Spain: Between Localism and Globalism

Javier Elzo

Professor of Sociology, Universidad de Deusto

It is already a clichéd remark to say that we are living on the Earth as the common heritage of all mankind (as Morin and Kern, for example, state), yet the fact that it is clichéd does not make it any the less true. The interdependence between countries and, more importantly, between citizens, even those who are physically remote, is a reality that is becoming stronger by the day.The disappearance of the socialist alternative as a way of organising society and as an alternative to the capitalist model, symbolised and ultimately made real in the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, has affected the phenomenon of globalisation by adding to it the perception that there is no other possible option. This is the triumph of what we might term ‘one-track thinking’, in which everybody thinks along the same lines or differences of opinion are ignored or perhaps not even aired. One-track thinking tends towards the view that there is only one admissible way of organising society, a line of belief that we have still not been able to get away from.

This globalisation and interdependence have not, however, diminished the differences between people. Instead, it is not unreasonable to say that the differences between countries are growing. In many poor countries, the differences between the rich and the poor are even more acute than the differences between rich and poor countries as a whole. The reverse that has taken place in social distribution over the last 25 years is plain to see. This situation is encouraging citizens to withdraw into their welfare society, a besieged fortress with increasing numbers of people outside trying to get in by whatever means they can. Spain is very familiar with this. Not a day goes by without the media reporting on African citizens in leaky boats trying to enter the El Dorado of Europe, though by dint of repetition the news value of these stories has been diluted. Europe is at risk of becoming a society under siege, and its residents of indulging in cheap humanitarianism and shamefully shutting the doors on others.

This globalisation has led firstly to the concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands, as well as a break-up at various levels. With regard to the concentration of power, perhaps the most important phenomenon to be noted is the globalisation of the economy, with a vast mass of capital floating from place to place to suit the market. The consequence of this is evident: few people are empowered to make decisions, while the majority shirk responsibility for their acts. Never have so few people had so much power to make decisions about so many other people and so many things. As a sociologist, it is not my place to enter into the economic and financial logic of mergers and consolidations in banking and other spheres (food, health, the media, etc.), or in the wandering capital market, but I am entitled to wonder about the consequences when it comes to talking about ordinary people’s responsibility in decision making. Globalisation has a very different side to it, the breaking-up of society or what we sociologists have termed the individualisation of society.

The more members of society perceive the general, remote, unattainable, ungraspable and incomprehensible nature of the decisions made, which, despite their nature, have a tremendous impact on their lives, the more they feel disengaged. In part this is because they do not have any control whatsoever over their savings. Never have so many people had so much but at the same time felt themselves to be so insecure and so materially and morally weak. Hence the search for proximity with like-minded others, which can take various forms, of which I will mention three negative forms without going into further detail: the tribalisation of society into collectives with emotional, ideological and recreational affinities, with senses of solidarity which, though theoretically partial, nevertheless can be determining factors in processes of socialisation and the forming of a notion of identity; the revival of nationalism with mono-ethnic aspirations that excludes anyone different, anyone who takes a different approach to life, even if that means simply that they have other desires, other hopes and social projects; and lastly, the rise of fundamentalism, particularly religious fundamentalism, as is seen in some manifestations of Islam, though some of us wonder whether Islam has not become, for many Muslims, a refuge and badge of identity in the face of what is felt and perceived as the cultural ethnocentrism of the West.

Think, as well, of the tremendous difficulties the universal Churches (Catholicism, Evangelical Churches and transnational Orthodox Churches) face in positioning themselves as agents of religious socialisation, while at the same time new religious movements are blossoming, among them certain sects, a term rigorously adopted in its technical and not pejorative sense, less still a criminological sense, though it should not be forgotten that it refers to a ‘separation’, to ‘proximity in a world of those who are different’ and in many cases those who are ‘pure’, if not the only ones who will be saved. Hence the risk of religion as a ghetto, which, with the rise of computerised communications, runs the risk of becoming a religion as a network but as a network of ghettoes. This explains, at least in part, why European citizens (especially Spaniards and, within Spain, the Basques and Catalans, for a whole host of reasons that we cannot explore in depth here but which are related to history in general and secularisation in particular) feel more attached to their locality (the city and region where they live) and less universal (citizens of their state or above all Europe), as the European Values Studies (EVS) patently show.

