SINCE the military occupation by Franco of the Basque Republic, the Basque Government remained in exile based in Bayonne and maintaining delegations in London and Paris.
Supported by most Basque nationalist organisations, they confined themselves to protests to the United Nations or to any country which would listen to their case.
But by the early 196th, the Basque Government had been in exile nearly 30 years and President Aguirre was dead.
It was then that Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna ("Basque Nation and Freedom"), was born — a guerrilla movement whose aim was to obtain the reestablishment of the Basque Republic in the four Spanish Basque provinces.
Following that, the ultimate goal was to unite the three French Basque Provinces into one country. They revived the forbidden motto of the Basque country — Zazpiak Bat ("The Seven Basque Provinces United as One".)
ETA started its operations in May, 1962, by carrying out a series of spectacular hank raids to gather funds. So successful were these raids that ETA collected several million pounds into their coffers and were initially dismissed by the Spanish authorities as mere bandits.
They were at first an irritant to the Spanish, especially when ETA sabotaged the Spanish Cycle Race — a subject of great pride.
Then came the great clash in San Sebastian on April 14, 1967, when Spanish troops took two days to recapture the city from ETA units. April 14 has since gone down as Aberri Eguna ("The Day of the Patriots").
Strengthened by their successes, the E l'A began a tougher line early in 1968. They sent a letter to all Basques serving in the Spanish secret police and stationed in the Basque country. They were given a certain number of weeks to resign their positions or else "be executed as traitors".
The first policeman was executed in June. 1968, and this was followed by the more spectacular execution of the 58year-old Inspector M. Manzanas Gonzales, the chief of the secret police of Guipuzcoa.
Further executions followed, and also large-scale resignations of Basques from the Spanish Forces.
From then on a full-scale guerrilla war developed, with dynamiting 01 Spanish army
posts, barracks, arsenals, and attacks on patrols and police installations. Gun-battles have grown commonplace, as well as kidnapping of prominent figures in Spanish politics and police officials.
On half-a-dozen occasions the Spanish Basque Provinces have been placed under martial law for long periods as the only method of curbing the turbulent Basques.
It has been estimated that more than 200 Spanish soldiers and police have died in the fighting.
At the same time as developing as a formidable fighting organisation, ETA announced that they were a MarxistLeninist movement and that they sought to establish "a democratic socialist republic" in the Basque Provinces.
Spanish bishops immediately began to denounce the movement, not only for its Basque nationalism but for its political outlook. Surprisingly, prominent individuals in the Catholic Church in the Basque country gave their support to the Basque separatists, and many priests were subsequently found to be leading figures in the movement.
In September, 1968, no fewer than 66 priests were named as being involved in ETA, and the Spanish authorities demanded that the Bishop of Bilbao hand them over for military trial. To the amazement of the Spanish hierarchy, Bishop Gurpide refused, and gave the priests sanctuary.
When, in August, 1969, 50 Basque priests sat in silent protest outside the office of the Bishop of Bilbao, protesting against the pressure being used by the Spanish Authorities to force the Bishop into denouncing Basque separatism, Bishop Gurpide made the following statement, according to Gudari, the journal of Eusko Gaztedi, a movement for Basque independence within a federal Europe:
"I am a priest, and it is my duty to attend to the spiritual welfare of my flock. Part of that spiritual welfare their cultural welfare. It is inseparable.
"The Spanish have long practised a campaign of deliberate genocide against the Basque people. They have tried to stamp out the language and culture or the Basques, and that language and that culture are the very embodiment of their individuality — part of their spiritualness.
"Is not the culture, the language, the highest expression of the philosophy of a
people, growing with them over the centuries — something a priest should concern himself with?
"For years the Basques have expressed in every way possible their desire to be free men, to govern their own affairs. That right to be independent is denied them by force. Can we be surprised if the Basques answer force with force?
"I am told by the authorities that 1, as a priest, should condemn the violence of the Basque guerrillas. I am told that I should openly bless the weapons of the Spanish authorities.
"Let me answer in the words of St Cyprian: 'If a man is killed privately it is called a crime, a murder: but if it happens with the authority of the State, they call it courage'l"
Today, the views of Basque priests are as militant as ever. When 10,000 Basques demonstrators took to the streets of San Sebastian on March 13 to announce their opposition to the Spanish Government's half-hearted amnesty plan, priests were prominent in their leadership of the people.
The same day another member of the hated Civil Guard was killed in a gun-battle with ETA guerrillas.
The guerrilla war continues. But is it realistic to think that ETA can achieve its aims?
If Spain does become democratised, and if she enters the EEC, the pressure will be on her to resolve her ages-old nationalities question.
Britain is already trying to come to grips with the aspirations of Wales and Scotland. Political commentators even foresee the powerful centralist French State admitting some form of selfgovernment to her constituent nationalities (Bretons, Occitans, Alsatians, Basques, etc), perhaps within 10 years.
As Europe makes a general move towards a devolution of political power, Spain might well decide to fall in line.
At the moment the Catalan and Galician national movements might well find a form of devolution of power from Madrid within a Spanish State — an acceptible settlement to the problem.
But the Basques are another matter. They have fought too long, suffered to much, to be willing bedfellows with the Spanish in any mere local government deal.
Peter Beresford Ellis