The Basque Nationalism Movement Fighting for Identity

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In the west region of the Pyrenees, lying between the border of France and Spain at the coast of the bay of the Bay of Biscay waves the green and red flag belonging to the Basque country, the home to around 3 million Basque people. The land is very damp, mild, hilly, and lots of woods. It has many iron ore mines which favors the growth of industrialization in the area. The Basque people traditionally had lands mostly used for farming. They had raised grass for the cows in the area, as well as apple orchards and sheep to help out their economy. Households at the time represented an idea of keeping no change in the area, as it was kept through a law of inheritance, in which the property was only entitled to a single heir. This caused isolation to occur, making a strong sense of family kinship to emerge. From a strong sense of permanent farming culture slowing changing into a more capitalistic industrial society, this tension made Basque nationalism to start setting its roots.

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The story begins with the Basque people maintaining political and financial stability up to the second half of the nineteenth century, under a system known as The Fueros. Under the Fueros, traditional agriculturists had more political power. The emerging commercial and industrial capitalists at the time weren’t happy about this, as they didn’t have much representation in regional governments and how there wasn’t any taxes on imports on goods coming in from the coast, but there was taxes on goods on the shore. Overall these Basque liberals wanted society to adapt to the new evolving world around in where machines started controlling everyday life, and they fought in a civil war known as The Carlist Wars for these ideals to come through. The liberals won the war, and the new government abolished the Fueros. When the new government followed through with this action, opposition was created by the forming of a popular movement known as Fuerismo. The movement’s main idea was to bring back Fueros and take down what the new industrial Basque government had in place.

The Fuerismo was both a political movement as well as a cultural movement, meaning the movement wasn’t really biased to any social class standards. The supporters included intelligent urban people, but it also included the illiterate rural. The rural had access to many famous poets illustrating themes of Fuerismo, loss of Basque culture and language, and the effects of non- Basque foreign customs and behaviors on the people of Basque, such influences from French, Spanish, English, and more trade partners. The movement grew more powerful idea amongst the people of Basque as the rise of industrialism and capitalism started to grow into the social norm in places in which brought about problems that most socio-economic places have: mass immigration, industrial riots, and rising crime rates. This caused more radical ideas of Fuerismo and Carlism to grow, opening doors to Basque nationalism to enter in the scene. The Basque Nationalist Party was made around the mid 1890s by founder Sabino Arana Goiri.

 Goiri made conclusions that the party goals didn’t only mean to get autonomy in their government by putting Fueros back in place, rather it also consisted gaining independence from the Spanish state. The Spanish state at this time was very weak by the independences of most American colonies toward the end of the nineteenth century, and constant warfare on Spanish territory causing a financial crisis, making liberal governments in Spain unable to take control of the entire state well enough. Governments like the Basque nation had traditional powerful leaders that had more of a control in life in the area, compared to the Spanish state. Goiri stated his arguments by rejecting the ideas of industrial capitalists, along supporting ideas of Carlist tradition and social Catholicism. He also shared some ideas of socialist thinkers by proposing a revolt to anti-democratic powers that exchange goods and services for political support, a term known as caciquismo. The solution that Goiri came up to the problems for Basques was to relearn what their nation is via history and culture, denouncing all things external from their culture, and recovering the Fueros. This caused people to make national symbols including the flag, anthem, national festivities, and as well as the ousting of Roman influences on the Basque language.

For a while, the Basque Nationalism movement grew to become very prominent. In 1917, for once, the Basque Nationalism party had a majority in the elections of Bizaika which led to the chance of forming the first national Basque government. Another success was how Bizaika elected most deputies into the national Spanish Parliament system that were from the Basque nationalism party. It slowed down for a bit when the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera began in 1923, however after democracy was re-established in 1931, the movement got its flames rising again. In 1933, The Basque Nationalist party won an electoral victory, in which added more strength electorally. This win took place just a few weeks after the general vote for Basque autonomy. Eighty four percent of the voters in the regions of Alva, Bizaika, and Gipuzkoa voted in favor of Basque autonomy. Basque autonomy wasn’t implemented right away, only being implemented in October 1936. The reasoning being that there was a confrontation between the Basque nationalists and the Spanish civil war that broke out with Franco’s troops occupying the Basque country. Franco, a heavy Spanish nationalist, wanted to unite Spain and get rid of the weak Spanish government in place. It is on the different side of the same coin with Basque Nationalist party, except he wants to unite Spain into a stronger nation rather break away. In 1937, the Basque president and his government were forced into exile with the help of German and Italian armed forces.

When Franco rose to power and began his regime, he immediately got rid of Basque autonomy and restricted all forms of Basque culture, due to his Spanish nationalistic view on how Spain should be one strong unitary state. It was when nationalistic Spain grew, where the Basque found themselves in the authority of another nation. During the Franco years, even being shut down, Basque Nationalism followed a campaign about being anti-Madrid. The exiled president, Jose Antonio Aguirre, and his supporters communicated with the Allied powers during the second world war, setting up intelligence networks all over Europe among Basque emigrant residencies in places of Latin America and Asia. Having the feeling that the soon fall of Mussolini and Hitler would lead to the fall of Franco, Aguirre went to New York in order to present Basque autonomy to the United Nations. This attempt was rendered useless due to the Cold war and the political considerations of the superpowers. The United States wanted to build military base camps in Spain, going the opposite of the economic and political boycott that was in place during World War 2, in order to keep an eye on the Soviet Union’s rise of communism. With Franco still in power in the 1950s, the Basque culture was still limited, making any expression of it illegal. When leadership of the Basque culture started to age and weaken, the effects of the repression reached a significant point of high influence. While there was still resistance to the Spanish government and support from many Basque emigrants, the whole situation was just waiting around till the supporters of Franco weared out. This waiting around strategy was a too slow of a process as the end of the 1950s brought about a second wave of immigration and industrialization, causing a crisis of losing culture and and ways of socialization for the Basque people.   Within this situation the Basque Nationalism split as young Basques created the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna(a.ka ETA) in 1959, proclaiming that foreign power was on their land and national liberation was required.

