Constructing and deconstructing heroes

A Basque case study


  • Ludger Mees


nationalism, Basque country


José Antonio Aguirre Lekube was, and probably still is, a national hero in the Basque Country. He was appointed the first president (in Basque: lehendakari), when in October 1936 the Basque Statute of Autonomy was passed by the Spanish Parliament and the first autonomous government of Euskadi established. Being a member of the catholic Basque Nationalist Party, Aguirre became the leader of all Basque democrats in the fight against the fascist insurrection, first during the war and then in the long exile until his death in 1960. Especially after his providential escape from Nazi Germany, his leadership got a clearly transcendental and somehow divine connotation: in the painful times of exile and repression, many of his followers perceived Aguirre both as their (human) president, but also as a kind of prophet who knew the way to freedom and democracy.

The paper aims at analysing this process of transformation of a leading politician into a national hero. This analysis will be based upon the theoretical assumption that the constructivist approach alone is not able to explain the reasons of this evolution and that it has to be completed by other perspectives of explanation. In the case of Aguirre, his elevation to the status of a hero was not only the product of social engineering. Of similar, or even more importance, were other factors like historical situations of acute crises and popular distress, individual 'predestination' and even random incidents in the personal biography.

Author Biography

Ludger Mees

Ludger Mees completed his Ph.D in History at the University of Bielefeld (Germany) and was Assistant Professor at the same institution before taking up a lectureship at the University of the Basque Country (Bilbao, Spain) in 1991. Since 2004 he has been Professor of Contemporary History at the University of the Basque Country and between 2004 and 2009 he was also Vice-Chancellor. He is author, co-author or editor of fifteen books and about eighty articles and book chapters in the fields of nationalism, social movements, historiography and agrarian history.



How to Cite

Mees, L. (2015). Constructing and deconstructing heroes: A Basque case study. Studies on National Movements (SNM), 3. Retrieved from