iñigo Urkullu, the president of the Basque Country), but to Bildu instead, a Basque nationalist, separatist and leftist political coalition.

I have to admit that politics is definitely not my strong suit; I spend very little time thinking about it and I realize that I have a very simplistic view of the whole dynamics. I will also point out that the president’s party gave some money to the New York Basque Center in order to promote the Basque Country strategy in the United States and commemorate its 100th anniversary. Finally, I’m shaping my opinion based almost entirely on the article below and the mayor’s message. With everyting, I still think that a one-minute greeting video message shouldn’t have prompted a mini crisis cabinet to decide whether Urkullu would make an appearence or not if the video was shown.

The thing I like about living in the diaspora is how little of a role politics plays in general in our Basque Centers. We have our challenges and disagreements, of course, but ultimately, they are centers open to all Basques, whether you’re from the old country or a third generation Basque-Something. Celebrating 100 years of hard work helping Basques get aquainted with new and often hostile surroundings, in addition to making connections possible between newcomers and already settled Basques is something to be proud about and worth celebrating. In my opinion, promoting a sense of unity as Basques should be one of the most important things to work on, especially for us Basques in the diaspora, as opposed to acting like this is a beauty contest.

Oh well. I guess this is why I stay away from politics as much as possible. The incident sounds so petty I can’t believe it actually happened. According to the article though, it looks like both sides ended up chalking it up to a misunderstanding and are moving on. I leave you with the translation of the article published by Diario Vasco on Wednesday. I’d love to hear your opinions on the matter.

The Basque Center in New York complains that Urkullu blocked Izagirre’s video

The Basque president threatened not to attend the center’s 100th anniversary if their leaders shared a message sent by Donostia’s mayor.

10.16.13 – 00:30 – DAVID GUADILLA | SAN SEBASTIÁN.

Last Sunday night’s celebration of the New York Basque Center’s 100th anniversary, a festive event attended by a wide social and political spectrum, and which was one of the most important events in the president’s US tour last week, ended on a sour note both for the members of the autonomous government and the Basque Center’s executive board. Long faces, affronts, crossed accusations, veiled threats… A tense situation caused by the Basque Center board’s efforts to show a greeting video message by San Sebastian’s mayor, Juan Karlos Izagirre, from Bildu, which was opposed by Iñigo Urkullu.

The organization that serves as refuge for members of the Basque community had organized a flashy party to remember its birth. To highlight the event, the promoters had invited several authorities. The list was long and inclusive. In addition to Iñigo Urkullu, invitations had also been sent, among others, to the previous two Basque presidents, Juan Jose Ibarretxe and Patxi Lopez (Spanish Social Party), Navarre’s president, Yolanda Barcina (Union of the People of Navarre), and Bilbao’s mayor, Iñaki Azkuna (Basque Nationalist Party); Vitoria’s mayor, Javier Maroto (People’s Party); and San Sebastian’s mayor, Juan Karlos Izagirre (Bildu). The Basque socialist leader, autonomous community of Navarre’s leader and the three mayors offered their apologies for not going, although Donostia’s mayor sent a greeting video message. And that’s where the issue arose.

 “Our plan was to show the mayor’s message. It was our party and we wanted it to be as inclusive as possible,” New York Basque Center’s president, Aitzol Azurtza, a 39-year old man from Donostia who has lived in the United States for the last 15 years, said via telephone to this newspaper.. However, according to Azurtza, Urkullu’s collaborators opposed it by arguing that the Basque president’s appearance couldn’t be “topped” by any other authority.

Tension kept increasing. The Basque government warned the Basque Center members that showing the video was not viable. Not only that, but the president’s delegation called a mini crisis cabinet in the hotel lobby where the meeting was going to be held to decide whether they would attend the event or not. The threat was real.

In the end, the New York Basque Center board agreed to withdraw Juan Karlos Izagirre’s message. “They gave us an ultimatum. They told us they needed an hour to reconsider the situation: either we withdrew the video or the Basque president wouldn’t attend. And we agreed in good faith,” said Aitzol Azurtza, who emphasizes there were conversations “at the highest level” to try and solve the mess. But by then, the atmosphere had become noticeably tense.

The party started without the Basque president, to the general shock and nervousness of those present. “There were more guests. We could not make them wait. It was our party, the Basque Center’s party, and we invite whomever we want and organize it however we want,” stresses Azurtza, who in his short speech during the celebration pointed out that the organizations in the diaspora must be a reflection of the “diversity in the Basque Country.”

