The ETA and Basque Separatism in Northern Spain

By Brian Lany

The struggle for Basque independence has been prevalent for a long time. The Basques, a unique ethnolinguistic group in northern Spain and southwestern France, have held onto their culture and traditions for hundreds of years. They have both adapted to the times and maintained their traditions. Under Franco’s regime, the Basques actively fought for the right to remain unique. While there have been a number of Basque nationalist groups such as the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), the most notorious nationalist group has been the ETA, a paramilitary group with a fascinating history. The ETA’s origins were intellectual and thoughtful, but by the 1970s, they became increasingly desperate, believing that if they did not use violence they would lose their cultural heritage.

Theory Portion

Nationalism is a hotly debated topic. There is not one concise definition. Some academics attribute nationalism to political mobilization, while other scholars view it from a cultural perspective, viewing nations as protectors of their culture and traditions. Ultimately, nationalism involves both political and cultural aspects. It arises when individuals with common interests, geography, language and ethnicity form a cohesive unit and promote their common political and cultural interests. According to Eric Hobsbawm, nationalism fosters cultural cohesiveness through shared ethnic and linguistic bonds, while Michael Hechter and Margaret Levi believe that a shared geography plays a role in a nationalistic consciousness alongside cultural cohesiveness. Likewise, nationalism contains a political aspect, whether nationalist thought pervades a nation-state and determines policy or nationalism mobilizes the ethnic majority or minority. Nationalism benefits its members and ensures a bond between those who share that identity.

Eric Hobsbawm, in his article “The Rise of Ethno-Linguistic Nationalisms,” argues that during the age of nationalism, any group of people that considered themselves to a part of a nation theoretically had the right to self-determination and a state of their own. 01)Eric Hobsbawm, “The Rise of Ethno-Linguistic Nationalism,” in Nationalism ed. John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 178. He argues further that ethnicity and language are the core criteria for nationalism, despite the fact that the ethno-linguistic element to nationalism arrived late during the nationalism period. For example, language was the only element that united all Germans and all Italians during their respective unifications.02)Ibid, 179. Hobsbawm’s argument that ethnicity and language are central to nationalism applies to the Basque separatists. Ethnolinguistic elements are important as nationalistic identifiers because they are some of the most visible aspects of self-identification within nations.

Michael Hechter and Margaret Levi also share a similar view of nationalism. In their article “Ethno-Regional Movements in the West,” they argue that “ethno-regional movements rest upon regional claims to ethnic distinctiveness.”03)Michael Hechter & Margaret Levi, “Ethno-Regional Movements in the West,” Nationalism ed. John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 184. While they share views with Hobsbawm regarding the importance of language and ethnicity within nationalist thought, they add a geographic element. In their view, ethnic identification in Western Europe is most strongly held by groups at the bottom of the social order.04)Ibid, 185. In some regions in Western Europe, peripheral cultures are still strong, such as Scotland, Catalonia, Brittany and Euskadi (Basque country). Hechter and Levi believe that culture strengthens the ethnic consciousness and leads to strong cultural institutions in these regions.05)Ibid, 190.

With a world becoming increasingly interconnected, the question arises whether localized rule or separatism applies any more. There are issues with localized rule, namely that some regions, such as Catalonia and the Basque Country, are vital to the country’s economy. And even though separatist aspirations are held by certain elements of a nationalist group, not all individuals believe it is the best course of action. Hechter and Levi’s argument also applies to the Basques. The Basques are an ethnolinguistic group, but they also have their own region with Spain and France that contributes to their sense of localized identity. As a result, this identity has contributed to the development of separatist views within the wider Basque community and a desire for the Basques to possess their own nation.

In the case of the Basques, a minority within Spain, nationalism serves as a means for political mobilization. Nationalist thought has become intertwined with Basque separatist sentiments. The Basques as a people group have inhabited pockets of northern Spain and southwestern France for thousands of years.06)Ibid. Along with the Catalans, the Basques have had a longstanding separatist movement, with the goal of gaining their own state. With a unique ethnolinguistic identity, the Basques stand out among other Spaniards and French with their own language. They have faced persecution at the hands of the Spanish and French governments, and have hoped for their own state to assuage this action.07)Hobsbawm, “Rise of Ethno-Linguistic Nationalisms,” 178.

