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"Being the director of the Chair is a challenge and an illusion."

Interview with María del Mar Larraza on the past, present and future of the Chair of language and Basque Culture.

26/11/13 14:15 Miguel Ángel Echávarri

During the month of November, the Chair of language and Basque Culture is celebrating its anniversary, and it is not every day that you turn 50 years old. The status in which it finds itself could be defined as "relaunching" or at least that is how its director, María del Mar Larraza, defines it. "With the idea of reaching everywhere with tranquility, simplicity and normality - says Larraza - the Chair seeks to connect at all times with different cultural interests that attract students and teachers, but also wants to open up to the city".

"Being the director of the Chair is a challenge and an illusion", says María del Mar. A challenge because it means being faithful to a bequest and keeping a spirit alive; an illusion because it is something she believes in. She came across the Chair when she was a doctoral student; years later she takes stock, this time as director.

What does it mean for the University of Navarra to have a Chair of language and Basque Culture?

It is a privilege for the University to be able to have a Chair which, let's not forget, was signed by St. Josemaría. Furthermore, I don't know if it is a necessity, but I understand that it allows the University to disseminate and promote a part of the culture of the society in which it has its roots, which is very positive.

How has it evolved in its 50 years of life?

The Chair has had many moments. A stellar one was the beginning, when it was directed by Father José Miguel de Barandiarán, who was the one who started the whole ethnographic and ethnological research . Those were very important years. In the eighties, with the Basque philologist Ana Echaide, we entered a different stage. As director, she began to propose subjects in Basque as electives for the students of Philology and to organize courses, at the same time that the ethnographic research continued in the hands of Mª Amor Beguiristain. A very important moment after the beginnings was the nineties, when the Study program changed and the optional subjects appeared. It was then when own titles were created as the Diploma of programs of study Basques. In addition, it was possible for students of all degrees to take the subjects that were offered from the Chair or through the Diploma , which allowed the presence of the Basque language in the University to be significant.

There will also have been complicated situations...

Perhaps the most difficult moment has come with the new Bologna plans; the possibility of choosing has been greatly reduced, and transversality between Schools is no longer possible. English, the internationalization, is much more strongly promoted instead of another subject of programs of study like the local ones. Even so, the new board of the Chair is trying to recover part of the bequest of the teaching, to continue with the research and with all those activities with the support of the School of Philosophy and Letters and of Office of the Executive Council.

What does Chair bring to the University at this time?

After 50 years, the bequest of the Chair is based on two pillars, the teaching and the research, to which we want to remain faithful. Picking up the idea of the Diploma of programs of study Basques that existed in the nineties -and that in the new Study program has no reason to exist-, we want to give shape to a pathway of programs of study Basques with optional subjects, so that students who take it can obtain up to a maximum of 24 credits ECTS credit. On the other hand, the Chair intends to continue both with the ethnographic research and, more broadly, in subjects of culture, history or art history. And, finally, the goal is to carry out activities that reach all the students of the university. Some of them, such as the poetry and short story contest in Basque organized by the Service of Cultural Activities Office. In addition, we would like to create a theater group in Basque. In other words, we want to develop activities outside the strictly academic field.

Looking ahead, what challenges does the Chair Basque Culture and language face?

To re-edit itself, to maintain and promote the lines that it has had until now: the teaching, the research and transversal activities. But we also want to do something new and that is to relate with the city, that some of our activities are in the city and in partnership with other institutions. This is something that we have already started to do this year, organizing in May the first specialist program of the Chair entitled "Landscapes and identity: contemporary artists in Navarre collections", which we organized at partnership with the Museum of Navarre and the Etxauri Foundation. There were participants both from the University and from abroad. In the same way, in the celebration of the 50th anniversary we wanted to make a lecture series to ask ourselves what is Basque culture through those who are doing it. And of course we thought that the conferences had to be open to the city, because the University, from its field, has to join the wide world of institutions and people working for the promotion of Basque culture.