[The following letter has been sent to the Catholic Herald by a missionary priest, a Basque working for the Church in a distant outpost of our own Empire.
By no manner of means could it be suggested that he was moved to write by tainted influences.
How far he is aware of the whole question, living. as he does, so far away, is another matter, but the Catholic Herald in fairness desires to print his temperate letter in full, and it invites replies from the Nationalist side to the allegations specifically made.] SIR,—I have read in several issues of the Catholic Herald accounts of the Basques in the cruel civil war now being waged in Spain. Usually their attitude is condemned by the English Catholic press, though at times the condemnation is mixed with sympathy for such an excellent people.
I think, when judging the attitude of the Basques, English Catholics generally do not take into consideration some of the facts necessary to form a clear idea of the Basque question. I shall try to put before your readers a few facts which I hope will show the behaviour of the Basques in a more favourable light.
Hereditary Independence From time immemorial the Basques have enjoyed independence or, at least, self-government. French-Basques lost their independence in the times of Napoleon 1, while Spanish-Basques survived until the end of the first Carlist War (1839), when they were deprived of some of their liberties (Fueros).
Again in the second Carlist War (1876) the rest of the liberties, with a few minor exceptions (Concierto Economic()) were sacrificed on the altar of Spanish national unity. Nevertheless, there were still many among them who preserved their racial con
sciousness and culture. Hence in 1890 Sabino Arana Goiri, with a few patriots, started a Basque National movement with the object of preserving their language and culture and at the same time striving to regain their lost libertie' The new party was called " The Basque National Party," and their motto was " Jaungoikoa eta Lagi-Zarra " (God and tlw ancient laws).
The programme of the party was essentially Catholic and the movement was backed by many of the descendants of those Carlists who fought in the Civil Wars. It spread with great rapidity. In this programme Separatism was not included, and I may say that the majority of the Basque Nationalists are not Separatists.
The Dilemma In April, 1931, the Spanish Republic was set up, with its consequent attacks on the faith, but in the Basque Provinces no burning of convents took place. Basques, with other Catholic deputies fought side by side in the Spanish Parliament for the Catholic cause, but in political matters they pur sued their national aspirations. It happened that Catholic parties were reluctant to concede political liberties (Estatutos) to both the Catalans and the Basques, whereas the Left parties generally (for one reason or another) favoured autonomy and federalism.
It was then the Basque dilemma began because the Basques had often to fight the Catholic political parties who held for Spanish Imperialism and had more than once to side with Left in political matters.
In February, 1936, the general elections took place and, though the Right parties expected to win the day, it happened that the Popular Front did, no doubt owing to trickery and violence. Azana was then elected President, and he entrusted Casares Quiroga with the formation of the Cabinet. Such were the Communistic tendencies and misgovernment that the lives of Right leaders were in danger, and on July 17 came the rising of the military backed by the Fascists and seconded by the Traditionalists and others.
The Basque Nationalist Party was the only third party between the Popular Front and the anti-Marxists in the election of February. But when the' rising took place it necessarily had to side with one or other. As one of the main purposes of the Insurgents was the suppression of the Basque Nationalism, this forced them to join with other Left parties of the Basque provinces to defend their rights against aggression, with the guarantee that religion andhuman life would be respected there.
If, after the murder of Calvo Sotelo, the Right parties were confronted with a terrible dilemma, I should think that when the rising took place the dilemma • was more tragical for the Basques.
Had Basque leaders foreseen the disastrous consequences for religion, perhaps they would have taken some other resolution, even though it meant giving up their national aspirations.
Anyhow, when the fight was going on in Guipuzkoa, some of the Basque leaders tried to make an agreement with the Insurgents, but their uncompromising Imperialism would only be satisfied with an unconditional surrender, declaring that the " multitude would be pardoned but all the leaders, great or small, would be shot.Under such terms the Basque leaders had no alternative but to continue fighting for their rights and lives.
Which is the Enemy?
Now I invite those who ask why Basque Catholics are fighting against the Insurgents to place themselves in their position and give the answer to the question. Sometimes one hears that Franco would have granted some sort of autonomy to the Basques, but I fear that those who think so, have not got much experience of Spanish Imperialism. A visit to beautiful Guipuzkoa will convince anyone how atrociously the cultural suppression of the Basques is carried out.
It is to be doubted which is Enemy No. 1 of the Insurgents, Communism or Autonomism. Two months ago Queipo de Llano broadcasted from Seville : " I hate Communists. but I hate the Basque Nationalists." Calvo Sotelo, such a well-known Catholic leader, pointing out the Basques, exclaimed on a memorable occasion : " I prefer a Red Spain to a Federal Spain."
It is a pity that, by joining the Popular Front to defend their political rights, the Basques hive indirectly caused the Church not a little suffering. But we can turn the argument and say if the Insurgents would have sacrificed a little of their Imperialism for the sake of religion, the Church would not have suffered so. However, the English Catholic papers do not speak of this. Who are to blame more, the Basque Nationalists or the Insurgents?