Nationalism can also have different contexts when analyzing different groups. For the Basque people of northern Spain and southwestern France, nationalist sentiments have been prevalent here since the age of nationalism. The Basques are unique on an ethnic, linguistic and regional level. These classifications are supported by the theories of Eric Hobsbawm and Michael Hechter and Margaret Levi. Basque nationalism fits within my definition of nationalism: nationalism occurs where like-minded individuals that share cultural, linguistic or geographic bonds unite to promote their political and cultural interests.

Minority Overview

The Basque people are one of the most unique ethnic groups in Europe. Inhabiting parts of northern Spain and southern France, the Basque people have existed since before the Roman era.08)Mark Kurlansky, The Basque History of the World, (New York: Walker, 1999), 3. While many minority groups in Europe have rapidly changed within their respective nations to fit the national norms, the Basques have remained distinct. With a separate language, culture, cuisine and identity, the Basques are a nation that both maintains the past and embraces the future. One author even claimed that “there may not be a France or a Spain in 1,000 years or even 500 years, but there will still be Basques.”09)Ibid, 8. The Basque people are a resilient ethnolinguistic group that have endured for centuries through the constant waves of invasions and continued to retain their identity over time.

An ancient people, the Basques have no written records of their origins. Scholars in the 19th century put forth many theories as to who the Basques were, making diverse claims that they were Turks, Magyars, Germans, or even the descendants of Cro-Magnons. 10)Ibid, 21. The language is one of the most unique in Europe, as it is not related to any neighboring languages and is labelled a language isolate. Since it is not an Indo-European language, it has been suggested that it might be a Bronze Age tongue.11)Ibid, 25.

Countless nations and cultures have interacted with the Basques. Carthage traded with them, and the Romans conquered Basque lands. The Muslim armies of North Africa invaded and took Vascony. Charlemagne’s only military defeat during the Reconquest was at the hands of the Basques. The Basques fought Vikings and learned about boatbuilding as a result. And when the Germans and Franco’s dictatorship attacked Guernica and Bilbao, Basque guerillas fought back.12)Paddy Woodworth, The Basque Country: A Cultural History, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 56. Over time, while many groups have invaded the Basque country, they have been met with resistance that would only be tempered by autonomy.

Basques are an opportunistic group, with author Mark Kurlansky arguing that “if a new idea offered commercial opportunities, the Basques embraced it – a characteristic that would remain with them throughout history.”13)Kurlansky, The Basque History of the World, 33. The Basques learned from other ethnic groups and adapted these ideas to fit their way of life while keeping their national heritage alive. For example, they learned boatbuilding from fighting Norse invaders. All Basques have adapted as they have encountered other ethnicities, but some desire their own nation-state to preserve their unique culture. Some Basques subscribe to the idea that the Basques are the original inhabitants of Iberia, and that their pure origin was toxified by Jews and Arabs.14)Woodworth, The Basque Country, 21. As a result, some Basques desire their own nation-state, free from French or Spanish rule.

From the Roman era to the present day, the Basques have survived and thrived as an ethnolinguistic group. While they have fought and been ruled over by the Romans, Arabs, Vikings, French, and Spanish, the Basque people have maintained their own ethnic identity. Their unique language and culture have flourished in northern Spain and southern France. In recent years the Basque language has seen a revival as more Basques seek to reconnect with their past. A resilient people, the Basques have endured for hundreds of years of external rule, while maintaining their unique traditions and culture into the modern era.

Origins of the ETA and their Early Years

Franicsco Franco’s regime deeply affected the lives of everyday Basques. Ruling from 1939 to 1975, Franco banned the public use of Euskera, the Basque language. Parents were forbidden from giving their children Basque names. The Guardia Civil, policemen from across Spain, were sent in to enforce Franco’s orders and the local Basques equated them with an occupying army.15)Ibid, 174. The Basque region was heavily industrialized, with over 60% of all steel in Spain coming from Vizcaya province. Franco’s regime sent Spaniards from other parts of Spain to settle the region to dilute the Basque influence, so that over 40% of the region’s population had no Basque blood by 1975.16)Kurlansky, The Basque History of the World, 238.

