Basque nationalism

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Basque nationalism is a form of nationalism that asserts that Basques are a nation and promotes the cultural unity of Basques. In recent years, Basque nationalism has been tightly tied with separatist movements.

Basque nationalism, spanning three different regions in two states (the autonomous communities of Basque Country and Navarre in Spain, and the French Basque Country in France) is "irredentist in nature"[1] as it favors political unification of all the Basque-speaking provinces (now divided in those three regions).

Fueros and Carlism[edit]

Basque nationalism is rooted in Carlism and the loss, by the laws of 1839 and 1876, of the Ancien Régime relationship between the Spanish Basque provinces and the crown of Spain. During this time, the reactionary Fuerista movement pleaded for the maintenance of the fueros system and territorial autonomy against the centralizing pressures from liberal or conservative governments in Madrid. The Spanish government suppressed the fueros after the Third Carlist War.

The fueros were the native decision making and justice system issued from consuetudinary law prevailing in the Basque territories and Pyrenees. They are first recorded in the Kingdom of Navarre, who extended its charter system to the western Basque territories in the High Middle Ages.[citation needed] On the wake of Castile's conquest of Gipuzkoa, Álava and Durango (1200), the fueros were ratified by the kings of Castile and acted as part of the Basque legal system dealing with matters regarding the political ties of the Basque districts with the crown. The Fueros guaranteed the Basques a separate position in Spain with their own tax and political status. While its corpus is extensive, prerogatives contained in them set out for one that Basques were not subject to direct levee to the Castilian army, although many volunteered, especially in the Spanish navy, which was led among others by Basque sailors like Juan Sebastián Elcano.[citation needed]

Sabino Arana[edit]

The concept of a Basque nationalism was born out of the Carlist question and the influences from the Romantic European view of nationalism in the nineteenth century.

The seminal ideologist of this process was Sabino Arana, founder of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV in its Spanish acronym). By the end of the 19th century Arana, coming from a Carlist background, created a xenophobic ideology centred on the purity of the Basque race and its so-called moral supremacy over other Spaniards (a derivation of the system of limpieza de sangre of Modern-Age Spain), anti-Liberal Catholic integrism, and deep opposition to the migration of other Spaniards to the Basque Country which had started at the first stages of the industrial revolution. However, Sabino Arana's political goals varied and his zeal softened considerably by the time of his death.[citation needed]

The program of Arana was specified as follows:

The Basques represent a nation, with their own history and culture. This nation consists of race, language and an own political system (the foruak). The liberty of Euzkadi [term created by Sabino Arana to refer to the Basque Country] has been destroyed by France and, mainly, by Spain, who subjugated by force the different Basque territories, including the former Kingdom of Navarre’s territories, with the exception La Rioja, as well as Lapurdi and Zuberoa. As a consequence of the lack of independence of the country, the country has a political despondency, which has its last expression in the suppression of the Basque Traditional Laws and its own institutional system, the economic submission towards France and Spain, and the disappearance of the signs of identity. The solution to all these problems is to restore independence, by breaking the political ties with France and Spain, and the construction of a Basque state with its own sovereignty.

In the early 20th century, Basque nationalism, developed from a nucleus of enthusiasts (non-native Basque speakers themselves) in Bilbao to incorporate the agrarian Carlists in Biscay and Gipuzkoa. The movement survived without any problems the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera under the guise of cultural and athletic associations.

Basque nationalism allied with Carlism in support of the Catholic Church as a barrier against leftist anti-clericalism in most of the Basque provinces.

Modern history[edit]

By the start of the Second Spanish Republic, a small cluster of secularist Basque nationalists had sown the seeds of the EAE-ANV, while PNV clung to its traditionalist Catholicism, but gradually shifting to a more compromising political culture. In 1936, the main part of the Christian democrat PNV sided with the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War. The promise of autonomy was valued over the ideological differences, especially on the religious matter, and PNV decided to support the republican legal government, including member of the Popular Front. Autonomy was granted in October 1936. A republican autonomous Basque government was created, with José Antonio Agirre (PNV) as Lehendakari (president) and ministers from the PNV and other republican parties (mainly leftist Spanish parties).

