The Guardian published this article that reflects the lessons that can be shared between the Basques and the Welsh:
Basque in glory
Wales has much to learn from successes of the Basque country , writes the Plaid Cymru president, Ieuan Wyn Jones
Thursday June 13 2002 10:53 BST
My visit to the Basque country came 20 years after its people had secured a high degree of autonomy within the Spanish state. In the early 1980s they established a parliament with legislative powers, they had the ability to raise their own taxes and expectations were high that self-government would restore their confidence as a nation.
I wanted to gauge the extent to which those expectations had been met. They must have been doing something right; the nationalist parties have been in power for all this period. I was also visiting at an important time in the Welsh electoral calendar, 12 months before the next election to the Welsh assembly.
Currently, the Basque government is run by a coalition of three parties, with the nationalist PNV being the senior partner. Their partners are the EA, a smaller nationalist party and an even smaller left wing/green group. I also wanted to see how the nationalist parties worked in government, how coalition government worked and what tensions existed after the Spanish parties - the PP and socialists - made a massive effort to unseat them in the 2001 elections.
The Basques seem to be at ease with their identity, and the confidence they exude as a nation is everywhere. They know exactly who they are, and are proud of the fact that Franco's terrible regime failed to extinguish their sense of nationhood or their love of their language. And there is very little support for violence or terrorism. The vast majority of Basques see constitutional politics as the only way forward.
Their self-belief and confidence is best exemplified by their audacious - and ultimately successful - bid to secure a new Guggenheim museum. The magnificent Frank O. Gehry building in the heart of Bilbao is a 21st-century architectural icon, and attracts visitors from all over the world. Bilbao, once a city in decline following the collapse of its shipbuilding industry, is now a modern, prosperous city which regularly appears on the must-see lists of wealthy tourists.
In 20 years of autonomy, the Basques have seen their economy grow to being the most successful in the Spanish state. The current growth rate of 5.3% compares favourably with any country in Europe, twice the UK rate, and almost four times as much as Wales. The Welsh are falling behind the rest of the UK, while the Basques are striding way ahead the rest of Spain.
The Basques' success is based on sound economics, and this has enabled them to improve their public services. I was particularly impressed with their commitment to education. We have a lot to learn from them in the strategic and focused way their system of education and training meets the needs of their growing economy.
When the Basque parliament was first established, the Basque language faced the same crisis as that which faces the Welsh language today. About 25% of the Basques spoke their language then, a figure which compares to the 20% who speak Welsh. They also faced a similar situation, in that Basque speakers were largely concentrated in parts of the country. In Wales, most areas where Welsh is spoken by a majority of the population are in the north and west of our country.
But the Basques have made determined efforts, largely through education, to substantially increase the number of Basque speakers. They have made significant progress, and some people we spoke to said that up to 50% of the population has some grasp of the language. This is extraordinary, given that the language was banned during the Franco period.
There are clear differences between Wales and the Basque country, and it would be foolish to think that what they have done could be slavishly replicated in Wales. But one lesson that I took away from my visit was that we have to raise our game in Wales.
The first term of the national assembly in Cardiff Bay has been characterised by awful timidity, caution and petty squabbling. No wonder people think it is a glorified county council, under the current Labour-led coalition it acts like one. Wales deserves better than this.
With leadership, a bit of audacity, clear vision, determination and strategic thought, Wales' fortunes can be turned round. But we have to think big. I want a Plaid Cymru government in the national assembly to give the people of Wales a reason to be proud of our nation, and to improve our flagging economic fortunes.
Although we could not replicate precise policy initiatives, we can match the Basque's spirit and confidence. Wales can and must replicate their success.
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