Oversight and discomfort

The situation reached such a point that the presenter at the party forgot to mention Iñigo Urkullu’s presence and stripped him of his president title. Immediately afterward, the honorary aurresku was performed for the organization leaders, not for the executive chief. He wasn’t even greeted with a txapela gesture, which caused a notorious discomfort inside the Basque Country’s delegation.

“Someone did not understand correctly. This wasn’t an event to honor the lehendakari, but our anniversary celebration to which the lehendakari was invited, Navarre’s president and other officials. It’s very different. We wish Barcina would have been able to come to greet the people from Navarre that were there,” stresses Aitzol Azurtza without hiding his uneasiness. “This has hurt our feelings. The affront was theirs. It was really ugly and not tasteful at all,” maintains the center’s representative who, in any case, decided to move on and consider it a misunderstanding.

From the Basque Government an effort was made yesterday too to put the controversy in perspective. Official spokesmen referred to the words offered by the president during his press release last Monday, when he pointed out a “previous disagreement related to the event’s script.” Urkullu stated that a “sufficient agreement was reached as to how the event should develop, according to the institutional respect an event should have that was subsidized in part” by the Basque government. At the end of August, the Basque government granted a subsidy of 30,000 euros to the New York Basque Center in order to promote the Basque Country strategy in the United States and commemorate its 100th anniversary. Additionally, the Basque president reminded us that he took part as the “highest institutional representative” of the Basque Country.

Thanks for passing by: ↓

Anne Marie Donald Julian Abio Aitzol Azurtza Ania Michel HACALA Philippe Xabier terese Koitz Frank Lostaunau

17 thoughts on “Basque Country president and the NY Basque Center disagree on showing Donostia’s mayor video message

  1. Julian Abio

    For whatever reason there was a misunderstanding or disagreement of whatever but at the gala I had a great conversation with President Urkullu and he was very cordial and amicable.

  2. Aitzol Azurtza

    Kaixo Henar,

    Hala da, goiko berrian agertzen den bezala jazo zen gertakari sinesgaitz hau.

    Eusko Jaurlaritzako agintari gorenek ultimatuma eman zioten NYeko Euskal Etxeari; edo Donostiako Alkatearen mezua erakustea erabakitzen genuen eta ondorioz Urkullu ez zen Galara joango, edo Urkullu joango zen baina Donostiako Alkatearen mezua erakusteko aukerarik ez genuke izango. Edo bata edo bestea, baina biak ez.

    Jarrera hau NYeko Euskal Etxeko bazkideok ez dugu ulertzen, gure Etxean lekua denok dugulako: Jatorri, jaioleku, hizkuntza, arraza, sexualitate, erlijio, joera politiko, hiritartasun, eta administrazio ezberdineko euskaldun eta euskalherritar guztiontzat ditu ateak zabalik NYeko Euskal Etxeak, inolako bazterkeriarik egin gabe.

    NYeko Euskal Etxeko bazkideok oso mindurik gaude Eusko Jaurlaritzak egin zigun itsusikeriagatik, eta erakutsi zuen malgutasun ezagatik. Jaurlaritzako agintari gorenek ez zuten egoerak eskatzen zuen mailan egoten jakin. Jaia geurea zen eta geuri zegokigun jaia nola bideratu erabakitzea, ez haiei.

    Ongi izan,

    Aitzol Azurtza
    NYeko Euskal Etxea
    Brooklyn, NY 11222

  3. Philippe

    Having the Lehendakari of the Basque Autonomous Community (BAC) take part in your Euskal Etxea’s event is an immense honor, but comes with protocol constraints on the Basque club, that are usually gone over in advance in very granular detail. Having the video from the PNV’s main political rival didn’t help I suppose. After all, after the last elections in the BAC the two top parties, the PNV and EH Bildu, could not work together to form a majority government, and the PNV had to go it alone as a minority government

    In any case, the general feedback I’m hearing is that the NYEE’s centennial celebration was a great success that was well organized and well attended. Zorionak eta biba zuek!

    p.s. I wonder if the mayors of Baiona, Garazi and Maule were invited ? 🙂

  4. Anne Marie

    Thank you for writing about this, Henar! I had trouble understanding the entirety of the issue because of language difficulties–all of the articles people sent me were in Spanish and Basque. As someone very unfamiliar with Basque politics, I don’t see how showing a video from a man from a different political party could be so offensive. We were all there to have a good time and celebrate New York’s centennial, and I think it’s a shame the organizers were put out over something so trivial. As if they didn’t have enough to worry about without the president of the Basque Government, their honored guest, throwing a hissy fit right before their party!!

