I was lucky to get to know the Basque country slightly beneath it’s surfing and eating ‘pintxo’ surface. Having studied it’s recent history and current still persisting multiple divisions in the society it seems to me almost obvious and incredible at the same time that this kind of film would sprout from the Basque society.
Mind and Labels
Why almost incredible? Because it sends one central Buddhist message. Basque society as one of the oldest European nations was exposed through the history to a multitude of civilizations and beliefs (Romans, Christianity, political beliefs in the intensity of inquisition, such as fascism of the right wing, socialism of ETA), but never to Buddhism. Obvious – because maybe the directors of the film Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga consciously or subconsciously sensed, that this is what Basque society might desperately need after painful years of struggle and suffering. Buddhist attitude. But I imagine that even to the makers of the film the connection to Buddhism might be novel, although it contains the essence of Buddhist teachings.
The film suggests in an extremely subtle way that it is all about our mind, that all our troubles are created by our minds. In Buddhist philosophy one would describe reality as the coming and going of elusive waves, constantly changing forms and expressions. Things are as they are, with change as an only permanent factor. If you chop reality in micro-nano bits, not even one’s own personality is something solid. Just millions of pulsing and constantly changing cells. But when we look at it from the gross perspective, then we see things as permanent and solid, and we put meanings to these changing phenomena by putting labels that help or destroy us. Dangerous or a pleasant wave of the sea? It depends on our mind.
According to buddhist philosophy, the fact of the appearance of flowers, as in the film LOREAK, is just the fact of appearance of flowers. But in our human condition with untamed minds, as the film shows, it can become a sign of love, threat, memory, betrayal, recognition, attention, impermanence, danger, etc. We build our constructs of reality. Just like Magritte’s painting points it out,”Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” It is not a pipe, even if it might appear to us as such. It is just canvas with some paint on it. The minds of cats and dogs seem to be blessed by not creating such confusions. Have you ever seen a cat responding to a video Skype chat in a way we humans do? Probably not, since they do not care much about a piece of plastic.
Unfortunately the minds in the Basque society are conditioned to the contrary due to their experience before and after the death of Franco. It is strange to see the relief caused by the elder protagonist Tere developing Alzheimer’s. It becomes obvious how the mind affected by the disease is beyond the constructs and images, trapping a ‘healthy’ mind. And only then the barrier of hostility seems to be able to fall between the protagonists Lourdes and Tere. The absence of hostility brings Lourdes in confusion and powerlessness, expressing itself in tears. How do you approach somebody who used to be your enemy and now is approaching you with innocent hugs?
Parallels to Politics. Reinventing Terrorism
As already mentioned, the film does not make any hints to politics. But for me it appears as highly political, including the courageous fact that is in Basque language. There are indeed very few films sporting Basque language due to the continuos linguistic oppression by the Spanish language, culture and last, but not least, government.
Watching that very scene I had to think of the strategies of GAL, the so called antiterrorist war, led by the Spanish socialist government in the 1980’s, using methods competing with inquisition. Many actions of GAL, if you read the details of events, seemed to be as if the government in reality wanted to provoke terrorism and not to defeat it, as presumed.
Why that? I guess, if terrorism would disappear, one would have to reinvent it. We see it in Europe nowadays – terrorism seems to be the best way to divide population and shift it to the right. It seems that the dynamics between the Basques and the Spanish are also very much dominated by this axiom. Even if ETA has put arms away in 2011 and the willingness to proceed with the peace process was demonstrated by the Basque society including the quarter of it struggling for auto-determination and peace process, a core personality for the peace process, Arnaldo Otegi, among many others, has been put by the Spanish government into jail for ridiculous accusations, as if to confirm the axiom, that the Spanish government cannot deal with the absence of the enemy.
Arnaldo Otegi will be freed by the end of February 2016, but Spanish government for sure will find other ways to imprison him again or ‘reinvent terrorism’ in some other ways. It would be such a relief and surprise if it would develop in a different way. Basque independentist left wing part of the society, that might make around 20% of the 3 million big Basque populations and are seen as political continuation of ETA, (at least part of it, putting it in an extremely simplified way) acts in my perception very much as if they would have dropped their previous hostility to the Spanish government and the Basque right wing embracing the tools that are strictly political, thus presenting a self-induced Alzheimer state comparable to the state of Tere in the film, who drops it’s all hostility due to her disease.
I feel tempted to perpetuate the parallels – Basque left has put itself in an extremely vulnerable situation, just as self induced Alzheimer would present to anyone, by embracing the rules of the political game with it’s tools, knowing that they did not serve them any time yet to proceed with the dialogue. Since dialogue needs two – as the dynamic of the relationship between Lourdes and Tere excellently illustrates.
The vulnerability, willingness for dialogue challenges Spanish government to the extent that it does not take position since the beginning of the peace process in 2011 and seems to be ignoring anything, that raises eyebrows by any experts who dealt armed conflict and peace talks in Northern Ireland or Colombia. Spanish just does not take any position and act as if it would be hiding. Lourdes would need Tere to get back her hostile mind in order to proceed the same way as before. The difference between the images – Lourdes cries. Spanish government hides. And revenges from the bush insisting to keep the prisoners dispersion as a special prisoner treatment legacy from Aznar’s government era BEFORE the peace process.
