The Basque Academic Diaspora moves closer

The University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) has set the pillars to strengthen links for collaboration between academics and researchers of Basque descent or with ties to the Basque Country to create an international network that benefits from this shared and common potential. To achieve this task, on 12 July a first international meeting was held for academics and researchers with a renowned professional trajectory in Donostia-San Sebastián, given that the city was also named the European Capital of Culture for 2016. The Rector of the UPV/EHU, Iñaki Goirizelaia and the Vice-rector for Postgraduate Studies and International Relations, Nekane Balluerka, attended the symposium as institutional representatives. The meeting was coordinated by María José Olaziregi, Director for the Promotion and Dissemination of the Basque Language at the Etxepare Basque Institute.
The first speaker, William Douglass, anthropologist and first chairman of the Center for Basque Studies of the University of Nevada, has highlighted that there are many Basque diasporas, not just one, which should be considered when creating a future network, taking into account the diversity and variety of potential participants. Douglass commented on the need to exercise caution regarding the emotional load that could ruin the scientific work regarding the diaspora. To avoid this, he suggested that stories should be narrated, not invented. He also highlighted that Basque academics not only work in the area of Basque studies and he remarked the importance of being inclusive in this regard. In the speaker’s opinion, data is essential in this area.
Stephen Ansolabehere, Professor of Political Science at Harvard University highlighted the importance of creating connections that form different clusters that will focus on the ties and links that exist, or could exist, and channelling this network so that all of its participants can work together and create events that unite the diaspora within a community or several communities, in which many different groups work on a similar problem.
Meanwhile, Juan Uriagereka, researcher of the Chomsky’s Minimalist Program and Professor of Linguistics at the University of Maryland shared the need to nurture and care for the next diaspora. Among other ideas, he remarked that US professors, who have free time within their work calendar, could establish links during these free moments with Basque academic institutions.
Xabier Irujo, co-director of the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada focused his speech on the history of different diasporas, especially in South America. He highlighted that the first efforts to create a network go back to the beginning of the 20th century, and mentioned that the Basque exile attracted more than 100 academics to this part of the world over a 20-year period, thus emphasizing that the idea of creating this network is all but new. Irujo believes there is a solid base, which was established during the Basque exile that we must take into account. Another important detail that he mentioned was that, during that time, they were aware of the importance of publishing books. Therefore, in this context, the relevance of EKIN publishers stands out as a decisive element to maintain this academic diaspora, among others.
Likewise, Maider Llaguno, Professor of Architecture at Columbia University focused on the fact that, in this new diaspora, the sense of Basque identity becomes stronger the longer they are living outside of the Basque Country. She believes that we must bear in mind that this new diaspora of the 21st century has been educated in the Basque Country but they are working all around the globe. In her opinion, it is necessary to create a reference point to support them and help them to grow professionally while they establish local and international connections to benefit the Basque Country from a global perspective.
On the other hand, Mikel Prieto, Surgical Director and Researcher at Mayo Clinic, said that the Basque diaspora has a deep sense of identity that we must make the most of. In his words, the 21st century and its diaspora are interested in many things, such as maintaining the connection with the mother land, collaborating with academic institutions and participating in the prosperity of the Basque Country. In other words, they seek to return the Basque Country’s investment in their education. He also defends accompaniment and mentoring of the people involved in the steps to be taken to contribute to make the image of the Basque Country relevant to the rest of the world. For Mikel Prieto the Basque Country is more than its gastronomy.
John Bieter, Professor of the Department of History at Boise State University and John Ysursa, director of the Programme of Foundational Studies and Collaboration with the Basque Country, expressed the idea that we are returning to the future. They stated that some of the first Basques to go into exile were rooted in their identity and created networks, but they were also able to go above and beyond. As an example, they mentioned the BOGA publication, which could become a channel to give visibility to the Basque diaspora collaboration. They also commented on the need to make a change of paradigm to create a series of new titles or degrees such as global or urban studies. Their idea is to use the current networks and create an on-line shared site where one may also study degrees on-line. The speakers also proposed the creation of the Basque Diaspora Day.
A feeling of enthusiasm and commitment spread through the air because of this initiative. The attendees, who were international references in their areas of discipline, make the university community proud of their shared intellectual and academic heritage. After all, people are the ones who establish collaboration bridges, knitting a connective system that will provide success to this great project. The session ended with some heartfelt words from María José Olaziregi, Director for the Promotion and Dissemination of the Basque Language at the Etxepare Basque Institute: “The time is now and the opportunity is great. Therefore, let's make it happen”.

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