Eta’s crusade and the imaginary Basque nation

LAST UPDATED: 14 Sep, 2007 @ 12:31
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Carlos Pranger looks at the history of Eta and wonders what the future holds for the separatist group

ON March 22, 2006, Eta declared a permanent cease-fire to negotiate a farewell to arms with Spain’s government. After nine months, the truce was broken. The car bomb that resulted in the loss of the two lives at Barajas airport in Madrid on December 31, 2006, and other failed attempts confirm the Basque separatist group is weak, but still has the capacity to cause serious damage.

Eta (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), meaning Basque Homeland and Freedom, was created in 1959 in opposition to General Franco’s dictatorship. His regime set out to destroy Basque nationalism and its symbols in response to the region’s support of the Republic during the Spanish Civil War. Any public expressions of Basque culture, including its language, were forbidden, the aim being to destroy the primary elements of its identity.

The Basque Church has an ambiguous but close relation with Eta. The Basque Country was mainly composed of small proprietors scattered over the countryside in isolated farms. It was rural, reactionary, and strongly influenced by local priests. The Church formed the link between neighbours and was the first to react against any changes or loss of rights. Many monasteries such as that of Belloch (Urt), where the separatist group celebrated its first assembly, are known as refuges for its members.

Culturally and financially important

Eta was formed by young members of the moderate Catholic and conservative Basque political party, PNV, founded by Sabino Arana. Inspired by 19th century Romanticism, Arana thought Basques had a special blood type and were of divine origin. However, the young Catholics attracted by Marxism considered that the party was being too moderate in its opposition to Franco’s regime.


Eta was also formed in reaction against the industrialization of the Basque Country and against immigration, both of which are seen as a threat to regional identity. Rooted in its language (euskera) and its rural society, the group defended the use of violent tactics in the liberation of an imaginary oppressed, ancient Basque nation of happy peasants and shepherds. This is a distorted picture. The Basque people, still retaining their national characteristics, have always played a very important role in Spain politically, as well as culturally, through figures such as Unamuno, Baroja, Maetzu, Iturrino and economically (two of Spain’s biggest banks BBVA and Banco Guipuzcuano are of Basque origin)

Terrorism and loss of support

Wanting independence from both the Spanish and French governments, Eta adopted a Communist Leninist doctrine in 1960. Although still keeping a certain pseudo-religious attitude, the group resorted to terrorist violence to attain its aim of a Marxist Basque state. Nationalism and faith, religion and Communism have created a lethal mixture of ideas that have ended up making murder a legitimate means of liberation.

The group’s public support has been decreasing since the introduction of democracy three years after Franco’s death in 1975. Its radicalization and criminal activities, such as bombing, selective kidnapping, killing and financial extortion, have turned many of its one-time supporters off. However, it still has sympathizers who believe Spain has invaded Basque territory.
Around Eta is gathered a complicated social and political network led by Batasuna, the group’s political wing and Haika, its social organization that is concerned with the indoctrination of Basque and Spanish youth. These groups foment and promote a sort of anti-system ideology through rock concerts, the squatter movement and anti-globalization demonstrations. Both are illegal under Spanish law as non-democratic organizations.

Eta has existed for more than 40 years and, although there have been internal divisions, changes in its way of acting and the attitude of some of its leaders and supporters have not been visible. It knows its electoral representation is only 10 per cent of Basque voters. The Basque Country has always been plural, divided between nationalists and non-nationalists and not everybody believes in independence. Eta is frightened of democracy without intimidation through violence. The terrorists know their political aims are impossible and they can only survive by means of the publicity brought by killing.

Spain, after almost 30 years of democracy, is starting to analyse its recent history, from the Civil War, the 40- year dictatorship, to becoming a democratic state in 1978. Eta started as a resistance against Franco’s regime, but now it is only a sad and dangerous hangover from the dictatorship and Spain’s dark times. The group’s destiny is to disappear but, like any wounded animal, it can still show its claws.

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