Within Basque society, some elements have subscribed to Basque nationalist organizations, such as the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV). The PNV is a conservative movement centered around the upper-class Basque business elites. A small group of radicals that has stood out from the rest of the Basque nationalists is the ETA, which stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or Basque Homeland and Liberty.17)Woodworth, The Basque Country, 174. The ETA formed in 1959, when many young Basque nationalists felt that the PNV was too passive towards Franco’s dictatorial regime. Initially, the ETA was comprised of intellectuals, who published a journal entitled Ekin, which means “to persist” or “to act.”18)Ibid, 235. Distancing themselves from the PNV’s conservatism, the ETA adopted a Marxist viewpoint. In contrast to the PNV, most members of the ETA have been working class. Their original goals were the formation of an independent Basque nation and the encouragement of the banned Basque language.

In their early years, the ETA conducted small operations to gain notoriety. Using tactics known as Gora Euskadi, blowing up statues of Franco and hanging Basque flags on church spires were common.19)Ibid, 236. The goal was to show that the ETA would not back down in the face of Spanish aggression, while carefully avoiding civilian casualties. Early ETA leaders included a man named Txillardegi, who was a writer. As one of the initial leaders, he and his supporters utilized the ETA as a means of symbolic dissent rather than active violence. That began to change in the late 1960s.

In 1967, the ETA published “The Official Ideology of the ETA.” It described the ETA as now “a Basque socialist national liberation movement” defining its nationalism as “revolutionary nationalism” that would fuse the Basque people and their struggle for national liberation with the working-class struggle for “social liberation.”20)Ibid, 240. The late 1960s and early 1970s marked a departure from previous ETA tactics of symbolism and destroying Franco’s statues. A new generation of Basques joined and were eager for violence.21)Woodworth, The Basque Country, 176. These changing tactics would bring the relatively unknown group fame.

A Change of Tactics & A Spiral of Violence

In 1968, the ETA simultaneously made its first kill and lost its first martyr: Francisco Javier Etxebarrieta, also known as Txabi, murdered a Guardia Civil, José Pardines. The next day, Txabi, a young ETA leader, was located and gunned down the next day.22)Ibid. A massive outpouring of support arose from across the Basque country, with hundreds attending his funeral. Txabi had been renowned as one of the most popular of the ETA leaders, who believed that Basque independence was necessary through “selective violence.” Many Basques viewed him as the Che Guevara of the Basque country.23)Kurlansky, The Basque History of the World, 240. The ETA’s marked change from peace to violence angered the authorities, who met this incident with crackdowns.

The state police under Franco swept across the Basque country, arresting dozens of people and torturing them for information about the ETA. Some were even given prison time. The government was ruthless in their treatment of Basque citizens and partisans. While the government continued rounding up suspects, ETA members looked for an opportunity to get revenge for the death of Txabi at the hands of Spanish forces. On August 2, 1968, Melitón Manzanas, a notorious police chief in San Sebastián, was killed outside his home. This incident was known among ETA members as Operation Sagarra (the Basque word for apples), a dark use of humor as manzanas are apples in Spanish.24)Ibid, 243. The regime responded to this more harshly than the first killing, with state police rounding up thousands of Basques, torturing them, and sentencing some to prison time over a period of months.

In the 1970s, the ETA was brought into the prominence by two events. The first was the murder of Admiral Carrero Blanco, Franco’s prime minister, in December 1973. Intelligence gathered by the ETA and their supporters indicated that Blanco attended Mass every day at the San Francisco de Borja on Calle Serrano in a black Dodge. Blanco was especially hated among Basques for his brutal treatment of political prisoners and was nicknamed “the ogre.” After stalking him for some time, the ETA planted dynamite at the usual parking spot for Blanco, where it exploded beneath his car, killing him and his driver on December 20, 1973. The murder of such a high-ranking politician startled the Franco dictatorship and brought the ETA to the forefront.

The second major event of the 1970s was the Burgos trials of December 1973. The Burgos trials involved 16 alleged ETA members charged with “military rebellion, banditism, and terrorism.”25)Ibid. The Burgos trials cultivated widespread support for the accused among the Basques. While the desire of Franco’s regime was to publically humiliate the accused, it backfired. The 16 accused ETA members detailed how they had been brutally tortured at the hands of the regime, and the defense lawyers for the case served as spokesmen for the ETA, itself.26)John Sullivan, ETA & Basque Nationalism: The Fight for Euskadi, 1890-1986 27)London: Routledge, 1988), 95. The trials served as a mouthpiece for the ETA to spread their ideas through public awareness. The verdict, as determined by the presiding judges, was guilty. Even more prevalent than when Txabi was killed, thousands of Basques, Catalans, and even Spaniards protested across the country. Six of the accused were to be executed, but after massive protests, Franco granted them all reprieves.28)Ibid, 108.

