Tag Archives: los niños de la guerra

Recap: Volume II, 2012

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The year 2012 marked the 75th anniversary of the evacuation of thousands of Basque children as a result of one of the darkest periods in European contemporary history—i.e., the Spanish Civil War. Its consequences in Basque soil were shattering, particularly for the civil society and its children. In 1937, over thirty small towns and villages in Bizkaia were intentionally bombarded by Generalissimo Francisco Franco´s Nazi allies to demoralize the Basque resistance. This provoked a massive organized departure of its youngest population. Some of the children were exiled to the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, having to endure, also, the outbreak of World War II. Many of them even enlisted in the Red Army (“No place for children,” March post).

Some of the children´s testimonies were collected in an oral history video—“Gure Bizitzen Pasarteak—Fragments of our Lives”—as part of an ongoing project that also took me to the land of the Basques in the United Sates (“#EuskalWest2012,” September post). The research attempts to uncover the lives of Basque migrants and exiles who had returned to the Basque Country as a way to make sense of the “injured” collective memory of an entire generation, which, undoubtedly, needs to be healed by acknowledging their sacrifice and suffering (“Mundos invisibles”—“Invisible worlds,” November post).

America was quite present in the blog throughout the year. It is well known the historical significance of this continent for the Basques as it has become a second home for hundreds of years, weaving a tight web of emotional geographies (“Etxea”—“Home,” April post). It is also known, to a certain extent, the relevance of some of the Basque migrants and descendants in the history of their countries of residence as in the cases of Julián Irízar (Argentina) and Jean Esponda (United States). Basque-Argentinian Lieutenant Commander Irízar led a successful rescued expedition in 1903 to the Antarctica, which also became the first official voyage of Argentina to the continent. One of the islands in the Antarctic Argentine Islands was named in his honor (“The Irízar Island,” February post). On the other hand, Johnson County, Wyoming, designed a flag to commemorate the State Fair´s 100th anniversary, which depicts the Ikurriña or Basque flag in order to honor the county´s Basque origins. This goes back to the arrival of Jean Esponda in 1902 from the Old Country. The Johnson County´s flag is the first official Basque flag outside the European homeland (“The Flag,” August post).

Also, we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Basque Fellowship Society “Euskal Erria” (Sociedad de Confraternidad Vasca) from Montevideo (Uruguay), the Basque Center Zazpirak-Bat from Rosario (Argentina), and the Basque Home (Euzko Etxea) from Santiago de Chile (Chile). These diaspora associations as many others worldwide are good examples of tenacity and steadiness (“ehun”—“100,”May post; “En nuestro propio mundo”—“In our own world”, June post, respectively).

Similar to last year, the most visited post also happened to refer to politics (“Tiempo de promesas”—“Time for promises,” October post). In the occasion of the elections to the Parliament of the Basque Autonomous Community, I attempted to explain the reasons behind the traditional low participation of diaspora Basques, and the importance, in my opinion, for the diaspora to be involved in homeland politics. It is there where diaspora politics are designed and shaped. It is there where the voices of the Basques abroad need to be heard.

Confronted with one of the most acute crisis that recent generations have witnessed, let´s remember Viktor Frankl´s— a Holocaust survivor—words, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Indeed, new but difficult times are ahead of us (“Tiempos nuevos”—“New times,” December post).

In June, Basque Identity 2.0, celebrated its 3rd anniversary. Special thanks to our colleagues from eitb.com, A Basque in Boise, and About the Basque Country for their continuous support.

Thank you all for being there. I would love to hear from you. Happy New Year!

Eskerrik asko eta Urte berri on!

(NOTE: Please feel free to use Google automatic translation service…it seems to have improved, just a little bit).

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En nuestro propio mundo

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“Chile es el país más vasco entre los de América”.

