Basque Resistance for Independence
By Maddy Tornabane
There is an old Basque proverb that states, “The stupid find relief in the suffering of others.[i] In northwest Spain the indigenous community, know as the Basques, has suffered from the stupidity of others. They have survived “invasions by the Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, French, and Spanish” and “resisted domination by outsiders” repeatedly from the fifth century to the fifteenth while fighting for full independence.[ii] Around 1516, the Basque territory in northwest Spain and southwest France was taken by various groups, and in 1876 it was divided amongst France and Spain.[iii] Since the onset of World War II, the Basque community in Spain has resisted oppression and continued efforts for full independence from Spain with a resistance group known as ETA, even after being granted autonomy in 1979.
Dictator General Francisco Franco violently oppressed the Basque community during and after the Spanish Civil War, which lasted from 1936 to 1975. General Franco’s most devastating attack on the Basques was the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War on April 26th, 1937. Guernica was a vital gathering area for many Basques because it possessed a local market and a political center.[iv] This bombing left Guernica in terror because “almost three-quarters of the city's buildings were destroyed and the center was almost completely wiped out.”[v] General Franco succeeded in frightening the Basque, and after gaining control of Spain once the Civil War ended, Franco used everything in his power to target the Basques. He imprisoned families, shut down schools, tortured members, and banned their language.[vi]Dictator Franco’s torment towards the Basque community lasted from 1937 until his death in 1975.
The persecuted Basques did their best to fight back at Franco by creating a resistance group named Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), or the Basque Country and Liberty, in 1959. As their name suggests, this groups works toward Basque sovereignty. When they were formed, they were still under Franco’s oppression, as Kalyna Macko writes, the “ETA enabled the Basques to maintain their traditions even though they were illegal” at the time.[vii] The members of ETA wanted independence for the Basque country, and they were willing to use “all means possible, including violence” which led others to consider them “terrorists”.[viii] Gaining attention from the public and the Spanish government was what ETA believed they needed in order to gain their independence, and ETA began their fight by targeting government officials because Franco and his supporters were their main priorities.[ix] ETA launched their first attack in the early 1960s by trying “to derail a train carrying Franco supporters.”[x] According to Mark Bieter, they were unsuccessful in derailing any of the train’s cars because they did not want to kill innocent bystanders, but Franco had no problem killing numerous innocent Basques.[xi] ETA did not give up after their first failed attempt.
One of the most well known ETA acts would be the assassination of Carrero Blanco who worked closely with Franco and was likely to take over after him. ETA members worked for months planning this attack. After digging a tunnel underground, they implanted explosives where they knew Blanco’s car would drive over.[xii]On December 20th, 1973, Blanco’s car exploded, killing him. Giles Tremlett considers this a huge victory for ETA in their resistance towards Franco. Even after Blanco’s death and Franco’s death, the ETA kept pushing for Basque independence and expanded their target victims.[xiii]
In an attempt to regain control over the Basques and stop the violence from ETA, Spain granted the Basque community autonomy in 1979. Having autonomy is having the right to self-govern. The Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country, approved in October of 1979, gives the Basque community their own autonomous government.[xiv] This document also seemed to solve many of the Basque’s past problems such as the use of their own language. Article 6 in the Preliminary Title states that “the language of the Basque People, shall, like Spanish, have the status of an official language in Euskadi,” meaning they can never be forced to abandon their language as they were in the past.[xv] Another accomplishment for the Basque community would be the presence of their own education system since Franco was once able to take away their education.[xvi] Spain believed that giving the Basques these rights would calm down ETA and keep the peace with the community. Though these are all rights the Basque community fought for, it is evident that Spain still wants to have a paternal influence on them because they will not grant them full independence. The Basques do not want to depend on Spain for anything. They want to be totally detached from Spain.