From 1968 to 1975, over 4,000 Basques had been arrested. Between the years 1956 to 1975, Franco declared eleven states of emergency.29)Kurlansky, The Basque History of the World, 252. Five of those were exclusively in the Basque country. When Franco’s dictatorship ended in 1975, the assumption by Spaniards and Basques alike was that the ETA would no longer exist in a democratic society. That did not occur, even though the regime they had been fighting against had collapsed.

In the years following the dissolution of Franco’s dictatorship, the number of people killed by the ETA actually increased, with over 91 people killed alone in 1980, six times the number that were killed in 1975.30)Woodworth, The Basque Country, 176. From the years 1968 to 1987 alone, over 600 people were killed by ETA members.31)William A. Douglas & Joseph Zulaika, “On the Interpretation of Terrorist Violence: ETA and the Basque Political Process,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 32, no. 2 (1990): 238-57, http://www.jstor.org/stable/178914. With the rapid increase of violence, the newly democratic Spanish government declared the ETA a terrorist organization. To counteract the violence of the ETA, the 1977-1982 democratic Spanish regimes established “death squads,” groups of security officers who were in charge of causing havoc for the ETA and torturing suspected ETA members.32)Woodworth, The Basque Country, 178.

The most notorious death squad established by the government were the Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberacion, commonly called the GAL, that utilized state terroristic tactics, including blowing up targets in busy streets and gunning people down in bars. What later became known as the Dirty War of 1983-1986 pitted the GAL and groups like them against the ETA.33)Ibid. A major target for the GAL was Iparralde, an ETA hideout across the border in France. The French initially stayed out of the fray, but the cross-border skirmishes of the GAL and ETA eventually caused the French to get involved against the ETA. Democracy in Spain was still in its infancy in the 1980s, and there were several coup attempts by Spanish generals. The government used the ploy of attacking the Basques, especially ETA, as a way to convert the anger among the military’s ranks into fighting so they did not have to deal with restive soldiers. This tactic backfired, causing more people to join the ETA’s ranks. The government attempted to cover up the incident through media censors and limiting judicial investigations, but the judiciary eventually launched governmental investigations that would lead to successful prosecutions of government figures connected to the GAL.

The 1990s brought more violence, with the ETA getting help from other Basque nationalist organizations. The most notable one was Herri Batasuna (People United), or Batasuna, which was a political party founded in 1978 that publicly supported the ETA. Batasuna played a large role in promoting the ETA, particularly in the early 1990s. Inspired by the Palestinian intifada, Batasuna organized a strategy that was called “socializing the suffering.” Its pretense was that the party would encourage Basque teenagers to commit acts of political vandalism and street violence, known as kale borroka, to make Basque society feel the pain. Through a series of incidents in the early 1990s, teenagers burned buses, harassed and threatened ETA opponents, and vandalized public property. In the early 2000s, 9/11 and related events made the ETA less popular, and they were often placed in the same category as Islamic fundamentalists.34)“Spain papers point finer at ETA,” BBC News, March 12, 2004, Accessed December 16, 2017, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/not_in_website/syndication/monitoring/media_reports/3505422.stm.   Many of their bombing attempts in the 2000s were ultimately unsuccessful as Spanish forces began receiving more detailed intelligence and began taking apart ETA cells.

The Motivations of the ETA

For the ETA, a major question that comes to mind is what drove them? What motivated the Basques to take up arms against Franco’s regime and then a democratic Spain? And what did they hope to gain? In order to understand the ETA, and whether their cause was a terrorist organization or a cadre of freedom fighters, it is vital to understand who they are and their underlying motivations.