Repeated inquiry by the protagonists in the flower shop, why somebody would send flowers and would not leave their personal details subtly elevates the situation to a grotesque level. Why sending flowers would be an expression of bad intention? Why somebody would have to leave their personal details sending flowers? It is our minds that create realities. And what is there? Just flowers. Appearing here and there.
However, this skepticism of protagonists is justified in the Basque country more than in any other society known to me. Flowers can be read as messages, bombs, threats. Many people on both sides have become victims of black mail and hidden bombs in neat packages. Although ETA is not innocent in these matters, I was impressed reading a book by Paddy Woodworth (Paddy Woodworth, ‘Diry War, Clean Hands’) of how much evil was caused by the GAL, already mentioned so called antiterrorist war in the 1980’s. Among other things it must have conditioned the society to the elevated levels of paranoia. The experience of these years has taught that one could be especially far from politics and political interest and be nevertheless chosen to become a victim of assault. Knowing some facts from the recent history of the Basque country the image of somebody getting flowers from somebody unknown does naturally come with these fears that might be preserved in the society, although the film does not give not even a slightest hint to the political background of the Basque society, thus again winning all my sympathy for putting the matter in such a subtle way.
In LOREAK the fear of assassinations is transcended. It is not at all about becoming a political victim. It is about becoming a victim of peoples images and projections.
Love is seen by protagonists as a limited resource, love relationships as a zero game, where if one gets more the other automatically is bound to get less. It is about the fear of somebody receiving more love and attention that oneself might give. The message of the film goes well along the buddhist philosophy again – love is one of these resources that are unlimited. The fact that somebody receives more love and attention does not mean that the other side would get less.
Thinking of the zero game, images and projections, I have to think of Basque society as of victim of these. If Basques would enjoy independence, it would be possible to live peacefully for everybody, but one would have to get rid of certain images, such as ‘huge and indivisible Spain’, as repeatedly expressed vision by the Spanish government. So as the images of all the parties involved in the political struggle (ETA, the right wing party PNV, Spanish Socialists, many other major or minor actors) would have to be modified and transcended in minds of the people as a some sort of self-induced Alzheimer.
However, the political reality in Basque country consists of images maintained by the stronger power through mass media and serving perfectly to maintain the idea, that the right of Basque people to decide their own future would mean a huge loss for Spain. Maintaining and clinically clinging to the image of the ‘big and indivisible Spain’ as one would hear from Mariano Rajoy, seems to be the main obstacle in the process of self-determination of the Basque people (even if the reality is somewhat more complex). Even more ridiculous the difficulty given the fact, that it has been accepted by the dominating powers in cases of many other minor nations, such as Baltic people, Kosovo, etc. The fact that Basque country, unlike Catalonia, is financially independent from Spain due to its autonomy statute of 1978, just emphasizes the fact, that it is a victim of images imposed by the dominating power of Spain. It is not impossible for people to live together where every nation enjoys the right to decide about their destiny. If it is about the right to decide. Even if decision includes “Yes” for one option and “No” for another, still it is not a zero game, since advantages for both sides can be drawn in any case.
Dealing With the Dead
In Buddhist philosophy the fact that somebody dies is just the fact that somebody dies. Not much else. The funerals of buddhists usually are rather cheerful, because the death of somebody is also a practice of non-attachment. But then our minds create new realities, such as that the dead can live on if they live in our memory, as several protagonists insist in the film. And they do live, the dead, they become real for us, for good and for bad. But in fact they are not there any more, buddhists would instruct: “Let it go, let them go”.
Basque society is extremely conditioned by their recent past in the treatment of the dead and the meaning it has for their nation. The dead do indeed live on in a Basque society in multitude of ways. One has just to think of the cases of Lasa and Zabala, the first victims of the GAL war, as pictured in the film with the same name. The accidentally found remains of two chaps killed and tortured ten years before the discovery, made it possible with a lot of effort to shed light on the crimes of the past government so as the fact that these criminals continue in power. Dead do help Basques, at least in this case.
For Basques, seems like, if one would forget the dead, one would forget the injustice inflicted every day and would just get used to it and become assimilated. By cultivating the memory of the dead Basque people seem to draw power for their struggle for justice. The dead, the remains of the dead almost present a visual graspable image of all the invisible injustice happening on every day base, as if they would be concentrated images and finally objects of suffering and loss. Thus cultivating the memory of the flower bringer for Ane means much more than just as remembering the death of an almost unknown colleague. It is the suffering for loss of love and attention generally in her life.
Thus so beautiful last twist of Ane’s mind – with time the image of the flower bringer changed to her to the point of becoming unimportant. She dropped eventually her ritual of bringing flowers to the object that incorporated for her the potential of love and attention. Most probably because she finally received it. It was not a potential any more. It was there.
Basque people for sure would stop perpetuating their love for the dead in form of mass demonstrations commemorating their killed compatriots, raising the constant quest of mass graves, the unfair dispersion of prisoners and torture by the Spanish government, as soon as justice would be restored.
It is not the case yet. And yes, it is somewhat ironical, that in the international scene this film is presented as Spanish.