The latest survey conducted in Spain within the framework of the EVS for 1999-2000, also entitled “Spain: between localism and globalism”, makes this clear: It is worth noting here the precise terms of the question formulated in the European Values Study, which asked: To which of these geographical groups would you say that you belong to first and foremost? Once the person being surveyed had given their answer from a list of possible options, as detailed in table 1, they were asked for their next choice. In the last 20 years, Spanish society has become much more local, that is to say, Spaniards have a greater sense of belonging to the locality, town or city where they live and an increased sense of belonging to their region or land, and less of a sense of belonging to Spain as a whole. A rise of ten percentage points in the sense of belonging to their locality, town or city, and to their region, land or autonomous community, and 17 percentage points fewer for Spain leaves us in no doubt whatsoever. The people of Spain are much more focussed on their autonomous community—and nationalist, perhaps—than they were 20 years ago, and less Spanish.

Nations and Regions in Europe

The regional diversity of Spain was clearly highlighted by Louis Chauvel in his study “Valeurs régionales et nationales en Europe”, based on detailed computer analysis of the results of second wave of the EVS around 1990. Chauvel presents an “Interregional diversity indicator”, which is itself based on 77 of the 280 indicators found in the 1990 EVS. These particular 77 indicators were selected because they are the ones in which the region variable is most important and most clearly distinguishes behaviour, attitudes and values. As Chauvel states, “More than half [of these indicators] refer to religion and to moral prohibitions closely linked to the strictures of the Churches (abortion, suicide, euthanasia, etc.). The other distinguishing issues are to do with the family, qualities to be passed on to children, the connections between women and work, and trust in institutions.” Spain, without a shadow of doubt, comes top as regards interregional diversity in Europe. In the selfsame study, Chauvel advances further still in the definition of the importance of the regions (countries, autonomous communities, nationalities, nations, etc.).

Using a tree diagrams, analysing the regions by type, he tries to distinguish and group regions according to their similarities and differences, once again on the basis of the 77 indicators mentioned above. Chauvel asks whether grouping regions in this manner on the grounds of similar values might make it possible to re-form the respective agglomerations or whether they would lead to other configurations. Finding an answer to this question, Chauvel argues, would demonstrate whether Catalans and Basques are Spaniards first and foremost or something else. It would reveal whether Rhône-Alpes, BadenWürttemberg and Catalonia are (as is sometimes suggested) a coherent unit, more coherent, perhaps, than Germany, France or Spain.

This is neither the time nor the place to go into Chauvel’s work in depth, but it is worth bearing in mind that, as he tells us, though most regions are part of their nation, this is not always the case, and he refers explicitly to Mediterranean countries as examples. In earlier analysis of numerous similarities with two major explanatory factors, in which secularisation plays a central role, he points out, “the Latin peninsulas show extraordinary differentiation: in Spain, for example, the cultural difference between the Basque Country or Catalonia and Extremadura is the same as that between Great Britain and Ireland: they are two worlds with different values.” Let us note, as does Chauvel himself, the similarity in the characteristics in the Group formed by Flanders in Belgium, Emilia-Romagna in Italy, and Catalonia and the Basque Country in Spain. Apart from Emilia-Romagna, the others are what Chauvel terms ‘problematic regions’ due to their well-known “demands for autonomy and even secession.” They are also, however, according to my categories of analysis, more permissive in private morality (divorce, abortion, etc.), as a consequence of the sweeping secularisation that has taken place, and more demanding in public moral standards, for example in all forms of inconsiderate behaviour on the public highway, tax fraud, keeping money that belongs to someone else and knowing this to be the case, etc.