Many Spanish sources have considered the ETA as a terrorist organization, comprised of mentally unstable persons who have inflicted violence on ordinary citizens. But for Robert P. Clark, “Etarras [ETA members] are not alienated people; they are, on the contrary, deeply embedded in the culture whose rights they fight to defend.”35)Robert P. Clark, The Basque Insurgents: ETA, 1952-1980, (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), 141-142. An interesting side note is that, according to Clark, fewer than 1 in 10 ETA members were women in the 1970s. Many etarras were resistant to allowing women to join, because they believed that their place was in the home and that women would compromise their intelligence.36)Ibid, 144. Most etarras were young, mid-20s working class men, who valued their culture and language and were becoming increasingly aware of their history as a people during the 1970s and 1980s.

Some historians have pondered why the ETA created more momentum than the Catalan, Galician, or other Spanish separatist movements. As Paddy Woodworth notes, “according to Zulaika, in Basque Violence: Metaphor and Sacrament (1988), the question might be partially answered because of Basque culture. One facet is that Basque culture views most issues as having only two sides, baj or ez (yes or no).”37)Woodworth, The Basque Country, 180.  In other words, among Basque radicals, negotiation equates with betrayal. Paddy Woodworth also argues that connections with the Basque clergy in the Catholic Church and religious overtones of founding the ETA (founded on July 31, 1959, the Feast Day of St. Ignatius Loyola, the first Jesuit and a Basque) was another facet of their momentum.

Most of all, the biggest factor in the ETA’s momentum was anxiety. Basque radicals feared that Franco’s regime would stamp out their culture and identity. As a result, they were motivated to carry out their violent actions because they believed they had limited time. Action was urgent because of the “imminent danger of the disappearance [of the Basques] as a people.”38)Ibid, 181.  The ETA-military faction, the sole representation of the ETA from the 1980s onward, declared that independence was the only way of guaranteeing the continued survival of the Basque people. The ETA has viewed Spanish democracy and Basque autonomy, as guaranteed by the 1978 constitution, a mere façade to a subtle dictatorship, with real democracy only available within an independent Basque nation.

Early on, the ETA had justification for their actions. Under a fascist regime, the ETA’s initial push for symbolic resistance was successful in that it helped to initially promote the group. As 1968 came around and Txabi, a popular ETA leader, was shot, the ETA believed they were justified to strike back at an unjust regime, which ultimately led to the Burgos trials. And when democracy emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the fledgling government lashed out at the ETA, while the ETA believed that only violence and action would counteract their disappearance as a culture. The ETA, however, did not have the same justification for their violent actions after democratic rule was instituted after Franco. Events, such as Batasuna’s push for street violence, attacking moderate Basque leaders, and carrying out seemingly random murders, placed the ETA in a controversial position.

Conclusion

The ETA has had a long and colorful history. The ETA’s origins were peaceful, but by the 1970s, they had become increasingly anxious, believing that if they did not fight they would lose their cultural heritage. With its origins as an intellectual circuit in the 1950s, it grew into a formidable organization, even with its small numbers. Records have given scarce estimates as to how many people were actually members of the ETA, but it seems to be in the hundreds. The ETA themselves were a minority within the wider Basque nationalist circle, as they were Marxist and used violence in their later years to carry out their motives. In the present day, the ETA are becoming less and less prevalent in Spain. In 2011, the ETA ended their armed struggle against the Spanish government, appealing for “direct dialogue.39)John F. Burns, “Basque Separatists Halt Campaign of Violence,” New York Times, October 20, 2011, Accessed December 14, 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/21/world/europe/eta-basque-separatists-declare-halt-to-violence-in-spain-and-france.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FETA&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=14&pgtype=collection.  Batasuna, the political party that had encouraged the ETA, disbanded in both France and Spain in 2013.40)Steven Erlanger, “France: Basque Party to Disband,” New York Times, January 3, 2013, Accessed December 14, 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/world/europe/france-basque-party-to-disband.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FETA&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=9&pgtype=collection.  And in 2017, the ETA surrendered their weapons stockpiles to the French and Spanish authorities, ending their terrorist attacks that had killed over 800 people from 1968 to 2010.((The Editorial Board, “A Quiet End to Basque Terror,” New York Times, April 14, 2017, Accessed December 14, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/14/opinion/the-quiet-end-of-basque-terror.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FETA&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=collection.  The cessation of hostilities has been a positive sign, as the ETA has engaged in dialogue with the Spanish government, and to a lesser extent, the French government.