Gabriela Mistral (“Tala”, 1938)

De esta manera tan rotunda, Gabriela Mistral (bautizada con el nombre de Lucila Godoy Alcayaga) describía Chile en el contexto de la tragedia fratricida que estaba asolando su tierra ancestral y la pasividad cómplice del mundo occidental:

“Es mi mayor asombro, podría decir también que mi más aguda vergüenza, ver a mi América Española cruzada de brazos delante de la tragedia de los niños vascos. En la anchura física y en la generosidad natural de nuestro Continente, había lugar de sobra para haberlos recibido a todos, evitándoles los países de lengua imposible, los climas agrios y las razas extrañas. El océano esta vez no ha servido para nuestra caridad, y nuestras playas, acogedoras de las más dudosas emigraciones, no han tenido un desembarcadero para los pies de los niños errantes de la desgraciada Vasconia. Los vascos y medio vascos de la América hemos aceptado el aventamiento de esas criaturas de nuestra sangre y hemos leído, sin que el corazón se nos arrebate, los relatos desgarrantes del regateo que hacían algunos países para recibir los barcos de fugitivos o de huérfanos. Es la primera vez en mi vida en que yo no entiendo a mi raza y en que su actitud moral. Me deja en un verdadero estupor.”

Las palabras de Mistral, “una mestiza de vasco” tal y como se definió en su día, dieron fruto en época de Pedro Aguirre Cerda, Presidente de la República de Chile (1938-1941), también de origen vasco. Aguirre Cerda, comprometido con la causa republicana española, nombró a Pablo Neruda Cónsul Especial de Chile para la Emigración Española convirtiéndose en el enlace oficial con el Gobierno de la Republica de España y el Gobierno Vasco en Paris. Tras un mes de singladura por el Atlántico y el Pacífico el 3 de septiembre de 1939 el carguero Winnipeg arribó al puerto de Valparaíso desde una lejana Francia con cerca de 2.200 refugiados de la Guerra Civil Española, entre ellos un significante número de vascos. Trascurridas cuatro décadas, Neruda recordaba aquellos días en “Para nacer he nacido” (1978) de la siguiente manera:

“Ante mi vista, bajo mi dirección, el navío debía llenarse con dos mil hombres y mujeres. Venían de campos de concentración, de inhóspitas regiones del desierto. Venían de la angustia, de la derrota y este barco debía llenarse con ellos para traerlos a las costas de Chile, a mi propio mundo que los acogía. Eran los combatientes españoles que cruzaron la frontera de Francia hacia un exilio que dura más de 30 años”.

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Imagen del Presidente Aguirre Cerda desplegada por los refugiados del Winnipeg a su llegada al puerto de Valparaíso. Fotografía: BBC Mundo.

Otros vascos de otras migraciones se encontraban desde tiempo atrás asentados en diversas localidades del país. En 1915, parte de la comunidad vasca de Valparaíso se organizaba entorno al Centro Vasco Chileno de Socorros Mutuos, embrión de lo que más tarde sería Eusko Etxea-Casa Vasca, creada en 1943 tras la visita al país del Lehendakari José Antonio de Aguirre en 1942. La visita se enmarcaba en una gira que le llevó a recorrer diez países americanos. No alejada de conflictos internos, la asociación se vio abocada a desaparecer, y no es hasta 1999 que un grupo de personas retoma el nombre de la histórica casa vasca.

Tres años antes de la conformación del Centro Vasco de Valparaíso, Santiago de Chile era testigo de la constitución de su primer Centro Vasco, hermanándose en la distancia con las ciudades de Montevideo (Uruguay) y de Rosario (Argentina), las cuales vieron durante el mismo año surgir entre sus comunidades de emigrantes vascos la Sociedad de Confraternidad Vasca “Euskal Erria” y el Centro Zazpirak-Bat, respectivamente.

El paso del tiempo, los relevos generacionales, y los acontecimientos políticos y socio-económicos en Europa—la Guerra Civil, el exilio, el Gobierno Vasco en el exilio, la postguerra, y la Segunda Guerra Mundial—tendrán consecuencias directas en las numerosas colectividades vascas de América y particularmente en sus asociaciones, verdaderos faros en los rompeolas americanos de la emigración y el exilio vasco durante décadas. Dentro del devenir del propio Centro Vasco de Santiago de Chile en 1931 se crea Euzko Gastedija (Juventud Vasca) con un compromiso político claro en relación al emergente movimiento nacionalista vasco de Euskadi.

