Page 5, 3rd June 1977

3rd June 1977
Page 5
Page 5, 3rd June 1977 — Guerrilla war in the B asque region

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Locations: Bilbao


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Guerrilla war in the B asque region

supported by clergy and bishops

IT IS NOW 10 years since ETA, the Basque separatist movement, officially began its guerrilla war in the Spanish Basque provinces. It is a warfare that continues unabated in spite of the attempts to "democratise" Spain after nearly 40 years of Franco's Fascist dictatorship.

And it is a warfare which continues with the active support of a great number of Basque priests and the verbal sanction of Basque bishops and clergy for the ultimate goal of an independent Basque State.

Ten years ago, on April 14, 1967, a commemoration rally was held in San Sebastian. It was the anniversary of the declaration of the short-lived Basque Republic in 1931. Alarmed by this antigovernment display, Franco sent in troops. The result was surprising.

The movement called ETA — Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna ("Basque Nation and Freedom") came forward, raise d the banned Basque Republican flag over the municipal buildings, and barricades were erected. Some 2,000 troops of the Civil Guard, a cavalry regiment with tanks, supported by helicopters and police with water-cannon, took two days to overcome resistance.

Since then ETA has engaged Spanish troops in gun battles,

carried out acts of sabotage, assassinated high-ranking police, military and political figures, inspired the Basque people to campaigns of civil disobedience, and openly proclaimed as their goal the reestablishment of the Basque Republic destroyed by Franco's German and Italian mercenaries during the Civil War.

Many Basque priests have been • found in the foremost ranks of ETA, which also proclaims itself to be a MarxistLeninist movement. Hundreds of Basque priests have suffered imprisonment over the last decade, and the Basque provinces have been placed under martial law on more than four occasions.

During the early years of the ETA campaign both Bishop Lorenzo Bereciartua Balerdi of San Sebastian and Bishop Pablo Gurpide of Bilbao supported Basque separatism and openly defied Franco.

Bishop Gurpide became a Basque national hero when he rejected a demand by Franco, in 1968, to hand over 66 Basque priests for trial as ETA members by a military tribunal. He declared them to have the sanctuary of the Church.

It is interesting to note that when, last month, the Spanish Government announced it was going to release all the political prisoners in Spain, it made certain exceptions. The exceptions were the Basque political prisoners. Why is it that this guerrilla warfare is continuing? And why is it that the Basque Catholics and their clergy give such whole-hearted support to a movement which avows a Marxist-Leninist programme?

The western end of the Pyrenees divides Eskual-Herri, the land of Europe's most ancient people. between the political systems of France and Spain. The Basques are an enigma. Their origin is lost in prehistory and they speak a language which bears no resemblance to any other known tongue.

The Basques managed to remain fairly independent until they fell under the suzreignity of Henry II of England in 1155 and remained as English subjects until 1337.

After the English left, EskualHerri was split between Aquitaine and Castile, but the French and Spanish overlords promised to respect the special rights of the Basques, allowing them to retain their traditional life and keep their language intact.

Today, Eskual-Herri is a land of two million people: 400,000 Basques live in the three Basque provinces of Labourd, Basse-Navarre and Soule which are incorporated into the French State, all forming the department of Basses-Pyrenees.

The rest of the Basque population lives in the four Spanish Basque provinces of Guipuzcoa, Vizcaya, Navarra and Alava.

The rise of Basque political nationalism grew in the mid 18th century with the philosophy of republicanism. Angered by the growth of Basque nationalism, the Spanish suppressed all traditional rights in their four provinces in 1820.

In 1823 the French invaded the Spanish Basque provinces and restored their ancient independence. Later, by diplomatic moves, Spain took control of the four provinces 'once more.

Basque nationalism was defdinitely a force to be reckoned with. Don Carlos, the Pretender to the Spanish Throne, promised the Basques their independence if they fought for him. Naively, they did so.

From November, 1833, to April 72, there were no fewer than four uprisings in the Spanish Basque provinces. The last major Basque uprising of the 19th century was suppressed in 1876 by the Sandhursttrained Alfonso XII.

In April, 1931, after years of repression, the nations of Spain were allowed free expression for the very first time. The Spanish State is a pluri-national one.

The Castilian nation, in the central plateau, are the hegemonic rulers. Along the coastal belt are the Galicians, akin to the Portuguese (2.6 millions), the Catalans (6.9 millions) and the Basques.

In 1931 the constituent nations of the Spanish State agreed, by referendum, to establish their own self-governing republics subscribing to a confederated State.

The voting for the establishment of a Basque Republic, in the four Spanish Basque provinces, was 459,355, while only 14,196 voted against. The first Basque Government was set up and its president was Jose Antonio de Aguirre y Lekube.

This destruction of the Castilian empire in the Iberian Peninsula and the emergence of a democratic State was one of the factors behind the rise of

Franco's Fascist "Castilian nationalism." Franco's regime appealed to an aggressive

Castilian imperialist nationalism.

The tragedy of the Spanish Civil War is well known. First,

the rising by a group of dissi

dent army officers led by Franco against the legitimate Government of the Spanish Republics which was put down successfully in Madnd, in the Basque country and Catalonia. Second, the ensuing war, the aid given to the rebels by Hitler and Mussolini, which aided them to defeat Spanish Republican troops.

By mid-1937, after the most bloody resistance of the entire Civil War, in which Basque priests fought side by side with their parishioners in the field against the Francoists, the Basques were crushed by the combined efforts of Italian and German soldiers led by General Mula.

Many of the Basque Government, including Aguirre, fled to exile across the border. Leaders of the Basque national movements who did not flee were executed or simply murdered. Among them was Fr Ariztimuno, founder of the separatist Basque Democratic arty.

Franco singled out the Basques provinces out from all others, calling them "traitor provinces" which, he said, he would eradicate.

On May 18, 1938, the Francoist Minister of Justice formally banned the Basque language by a special statute. The language was prohibited in schools, and especially as a medium of religious worship. Even tombs in cemeteries written in Basque were forbidden, and tombstones were dug out and desecrated by Spanish troops. The entire Press in the Basque language was suppressed, the study of

Basque history, culture — even dancing — at all levels from university downwards was prohibited. Libraries of Basque books. — Bibles, and prayerbooks among them — were burnt.

Today, the cultural situation for the Spanish Basques remains unaltered.

In spite of the oppression of their language, it is a tribute to the tenacity of the Basques that of their two million people, one million can still speak the Basque language. Of this million people 525,000 speak only Basque, according to the last published census.

For 30 years Radio Euzkadia, a private broadcasting station, constantly moving its position in the Pyrenees, has kept the tongue alive.

Books, such as the new Basque Catholic Bible, published in 1958, and magazines, are published abroad and smuggled into the country. Of the Basque nationalist Press, many publications are produced in ,Ithe French part of the Basque / and taken over the "border."

Forty years after Franco boasted he would eradicate the Basque nation, they still survive — survive, and are more militant than ever.

Peter Beresford Ellis

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