The Terror Beneath Basque Beauty - The situation in the Basque Country.
International tourists flock to Spains scenic Basque region, lured by it´s fine beaches, green, mountainous landscape, delicious food and picturesque locals. They return raving about their wonderful vacations without ever encountering the blunt reality of civic life in the region: a Facist movement holds the region in it´s grip - terrorizing the population with killings and death threats, throttling democracy and leaving citizens mute and intimidated.
True, people in the US and Europe catch occasional news items of car bombings ord kidnappings by some outfit called ETA, a Basque terrorist movement, whose name, Euskadi ta Askatasuna, means "freedom for the Basque Land". But they do not realize that the threat it´s not confined to separate, isolated incidents. More than 5000 people in the three Basque provinces of northern Spain maintain round-the-clock security guards. ETA terrorists have killed over 1000 people in the last four decades. Hundred thousands have fled the region, fearing for their lives.
Accusations of facism can be thrown around too gliby. But the term fits the Basque separatist movement. Fascist regimes forcibly suppress opposition and critisicism, while emphasizing aggressive nationalist and racist feeling.
Distinct rascism permeates the movement, handed down by Sabino Arana, who founded the Basque Nationalist Party in 1893. Spanish immigrants, especially working-class, are called, Maketos, "stain," and the terms extends to anyone born outside the Basque region. Exuding a belief in racial purity, Arana spoke against mixed marriages, declaring "We, the basques, must avoid the mortal contagion, maintain firm our faith in our ancestors and the serious religiosity that distinguishes us..."
To hold office in the Basque nationalist clubs (Batzokis, pron. Bachokees), which Arana divided into three categories, one had to have pure Basque lineage. Only those who had four Basque last names would be considered. with such parentage the true Basque type would be revealed. In "Cómo somos?"--"What are we like?" - Arana defined Basques as tall, energetic and agile, as well as intelligent and noble, and, of course, manly.
Basque racism has a unique linguistic component. Nationalist stress linguistic purity as much as social class. It is hard to get a job unless fluent in Basque, a difficult language, whose grammar and vocabulary bear no relation to contemporary Western languages. It does not matter if the job actually does not require Basque. Everyone must learn and speak the language, or be reduced to whatever position is open after less-qualified but fluent Basque speakers have taken the better jobs. Over 150 teachers of various subjects were recently fired – not for poor classroom performance, but for failing a Basque language proficiency exam.
And Aranas idels live. A year ago, and in commemoration of his 100th death anniversary, the nationalist leaders Javier Arzallus, (president of the Basque Nationalist party), Juán José Ibarretxe (pron. Ibarreche, president of the Basque Country), and Juán M. Atutxa (pron. Atucha, President of the Basque Parliament) declared: "We are not embarrassed, we freely embrace and inherit Sabino's thought. We are convinced that we will achieve the goals he established in the future".
The separatists seek to unite French provinces bordering with Spain (Lapurdi, Suberoa and Benavarre) with Viscaya and Alava, They also demand the province of Navarra, which brings another level of conflict to the table. Only five percent of people in this province, which lies outside of the Basque region, consider themselves Basque.
Ironically, Basque domination is a reflex of the 40-year dictatorship of Francisco Franco. He forbade the use of Basque (Euskera, pron. Euskara) Gallego, and Catalán, the three dialects on the iberian peninsula other than the native spanish. Spanish was the official language for all. People found speaking basque were persecuted and incarcerated.
Five years after his death in 1976, all three dialects and regional flags were legalized. The dialects were subsidized for use among their autonomous communities in text books, literature, traffic signs, printed legal forms, public service offices, art catalogues, etc.
The Basque nationalist give back to the non-nationalist what Franco had inflicted on them. Those who oppose self-determination from the iberian Peninsula are automatically called "españolistas", "pro-spanish", a word still synomous with "franquista", pro-Franco.
For nationalists there is no middle ground and no post-Franco history. One is with them or with Franco´s old regime. Nationalists infuse the Spanish flag with Francos stigma. Anyone foolhardly enough to carry a spanish flag trough streets in the Basque country would be called, "facha, franquista, or españolista"--all words that relate to the fascism of Franco and his followers.