No es de extrañar que ante el aporte ideológico de los recién llegados y coincidiendo con la visita del Lehendakari Aguirre a Santiago de Chile, ambas instituciones, Euzko Gastedija y el propio Centro Vasco, asuman su unificación, convirtiéndose posteriormente en la institución que hoy conocemos como Euzko Etxea, no haciendo discriminación en el origen de los vascos, ya fueran de un lado o del otro de los Pirineos, a la vez que establecían una nueva sede social en la actual Avenida Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna. Su construcción se inició en 1957.

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Euzko Etxea de Santiago de Chile, 1960. (Fotografía cortesía de Pedro Oyanguren).

El pasado 15 de marzo Euzko Etxea celebró su primer centenario de vida. Durante el acto conmemorativo el Presidente de Euzko Etxea, José María Narvarte atestiguaba con sus palabras esa necesidad inherente al emigrante o exiliado de recrear un propio mundo vasco, situado entre el país de origen y el país de acogida, donde comenzar de nuevo, con la esperanza de que el esfuerzo realizado durante tanto tiempo tenga continuación:

“El vasco que abandona su pueblo, por distintos motivos y en distintos períodos de la historia, vive dos vidas: una soñando el anhelado retorno y otra, luchando día a día abriéndose un espacio vital, el de la subsistencia en otra tierra, en otro idioma, entre otras gentes. Y desde siempre, en ese diario vivir, le urge la necesidad de buscar un lugar de encuentro con los suyos, emulando instituciones, conservando sus tradiciones y su lengua… Nuestra casa cumple 100 años… Recordamos a los que ya no están y que hicieron posible su creación y su desarrollo y recibimos con los brazos abiertos a sus nuevos integrantes, savia nueva que hará posible perpetuar el sueño”.

Zorionak Euzko Etxea!!

Mi agradecimiento a Pedro Oyanguren y a Palmira Oyanguren por su inestimable ayuda.

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No place for children

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“A child associated with an armed force or armed group refers to any person below 18 years of age who is, or who has been, recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking, or has taken, a direct part in hostilities.”

(Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups, United Nations, 2007)

The Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted by United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1959. This international norm was followed, three decades later, by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (November 20, 1989)—the first legally binding instrument “to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights”—and by the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (May 25, 2000). This protocol “establishes 18 as the minimum age for compulsory recruitment and requires States to do everything they can to prevent individuals under the age of 18 from taking a direct part in hostilities.” It entered into force on February 12, 2002, marking the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. Since then, more than 140 countries have ratified the protocol.

Ounder18-red

As of February 2012, 27 United Nation Member States have not signed or ratified the Optional Protocol, while another 22 have signed but not ratified it. According to the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research 2011 has been the most violent year since World War II, with twenty more wars than in 2010. Currently, it is estimated that tens of thousands of boys and girls under the age of 18 take active part in armed conflicts in at least 15 countries. The children, once again, are powerless to escape from such violence. They are forced to fight or participate somehow “voluntarily” in popular insurrections that have taken place within the context of the Arab Spring, for instance. However, the military use of children is not a new phenomenon and goes hand by hand, almost inevitably, with our tragic history of human self-destruction. This was the case of some of the children caught at the outbreak of the war between Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Joseph Stalin’s Russia in June 1941. The children had previously been evacuated from Spain—immersed in a fratricide war—to Russia.

It is estimated that 30,000 Spanish children were evacuated during the Spanish Civil War, and 70,000 more left after the end of the war in 1939. Among them 25,000 Basque children went also into exile. Most of the children were temporarily sent to France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as well as Switzerland, Mexico, and Denmark. They became, and are still, known as “los niños de la guerra” (“the war children”) and the “Gernika Generation,” in the specific Basque case.

