Sunday, March 21, 2004

Blaming Basques

Yesterday at the Chicago Tribune:

Blaming Basques

International Basque Organization for Human Rights

March 20, 2004
Corte Madera, Calif. -- We learned with dismay about the terrible events in Madrid where hundreds of innocent people were killed and wounded by bombings perpetrated by terrorists ("Ruthless attacks suggest new foe," News,March 12). However, what prompted us to write to you is the wording of your headline, which stated that the blame was directed at the Basques first, and then to a front group for Al Qaeda ("Rush-hour blasts kill 192 on Madrid trains/Basques 1st blamed, but Al Qaeda role claimed," Page 1, March 12).

While the former term refers to an ethnic group (a European nationality), the latter refers to a terrorist group. This sadly reflects Spain's official stance when it comes to dealing with Basque nationalism: It leads people to think that all Basques either are involved in or support terrorist acts like the ones perpetrated in Madrid in which so many innocent people's lives were affected. Nothing is further from the truth. As a matter of fact, the majority of the Basque people in Spain and France and around the world reject any kind of violence and have long since shunned ETA for its use of violent attacks. In the future, we insist that your newspaper use the correct term, ETA, or Euskadi Ta Askatasuna. NOT Basques.

What the Spanish government is trying to do is to strip the Basques of their right to self-determination, a right enshrined in the UN's charter. The Spanish government has recently issued threats against the Basque Prime Minister Juan Jose Ibarretxe for calling for a referendum to decide about the plan the Basque government wants to put forward to redefine the relationship between the Basque country and Spain. Actions like this one and many other initiatives by political and cultural groups in the Basque country that are performed peacefully and within the frame of the law are being discredited by the Spanish government, which groups them with the actions of ETA.

Spain's Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and his officials rushed to place the blame on the Basques, even after news came that a group linked to Al Qaeda had claimed the attacks. Spain's Foreign Minister Ana Palacio instructed the Spanish ambassadors to stick to the official version. All this has created a wave of intolerance toward the Basques and the Basque culture.

During this time of terrible sorrow and intense emotions, Spain's government should be calling for calm, not fanning the flames of hatred toward opposition politicians and innocent Basques.

Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune

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