- Ethnicity and Violence: The Case of Radical Basque Nationalism
Of all the problems that Spain's new democracy has faced since its inception in 1977, the most obvious and persistent is the violence emanating from the Basque Country. According to the Spanish Ministry of Justice, as of 2006, the violent campaign on behalf of an independent state waged by Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) is responsible for approximately 3,400 acts of terrorism, which have claimed the lives of 838 people and injured an additional 2,367, of whom 1,295 were rendered physically incapacitated. Although ETA's killing capacity has diminished considerably in recent years, leading many to believe that the worst is probably over, the organization's talent for unnerving Spanish politicians and the general public cannot yet be dismissed. ETA's assassination of a retired Socialist leader, just days before the national elections on 9 March 2008, injected a note of fear reminiscent of the 2004 general [End Page 1011] elections, which were preceded by the bombing of Madrid's Atocha station by Islamic terrorists.
The Basque conflict is also the hardest problem to comprehend in contemporary Spanish politics. Spain's 1978 democratic constitution broadly guarantees protection to ethnic minority communities such as the Basque Country, including a significant degree of home rule and the recognition of regional languages and customs. This largely explains why other Spanish regions with historic claims to nationhood have managed to advance their projects of autonomy without resorting to violence. Indeed, only in the Basque Country has violence been a significant component in the relations between the regions and the central state. In the rest of the regions (seventeen regional governments have been established since 1977), negotiation rather than violence has emerged as the principal currency for dealing with ethno-political conflict. A case in point is Catalonia, the region of Spain with the longest (and arguably the most legitimate) claim to being a separate country from Spain. In striking contrast to the Basques, the Catalans have attained a level of regional autonomy which is comparable to, if not higher than, that enjoyed by the Basques by continually engaging in negotiations with Madrid.
Among the many scholarly volumes seeking to unpack the puzzle of the persistence of the Basque conflict, Diego Muro's Ethnicity and Violence: The Case of Radical Basque Nationalism stands out for its empirical richness and theoretical sophistication. This book is an obligatory reference for students of Basque and Spanish politics and contemporary nationalism. In a sharp and welcome departure from conventional wisdom, Muro's analysis of the roots of the Basque conflict is not focused on General Francisco Franco's seemingly irrational obsession with eradicating the uniqueness of Basque culture. The standard argument is powerful, given that for decades Franco banned the use of Euskera, the Basques' ancient language, and prohibited the display of the Basque flag and other symbols of regionalism. Moreover, ETA was founded during the late 1950s, the midpoint in the life of the Franco regime. However, this explanation is seriously flawed—Franco's repression of regional cultures applied uniformly to the Spanish territory but only in the Basque Country did a violent separatist movement prove viable in the long term.
Instead, Muro wisely digs deep into the formation of Basque ethnic identity in the nineteenth century to build a compelling case for ethnicity as the basis of the emergence of a radical type of nationalism unlike any other in the Iberian Peninsula. His analysis reminds us that the founding fathers of Basque nationalism, especially Sabino Arana Goiri, who established the Basque Nationalist Party in 1899, developed a notion of ethnicity that at its core was exclusionary and actually racist. For Arana and other Basque nationalists, "Basqueness" is something that one is born into rather than something that one acquires. In his pivotal work, Bizkaya por su independencia: Cuatro glorias patrias (1892), Arana contended that Basques were "a pure race, an ethnographically different people that should avoid mixing with foreigners." The Spaniards, according to Arana, were inferior...