The similarity between the regions produces configurations based on morality that extend beyond the states as they are today. Let us return, however, to the European Values Study, as applied to Spain, Catalonia and the Basque Country, and the various senses of identity mentioned earlier. The data is presented in table 2. In every case, territorial identity—in the sense of a geographical grouping to which one says one belongs—is in the main associated with a local sense of belonging: the locality, the town or city where one lives.The exception is Catalonia, where the sense of regional belonging (to use Chauvel’s terminology) comes first, and notably so. It should be noted that in Hegoalde, ‘localisation’ and ‘regionalisation’ go hand in hand. Next, a clear difference occurs between the senses of belonging in Europe and France and in Spain and its autonomous communities. In Europe, belonging to a state comes second and to a ‘region’ (land, autonomous community or nationality), but in Spain (and its autonomous communities, the ranking is reversed: belonging to an autonomous community comes first and then comes the state. In the Basque Country and Navarra, 73% of citizens declare that they belong to the locality in which they live and their autonomous community.

Only 28% place Spain as the grouping to which they belong (remember that they can select twice). The lowest ranking positions are occupied by transnational areas, Europe and the entire world, and hence cosmopolitan or supranational identities are much less widely embraced. These alignments may seem paradoxical in the present era of globalisation, as was stated in the presentation of the Spanish study of the EVS, but it is perhaps the threats of standardisation and homogenisation that can be glimpsed on the horizon that have led to these rejections. Because globalisation—in terms of instantaneous communication via satellite or the Internet—is already here. On the other hand, thanks to the Internet and to everything that makes instant communication universally possible, it can also be said that the world has become an immediate space for people to establish relationships with each other, to the extent that geographical co-ordinates are becoming less meaningful. Moreover, and by way of compensation, there is a return to the roots, and the roots of the land (or religious roots or the roots of the spirit) are being revived; aspects of the localities, towns and cities where people live are being recovered.

People think “that’s where the important things happen to me. And from my town, from my house, I can get access to and reach out to the entire world.” In this new political setting in our democratic system, in which territorial power is being redistributed (powers are being transferred from the state to the autonomous communities), the confrontation between the universal and the particular is losing the sense it once had during functionalism and modernity. As Chantal Mouffe remarks, “Universalism is not rejected but particularised; what is needed is a new type of connection between the universal and the particular.” The hope is, however, that these two poles will not oppose each other. In other words, this is already happening: globalisation and homogenisation co-exist alongside heterogeneity and cultural diversity; these are not contradictory but complementary processes, producing a mix that has been termed ‘glocalisation’, the ‘globalisation of diversity’ or the ‘universalisation of particularism’.

The Basque and Catalan Singularity Through Confidence in Institutions

Let us go further by considering the confidence in a whole host of institutions that is monitored by means of the EVS and ponder on a reflection I have published in recent years. I wish to include the Catalan situation briefly here as well. These publications raise three questions: firstly, whether we Basques are different to the citizens in other countries or geographical enclaves, and whether there is any particular feature amongst the Basques that makes us different morally to the Spaniards, French, Italians and Europeans in general; secondly, studies show that we are a plural society but the question remains whether the differences amongst us are greater, smaller or similar to those in other countries that resemble ours (the comparisons made were in the main with Flanders); and thirdly, whether the issue of the border (the Basque Country lies in two different states, France and Spain) is more important or whether it differentiates us more than the national factor in our pluralism, that is to say, the sense of belonging to the Basque Country, to Spain or to France, feeling ourselves to be Basques or Spanish, Basques or French.

We have no definitive answers to these questions, just tentative ones. In these pages, we will present some of the answers to the first and third of these questions. An initial reading indicates that the values of Spanish Basques are in general closer to those of Spain that they are to the those of French Basques, and that the values of the French Basques are closer to those of France than to those of the Spanish Basques.This means that the border factor (and all the history underlying it) is the most important factor. This is particularly true when we ask about the level of confidence in big companies, the European Union and the United Nations, and also, though to a lesser degree, when we talk about the state police and the Church. However, the border factor disappears when talking about the armed forces, as confidence in them in the Basque Country is clearly much lower than the other regions.

