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Beste hitzak

2017-06-27 18:20 —

13 June at the Ernest Lluch cultural centre

As Gerard de Jong said, 'we fended off fate'. He was referring to the saying according to which Tuesday 13 might be unlucky … Well, it wasn't!

Iñigo Astiz, the chairperson at Gerard's final public event, accepted the assignment for diplomatic reasons… He reckons that saying 'no' to one of the 6,000 people who speak a language (Bildts) in the world could be seen as an act of 'diplomatic discourtesy' towards a sizeable proportion of that population! That gives you a taste of the kind of fun and witty person Astiz is. 

Just like his proposal for a panel discussion on the issue of minority languages, journalism and literature shows the depth of the debate at the Ernest Lluch cultural centre:


Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga once compared the fragility of language to the footsteps that slender legged birds leave on the snow. Mikel Laboa later used those lyrics to create the famous song Gure Hitzak (Our Words). Basque writer Eider Rodriguez thinks that Basque literature is somehow linked to a search for freedom: "Writing becomes breathing, when you write in a conflict-area in which language itself is a conflict". Singer Ruper Ordorika talks about the threat of disappearing: "Words die when you have no one to talk to; and we, the Basque, are sometimes too aware of that reality, because we know that a great amount of our affection will also disappear with those words". Writer Kirmen Uribe has recently said that Basque literature is absolutely haunted by the fear of the disappearance of our language.

In summary, it seems clear that Basque creators have often pictured their language as fragile, unstable and marginal; and that would also be the case in other minority languages. That's why minority language writers keep on finding themselves having to answer the same old question again and again: "Why do you write in such a small language?".

It is certainly difficult. Minority language writers and journalists have to work harder than the rest to prove that their literature and journalism is as good as that written in other languages. And they also face another important question: how can their literary and journalistic work contribute to their languages' normalization process?

Gerard de Jong, the guest speaker, was in the best of company, with writers Eider Rodriguez and Juan Luis Zabala, both of whom already knew about Other Words. They had met Frisian Bart Kingma, our previous resident author, and discussed Basque writer Joseba Sarrionandia –Rodriguez wrote her doctoral thesis on his literary work– and Canadian Leonard Cohen –Zabala had translated some of his lyrics, as had Kingma himself–.

After an introduction by Iñaki Gabarain, the head of Ernest Lluch, the members of the panel discussed issues such as tradition, smallness, fear of disappearing, commitment, politics and language…  They spoke in Basque and English, and the audience could follow the session in three languages thanks to the simultaneous interpretation service provided by Idoia Gillenea (eu–es–eu) and Diana Draper (es–en–es).

We had some special guests as well…

Réaltán Ní Leannáin was kind enough to attend her fellow Other Words writer's event as part of her San Sebastian holiday with Kate. We really appreciated their joining us for the evening.

Another person we didn't expect to see was Antxon Ibarluzea, a member of the Donostia Book Club who had met Gerard on the 8th of May, less than a week into his creative stay in the Basque Country. He wanted to show Gerard his support, and ask him about his experience amongst us.

Juan Kruz Igerabide, a Basque writer who recently retired from his position as professor at the University of the Basque Country, had met Gerard the day before at the 'Poetry And Thought' event in the Victoria Eugenia club. We invited him to find out more about the Bildts language, and he didn't miss the opportunity. 

Finally, Maartje Duin, a Dutch radio broadcaster, also joined us at the event. She had been in San Sebastian for a few days at that stage, and witnessed the way Gerard's stay in the Basque Country was slowly coming to an end. A few months back, when she heard that there was a community who spoke Bildts, a language she'd never even heard of, Maartje decided that she would follow its representative around for a year. She's kept her word so far!

After an hour and a half of discussing 'the usual suspects' –minority languages, literature, journalism–, we were nicely surprised by our colleagues at the cultural centre, Iñaki and Ros, who treated us to a drink and a snack, thus giving us the opportunity to have a nice, informal chat with the people in the audience.

Thanks so much to all the people who made Gerard's final event into such an enjoyable occasion!

PS You can listen to Gerard de Jong reciting his own poem in Bildts.

And Iñigo Astiz reading out his translation into Basque of the poem by de Jong.