Marcelino Oreja Elósegui

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Marcelino Oreja Elósegui
Marcelino Oreja Elosegui drawing.jpg
Born Marcelino Oreja Elósegui
Died 1934
Nationality Spanish
Ethnicity Basque
Occupation civil engineer
Known for Politician
Political party
Comunión Tradicionalista
Religion Roman Catholicism

Marcelino Oreja Elósegui (Ibarranguelúa, 1891 - Mondragón, 1934) was a Spanish Carlist/Traditionalist politician.

Family and Youth[edit]

Marcelino Oreja Elósegui was born to a well-to-do bourgeoisie Basque family. His older brothers were to become well-known figures, Benigno as a physician and Ricardo as a lawyer, politician and entrepreneur, both engaged in the Carlist movement. Marcelino studied law and civil engineering. In 1928 he set up of his own company, Agroman. In 1931 he succeeded his father-in-law as a managing director of Unión Cerrajera de Mondragón, at that time a dynamic medium-size locksmith company, later one of the model Basque industrial cooperatives of the area. He was the father of Marcelino Oreja Aguirre, a Spanish politician and diplomat, who was born posthumously, and the grandfather of Jaime Mayor Oreja, a People's Party politician.

During his university years, Marcelino Oreja became active in a conservative academic union, Confederación de Estudiantes Católicos, gradually rising to lead this organization. Later on he joined two organizations of lay Catholics, Acción Católica and Asociación Católica de Propagandistas. When the latter took control of a small, nearly-bankrupt El Debate newspaper, its head, Ángel Herrera Oria, set up a publishing house Editorial Católica. Oreja was involved in managing the company, apart from contributing as an editor and an author. By the late 1920s he has already made his name as a Basque Catholic activist.

The Basque Question and the First Term[edit]

Estella Statute celebration

After the fall of the monarchy of Alfonso XIII and the proclamation of the Republic in 1931, Oreja opted for a close co-operation between the Basque nationalists from Partido Nacionalista Vasco and the Traditionalist Carlists. During the first republican election campaign to the Cortes, he worked to build a joint Basque-Traditionalist electoral alliance, and stood among its candidates in his native Vizcaya province. He represented Partido Católico Tradicionalista, the Mellist faction of the Carlist movement. Oreja was elected with 15 982 votes and joined a small Basque-Carlist Bloc in the parliament.

During his first term as a deputy Oreja dedicated himself to the Basque-Navarrese territorial autonomy. Unlike most Traditionalists, who viewed autonomy as a tactical necessity, Oreja approached it as a matter of principle and remained on friendly terms with the PNV leader, José Antonio Aguirre. He contributed to the so-called Estella Statute, a draft version of the autonomous regulations adopted by the local Basque and Navarrese councils. It was an enhanced version of an earlier proposal and brought the Church-state relations within the competence of the autonomous region, the change which was designed by the Carlists as a measure against the militantly secular republican government. Oreja was widely quoted in the Basque, Navarrese and national press saying that our right to autonomy is much older than the Constitution of the Spanish State. Blessed is the salvation power which has united the four provinces and calls to life again, requiring recognition of its political freedom.

When the Estella Statute was rejected by Madrid and replaced with a scaled-down version, eventually grudgingly accepted by the PNV, Oreja, like his fellow Carlist deputy José Oriol, sided with the Basques. This put him apart from the mainstream Carlists, led by Conde Rodezno, for whom the governmental proposal remained unacceptable. As a result of the split among the Traditionalists the work on autonomy came to a halt, which produced the final break between the Basques and the Carlists.

The Second Term[edit]

the Carlist standard

In the early 1930s the three sections of the Traditionalist movement, the Mellists, the Jaimists and the Integrists, have merged. Like other fellow members of the Mellist faction, Oreja joined Comunión Tradicionalista, the united Carlist organisation, and assumed executive positions in its structures. He represented the party during the subsequent elections to the Cortes in the fall of 1933, again standing in the Vizcaya province. This time he was competing against the PNV candidates, running on the joint conservative ticket. Oreja earned 20 259 votes, significantly less than his Basque rivals, though still enough to get him elected. He joined the Traditionalist bloc in the parliament. Unlike the Carlists influenced by Victor Pradera and Juan Olazábal, hostile to the Basque aspirations, Oreja continued working towards the rapprochement with the autonomists, which however did not extend to endorsing the Basque nationalism or Basque separatism.

The Social Question[edit]

Union Cerrajera main building
obituary in a Carlist newspaper

Oreja responded to the social problems of Spain with the corporativist vision of a future state, shaped by the encyclical teaching of Pius XI and the traditional Carlist monarchism, as integrated by Vazquez de Mella and later developed by Victor Pradera. Opponent of the parliamentarian democracy, Oreja remained equally adverse to both fascism and communism. His hostile attitude towards the workers’ movements of the Left was demonstrated not only in the Cortes, but also in his daily life as a managing director of Unión Cerrajera. He publicly pledged never to employ a socialist or an anarchist worker, “even if hunger makes them eat grass”, which might be indicative of both his Carlist and Basque leaning. Since the population of Mondragón was politically divided among the Carlists, the Basque nationalists and the socialists, his stance earned him bitter hostility with the Union General de Trabajadores trade unionists, who called him “The Boar”. Oreja was accused of running the company the authoritarian way.

During the revolution of 1934, Oreja was arrested in his Mondragón home by the socialist militiamen, reportedly the employees of the company he managed. Following a brief detention, he was shot dead.


Mislata, intersection of Av. Blasco Ibanez and C. Marcelino Oreja

Oreja was the best known single victim of the 1934 revolution in Spain, as no other parliamentary deputy was killed during the turmoil. His death has long reverberated in the national public debate. The Right presented it as a proof of a barbarian and bolshevic nature of the Left, a prefiguration of the future bloody terror, to be imposed by the mass workers’ movements. For the Carlists, Oreja became another of their martyrs, among the likes of Tomas Zumalacarregui; he was already honored during the first successive La Fiesta de los Mártires de la Tradición, the feast dedicated to the fallen Carlists and observed every March from 1895. In the Francoist Spain many streets have been named after him.

The public memory of Marcelino Oreja Elósegui has been kept alive mostly thanks to his son, Marcelino Oreja Aguirre, who remained a well-known figure in Spain until the late 20th century. Today the Basques usually appreciate Oreja's work on the Basque autonomy, though tend to ignore his Traditionalist political identity; in the Carlist historical discourse he does not figure prominently.

“Calle Marcelino Oreja” exists, among other places, in Bilbao and Mislata.

See also[edit]


  • Martin Blinkhorn, Carlism and Crisis in Spain 1931-1939, Cambridge 1975, ISBN 978-0-521-20729-4
  • Angel García-Sanz, Iñaki Iriarte, Fernando Mikelarena, Historia del navarrismo (1841-1936). Sus relaciones con el vasquismo, Pamplona 2002, ISBN 8495075903
  • Sharryn Kasmir, The Myth of Mondragon. Cooperatives, Politics and Working-Class Life in a Basque Town, New York 1996, ISBN 0-7914-3003-0
  • Stanley G. Payne, Navarrismo y españolismo en la política navarra bajo la Segunda República, [in:] Principe de Viana 166-167 (1982)
  • Evarist Olcina, El Carlismo y las autonomías regionales, Madrid 1974, ISBN 84-299-0053-5

External links[edit]