Once again, this is an effect of history. Things are not quite so clear when we come to talk about institutions that citizens voluntarily choose or join (the press and the trade unions, for example), the near institutions, if you will, and justice, in which the differences are difficult to explain, all the more so given the change in the perception of justice in Spain and France in recent years, as demonstrated by successive values studies. It should be said that perhaps in these near institutions, it is very likely that each person chooses those that are most in keeping with their own individual political undertaking, and that in their mind the collective and overall function is of less importance. The Catalan national difference is shaped in a society that is more settled and which has greater confidence in institutions even than Spanish society. Catalans have far greater confidence in justice than the Basques, though they also trust large companies to a similar degree as the Basques, and also trust the trade unions. It is notable that they should have more confidence in the Spanish parliament and police force than the Spaniards themselves.

The Basques, unlike the Catalans, do not place much confidence in the Spanish police force but both Basques and Catalans trust their autonomous community police forces, known as the Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalonia and as the Ertzaintza in the Basque Country, than in the Policía Nacional or the Guardia Civil. Like the Basques as regards the Basque Parliament, the Catalans have more confidence in the Catalan Parliament than the Spanish Parliament. Again like the Basques, the Catalans trust less in the Church than Spaniards. The same is also true of the armed forces, though the Basques, as commented above, are notable for their extremely low confidence in the armed forces. When introducing a supplementary and basic factor into the theme we are discussing here, people’s national (or nationalist) feeling, we have to examine the issue of the border in careful detail rather than make sweeping statements.

Table 4 compares the level of confidence in a range of institutions in Euskal Herria (the Basque Country as a whole), Hegoalde (the Spanish Basque Country) and Iparralde (the French Basque Country), according to people’s declared sense of belonging, be it the Basque Country, in either Spain or France, and according to where they live, be it in the Basque Country and in Spain or France. Three key points are to be drawn quickly, perhaps all too quickly, from a careful reading of these tables. Firstly, the Basques in the south (‘Hegoalde’ means ‘south’ in Basque) are much more divided amongst themselves than the Basques in the north (‘Iparralde’ means ‘north’ in Basque). Spanish Basques are clearly much more plural than the French Basques, to use a non-nationalist terminology.

Secondly, the Basques in Hegoalde who declare themselves to be mainly Basques do not accept the Spanish state significantly more than the Basques in Iparralde who declare themselves to be mainly Basque accept the French state. In other words, and limiting ourselves solely to those Basque citizens who declare themselves to be above all Basques and only secondarily Spanish or French, it may be said that the French Basques are much more integrated into the French Republic than Spanish Basques are in the Spanish monarchy. Amongst many Spanish Basques, the Basque sense of identity and the wish for independence go hand in hand (other surveys demonstrate that they are in the minority at around 30% or 35%), which is true of only a very small number of French Basques. As remarked at the end of the study on this issue published in Les Temps Modernes, the border is a key factor, yet there are affinities between the French and Spanish Basques who declare themselves to be first and foremost Basque, especially (and I wish to stress this) in their feeling that they are less represented in the French or Spanish state.

This disengagement, the reduced integration of these Basques into Spain or France, is noticeably greater amongst Spanish Basques than French Basques. French Basque nationalists accept the French state and France more readily than Spanish Basque nationalists do the Spanish state and Spain. I would like here to comment on the third of the key points referred to above, which was merely mentioned in the study in Les Temps Modernes and which can be extrapolated from table 4 above. If we consider the Basques in Hegoalde and the Basques in Iparralde separately and analyse their levels of confidence in the various institutions, we can see that in most cases, the level of confidence rises as the Basques in both Hegoalde and Iparralde declare themselves to be less Basque and more Spanish or French.Though this correlation does not hold true for every institution, in those institutions where it can be seen, it is highly significant, as is shown in the cases of confidence in the French or Spanish governments, in the armed forces, justice, the French or Spanish parliaments and in the state police force.

All of these are state institutions. Basques in both the north and the south have less confidence in all these institutions the more they declare themselves to be Basque, the more they prize being Basque. When we ask about confidence in the press, however, there is no connection between declaring oneself to be Basque and trusting in the press. Moreover, the Worldwide Values Study of 1995 asked about confidence in people in general: those who declared themselves to be Basque also tended to declare greater confidence in people in general. An analysis of the answers given in response to the issue of confidence in the Church would require more time than we have available to us here, but this matter has been dealt with elsewhere.6 There are, nevertheless, two remarks I would like to make concerning the level of confidence in the Basque Parliament and the Basque police force.

