The Basque Provinces
The “Basque Country” is made up of seven provinces, spanning parts of northern Spain and southern France. In Spain, Guipuzcoa, Vizcaya and Alava make up the Basque Autonomous Community (not controlled by others, ie, Spain); and Navarra has its own separate status as an Autonomous Community.
The four provinces within Spain came under the control of the Castilian monarchy at the end of the 14th century. To secure their allegiance, the kings of Castile had to swear to observe the fueros (a form of spanish legal system). In Vizcaya, the ceremony of the royal oath took place in the city of Guernica beneath an oak tree that later became the symbol of Basque independence.
In 1876, following the second Carlist War, the fueros were abolished in the greater part of the Basque provinces but remained in Navarra. The defeat of the Carlists further strengthened the conviction within the Spanish state that no concessions should ever be made to regionalism and, in the absence of effective constitutional controls, reinforced the power of the army and its role in enforcing Castilian rule. However, in imposing a greater degree of centralisation, by the removal of the fueros, Madrid gave an important boost to the development of Spanish capitalism in general and Basque capitalism in particular.
The abolition of the fueros brought Basque industry within Spain’s protective tariffs, which, by 1906 were the highest in Europe. The Fueros had prohibited any natural resources of Vizcaya to being used outside of the Spanish Kingdom which led to investment from Britain. They invested in Iron, Steel, Shipbuilding and railway construction which were all mostly based in the Vizcaya province.
While Alava and Navarra remained largely agricultural, Vizcaya and Guipuzcoa changed dramatically, experiencing a rapid growth in the middle and working classes. The strongest classes in these provinces were now the proletariat and their Basque employers.
A triangle of trade and finance formed between: Madrid – Basque country – London. The new high tariffs imposed by central government worked to the Basque capitalists’ advantage so they had little desire to leave the Spanish state. In 1888, the shipyards in Vizcaya earned a contract from the Spanish Navy. And in 1892, the metallurgical industry received increased protection from the government. Unlike the Catalan bourgeoisie, only one major Basque industrialist supported the nationalists.
World War 1 gave an enormous boost to manufacturers throughout Spain. Catalonia, Asturias and the Basque region benefited most. The boom during the war enhanced the pro-Spanish sentiment of the Basque bourgeoisie and, by the end of the war, Basque industry had surpassed that of Catalonia. Basque capitalism grew and grew despite the population of the region only making up 5% of the Spanish total.
The Basque Nationalism Origins
Sabino Arana who whose ideologies were used behind Basque Nationalism came up with a new name for the Basque country. Previously known as Euskal Herria, Sabino changed it to Euskadi,translated as “Basque Homeland”. He created a new flag – The Ikurrina based on the Union flag of Britain and his nationalist ideas involved using the ancient language, cultural practices and racial theories.
Sabino Arana wrote of a “war of conquest” against Euskadi, of “Basque laws” rather than fueros, and of independence from Spain, rather than autonomy within the Castilian kingdom. Spain was described as a “foreign power” from which it was necessary to be separated. Basque nationalists base this on a particular reading of the history of their region. In their view, the Basque country is distinct from Spain. They claim that the Basques were self-governing up to, and even beyond, 1200, when the provinces of Guipuzcoa, Vizcaya and Alvara were connected by Castile, and have continuously fought to preserve their own forms of government. In 1897, Arana called for the establishment of a union of Basques “for the salvation of the common fatherland and the race itself”. After Arana’s death, there were divisions among the nationalists with some sections favouring autonomy within Spain while others adhered to Arana’s original conception of an independent state.
Arana’s theories were racist, he believed the Spanish were an inferior race, especially the new Spanish working class immigrants. The influx of proletarians from non-Basque regions of Spain meant a change in the make up of the population. By 1900, more than one in four of the people in the Basque areas had been born outside them.
These Spanish immigrants brought with them their political and trade union organisations. There was a rapid growth of the Socialist Workers’ Party of Spain (PSOE) and the General Workers’ Union (UGT). Bilbao, in Vizcaya, became an important and militant centre for the PSOE. The Basque nationalists tried to challenge this by setting up their own union federation, Eusko Langileen Alkartasuna/Solidaridad de Trabajadores Vascos (ELA/STV) in 1911 but it won little support among blue collar workers and the PSOE remained dominant within the working class with the result that nationalism never really got a foothold until the 1950s. For Arana, the anti-Catholicism of the new working class was their worst characteristic. The influence of Carlism was reflected in a strong Catholicism in the region and the PSOE and UGT were virulently anti-clerical.
Spanish capitalism enjoyed an economic boom during the First World War as it supplied goods to all the belligerent powers but the country was thrown into economic and political crisis when the war ended. This eventually led for a demand for greater autonomy for the various nationalities throughout Spain.
The Spanish Civil War and Mistreatment of the Basque
Basque culture greatly suffered during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Francisco Franco and his fascist party wanted to rid Spain of all heterogeneity (diversities). The Basque people were targeted harshly. Franco banned the speaking of Basque. The Basques lost all political autonomy and economic rights. Many Basques were imprisoned or killed. Franco ordered a Basque town, Guernica, to be bombed by the Germans in 1937. The choosing of Guernica was crucial as this was seen as a symbol of Basque freedom.
Several hundred civilians died. Picasso painted his famous “Guernica” to demonstrate the horror of war. During the Franco years, the Basque people were severely repressed with around 11,000 people being forced into concentration camps and around 20,000 children were exiled out of the country. Franco banned the Basque language (Euskara) and the Ikurrina flag was outlawed and Basque names were hispanicised. When Franco died in 1975, the Basques received much of their autonomy again, but this did not satisfy all Basques.
ETA – Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (AKA Basque Homeland and Freedom)
ETA emerged at the end of the 1950’s and their first military action occurred in 1961 when they unsuccessfully attempted to derail a train carrying civil war veterans to San Sebastian in the Basque region to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War and the Francoist victory. ETA’s ideology was influenced by Federico Krutwig (from Vizcaya) who argued guerrilla warfare was the only means to liberate Euskal Herria. His theory was to have a cycle of action – repression – action which formed ETA’s strategic thinking.
In 1968, the leader of one branch of ETA, Txabi Etxebarrieta, killed a police man at a road block. Within hours, the police found him and executed him. The public protested in his honour. Following his death, ETA then killed the chief of police in Guipuzcoa, Meliton Manzanas who was known for his use of torture during interrogations.
In 1973, ETA performed their most spectacular action in their history by killing the Spanish Prime Minister, Carrero Blanco who was General Franco’s right hand man and eventual successor to rule the country.