  5. Anne Marie

    Philippe –
    I’m also curious to know if politicians or other guests from Iparralde were invited. Does anyone have any insight?

  6. Xabier

    Zorionak to the New York Eusko Etxea…….100 years…..it is a major feat that when organizing an event to celebrate it….. requires colaboration on all fronts.
    When asking for plurality, as Euskal Herria is a very plural environment………the margin for offending someone can increase……among those who were not sent invitations were Enrique Maya (UPN) the Mayor of the historical capital of the Basque Country, Irunea…..as well as Alain Rousset…..the President of Region Aquitaine which adminsters over Iparralde and have established strong economic relations with the Basque Autonomous Community.
    Reading up on the history of the club….I was amazed to hear of the part Fiorello La Guardia had in the early years of the club. He would later become Mayor of New York…..yet I wonder if Michael Bloomberg or if Marty Markowitz (borough President of Brooklyn) were avaialble to attend. A local presence would have impressed the image and perception of the Basque Community and Basque Country……but in the end…..the media and the machine that controls it (based in Spain) will have a field day on the “batzoki” that is based in New York…..or so they will call it……right or wrong(we know this is not true). When the former Lehendakari Patxi Lopez (and Juan Jose Ibarretxe before him) visited the Eusko Etxeak of the USA….they commented and were amazed on the plurality and yet cohesion these Basque Clubs have in the USA. It just takes one negative piece of media to undo all the hardwork and have Jose Maria Aznar and his friends at NEWSCORP have a field day and justify their agenda.

    I was proud to be Basque and see the activities that took place in New York these past 10 days….a tribute to all of you in New York and beyond….yet we need to be mindful of how things can be portrayed.

    I viewed it as a celebration in which institutions were involved and collaborated (as most Basques in the US will view it) while our brethern in Europe will try to politicize the scenario. A shame there was no room for the Izaguire comment…..needless to say……it seems certain protocol and procedures were set in place.

  7. Aitzol Azurtza


    The (Gasteiz) Basque Government said from the very beginning that this visit would not be an institutional visit, therefore protocol should not have been an issue. Allowing the hosts to celebrate their club’s birthday party as they wished, should have been the priority. At the end, (Gasteiz) Basque Government officials kept on insisting on protocol for their rigid, party-spoiling, exclusive attitude.

    Since Iparralde does not legally exist under the administrative structure of France, the head of the Elected Officials’ Assembly (Hautetsien Batzarra) was invited. Also, the Consul General of France in New York was invited as the lead representative of Basque people holding French citizenship. Both of them refused to attend (the Consul General of Spain in New York did attend the Gala).


    Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, and the Mayor-President of Brooklyn were all invited, as well as the two main candidates for the mayoral office (city elections will be held in November 2013). All of them excused themselved for not being able to attend due to their busy schedules.

  8. Henar Chico Post author

    Saioa Zubigaray Uribarri, Basque Government Internationalization Intern, left this comment on the Euskaldunak group on LinkedIn:

    The Lehendakari is the president of the Basque Country, that is to say, he represents all the citizens of the Basque Country, even if one does not follow his ideology. Therefore, there must be a Protocol to follow and as everyone knows, this did not occured. They danced turning their back on the Lehendakari, the presentator did not mention the Lehendakari was there. It was absolutely dissapointing NY Euskal Etxea’s behaviour.

  9. Henar Chico Post author

    And this is my response:

    You said it, if the lehendakari represents all Basques, he should allow for everybody’s freedom of expression. Did you watch the video? There is nothing there that can be considered offensive or even political. I wasn’t at the event, so I don’t know how the aurresku went exacty, but as the NY Euskal Etxea told me, this wasn’t an event to honor the lehendakari, it was a celebration of the Euskal Etxea’s 100th anniversay, where yes, the lehendakari was a very important guest, but not the center of the activities. Like I say in my post, politics is not my strong suit, so I’m sure I miss a lot.