 

Works Cited

Burns, John F. “Basque Separatists Halt Campaign of Violence.” New York Times. October 20,     2011. Accessed December 14, 2017.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/21/world/europe/eta-basque-separatists-declare-halt-to-violence-in-spain-and-france.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FETA&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=14&pgtype=collection

Clark, Robert P. The Basque Insurgents: ETA, 1952-1980. Madison, Wis.: University of    Wisconsin Press, 1984.

Douglass, William A., and Joseba Zulaika. “On the Interpretation of Terrorist Violence: ETA          and the Basque Political Process.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 32, no. 2          (1990): 238-57. http://www.jstor.org/stable/178914.

Hechter, Michael & Margaret Levi. “Ethno-Regional Movements in the West.” Nationalism ed.      John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1994, 184.

Hobsbawm, Eric. “The Rise of Ethno-Linguistic Nationalisms.” in Nationalism ed. John     Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994, 178.

Erlanger, Steven. “France: Basque Party to Disband.” New York Times. January 3, 2013.    Accessed December 14, 2017.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/world/europe/france-basque-party-to-disband.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FETA&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=9&pgtype=collection.

The Editorial Board, “A Quiet End to Basque Terror,” New York Times, April 14, 2017,     Accessed December 14, 2017.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/14/opinion/the-quiet-end-of-basque-terror.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FETA&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=collection.

“Spain papers point finer at ETA,” BBC News, March 12, 2004, Accessed December 16, 2017,            http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/not_in_website/syndication/monitoring/media_reports/350542     2.stm.

Sullivan, John. ETA & Basque Nationalism: The Fight for Euskadi, 1890-1986. London:    Routledge, 1988.

Kurlansky, Mark. The Basque History of the World. New York: Walker, 1999.

Woodworth, Paddy. The Basque Country: A Cultural History. Landscapes of the Imagination.       Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

References   [ + ]

01. Eric Hobsbawm, “The Rise of Ethno-Linguistic Nationalism,” in Nationalism ed. John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 178.
02. Ibid, 179.
03. Michael Hechter & Margaret Levi, “Ethno-Regional Movements in the West,” Nationalism ed. John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 184.
04. Ibid, 185.
05. Ibid, 190.
06. Ibid.
07. Hobsbawm, “Rise of Ethno-Linguistic Nationalisms,” 178.
08. Mark Kurlansky, The Basque History of the World, (New York: Walker, 1999), 3.
09. Ibid, 8.
10. Ibid, 21.
11. Ibid, 25.
12. Paddy Woodworth, The Basque Country: A Cultural History, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 56.
13. Kurlansky, The Basque History of the World, 33.
14. Woodworth, The Basque Country, 21.
15. Ibid, 174.
16. Kurlansky, The Basque History of the World, 238.
17. Woodworth, The Basque Country, 174.
18. Ibid, 235.
19. Ibid, 236.
20. Ibid, 240.
21. Woodworth, The Basque Country, 176.
22. Ibid.
23. Kurlansky, The Basque History of the World, 240.
24. Ibid, 243.
25. Ibid.
26. John Sullivan, ETA & Basque Nationalism: The Fight for Euskadi, 1890-1986 ((London: Routledge, 1988), 95.
27. London: Routledge, 1988), 95. The trials served as a mouthpiece for the ETA to spread their ideas through public awareness. The verdict, as determined by the presiding judges, was guilty. Even more prevalent than when Txabi was killed, thousands of Basques, Catalans, and even Spaniards protested across the country. Six of the accused were to be executed, but after massive protests, Franco granted them all reprieves.((Ibid, 108.
28. Ibid, 108.

From 1968 to 1975, over 4,000 Basques had been arrested. Between the years 1956 to 1975, Franco declared eleven states of emergency.((Kurlansky, The Basque History of the World, 252.

29. Kurlansky, The Basque History of the World, 252. Five of those were exclusively in the Basque country. When Franco’s dictatorship ended in 1975, the assumption by Spaniards and Basques alike was that the ETA would no longer exist in a democratic society. That did not occur, even though the regime they had been fighting against had collapsed.

In the years following the dissolution of Franco’s dictatorship, the number of people killed by the ETA actually increased, with over 91 people killed alone in 1980, six times the number that were killed in 1975.((Woodworth, The Basque Country, 176.

