Contempt, sentences and bans

Bertsularis were not appreciated by everyone. Priests and notables rejected them categorically.

Bertsularis. Baigorri
Bertsularis. Baigorri
Some mayors even went as far as banning all forms of public improvisation in accordance with the Catholic church.

However, it was after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the victory of General Franco that improvisation, just like the rest of Basque culture, suffered one of the most terrible periods of its history.

Denunciation by Father Camoussarry (19th century)

Father J. B. Camoussarry (1815-1842), for example, composed a very severe verse against one of them:

Tripa arnoaren suaz duenian berotua
Ergelkeriak kantatuz hausten dautzute burua !
Ikara hadi trixtea, laster bahoa hobirat...
Ikusak hire zortea, kantuz hoa ifernurat !

As the fiery alcohol burns his stomach,
He bores you singing foolish verse!
Fear, poor wretched thing, for soon you will lie in the graveyard.
Think about your destiny: your singing will lead you to hell!

Of course, just like the rest of society, our bertsularis also had their faults.

Jean Ithurriague (former curator of the Basque Museum in Bayonne, author of "A people who sing: the Basques". 1947, Editions Edimpress, Paris – out of print) tells us the following anecdote: "Manex Apezena, of the house named "Bildostegia" in Banca, was all but an honest man. A venal poet, he sold his verse and specialised in denouncement. He spent some ten years in prison for theft. He suspected his niece of having betrayed him and made her the subject of his verse with no regard to decency. Manex nevertheless lacked neither eloquence nor wit, and above all was a master of abuse."

Improvisation controlled by the law (1850)

In his book "Eracusaldiac" published in 1850, Aguirre d'Asteasu mentions the following decree:

"Spanish law forbids any person from uttering obscene words or from singing rude songs, during either the night or day, whether in the street, in a public square or along the roadside, on pain of receiving one hundred floggings and expulsion from the village for one year."

There is no doubt that this ban, as well as many others, was first and foremost aimed at our "bertsularis"!

It must certainly have made versifiers think twice ... and make them control themselves!

Improvisation and Franco’s dictatorship (1936-1975)

Following the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the victory of General Franco,  improvisation, just like the rest of Basque culture, suffered one of the most terrible periods in all its history.

At the beginning, people no longer even dared to speak in Basque in public! Later on, anyone who wanted to organise a cultural event had to receive special permission from the local mayor, who in turn, if he deemed necessary, went to meet the provincial governor, who after having consulted the Board of Censors, would authorise the event or not.

In this way, hundreds and maybe even thousands of events were censored or banned at the last minute.

Improvisers were the first to fall victim to this horrific regime. They were asked to write what they intended to say ... But as they were going to improvise this was impossible!

Improvisers, themselves, only knew the subjects proposed at the very last minute.

Nevertheless, thanks to the understanding and/or authority of certain political figures, namely in Gipuzkoa, competitions were held on a regular basis from 1942, although not without risk and difficulty for improvisers who were constantly under surveillance during their performances.

Some were even sent to prison on a number on occasions for having said they felt "Basque" and that they loved their country.