Firstly, there is always greater confidence in Basque institutions, regardless of the respondents’ sense of belonging to the Basque Country or to Spain. In the case of those who declare themselves to be Basque, the differences are the largest (along with the levels of confidence in the Spanish and French governments among these same groups) recorded in the table. Secondly, the Basques in Hegoalde who declare themselves to be Spanish have greater confidence in the Ertzaintza than those Basques in Hegoalde who declare themselves to be Basque. There is greater confidence in Ertzaintza than in the Policía Nacional and the Guardia Civil (this was specified in the questionnaire) amongst all Basques, yet the Ertzaintza is increasingly seen as a police force, while continuing to be perceived as a Basque institution. Some even see the Ertzaintza much more as a police force than as a Basque institution.


1. The existence of the border and the resulting history mean that the values of the Basques tend to be closer to those of the state to which they belong. It is difficult to talk of northern Basques’ values being more like those of southern Basques and vice versa. This indicates, therefore, that there are no values proper to the Basques as a group (of northern and southern Basques) that are different to those of Spaniards and the French.

2.This is particularly true as regards institutions of an international nature, less so of those institutions to do with the state, and less still of those institutions that people choose to join of their own volition.

3. Matters become more complicated, and hence must be discussed in much greater detail, when we come to consider senses of identity, be they Basque, Spanish or French, or Basque and Spanish or French. The numbers of those declaring themselves to be Basques or Basque and Spanish or Spanish in Hegoalde are similar to those declaring themselves to be Basque or Basque and French or French in Iparralde. A number of points should be made here:

3.1. Those who demand independence are in the minority in both parts of Euskal Herria, but it should be noted that the Basques in Hegoalde, including those who declare themselves to be first and foremost Basque, feel less Spanish than their peers in Iparralde feel themselves to be French.The effect of the border remains important, but with reservations as described in 3.2. below.

3.2.The Basques in both Hegoalde and Iparralde who declare themselves to be Basque first and foremost have less confidence in state institutions than those Basques who declare themselves to be Spanish or French first and foremost, or those who declare themselves to be Basque and Spanish or French in equal measure. The Basque sense of national identity, or, if one prefers a less politically-loaded term, the sense of belonging to Euskal Herria, prevails over the effect of the border. The Basque national dimension is of greater importance as a distinguishing factor than geographical location in either the Spanish or French state. This is even clearer when we compare similar institutions, the Spanish and Basque parliaments and police forces, in Hegoalde. No such comparison can be made in Iparralde because there is not even a Basque département, despite the fact that twothirds of the population have asked for one.

Last but not least, it is important to note that the Basque national identity allows for pluralism within Basque society.

The Plural Identity of the Plural Euskal Herria

There is one issue which, for those who subscribe to it, is already a sociological certainty. A number of researchers from across the political spectrum have for some years been asking the citizens of Basque society about their identity by employing an indicator that is, like all good indicators simple, though this is not to say that the question of ‘identity’ is just an indicator. These citizens were asked whether they felt themselves “to be just Spanish, more Spanish than Basque, Spanish and Basque in equal measure, more Basque than Spanish, or just Basque.”The results of the various surveys have been very similar, allowing me to talk of a sociological certainty.The differences are to do with the interpretations of the figures, not the figures themselves.

I would like to present the results of the most recent values survey to consider this issue, but by distinguishing between the ancient territories of Euskal Herria as a whole, though I have added, for the purposes of this presentation, those of the three ancient territories of Iparralde to ensure greater statistical reliability given the limited sample size. Perhaps the first thing to be noted is the large number of those declaring themselves to be “Basque/Navarran and Spanish/French in equal measure” in each of the ancient territories. Many Basques—four out of every ten—have a multiple sense of identity or belong engraved upon their hearts. If we add to these Basques those who feel themselves to be more Basque than Spanish or French, we can see that most of Basque society feels this dual sense of identity—in Álava, 66%; in Guipúzcoa, 63%; and in Navarra, 74%—and that those who feel themselves to be solely Basque or solely Spanish are clearly in the minority. Unfortunately, we cannot arrive at a definitive calculation in Iparralde due to an error in the final drafting of the questionnaire, but we can nevertheless talk of pluralism in identities.