30. Woodworth, The Basque Country, 176. From the years 1968 to 1987 alone, over 600 people were killed by ETA members.((William A. Douglas & Joseph Zulaika, “On the Interpretation of Terrorist Violence: ETA and the Basque Political Process,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 32, no. 2 (1990): 238-57, http://www.jstor.org/stable/178914.
31. William A. Douglas & Joseph Zulaika, “On the Interpretation of Terrorist Violence: ETA and the Basque Political Process,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 32, no. 2 (1990): 238-57, http://www.jstor.org/stable/178914. With the rapid increase of violence, the newly democratic Spanish government declared the ETA a terrorist organization. To counteract the violence of the ETA, the 1977-1982 democratic Spanish regimes established “death squads,” groups of security officers who were in charge of causing havoc for the ETA and torturing suspected ETA members.((Woodworth, The Basque Country, 178.
32. Woodworth, The Basque Country, 178.

The most notorious death squad established by the government were the Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberacion, commonly called the GAL, that utilized state terroristic tactics, including blowing up targets in busy streets and gunning people down in bars. What later became known as the Dirty War of 1983-1986 pitted the GAL and groups like them against the ETA.((Ibid.

33. Ibid. A major target for the GAL was Iparralde, an ETA hideout across the border in France. The French initially stayed out of the fray, but the cross-border skirmishes of the GAL and ETA eventually caused the French to get involved against the ETA. Democracy in Spain was still in its infancy in the 1980s, and there were several coup attempts by Spanish generals. The government used the ploy of attacking the Basques, especially ETA, as a way to convert the anger among the military’s ranks into fighting so they did not have to deal with restive soldiers. This tactic backfired, causing more people to join the ETA’s ranks. The government attempted to cover up the incident through media censors and limiting judicial investigations, but the judiciary eventually launched governmental investigations that would lead to successful prosecutions of government figures connected to the GAL.

The 1990s brought more violence, with the ETA getting help from other Basque nationalist organizations. The most notable one was Herri Batasuna (People United), or Batasuna, which was a political party founded in 1978 that publicly supported the ETA. Batasuna played a large role in promoting the ETA, particularly in the early 1990s. Inspired by the Palestinian intifada, Batasuna organized a strategy that was called “socializing the suffering.” Its pretense was that the party would encourage Basque teenagers to commit acts of political vandalism and street violence, known as kale borroka, to make Basque society feel the pain. Through a series of incidents in the early 1990s, teenagers burned buses, harassed and threatened ETA opponents, and vandalized public property. In the early 2000s, 9/11 and related events made the ETA less popular, and they were often placed in the same category as Islamic fundamentalists.((“Spain papers point finer at ETA,” BBC News, March 12, 2004, Accessed December 16, 2017, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/not_in_website/syndication/monitoring/media_reports/3505422.stm.

34. “Spain papers point finer at ETA,” BBC News, March 12, 2004, Accessed December 16, 2017, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/not_in_website/syndication/monitoring/media_reports/3505422.stm.   Many of their bombing attempts in the 2000s were ultimately unsuccessful as Spanish forces began receiving more detailed intelligence and began taking apart ETA cells.

The Motivations of the ETA

For the ETA, a major question that comes to mind is what drove them? What motivated the Basques to take up arms against Franco’s regime and then a democratic Spain? And what did they hope to gain? In order to understand the ETA, and whether their cause was a terrorist organization or a cadre of freedom fighters, it is vital to understand who they are and their underlying motivations.

Many Spanish sources have considered the ETA as a terrorist organization, comprised of mentally unstable persons who have inflicted violence on ordinary citizens. But for Robert P. Clark, “Etarras [ETA members] are not alienated people; they are, on the contrary, deeply embedded in the culture whose rights they fight to defend.”((Robert P. Clark, The Basque Insurgents: ETA, 1952-1980, (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), 141-142.

35. Robert P. Clark, The Basque Insurgents: ETA, 1952-1980, (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), 141-142. An interesting side note is that, according to Clark, fewer than 1 in 10 ETA members were women in the 1970s. Many etarras were resistant to allowing women to join, because they believed that their place was in the home and that women would compromise their intelligence.((Ibid, 144.
36. Ibid, 144. Most etarras were young, mid-20s working class men, who valued their culture and language and were becoming increasingly aware of their history as a people during the 1970s and 1980s.

