Basque Elections Loom; Can the Basques Live with Spain?

By Jackson, Gabriel | The Nation, November 15, 1986 | Go to article overview

Basque Elections Loom; Can the Basques Live with Spain?


Jackson, Gabriel, The Nation


BASQUE ELECTIONS LOOM

Can the Basques Live With Spain?

Ten years after the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco two nagging problems threaten Spain's internal stability and the generally successful transition from a reactionary personal dictatorship to a democratic constitutional monarchy. One is the problem of Homeland and Liberty, or ETA, the movement that rejects Spanish sovereignty and advocates armed struggle for the independence of the Basque country. The other is the abuse of police power, which, though not confined to the Basque country, allows much of the Basque population to excuse the many assassinations, kidnappings and extortions perpetrated over the years by ETA. The difficult relationship between the Basque provinces and the central government, a persistent problem, has become front-page news here recently because a split in the Basque Nationalist Party has necessitated special elections for a new Basque parliament, to be held November 30.

Until the recent split there were three principal political forces at work: the Basque Nationalist Party (P.N.V.), the Basque Socialist Party and ETA. Middle-class, democratic, Catholic and localist, the P.N.V. has long been the dominant party. It was the leading member of the autonomous government in 1936-37, of the government in exile in Paris during the Franco dictatorship, and of the governments under the 1979 Statute of Autonomy. The Socialist Party has always been strong in the Basque industrial cities. Its earlier leader, Indalecio Prieto, was the ablest of the democratic socialist leaders during the 1920s and 1930s. The current leader of the Basque Socialists, Jose Maria Benegas, born in Caracas in 1948 of exiled parents, has followed Prieto's example of maintaining firm parliamentary democratic principles and combining Spanish and Basque loyalties.

In the 1960s ETA was the spearhead of armed resistance to the Franco dictatorship. In the 1970s it espoused women's rights, the libertarian and "green' revolutions and an imprecise version of Marxist-Leninist socialism. At all times it has proclaimed a hatred of the Spanish police as "occupation forces' and has insisted on independence, not only for the three provinces covered by the autonomy statute--Alava, Guipuzcoa and Vizcaya--but for Navarre and several French departments it calls the Northern Basque nation. The leftist doctrines gave ETA a progressive character in the eyes of some non-Basque as well as Basque youth, and its call for independence gave public voice to the secret dreams of many a moderate nationalist.

During the Franco era ETA killed sixty-nine people, many of whom were highly placed military or police officials known as torturers. Since the first democratic elections in 1977, ETA has killed 522 people, often at random. It has acknowledged that several assassinations have been regrettable errors. Because ETA is a secret organization that has gone through many factional splits and changes of leadership, its increasing violence since the death of Franco defies full explanation. However, the main factor is surely the isolation of its members. The majority of Basques have accepted the Constitution of 1978 and the Statute of Autonomy as reasonable bases on which to build a better future. Hundreds of ETA's former comrades have explicitly rejected the armed struggle. Thus, the remaining militants are desperate. No longer the heroes of the resistance to the dictatorship and the vanguard of majority opinion, they have become the sectarian, embittered enemies of both Basque and Spanish democracy.

Despite this indisputable change in the nature of ETA some Basque nationalists still offer ambiguous apologies for its atrocities, such as the planting of car bombs and the killing of numerous innocent people. Many ETA commandos are related to P.N.V. members, who find it hard to condemn their own flesh and blood. There is also an endemic Basque racism, a concern for anthropological "differences' which can easily be transformed into an exaltation of Basque superiority to other peoples of Spain. …

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Basque Elections Loom; Can the Basques Live with Spain?
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