Accepted Paper:

The tree of Guernica: political poetics of rootedness and belonging  


Safet HadziMuhamedovic (SOAS University of London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper looks at the poetics of Basque political language through the symbolism of the Guernica tree. It traces a tradition of subtle conversation between people and land in the forming of Basque politics.

Paper long abstract:

On 26 April 1937 Nazi aeroplanes razed Guernica to the ground. However, one tree survived - the Gernikako Arbola (Euskari: the Tree of Guernica). Since the XIV century it symbolised freedom and history of the Basque region. Most recently, Patxi López, the current lehendakari (President of the Basque Government) swore in beneath this tree which holds a central place in the emotional geography of the Basque people. The paper argues that such an act, reminiscent of Basque political heritage, conveys a notion of organic symbiosis between people and land. Other biotic terms pertaining to the natural cycles of a tree, like rootedness and re-growth, have been historically used to describe the community, especially after the atrocities of the 1930s. Similarly, the tree itself has been attributed with anthropomorphic qualities of lineage (talent of receiving life descending from the old 'father' tree). It has also been understood as an embodiment of sacred Basque values, thus it is referred to as the 'holy tree', the 'loved tree', the tree 'delivering fruit unto the world'. Its symbolic value has been woven into the Basque flag, coat of arms, folk songs and, more generally, into the poetics of Basque political identity and resistance. The identification of the people with the tree is perhaps best expressed in a famous Basque song from the nineteenth century: 'if you fall, we will perish easily'. This paper traces a tradition of subtle conversation between people and land in the forming of Basque politics, through the symbol of a tree.

Panel P17
"By leaves we live": the vital politics and poetics of the tree