Some historians have pondered why the ETA created more momentum than the Catalan, Galician, or other Spanish separatist movements. As Paddy Woodworth notes, “according to Zulaika, in Basque Violence: Metaphor and Sacrament (1988), the question might be partially answered because of Basque culture. One facet is that Basque culture views most issues as having only two sides, baj or ez (yes or no).”((Woodworth, The Basque Country, 180.

37. Woodworth, The Basque Country, 180.  In other words, among Basque radicals, negotiation equates with betrayal. Paddy Woodworth also argues that connections with the Basque clergy in the Catholic Church and religious overtones of founding the ETA (founded on July 31, 1959, the Feast Day of St. Ignatius Loyola, the first Jesuit and a Basque) was another facet of their momentum.

Most of all, the biggest factor in the ETA’s momentum was anxiety. Basque radicals feared that Franco’s regime would stamp out their culture and identity. As a result, they were motivated to carry out their violent actions because they believed they had limited time. Action was urgent because of the “imminent danger of the disappearance [of the Basques] as a people.”((Ibid, 181.

38. Ibid, 181.  The ETA-military faction, the sole representation of the ETA from the 1980s onward, declared that independence was the only way of guaranteeing the continued survival of the Basque people. The ETA has viewed Spanish democracy and Basque autonomy, as guaranteed by the 1978 constitution, a mere façade to a subtle dictatorship, with real democracy only available within an independent Basque nation.

Early on, the ETA had justification for their actions. Under a fascist regime, the ETA’s initial push for symbolic resistance was successful in that it helped to initially promote the group. As 1968 came around and Txabi, a popular ETA leader, was shot, the ETA believed they were justified to strike back at an unjust regime, which ultimately led to the Burgos trials. And when democracy emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the fledgling government lashed out at the ETA, while the ETA believed that only violence and action would counteract their disappearance as a culture. The ETA, however, did not have the same justification for their violent actions after democratic rule was instituted after Franco. Events, such as Batasuna’s push for street violence, attacking moderate Basque leaders, and carrying out seemingly random murders, placed the ETA in a controversial position.

Conclusion

The ETA has had a long and colorful history. The ETA’s origins were peaceful, but by the 1970s, they had become increasingly anxious, believing that if they did not fight they would lose their cultural heritage. With its origins as an intellectual circuit in the 1950s, it grew into a formidable organization, even with its small numbers. Records have given scarce estimates as to how many people were actually members of the ETA, but it seems to be in the hundreds. The ETA themselves were a minority within the wider Basque nationalist circle, as they were Marxist and used violence in their later years to carry out their motives. In the present day, the ETA are becoming less and less prevalent in Spain. In 2011, the ETA ended their armed struggle against the Spanish government, appealing for “direct dialogue.((John F. Burns, “Basque Separatists Halt Campaign of Violence,” New York Times, October 20, 2011, Accessed December 14, 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/21/world/europe/eta-basque-separatists-declare-halt-to-violence-in-spain-and-france.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FETA&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=14&pgtype=collection.

39. John F. Burns, “Basque Separatists Halt Campaign of Violence,” New York Times, October 20, 2011, Accessed December 14, 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/21/world/europe/eta-basque-separatists-declare-halt-to-violence-in-spain-and-france.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FETA&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=14&pgtype=collection.  Batasuna, the political party that had encouraged the ETA, disbanded in both France and Spain in 2013.((Steven Erlanger, “France: Basque Party to Disband,” New York Times, January 3, 2013, Accessed December 14, 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/world/europe/france-basque-party-to-disband.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FETA&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=9&pgtype=collection.
40. Steven Erlanger, “France: Basque Party to Disband,” New York Times, January 3, 2013, Accessed December 14, 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/world/europe/france-basque-party-to-disband.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FETA&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=9&pgtype=collection.  And in 2017, the ETA surrendered their weapons stockpiles to the French and Spanish authorities, ending their terrorist attacks that had killed over 800 people from 1968 to 2010.((The Editorial Board, “A Quiet End to Basque Terror,” New York Times, April 14, 2017, Accessed December 14, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/14/opinion/the-quiet-end-of-basque-terror.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FETA&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=collection.