Basque Country: A Land Divided

As the elections in the Basque country in northern Spain draw near (13th May), we take a look at a country which is clinically divided between nationalists and pro-Spanish integrationists and again, within the nationalists, half favour autonomy and half favour full independence. The Basque question has its roots in Medieval times, with the voluntary union of the states of Alava (1132), Guipuzcoa (1200) and Biscaia (1379) to the Spanish crown, in return for defence of individual rights and protection of the local culture. The Basque culture remained, more or less unchallenged, until the reign of Ferdinand VII (1814 – 1833), under whose absolutist form of government, the country descended into civil war. The Basque question, inflamed, never calmed down again and at the end of the XIX Century, the first Basque nationalist group appeared (Euskeldun Batzokija). Always divided between separatists and autonomists, the various Basque movements continued to exert their influence over the local population, a unique tribe which entered the Iberian Peninsula in pre-Roman times. These vectors have been constant in the Basque country. During Franco’s period in power, and due to the repression of the Basque language and culture, ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, Basque Country and Freedom) was formed in 1959. After Franco’s death in 1975 and the institution of the new constitution, the Basque country was given Europe’s most developed form of autonomy. The players in this arena are the PP (Partido Popular, Conservative, integrationist) and the government party in Spain, in coalition with the local party Union Alaves (UA), the PSE (Partido Socialista de Euskadi, Basque Socialist Party, integrationist, a branch of the main Spanish opposition party, PSOE Partido Socialista de los Operбrios Espanoles, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party). On the Nationalist side, there is the PNV (Partido Nacionalista Vasco, Basque National Party), in coalition with sister-party EA (Eusko Alkartasuna), both in favour of autonomy but not full independence, and in favour of a separate Basque State, there is EH (Euskal Herritarok), the political wing of the terrorist group ETA. Both ETA and EH are in the general independence movement, Herri Batasuna. Outside these groupings is the Union Isquierda (Left Union, Spanish Communist Party). It was with this model of autonomy that the PNV broke in 1998 when it signed the Pact of Lizarra with ETA. The intention was to form a nationalist faction but with ETA renouncing violence. Lizarra was a disaster for the PNV for three reasons. First, ETA did not renounce violence, for they started their campaign of murder soon after the Treaty was signed. Secondly, it removed from the PNV its traditional (integrationist) ally, the PSE . Thirdly, it created a rift in the Basque country between nationalists and integrationists, removing the PNV from its traditional guaranteed power-base in Basque government. The result is the possibility of the PP forming an alliance with PSE, creating a non-nationalist, integrationist block in the Basque country for the first time since the country received its autonomy. The opinion polls have settled down to a constant forecast in recent weeks, and so the result of the elections should not be very different from what we present here. In a Parliament of 75 seats, PNV/EA currently 27 seats, should move to 28/29 PP(UA) currently 16 seats, should increase to 19/20 PSE currently 14 seats, should remain with 14 or increase to 15/16 IU currently with 2 seats, should increase to 3 EH currently with 16, should decrease to 10/11 but this party abandoned the government last summer, and will probably not take part. This will give the non-nationalist, integrationists 33-36 seats, leaving the PNV isolated as the largest party, but unable to form a government. Given this scenario, a lot of political manoeuvring will take place. Euskal Herritarok has offered to join PNV if this party accepts its demands, however, this is unlikely to happen. The PP has stated that it will not form any alliance with the PNV and the PSE has made an offer to reform its alliance with the PNV, only if this party formally reneges on the Pact of Lizarra, which is not probable. Meanwhile, outside the political context but very much a part of the Basque reality, there is ETA waiting in the wings. This movement has the capacity for constant replenishing of its ranks, however many arrests are made of its leaders. The youth movement, Jarrai, sends a constant supply of new recruits to ETA, whose terrorist cells show a great degree of autonomy, proving that the training process and operational system is lateral, rather than adopting a vertical hierarchy like other terrorist organisations, such as the IRA. The outcome of this election is certain : the Basque country will remain as divided as ever and the result will be inconclusive. Nothing will be solved and the problem will go on. In a region which is split in half, and whose nationalist movement is split in half, a movement which cannot even agree on where the Basque Country finishes and ends (some include Navarra, others not), it is time for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna to take the political initiative by renouncing violence and fighting in Parliament, not on the streets. TIMOTHY BANCROFT-HINCHEY, PRAVDA.RU, LISBON

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