 This statement of national liberation from Spain was one ideology from the basic book of Basque Nationalism; however the ETA added three new pages in the form of three new ideas to how the nationalism should work. These included: the absence of church influence on politics, the acceptance of being Basque to be determined by commitment to language and culture over race, and concern over people suffering from the plight of the capitalistic system.

The ETA was quite effective. The system of the ETA was locals group of people who acted on their own or from a single contact from a leader. This made the Spanish police have a difficult time to enter to center on the organization and get any useful information about the ETA. Most ETA members were young single student men working at a part-time job, acting at irregular intervals. Only a few people receive enough financial support from organization to give up all their time and energy for the organization. These people were known as liberados. They had meetings at occuring intervals of time to discuss goals and strategies. More reasons the ETA was fairly successful was communication to other national movements around the world, the ability to use the European discomfort of Franco’s dictatorship, and the nature of guerrilla tactics. The communication with other movements around the world allowed the ETA is have access to arms and the ability to train key activists. By the European discomfort of the Franco regime, the ETA was able to have a safe haven for idealists that have been identified by the Spanish government, enabling them to stage actions across the border without any risks. This was mostly seen in the Basque region of France, as they sympathized and provided refuge for political activists. The borders of Spain was very open as the country depended heavily on trade and European tourism. Furthermore, the Basque had a lot of connections in the Pyrenees and in some ships in the Bay of Biscay. With all these factors in mind, the ETA was able to move people and weapons in and out of Spain safely. And finally from the use of guerilla tactics, The ETA could target a specific goal at a chosen certain time or place without resorting to unnecessary violence. The ETA’s area of action did not only include the Basque area, rather it had a freedom to express in many places across Spain.

The ETA had many strengths, but they sooned weakened. The success they had in attacking the Spanish government soon lead to greater repression on the Basque country, causing many activists and sympathisers to escape the country. Another weakness to point out was the internal division forming on what goal is more important. In 1966, the ETA held its 5th assembly where it split into 3 groups. One group argued in favor of working towards the goal of tackling issues of capitalism for a more socialistic life for Basques (essentially Marxism), rather than your standard Basque nationalism goals. Another group rejected the idea Marxism and supported the idea of following traditional Basque nationalist goals. And finally the third emphasized active armed conflict, stating that the most important goal was Basque liberation and the ideological debate between Marxism and traditional Basque goals should be debated after independence of the Basque nation from Spain. The 3rd group won the argument, and the two other groups were kicked from the organization. Another important split in the ETA was in 1974, with the splitting of ETA becoming ETApm and ETAm. ETApm supported the way of using a blend of political activity with selective armed action to achieve nationalism goals while keeping an eye to working-class issues. On the other hand, ETAm supported the continued use of relentless armed resistance with only liberation in mind.

After the post-Franco era, Spain itself went through a successful transformation into a democracy. With a new constitution in hand, Spain granted a high degree of regional authority to the Basque and other regions around. The Basque country is allowed to elect its own president, parliament, and ministries. The politics in the Basque region now have taken this form of accepting parties ranging from radical left to right, some Spanish oriented and some Basque Nationalist oriented. Even with the vast amount political freedom going on, the ETA still doesn’t stand straight with what the new environment provides. In the eyes of the ETA, the problem wasn’t Franco’s dictatorship, rather it was Madrid not providing liberation. The core of armed resistance was given exclusively to ETAm as ETApm formed a party known as Basque Country Left, which works in the system. ETAm has a party known as People United. They participate in elections, however members do not accept positions in the Basque or Spanish governments. They rather participate in local governments and control some town councils.

The Spanish government have allowed ETA members that are willing to stop violence to enter into society on the condition they stop the need to pick up arms, essentially they would treat the members in a friendly manner as long as no attacks are made. Many ETA operatives, mostly from the ETA pm, have followed this.The French government have also changed their policy towards the ETA. Once known to be a safe haven to political exiles, France started turning in several ETA members back to Spain at the start of 1986. One interesting thing to point is that there was publically contact between the Spanish government and the ETA for negotiation. They didn’t come to an agreement, but it shows how the ETA is slowly changing to accept the social norm of trying to reason with multiple perspectives like the wide variety of political parties they have in their disposal. According to Ludger Mees, there is also a reason to be worried about this as ETA aren’t going to step down, as they have laid out five reasons since 1979: Amnesty towards Basque prisoners, legalization of all parties including those in support of separatism, ousting of Spanish authorities in Basque land, making of more policies helping working class, and sovereignty for the Basque people(Ludger Mees). These conditions could not go one way or the other, so it may lead to issues. Such as the splitting of the Basque nation from the Spanish state may cause on the Spanish side a loss of GDP from lands of industry and tourism being taken and changed into agricultural land. On the Basque side, they would get their independence, in which they have greater freedom than what they have provided right now. It’s gonna be cost and benefit for one or the other.

The Basque Nationalism movement started long ago when tensions between industrialization and traditional agrarian culture clashed. From then, it grew into multiple ideas, constantly splitting and merging. From the rise of technology, we are constantly connecting to different people, and mixing cultures. But sooner or later, culture is lost to this melting pot, losing its distinct flavor. For the sake of identity, The Basque Nationalists have fought with an intense flame. A flame that would probably keep on simmering for a long time.

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The Basque Nationalism Movement Fighting For Identity. (2020, Mar 23). Retrieved January 30, 2023 , from

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