However, in 1937, roughly halfway through the war, Basque troops, then under control of the Autonomous Basque Government surrendered in an action brokered by the Basque church and the Vatican[citation needed] in Santoña to the Italian allies of General Franco on condition that the Basque heavy industry and economy was left untouched. It should be noted though, that due to the dire military situation at that time, the only real choice for the Basque republicans was between capitulation or the total destruction of their forces followed by mass retributions against civilians, as was the norm in mop up measures during the Spanish Civil War.

Thus began one of the most culturally difficult periods of Basque history in Spain, due to immigration of non-Basque from other parts of Spain to serve a fast-paced industrialising economy which followed, thriving chiefly during the 1960s. This immigration was enhanced by the protectionist measures of the Franco regime, as the expanding Basque economy required more workers from elsewhere to fill the gap in the labour force. Simultaneously, Basque language was prohibited in those acts involving the public administration or the mass media, being only tolerated at some folkloric or clerical activities; the situation was milder for Basque language in Navarre and Álava, areas which sided with Franco's uprising.

For many leftists in Spain, the surrender of Basque troops in Santoña (Santander) is known as the Treason of Santoña. Many of the nationalist Basque soldiers were pardoned if they joined the Francoist army in the rest of the Northern front. Basque nationalists submitted, went underground, or were sent to prison, and the movement's political leaders fled. Small groups escaped to the Americas, France and the Benelux, of which only a minority returned after the restoration of democracy in Spain in the late seventies, or before.

During World War II the exiled PNV government attempted to join the Allies and settled itself in New York to gain American recognition and support, but soon after the war finished, Franco became an American ally in the context of the Cold War, depriving the PNV any chance for power in the Basque Country.

Political violence and devolved autonomy[edit]

In 1959, young nationalists (abertzaleak) founded the separatist group ETA, Its activism—paintings, pitching Basque flags, pamphlets—escalated into violence after shocking revelations emerged of torture practised by Spanish police on Basque activists during repression in the mid 1960s. By that time, ETA was adopting a Marxist revolutionary theory. Inspired by movements like those of Castro in Cuba and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, the group aimed to establish an independent socialist Basque Country through violence. ETA's first confirmed assassinations occurred in 1968, thereafter including violence, even killing, as a practice—theory of action-repression-action. At an ideological level, instead of race, the organization stressed the importance of language and customs.

When Spain re-emerged as a democracy in 1978, autonomy was restored to the Basques, who achieved a degree of self-government without precedent in modern Basque history.[2] Thus, based on the fueros and their Statute of Autonomy, Basques have their own police corps and manage their own public finances with virtually no intervention from the central government of Spain. The Basque Autonomous Community has been led by the nationalist Christian Democratic PNV since it was reinstated in the early 1980s until 2009 when PSE got into office. In Navarre, Basque nationalism has failed to gain control of the autonomous community's government, ruled by UPN often with the support of PSN, but Basque nationalist parties run many small and medium size councils.

Although France is a centralized state, Abertzaleen Batasuna, a Basque nationalist party, maintains a presence in some municipalities through local elections.

Basque nationalist organizations[edit]

"You're in the Basque Country, not in Spain" – an example of Basque nationalism in a Bilbao lamp post. The sticker includes the website address of Gazte Abertzaleak.
A republican mural in Belfast showing solidarity with the Basque nationalism.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Milica Zarkovic Bookman, The Economics of Secession, Macmillan Palgrave (1993), p. 111. ISBN 0-312-08443-9
  2. ^ Mughal, Muhammad Aurang Zeb. 2012. Spain. Steven L. Denver (ed.), Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues, Vol. 3. Armonk, NY: M .E. Sharpe, pp. 674-675.

External links[edit]