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Socialists and the struggle for Basque freedom

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THE SPANISH government this week won a parliamentary vote to make the Basque nationalist political party Batasuna illegal. Batasuna is the political wing of the ETA armed group. We spoke to INAKI ORTIZ of Socialist Worker's sister paper in Spain, En Lucha.
Issue 1815

THE SPANISH government this week won a parliamentary vote to make the Basque nationalist political party Batasuna illegal. Batasuna is the political wing of the ETA armed group. We spoke to INAKI ORTIZ of Socialist Worker’s sister paper in Spain, En Lucha.

WHY IS the Spanish government doing this?

‘IT IS part of a strategy by the Spanish state to repress the Basque national movement. It is also an attempt by the right wing PP government to boost its electoral support by appearing to be ‘tough on terrorism’. The Spanish government has been unable to eradicate ETA in 35 years of struggle, despite putting nearly 600 of its members in Spanish jails.

‘The PP government has attempted to criminalise the Basque movement by making its youth wing illegal and closing down its daily newspaper. Unfortunately the Spanish left has not offered any alternative to the government’s repressive polices.

‘The main opposition party, the Socialist Party, supports the government’s attitude, and the Communist Party led United Left is divided over its response. The moderate Basque Nationalist Party rejects ETA but opposes the government’s moves. The Basque Nationalist Party argues that the PP government’s attempt to crush opposition to ‘the unity of Spain’ shows the lingering influence of Franco inside the party. Franco was the dictator who ran Spain from the 1930s to the 1970s and was ruthless in imposing ‘the unity of Spain’.

WHAT ARE the roots of Basque nationalism?

‘THE BASQUES have always formed a distinct community in what is today northern Spain and south western France. Their unique language has given the Basques a strong sense of identity. Basque nationalism emerged at the end of the 19th century as a conservative movement rejecting industrialisation and Spanish immigrant workers.

‘During the 20th century Basque nationalism grew into a mass popular movement, especially through its role in the resistance under Franco. Subsequent democratic governments have continued to use repressive methods against ETA, which has led many people to continue supporting ETA.’


‘ETA WAS formed in 1959 and fights for an independent Basque Country. It played a major role in the struggle against Francoism. ETA was heavily influenced by national liberation struggles around the world in the 60s and 70s, and it adopted left wing politics.

‘However, its strategy of bombings and assassinations has helped the Spanish government to isolate the national movement from the rest of the left in Spain and in the Basque Country. The killing of Socialist Party representatives makes it particularly difficult to win wider support for its demands.’

HOW MUCH support does Batasuna have?

‘BATASUNA regularly receives 15 percent of votes in the Basque Country. Its politics are on the left. Its supporters are in the forefront of workers’ and neighbourhood struggles, for women’s rights and in international solidarity campaigns.

‘However, the fight for national independence overshadows all other questions. The movement’s uncritical support for ETA’s actions has lost it support in the Basque Country itself.’

WHAT IS the solution?

‘WE ARE critical of ETA’s methods. But the reasons for its existence are political, so repression will not ‘solve’ the question. The Basque Country, like other areas, has some autonomy within the Spanish state. But it is very limited, and only applies to three of the four Basque provinces.

‘The Basques have never been allowed a vote on being part of the Spanish state. There was a referendum on the Spanish constitution in 1978. It won a majority across the rest of Spain, but not in the Basque Country. Only 35 percent backed it there. All Basque nationalist parties called for an abstention.

‘The constitution gives the Spanish army the ‘right’ to intervene anywhere the ‘unity’ of the Spanish state is threatened. All the three main Basque nationalist parties, including those who oppose ETA, want some form of independence.

‘No one knows what the result of a referendum would be. Some polls suggest 60 percent would back independence. Others suggest a different outcome. The Spanish left has to defend the democratic right of the Basques to have a vote. It also has to defend the right of Batasuna to exist. Only this way will peace and justice ever be achieved.’

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