Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The "Decline" of Basque Nationalism

The article you're about to read was published at The Politonomist, it is a fine example of the way the international media is reading the outcome of the recent electoral process in the Basque Autonomous Community:

The Decline of Basque Nationalism

by Lindsay Amantea

March 9th, 2009 at 5:23 pm

In an interesting change during the regional elections in Spain on March 1st, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) lost it’s 29 year hold on the parliament in the Basque Autonomous Community. Approximately 1.7 million Basques of the 2.1 million living in the region are eligible to vote. The new government is expected to be made up of a coalition between the Basque Socialist Party, a non-nationalist group led by Patxi López, and the People’s Party (PP), which has a right-wing conservative platform. This also marks the first election without Batasuna, one of the parties that was banned by the federal government for its connection with the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), which is a militant Basque group fighting for an independent nation state. There are calls for a re-election, as the votes that were cast for the banned parties were not counted, and theoretically could have gone to giving one of the other parties (namely the PNV) a majority. While ETA related groups were not allowed at the polls, there were no attacks from the militants during the campaign.

Actually, the Basque Socialist Party led by Patxi Lopez is a rabidly nationalist party, only that it is a Spanish nationalist party, their only goal is to erode the Basque identity of the province in favor of the Spanish identity.

Now, a couple of important facts:

a) The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV for its initials in Spanish) did not lose any of its electoral power, they actually managed to retain their votes and even attract some voters from a former political partner, the Eusko Alkartasuna party.

b) More important, pro independence party D3M (Democracy Three Million) obtained a total of 100,000 votes and seven seats in the parliament. These votes were voided later during the electoral process which consitutes a clear violation of the political rights of the Basque people. The decision to declare these votes void amounts to Apartheid and Spain should be taken to court for this.

c) Aralar, the other openly pro-independence party increased its presence in the parliament from one seat to a total of four seats.

But let us continue with the article:

Basque nationalism has been alive for more than two hundred years, with justifiable right. The Basque region, which spans the Pyrenees between France and Spain, is home to possibly the least assimilated group of the Palaeolithic inhabitants of Western Europe. According to the most believed theory, while the rest of Europe was being assimilated into the Roman Empire, Basque society developed outside of its influence. They created their own language, Batua, which is still spoken by about 650,000 people, almost all of whom live in what is considered Basque country. The Basque people were largely autonomous until the French Revolution in France and the Carlist Wars in Spain at which point the governments of both countries took an interest in their rule.

There is a minor mistake in this paragraph, the language spoken by the Basque people is called Euskara which is divided in seven different dialects. Batua is the unified language that was created to bridge the gap between dialects and provide the language with a common grammar and lexicon to use at government insitutions and even written literature.

Since the early 1800s there has been a significant movement towards an autonomous Basque region or for complete independence from Spain and France. As it currently stands, about 60% of those living in the Spanish Basque Autonomous Community want some sort of an autonomous state for the Basques, while only 25% want to see an independent country spanning the Spanish-French border. There has also been a movement away from living in the Autonomous Community in recent years. While there are about 2.1 million people living there now, over the last 25 years approximately 380,000 people have left the area, many of which have settled in other regions in Spain. One of the most cited reasons for this exodus has been the violent tactics used by ETA.

ETA was founded in August 1959 as a group that advocated for cultural traditions of the Basque people. It has since evolved into a paramilitary operation which has been responsible for an estimated eight hundred twenty five deaths, thousands of injuries and dozens of kidnappings since it first took a violent stance in 1968. Hundreds of members of ETA are currently imprisoned in France and Spain, and most countries, including all of the EU, Canada, and the United States consider them a terrorist organization. Between 1983 and 1987 a sort of war raged between ETA and Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberacion (GAL). GAL kidnapped, tortured and killed members of ETA, as well as their family members and even some people who had no connection to ETA. This war is what prompted thousands to flee the area. In 2006 ETA announced a ceasefire, which was subsequently broken in 2007.

After hundreds of years of repression and forty years of violence, the people of the Basque country are ready to try to come to a peaceful agreement. While a majority would like some sort of autonomy and recognition as a distinct people, they do not want this at the expense of the lives of their brothers and sisters. The history of the Basque people has been hard, but it is no longer the time to fight for things that they will never get. As a people they are free, they are prosperous and they are happy. Their children can learn in their native tongue, and no one tells them that they cannot have their culture. The Basques no longer have a cause to fight for. They are content with what they have as a people, and do not need anything more.

Well, actually, the Basque right to self determination is protected by the UN Charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Basques really have no need to "fight" to regain their sovereignty, if France and Spain were to respect the rights of the Basque people then all of them could seat down and negotiate a diplomatic way out of the 5oo years of colonialist rule over the Basque Country.

No one can claim that just because you live a good life you should give up your right to the independence of your people. The Colonials were enjoying excellent lives and yet they fought against the English crown because they did not want to share their profits. Same goes for Canada, Australia, New Zealand, all of them were wealthy societies that decided to part from England. Right now Scotland and Wales have strong pro-independence movements and they are not poor and uneducated.

Now, regarding language and culture the author should double check Patxi's political agenda, he has not been annointed as the president of the Basque Autonomous Community yet and he's already launching attacks against the Basque language which happens to be the corner stone of Basque culture.

Basque may be wealthy and happy, but the stark truth is, they are divided in three different political entities and at any time Madrid or Paris (or both) can decide if they want to put limits to the development of Basque culture. Let us remember that Spain has already launched direct attacks against the freedom of speech by shutting down Basque newspapers, magazines and radio stations.

We Basque are missing one thing, it is called self-determination, we want to be what we are, nothing more, nothing less.

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