A STRONG sense of identity and keeping alive culture and minority languages has led to a strengthening of the bonds between Scotland and the Basque Country over the past six months, according to a leading cultural figure.

Irene Larraza, director of the Basque Institute, Etxepare, which brought #ScotlandGoesBasque here earlier this year, said it had brought closer ties between artists and performers in both countries.

A cultural programme, #ScotlandGoesBasque started with Celtic Connections in January, carried on with the CinemaAttic film event, Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe and the Book Festival.

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Arts, culture and language form the ties that bind the two, and Larraza said the link was important because the Basques and Scots had so much in common.

She told The National: “Both nations have a strong sense of identity, we are proud of our roots and we both have the responsibility for keeping our culture and our minority languages alive, and at the same time we are open, modern countries that look into the future.

“Basques are interested in the Scottish cultural scene and take the culture management as a model, and we know Basque contemporary arts and culture spark interest in Scotland as well.

“Arts and culture always reflect our own history and struggles, in a direct or indirect way.

“However, that does not separate us; as a matter of fact, it is just the opposite, it helps connect and discover important common ground.”

Etxepare has brought a range of Basque events to Scotland this year, including Basque author Bernardo Atxaga and Margaret Llull, his translator with Sin City through Basque eyes, in which a chance to travel and write abroad led him to reflect on his life back home.

We have also invited some of them to the Basque Country for them to know first-hand our artists’ work, which creates closer and more permanent ties

Nevada Days was a fictional account of a writer-in-residence stint in Reno, full of odd events and eccentric characters which allowed Atxaga to see himself and his home in quite unsettling new ways.

Larraza said the reaction of Scottish audiences had been very positive: “Our programme has opened several windows to Basque talent in very relevant Scottish festivals Fair – Celtic Connections, Edinburgh International Film Festival, Fringe, Edinburgh International Book Fair – with a great response from the audience.

“And most importantly, all the Basque participants have been selected by the artistic directors of those festivals, which gives a sense of the international relevance and quality of our artists.

“The organisation of the Scotland Goes Basque programme has given the Etxepare Basque Institute the opportunity to work together with relevant international festivals and professionals.

“We have also invited some of them to the Basque Country for them to know first-hand our artists’ work, which creates closer and more permanent ties.”

Larraza added: “The Scottish Government has also been kept informed of the programme, and Creative Scotland has even supported one of the dance shows, in which we mixed Scottish and Basque traditional music and dance, and that will later be performed in the Basque Country.

“Literature programmes will also have a continuation in some of our festivals. The journey continues.”