As I have remarked on numerous occasions, “pluralism is not a desideratum or a political preference of mine—though it is that as well—but something that is true of the real sociology of this country”, the formulation of words that Emilio Alfaro put into my mouth in an interview, that I am more than happy to concur with. However, we can go further. Basque society, and I am now referring to the society of the Spanish autonomous community of the Basque Country, is patently plural, but also clearly tends towards ‘Basqueness’. It is not equally Basque and Spanish but more Basque than Spanish, as is repeatedly said and declared. If we now add the two opposites of “only Basque” and “more Basque than Spanish”, on the one hand, and “only Spanish” and “more Spanish than Basque on the other”, and hence exclude the option of “Basque and Spanish in equal measure”, we obtain the following results: In Álava, 33% of the population opts for Basque and 20% for Spanish; in Guipúzcoa, 51% opts for Basque and 13% for Spanish; and in Biscay, 45% opts for Basque and 14% for Spanish.

A sense of Basque identity therefore prevails over a sense of Spanish identity in all the ancient territories of the autonomous community, though there are evident variations in degree. These figures demonstrate why I have repeatedly said that moderate nationalism holds moderate sway, in the autonomous community of the Basque Country. That nationalism holds sway, however, is beyond question. In the neighbouring though separate territory of Navarra, the survey obviously asked about a sense of Navarran identity and Spanish identity.The results concur with those concerning Basqueness: 37% declare themselves to be Navarran as opposed to the 13% who declare themselves to be Spanish, once one has discounted the 44% who declare they are both Navarran and Spanish.The remaining issue is to find out the extent to which Navarrans declare themselves to feel Basque, a question that our survey asked.

This is neither the time nor the place to discuss this in detail, but briefly we can point out that the ranking allows no room for doubt: the Navarrans declare themselves to be first and foremost Navarran, then Spanish and in a very distant third place, Basque.8 Lastly, Iparralde leaves no room for doubt, despite the failing in the questionnaire mentioned above: 19% opt for a sense of Basque identity; 39% say they are mostly French; and 37% say they are equally Basque and French. The title of this section, “the plural identity of a plural Euskal Herria”, now becomes clear.

The citizens of the various ancient territories that make up Euskal Herria are not the same as regards their sense of Basqueness. By far the majority of them in each and every one of the political territories admits to their plural identity: some are Basque and Spanish, while others are Basque and French, not forgetting those who feel themselves to be, and in this order, Navarran, Spanish and Basque. There are evident differences between the various ancient territories, another of the marks of their pluralism. Guipúzcoa, Vizcaya and Álava declare themselves, in this order, to be clearly more Basque than Spanish. Basqueness prevails over Spanishness. In the case of Iparralde, in contrast, those surveyed declared themselves clearly to be more French than Basque, whereas in Navarra those surveyed felt themselves to be more Navarran than Spanish and particularly more Navarran than Basque.

These surveys and the declarations made by the people questioned give us a clear picture of Euskal Herria today in the opening years of the 21st century. It is plural in the heart and minds of its people, and it is plural in its territories. The people of Euskal Herria have numerous senses of belonging and complex identities that are inclusive rather than exclusive as far as the vast majority of its citizens are concerned; citizens who say that they belong to and make up not just Basque society but also the Basque people, a people that refuse to be diluted in Spanish, European or global society. I wholeheartedly agree with Pere Vilanova when he states that the “theme of individuals’ multiple loyalties— in terms of the values they hold dear and which motivate their individual or collective actions [this is precisely one of the two definitions of the concept of ‘value’ in sociology], in our fragmented and globalised societies—will become increasingly important”.

This might seem to be a puzzle, but it is instead evidence (as a reality and as an experiment) of modernity, globalism, the movement of people and ideas and the new cosmopolitan society with shared sovereignty (if there must be such as thing as sovereignty) that takes different forms and varies in importance. On one specific issue, we will have full power to make decisions, on another, 60%, and on yet another still, 20%; at other times we will be entirely dependent on others. On whom remains an open question yet to be answered.