Politically today, the ruling nationalist party harvest separatist ambitions, but disclaims violence. It is rare to find a nationalist on ETA´s target lists or among its victims. Both are on the same quest. One side does dirty job of killing, the other the political work.
According to historian and poet Jon Juaristi, Basque natonalism is a melancholic reaction to Sabino Aranas ideals. Nationalist stories are told to children with revenge and credutility. Time makes the stories real. Most stories speak about the heritage of the Basque race, and how troughout history oppressors like Franco were determinant to abolish their culture.
The Ibarretxe Plan
The lehendakari or president of the Basque country, Juan José Ibarretxe´s policy also tries to control class status, so that Basque ethnicity prevails over others.
Ibarretxe has presented José Luis Zapatero, President of Spain, with a new plan, "The Ibarretxe Plan", which looks and reads like the Constitution of a sovereign State - as if the Basque Country were not an autonomous region of Spain, but already a self-determining country. The plan proposes to categorize individuals in the region as "Basque" or "non-Basque" citizens.
Basque anthropologist Juán Aranzadi has compared the proposed status of non-Basque resident of non-Basque resident to that of the Palestinians in Israel. This plan defies the Spanish constitution, and implicitly attacks established principles of solidarity and civil integration of all regions in Spain. It is clearly not democratic in its content, since people would receive privilegies and opportunities according to their possession of Basque citizenship.
More than 400 artists and intellectuals have opposed the plan in a manifesto, demanding that the Basque Governement guarantee democratic freedom in the region.
The Lehendakari is inaccurate. Less than one-third of the Basque population wants independence. "The Basque country has been, is and will always be civilized", declared Ibarretxe to the members of the nations parliament, and asked "why does Spain refuse to have a dialogue, what do you fear"?
Fernando Savater, philosophy professors and writer, answered his question in an article in El Pais the following day: "We fear losing our lives if we show opposition to you".
Elections in the Basque region are not democratic. In many villages and small towns, candidates of political parties who oppose self-determination drop their names from the ballots under lame, but understandable, fears of repercussions from ETA. In some communities, election day finds on the ballot only representatives of nationalist and other separatist parties.
Elkarri - an organization that works for civic solidarity through peaceful dialogue, put its members forwards to fill the empty political party´s ballots. This way to people can vote for Partido Popular, the Socialist Party, or any other threatened group. It´s a nice try at keeping the appearance of democracy, but it doesn´t really work. In small communities few take the risk of voting honestly. It is safe to just not participate.
Juán José Ibarretxe did not win with a majority of votes on the last election in April. Three weeks later, he was sitting down negotiating with extremist Basque leader Arnaldo Ortegi, whose party openly supports ETA. The president of the Basque country needs to form a coaltion with the terrorists supporters in order to stay in power. The population both, in the Basque country and in Spain is up in arms.
ETA Threats and kills
"We are yet to have elections free of violence in the last twenty five years", said Maria San Gil. She is Partido Populars candidate running against Ibarretxe. "The worst for me is weekends, when I stop being a politician and I'm just a mother", says San Gil in an interview for El Diario Vasco, while she watches her young children play outside from her apartment window.
She cannot take them to the playground. Her presence would endanger the kids and other people lives. She has had 24-hour bodyguards since 1997, when ETA assassinated her colleague Gregorio Ordoñez, while they were having lunch at a restaurant in San Sebastián.
It is not just bombs that people feared. ETA also sends letters to individuals, small and large business owners threatening them or their families, unless the recipents pay a so-called "revolutionary tax".
No one knows how many are intimidated and how much people have paid, but estimates range from 30,000 to 300,000 Euros ($40,000 to $400,000).
Business owner Ramón Martinez Arocena refused to pay the tax. He recived a letter, saying simply: "Te ajusticiaremos" ("you will be killed"). He fled the Basque country.
