In defense of history, culture, and a future free of exclusion

2022 will mark the 500th anniversary of the first maritime expedition to circumnavigate the globe. The voyage was carried out in the name of the emperor Carlos the Fifth, part of his project of expanding the power of the Castilian crown ever farther. Numerous Basques were members of this expedition, including Juan Sebastián Elkano of Getaria, Gipuzkoa, a man who would later find himself at the head of the expedition after Magellan’s death.

The Spanish government and central public institutions of the Alava, Biscay and Gipuzkoa regions are finally beginning the roll-out of a series of events that will span over three years from 2019 to 2022 to celebrate the “great achievements of these men”. To carry out this immense project, these government bodies have created the Elkano brand.

Spain proudly states that “the extraordinary feats of Elkano are the greatest accomplishments in the history of the Spanish Army”, exposing an attitude that is clearly displayed in the central role that the Spanish military has been given as an organizer of the 500th year anniversary celebrations.

“Elkano’s achievements show that during this time, the Basques were the best seamen in the world,” says the Elkano Foundation. The organization is focused on turning Elkano’s historical legacy into an “ambassador of our people” and “sign of Basque character and technology”, and thereby successfully marketing “Basque Country, around the world”.

The Foundation is attempting to adapt the historical record to the economic and political interests of today, and to do so they are investing a stunning sum of public money into supporting their narrative. Financing films, tv series, music and theater, organizing conferences, and advertising at sports events.

During the 1992 celebrations, public officials commemorated “the discovery of America and the meeting of two cultures”. We don’t want this same narrative to take hold a second time, especially when it is being done in the name of Basque Country. By holding up Juan Sebastian Elkano as a hero, stripped of any connection to structural power and political interests, they are erasing our ability to have control over our history.

We who sign this manifesto would rather encourage that we reflect, look ourselves in the mirror and begin to think about who we want to be and how we want to relate to the rest of the world. We would like to see public and critical reflection of our history, in spaces far away from these bright and pompous public spectacles and marketing campaigns, all managed and
designed in some far-away office cubicle.

For these reasons, we want to publicly state the following:

  • As a tool of knowledge and discussion, history should not be subjugated to the corporate and political interests that foment neocolonial nationalism, not even in the form of historical commemorations.
  • History is not a simple commemoration of particular events, but rather a way to analyze the events of the past in order to put together a larger image and understanding of how our present reality came about.
  • The “discovered” lands and peoples, subjugated by European conquistadors, are not mere decorations of epic adventures. We want to bring to the front those who a Eurocentric history has forgotten: women, indigenous peoples, and all those who have suffered and are suffering from the racialized consequences of global imperialism.
  • Lastly, we reject this supposedly depoliticized cultural dialogue, which is controlled by the lobbying organizations of tourism, corporations, foundations, and think tanks, and exclusively promotes the logic of the market and reject any type of critical thought.
  • The uncritical vindication of the history written by the victors dooms us to repeat the mistakes of the past. We want to open the doors to a new future, to a tomorrow where there are neither oppressors nor oppressed.