Basque Conflict in Spain
By Hannah, Matthew, Mike, and
• The Basques have lived in the northern part of Spain for thousands
• Throughout their history they have been subject to numerous
invasions by neighboring powers.
• The Basques retained their own form of government until 1876,
when the Spanish government in Madrid took over many of its
functions. Since then, a Basque nationalist movement has tried to
regain autonomy and ultimately achieve independence.
• The biggest blow to the Basques’ independence aspirations was the
rise of General Francisco Franco, who overthrew Spain’s
democratically elected government in 1939 and ruled as a dictator
until 1975. Franco despised all forms of regionalism and ordered
intense persecution and repression of the Basques.
• A terrorist group, ETA, emerged to oppose Franco and accelerate
the struggle for Basque independence. ETA, which persisted after
Franco’s death, has tormented a series of Spanish governments by
using violence in pursuit of Basque independence.
• The Basques claim they have lived on the land now known as the
―Basque country‖ for a very long time. How long is a matter of
considerable debate, with the only safe answer being something like
―a long time but probably not as long as Basques sometimes claim.‖
• Some Basques use prehistoric paintings discovered in mountainous
caves in northern Spain as evidence that their ancestors have lived
in the Basque country for more than 20,000 years. Many more point
to the Basque language, Euskara, as proof that they are the ―original
• The uniqueness of Euskara, they maintain, demonstrates that
Basque communities must have already been established in Europe
before Indo-European–speaking tribes migrated there between 8000
and 4000 BC. According to Basque mythology, Euskara goes back
even further, with Adam and Eve speaking it in the Garden of Eden
and another man, known as Aitor, preserving it by jumping from
stone to stone during the great flood.
Rise and fall of the kingdom of
• Partially surrounded by the Pyrenees Mountains and the Atlantic
Ocean, the Basque country has historically proved difficult to
conquer. Celts, Romans, Visigoths, Vikings, and Moors all tried, with
only the Romans (who arrived around 200 BC) enjoying much
success. While fighting the Moors—Muslim invaders from what are
now parts of Morocco and Algeria—between the eighth and eleventh
centuries, the Basques developed a reputation as staunch
defenders of Christianity.
• During their battles with the Moors, the numerous Basque lineages
and tribes were united under Basque leaders in the kingdom of
Navarre. This kingdom existed in various forms from AD 818 to 1512
and, in its eleventh-century heyday, included most of northern Spain
and parts of southern France in addition to Navarre and the rest of
the Basque country. Then, during a period of about 300 years, the
kingdom shrank as the Spanish Basque provinces of Álava,
Guipúzcoa, Vizcaya, and Navarre became parts of the kingdoms of
Aragon and Castile and then Spain.
• Even after their incorporation into Spain, the Basque provinces retained their own
form of government called fueros. In the fueros system, governmental functions were
divided up in a way that tipped the balance of power very much away from the
national government in Madrid toward regional councils.
• These councils (sometimes called juntas) had exclusive authority to tax their
residents, mobilize soldiers in the service of the Spanish crown, review laws enacted
by the national government, and commute death sentences passed by the national
• While the Basque people technically owed allegiance to the Spanish king, that
allegiance had to be bought: only after a king had stood under the ancient oak tree in
the Vizcayan town of Guernica and accepted the fueros could he expect to be
recognized in the Basque country.
• In effect, the fueros created a state within a state—something that was both
acknowledged and reinforced by the placement of Spanish customs posts along the
Ebro River (which separates the Basque country from the rest of Spain) instead of
along Spain’s national borders on the Basque coastline.
• In the 1800s, industrial elites in Madrid tried to move the customs posts out to the
sea. Ideologically, the elites were committed to the free movement of goods and
people throughout Spain. Practically, they hoped to gain easy access to Basque raw
materials, notably iron, and make it simpler for people from the rest of Spain to move
to and find employment in the industrial towns of the Basque country.