Europe, Headlines

POLITICS-SPAIN: Basques Want Self-Determination, Not Independence

Tito Drago

MADRID, Mar 3 1999 (IPS) - A broad majority in Spain’s Basque country want self-determination, not independence, according to a survey conducted by Sigma Dos, one of the most prestigious private polling firms in Spain.

The results of the survey, published this week in the daily ‘El Mundo’, revealed a contradiction between the aims of political parties in the Basque country and the views of voters.

Running counter to popular belief, most of those who said they voted for parties with representation throughout Spain expressed themselves in favour of recognition of the Basque country’s right to self-determination.

Interestingly, 57.9 percent of those who voted for Spain’s centre-right governing Popular Party were in favour of self- determination, while support for that option stood at 71 percent among those who voted for the leading opposition party, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party.

Support for self-determination climbed to 78 percent among those who voted for moderate Basque nationalist parties, and to 95.4 percent among parties with ties to the illegal organisation Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA, Basque Fatherland and Freedom in the Basque language), which has been fighting for independence for decades.

But only 17.7 percent of all respondents said they wanted independence from Spain, while a full 74.2 percent said they would prefer that the Basque country remain an autonomous community within the Spanish state.

Today the northern provinces of Vizcaya, Guipuzcoa and Alava comprise the Autonomous Community of the Basque country, one of the 17 autonomous communities that make up the Spanish kingdom, which elect their own autonomous parliaments and governments with broad powers.

The Basque nationalists also claim Navarra, another autonomous community in the region, and two provinces in southwestern France as part of the Basque country.

Among those polled by Sigma Dos, 52.9 percent said the statute regulating autonomy should be more fully developed, in order to grant the Basque government greater authority.

For example, respondents who voted for Basque nationalist parties said the Spanish national police should be completely withdrawn from the Basque country and replaced by the autonomous Basque police, currently limited to policing urban areas and controlling traffic.

But the central government flatly rejects that idea, especially because the National Police and Civil Guard (militarised police) play a decisive role in cracking down on ETA.

The greatest coherence between election campaign platforms and responses by interviewees was seen in the parties with ties to ETA, which participated in the last elections, on Oct 25, under the banner of a new coalition: Eusko Herritarrok (EH, Basque Citizens in the Basque language).

But 21.1 percent of EH voters expressed their preference for an expansion of the reach of the current Autonomy Statute, rather than the creation of an independent state as demanded – albeit in a somewhat confusing manner – by the EH coalition.

The survey, other studies and mass demonstrations, all of which indicate that an overwhelming majority of people in the Basque country reject the use of violence in the political struggle, could help lead to a full-fledged peace process.

ETA declared a unilateral, unconditional truce on Sep 16. Since then it has staged no attacks or kidnappings, although it has renewed its threats pressuring members of the business community to pay a “revolutionary tax,” which some pay while others refuse to do so.

Commercial and political venues have also continued to be set on fire by young ETA sympathisers, in what has been described as “low intensity violence.”

The present panorama could remain unchanged until the Jun 13 municipal elections, whose results may be decisive in pushing ETA to expand its truce into a definitive and total abandonment of violence, and in achieving the full political integration of the forces seeking independence.

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