The ETA did not stop fighting for full independence after The Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country was established. In fact, the three years directly following the Statute “were Eta's bloodiest years with 250 people killed” because the Basque community was still under some control of Spain, and they wanted to be completely separate from them.[xvii] Moving forward, the violence began to slow down, and according to Isambard Wilkinson, ETA’s “last deadly attack was in May 2003, while in 2004 its leader, Mikel Albizu, and his partner, were detained in south-western France.”[xviii] This bombing attack ended with the death of two policemen in northern Spain. ETA has declared numerous different ceasefires over the years, spanning from 1989 to 2010. However, each ceasefire seems to only last a few weeks to year. In 2011, “ETA announced the end of its violent movement” during a peace conference with a few international negotiators.[xix] Even though ETA declared a ceasefire in 2011, they soon after created “a renewed drive for self-determination” and “the movement for independence will not be so easily demonized” this time, so they are likely to continue their fight for freedom in the future.[xx]
Throughout Franco’s reign, the Basque community was terrorized and oppressed. However, ETA began to resist Franco’s attempts at oppression, and their resistance led to The Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country, which came into action in 1979. Spain thought this would be enough and ETA would stop their violence, but ETA continued to fight for their absolute freedom until 2011 when they declared their latest ceasefire. Fighting for their full independence from Spain was what the Basque community believed they had to do, and hopefully their resistance will eventually lead to their complete freedom.
[i] John Aske, “Basque Proverbs”, 29 November 1994, <http://www.buber.net/Basque/Euskara/PDFs/proverbs.pdf> (8 December 2014).
[ii] “Basques”, Countries and Their Cultures, <http://www.everyculture.com/wc/Rwanda-to-Syria/Basques.html> (8 December 2014)
[iv] Kalyna Macko, “The Effect of Franco in the Basque Nation”, 14 July 2011, <http://digitalcommons.salve.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1068&context=pell_theses> (8 December 2014).
[v] Jörg Diehl, “Hitler's Destruction of Guernica: Practicing Blitzkrieg in Basque Country”, Spiegel Online, 26 April 2007, <http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/hitler-s-destruction-of-guernica-practicing-blitzkrieg-in-basque-country-a-479675.html> (8 December 2014).
[vi] Isambard Wilkinson, “Basque terrorists driven by their hatred of Franco”, The Telegraph, 23 March 2006, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/1513769/Basque-terrorists-driven-by-their-hatred-of-Franco.html> (8 December 2014).
[vii] Kalyna Macko, “The Effect of Franco in the Basque Nation”, 14 July 2011, <http://digitalcommons.salve.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1068&context=pell_theses> (8 December 2014).
[viii] Mark Bieter, “The Rise and Fall of ETA”, The Blue Review, 12 November 2013, <https://thebluereview.org/rise-fall-eta/> (8 December 2014).
[ix] “Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) (Spain, separatists, Euskadi ta Askatasuna)”, Council on Foreign Relations, 17 November 2008, <http://www.cfr.org/separatist-terrorism/basque-fatherland-liberty-eta-spain-separatists-euskadi-ta-askatasuna/p9271#> (8 December 2014).
[xiii] Giles Tremlett, “Eta calls time on the killing, but sticking points remain”, The Guardian, 21 October 2011, <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/oct/21/eta-ends-violence> (8 December 2014)
[xiv] Basque Government, The Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country, (1979), <www9.euskadi.net/autogobierno/estatu_i.htm#> (8 December 2014).
[xvii] Giles Tremlett, “Eta calls time on the killing, but sticking points remain”, The Guardian, 21 October 2011, <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/oct/21/eta-ends-violence> (8 December 2014)
[xviii] Isambard Wilkinson, “Basque terrorists driven by their hatred of Franco”, The Telegraph, 23 March 2006, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/spain/1513769/Basque-terrorists-driven-by-their-hatred-of-Franco.html> (8 December 2014).
[xix] Mark Bieter, “The Rise and Fall of ETA”, The Blue Review, 12 November 2013, <https://thebluereview.org/rise-fall-eta/> (8 December 2014).
[xx]Luke Stobart, “Eta may have been defeated militarily, but Basque independence has not” The Guardian, 28 October 2011,