An outsider’s glimpse of the Basque cause [Part II: The Basque – Spain clash]

The actual real information I can give you in this next part is going to be pretty sparse. I was thinking about doing some research to fill it up more, but I resisted the temptation since the whole point of this is laying out what I was able to personally learn through experience and conversation. My Spanish being only at a beginner’s level, most of what I learnt was communicated in English. Therefore I think it’s highly likely I missed certain points and didn’t always fully capture the intended meaning of points I thought I did understand. Now that the advisory is over, let us roll on…

The Basque – Spain clash 

1. Today street names, public signs and advertising are printed in Basque as well as Spanish and are a completely normal feature of Donostia, as well as other towns in the Basque Country. Under Franco’s regime following the second world war however its use was suppressed, spawning the creation of ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna – Basque homeland and freedom). Apparently ETA used to be more widely appreciated throughout Spain for the part it played in fighting Franco’s rule, but these days people choose not to consider the relevance of its genesis. Instead the group is branded simply as terrorists, bloodthirsty as all terrorists are. Ah… but another interesting facet of all this is that while Euskera (Basque language) is present all throughout the streets and in a number of television programmes, it is so far not a part of the mainstream printed press. No newspapers articles in Euskera. Which is interesting to reflect on considering one would think that television and the internet had more of an influence on people’s lives and minds today than print media. I wonder if the retardant is money or simple old-fashionedness. Or is the printed word somehow symbolically more important still? 

2. I was told that there is a lot of money involved, and that this is essentially what is messing up genuine negotiations. I really wasn’t able to find out about this in greater depth, suffice it to say the conversation got tricky at this point. I got the impression that the problem wasn’t straightforward however, that the moneylove had infected both sides. Seriously, if anyone knows or is able to find out more about this I’d love to hear what you’ve got.

3. Obviously ETA is in the business of destruction and disruption, but they always call in a warning before the attack occurs so that the event is attributable to them, as well as to give time for evacuation of the target area. The attack from a number of months ago where there were fatalities was apparently less due to ETA than to the incompetence of the authorities who had been contacted to clear people out. When I first heard this I did wonder hmmmm… is this just something a Basque person would say to try to rinse off some more blood from their hands? But I have heard it said by a number of French people here in French Basque Country (where I am now) too. Despite the certain wariness that people here feel for the fact that a bomb could be set off at any time, they can also acknowledge that ETA is not unprincipled in its actions. In any case, ETA is obviously ready to accept whever casualties might crop up. They know the messiness of war.   

It’s funny. I would say that a lot of Basque people would prefer not to have the stigma of ETA attached to them – simply because life would be easier. For example many people from San Sebastian have had their cars vandalised and have been harrassed whenever they’ve travelled through Spain, their SS license plates marking them as targets. More recently it has  become possible to have license plates that do not identify your region so it’s less of a problem. But yet… the Basque – Spanish clash is very real. This clash is seen and understood by outsiders through the actions of ETA, but ETA didn’t come from nowhere. °°°

°°° An Aside °°° I’m hesitant about continuing along lines that suggest that the end justifies the means because I am both a humanist and an egoist. I could never sanction the killing of others. I don’t know how I came to be here on earth but I am. And if I think my life is worth anything at all, worth keeping around, I cannot ever say that it is “right” to kill someone else. Otherwise that would leave my own life fair game. We all know about Jesus and casting stones. Maybe you think it “necessary”. Or maybe it will make you feel good. Maybe a retributive murder might seem like a way to keep sane. But “right”? Somehow innately, objectively justifiable? Never. Not even when agreed upon by chosen, experienced, respected professionals; 12 randomly-selected members of the public; or everyone in the country. So I can’t condone any action that translates as saying that some human lives are more expendable than others. °°°

 So ETA-related deaths = not good. And I don’t think that every extremist group and sect has a great deal of meaning and support behind them. But even if there was no more ETA, if they stopped everything now, there would still be the Basque – Spanish clash. The Basque may want their lives lightened from the burden of convenient prejudice, they may want that no more people get hurt or killed in what seems like their name. They may want to live normal human lives and not mess with the normal human lives of others. But they do not want to be called Spanish. And they do not want to be directed by Spain.

Yup, the clash real. Lived and felt, it is a struggle that is more than murder and more than a whim. Yet all I’ve ever heard about Basque Country was “Basque separatists”, those scary rogues. It seems that it’s not worth talking about human lives and critiquing both sides in a conflict if there’s no pity card to play up. This kind of sensationalist, limited media coverage and representation really is one of Spain’s biggest successes.  


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