A prime example of the terrorist atmosphere is Mikel Azurmendi. He has a long Basque lineage, is an acclaimed Basque language poet, an Antrophology professor at the university of the Basque country, and a former member of ETA. He is, over all, a sharp critic of their violent methods. Azurmendi has been on ETA´s death list for several years now. ETA militants are enrolled in the University where he teaches. Any of Azurmendis student could have been his executioner. "There have been moments when I was teaching a class at the University that felt as if I were doing it for the last time,". After several attempts against his life, he had to leave his home, then his town, and disappear into nowhere, to stay alive. Only a few close friends and family members know where he is.
Asphyxiated by the lack of freedom and fearful for their lives, about 400.000 people have fled the area over the last 20 years. Many of those who have fled have united and founded the democratic Basque diaspora in Madrid to make sure their voices are still heard in the Basque country. While the Basque government goes out of its way to fight for the "cause" of the terrorists imprisoned in Spanish jails, it has done nothing for those who have been forced to leave the region, much less for their return.
The church and Nationalism
The Catolic Church has a strong presence among the nationalists. It has issued no criticism of ETA attacks. Actions within the Basque country. In fact, the organisation was born in intellectual. Jesuit schools and seminaries during Francos dictatorship. Many Basque nationalists equate their religious faith with their political beliefs.
A few courageos priests have denounced ETA´s terrorist initimidation and criticized the ruling nationalist party. One of them, jesuit Antonio Beristain, saw his courage and principle rewarded by removal from his parish by his bishop. He too fled under a barrage of threats.
In May 2003, over 500 basque priests sent a letter to Pope John Paul II, defending the right to self-determination, and asking the pope to demand that the spanish church apologize for condemning criminal Basque actions.
Fernando Savater, in a recent speech as a member of Basta Ya! - a citizen initiative to fight terrorism and political violence in the basque country stated: "the defense of violence, and the maintenance that Spain is the enemy and invader of the Basque country, is illegal. It should not be taught in schools, as it does. Nor should those concepts appear in the media. Furthermore, the Basque Government should not fund it.
The Basque Department of Education has imposed two curriculums, Modelo A and Modelo B, to teach children through high school. In the first one, children are taught all subjects in basque. Spanish is taken as a foreign language for three hours per week. In the second model half the subjects are taught in basque, half in spanish.
There used to be Modelo C, in which everything was taught in spanish, and basque was just a subject. Now, people are encouraged to follow Modelo A, since it makes the most sense if one wants to live and work there. At the same time though, people are limiting themselves to always live there. These students speak spanish with no problem, however they can not write it. Modelo A schools get more funding from the Government, and the separatist message and hatred towards spaniards is woven into the schools discourse.
There are pro-nationalist newspaper like Deia and Gara. The second one supports ETA, as well as acting as a platform for the group to communicate with the people and explain their activites.
The consesus among people involved is that dialogue is impossible. There can be no dialogue when one of the parties is holding a gun. The larger basque pluralist society wants to live in a tolerant and peaceful environment. Nevertheless, they are all forced to silence due to fear. They have mastered the art of maintaining a pleasant appearance, while the streets simmer with anger and fear. Because the basques have learned this art so well, the uninformed tourist walks away from the basque country aware of nothing but the flavour of good food, great wine, relaxing beaches, and outdoor nightlife.
Press coverage mutes reality
Why is the situation in the Basque region so poorly understood by foreigners? The press plays a role by avoiding the word "terrorism" when writing about the basque conflict. In a lenghty article that appeared in the New Yorker on February 12, 2001 by John Lee Anderson, the read lead read: "Basque separatists are escalating their war against Spain". Several basque intellectuals living (and hiding) in New York wrote the magazines editor and to the New York Times, complaining about the equality that journalistic "impartiality" conferred on the terrorist side.
It is irresponsible to have a lead like that" , wrote Aurelio Arteta in his letter to the magazines editor, who never replied.
"The members of ETA are not separatists but ethnic ultra-nationalist Basque. It is not a war, but pure fascist terrorism. It is neither a fight against Spain nor its government, but a fight against their Basque neighbors and citizens."
Last edited by IlPrincipe; April 8th, 2006 at 22:33.