Between March 1937 and October 1938 nearly 3,000 children, between 5 and 12 years old, were evacuated from Spain to then the Soviet Union in four expeditions. Most of the children were from the Basque Country (between 1,500 and over 1,700), and Asturias and Cantabria (between 800 and 1,100). In the majority of the cases their parents were sympathetic to the anarchist, socialist, and communist ideals. On June 12, 1937 over 1,500 children and 75 tutors (teachers, doctors, and nurses) left the Port of Santurtzi in the Basque province of Bizkaia on board of the ship “Habana.”

From the moment of the children’s arrival to the German invasion of Russia they lived in good care in the so-called “Infant Homes for the Spanish Children.” There were 11 homes located in the current Russian Federation—including 1 in Moscow and 2 nearby Leningrad—and 5 in Ukraine—including 1 in Odessa and another in Kiev. Soon, their lives were, once more, dramatically turned upside-down. The homes had to be evacuated.

ChildrenRussia“The war children” from Spain and tutors, August 1940, Russia (Image source: Sasinka Astarloa Ruano)

During the Siege of Leningrad, the children Celestino Fernández-Miranda Tuñón and Ramón Moreira, both from Asturias, were 16 and 17 years old respectively at the time of enlisting as volunteers to defend the city, while Carmen Marón Fernández, from Bizkaia, worked as a nurse and dug trenches at the age of 16. Over 40 children were killed before they could be evacuated in 1943. It is considered the longest and most destructive city blockade in history. It resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million people and in the evacuation of 1.4 million civilians.

The survivors of Leningrad together with the rest of the children were taken to remote areas such as today’s republics of Georgia and Uzbekistan, and Saratov Oblast in southern Russia. It is during this time when it is reported that some children were victims of sexual assaults and exploitation, and a few of them ended up in delinquent gangs in order to survive.

ChildrenClassParamilitary training in one of the children’s colony. Shooting practices were a norm in many of the homes (Image source: Spanish Citizenship Abroad Portal)

According to the Spanish Center of Moscow, over 100 “niños de la guerra” voluntarily enlisted in the Red Army, while many others had to carry out some type of work to support the war efforts alongside their schooling time. For instance, Begoña Lavilla and Antonio Herranz, both from Santurtzi, worked at an arms factory in Saratov at the age of 13 and 14, respectively. Eight of the Basque niños—six of them from the “Kiev home”—entered in combat after receiving flight training courses in a military academy. It has been said that some of the children were able to pass themselves off as older men such as Luis Lavín Lavín who was just 15 years old at the time. The eight young Basques were Ignacio Aguirregoicoa Benito (born in Soraluce in 1923), Ramón Cianca Ibarra, José Luis Larrañaga Muniategui (born in Eibar in 1923), the aforementioned Luis Lavín Lavín (born in Bilbao in 1925), Antonio Lecumberri Goikoetxea (born in 1924), Eugenio Prieto Arana (born in Eibar in 1922), Tomás Suárez, and Antonio Uribe Galdeano (born in Barakaldo in 1920). Larrañaga, Uribe, and Aguirregoicoa died in 1942 (Ukraine), 1943 (Dnieper), and 1944 (Estonia), respectively. Aguirregoicoa took his own life in order to avoid being captured by the enemy.

Between 207 and 215 Spaniards were killed as active combatants at the Eastern Front of World War II (also known as the Great Patriotic War; June 22, 1941-May 9, 1945), while another 211 people died of extreme starvation, disease, and the intensive bombardments. According to Lavín, 50 of the enlisted “children” out of a total of 130 were killed during the war.

After two long decades of exile, the first convoy of “children” was allowed to return to Francisco Franco’s Spain in 1957. As of 2012, it is estimated that 170 “niños de la guerra,” all of them over 80 years old, live in the former Soviet Union. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Basque cities and villages and the evacuation of their children—fatidic preamble to World War II.

For more information see the interview (in Spanish) to Mateo Aguirre S.J., on the Democratic Republic of Congo child soldiers’ situation at Alboan’s EiTB Blog; and the Child Soldiers International organization; and Luis Lavín Lavín’s conference of 2007 (in Spanish).

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