  10. Philippe


    Thanks for the updated details – looks like you had your bases covered and the Lehendakari’s handlers slipped up – He’s been in office now for a year so maybe they’re still learning all the details…
    I wonder what would have happened if the roles were reversed – say Laura Mintegi (EH Bildu) was the Lehendakari and the mayor of Bilboa ( Inaki Azkuna – PNV) sent a video… Maybe we’ll find out at the next election cycle of the BAC.

    I’m not familiar with “Hautetsien Batzarra” is that part of Udalbiltza ?

    Mil esker berriz!

  11. bea

    Just one question ???

    Why dance the “auresku” for the lendakari ??? Excuse me, but no… The honor dance should be for all the people who have worked during so many years keeping alive this Euskal Etxea !! The tribute goes to them…

    Humble people founded the Euskal Etxea and with their efforts and economy. Now because the Basque Government is giving money means “you have to do what I say” hummmmm now tell me… where does that take us!


  12. Xabier

    Aitzol…..eskerrik asko for pointing out the invitations to the local dignataries…..I think this is very important in these type of events.
    After reading the details……and continuing with the concept of plurality…..it would have been nice if one other dignatory had made a short video presentation as well……perhaps it would have softened the blow….and with the last minute inclusion…..it could have been taken wrong…..I can’t explain it. It is difficult to speculate after the fact.

  13. Koitz

    This note, that Euzko-Etxea of New York has made public, clarifies a few issues that have been raised by some media outlets.

    New York, October 20th 2013

    Dear members and friends,

    This Sunday October 20th the Euzko-Etxea of New York held a monthly meeting, in which the events to commemorate our centennial, and the latest news reported by some media outlets have been analyzed. Further to this meeting, the EENY assembly would like to express the following:

    First of all, we would like to sincerely thank all of those who took part in the centennial celebrations turning it into a huge success. We would specially like to thank the many Basques and Basque-Americans who came from several North-American Basque Clubs to honor us with their presence and their affection.

    We would also like to state that the Euzko-Etxea of New York is a cultural and non-political organization. Our Basque Club is formed by a wide variety of members of many different origins, which include the Basque Autonomous Community, Upper Navarre, Iparralde, and the USA, for whom the common denominator is their commitment to Basque culture. In this context of diversity Euzko-Etxea has the duty to preserve its independence.

    Euzko-Etxea of New York operates through volunteers and an assembly that practices direct democracy rules it. The assembly also elects a board of directors to manage and represent the Basque Club on behalf of the assembly. The EENY assembly would like to firmly denounce the attempt to make the former EENY president Aitzol Azurtza the sole responsible figure of the decision taken by the board of directors regarding the congratulatory message from the mayor of Donostia-San Sebastian. The assembly takes full responsibility for all decisions taken by the board of directors, and thanks the determination shown by the directors in defending Euzko-Etxea’s independence.

    Moreover, the assembly would like to express in the strongest possible terms its condemnation against the invasion of privacy promoted by part of the press in an effort to discredit our member Aitzol Azurtza. Aitzol is a highly respected figure among Euzko-Etxea members due to his commitment to Basque culture, leadership, and highly effective organizational skills, as well as for the invaluable work he has done for our club since he became a member in 2007. Proof of his commitment are his work as Basque language teacher, and his work at the board of directors, first as Second Secretary, and later as President, under whose leadership the Centennial events came to fruition. It is absolutely disgusting and deeply saddening for us to see how Aitzol’s private life has been exposed and manipulated by some media. The assembly would like to express is solidarity with Aitzol, to whom we acknowledge the huge personal sacrifice incurred in order to defend the independence of Euzko-Etxea, and we would like to encourage him to continue participating actively in our club.

    Finally, Euzko-Etxea of New York would like to underline its continuous commitment promote Basque culture from an inclusive, plural, and modern perspective.

    Euzko-Etxea of New York Assembly

  14. Erkuden

    Me thinks Urkullo’s -or his hasndlers’- attitude shows either arrogance or insecurity. The Etxea was the belle of the ball because what was being celebrated was its amazing 100 years of existence, , not the Lehendakari. Besides, he is not the lehendakari of ALL the basques. Come on! There are lots of basque regions and basque people outside Euskadi. Guests shoud show some respect for their hosts. Aitzol sounds like a very dedicated member and President of the Etxea and he has all my respect, support and admiration. Euskera lessons!!! How more lucky can an Etxea be.

    A Basque in Canada.

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