ETA Disarms to Return Basque Nationalism to Civil War Resilience

The militant Basque separatists ETA have finally called time on their four-decade campaign of violence to secure an independent homeland in the north of Spain. At least 829 people have lost their lives since the bloodshed began in 1961, ranging from innocent children to the Spanish Prime Minister.

Police seize a declared ETA weapons cache in southern France

This violent strain of Basque nationalism emerged from the ashes of the brutal Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), with the victorious Franco regime denying the Basque people the little autonomy they previously possessed.

Nationalism and dreams of independence were not a new idea for the northerners inhabiting the French-Spanish border and the Basque Army fought ferociously to deny the advance of Franco’s Nationalists in 1937.

19th Battalion of the Basque Army, 1937

Particularly intriguing is the notable effort made by the Basque people during the Civil War to prevent the indiscriminate acts of violent retribution that plagued both sides and came to characterise the conflict.

‘The moderate Socialists and the Basque nationalists were in the forefront of efforts to put a stop to rearguard outrages…strenuous efforts to put a stop to arbitrary arrests and executions were made by Jesus Galindez of the Basque delegation in Madrid and by Manuel Irujo Olla, the piously Catholic Basque’. (Preston, pp. 291-292)

Additionally, the Basque country was the only region within the Republican sphere that did not see widespread looting and destruction of Church property, the clerical establishment having become inextricably linked with Franco’s forces.

Does this failed attempt at an honourable, bloodless resistance during the Spanish Civil War partly explain ETA’s violent course after its foundation in 1959? Undoubtedly many Basque people never associated themselves with what became a terrorist organisation, regardless of whether they shared some of the group’s ambitions.

The bombing of Guernica – a Basque town of no strategic importance – by Nazi & Italian aircraft in league with Franco, stunned the world

Perhaps it is telling that ETA evolved out of a student movement unhappy at the moderate stance of the Basque Nationalist Party. Young men who had not witnessed the ravages of war first hand were maybe unappreciative of what taking up arms really meant.

For millions of others in Spain, the legacy of civil war and the Franco dictatorship has ingrained pacifism. This has denied ETA the widespread support of the people it claims to represent and ultimately meant its bloody struggle – like that of the IRA – would end in defeat at the hands of a militarily strong and resilient democratic government.

Support for Basque nationalism remains strong but it will continue without the backdrop of ETA violence

Source

Preston, P. The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain (2012)

Podemos Threaten to Storm Spain: the end of the post-Franco order and a return to radical politics?

In the wake of the triumph of the anti-austerity Syriza party in the Greek general election, hopes and fears abound that a similar success may be in store for the extreme left in Spain. There, the radical Podemos is threatening to break the monopoly on government that the centre-right People’s Party (PP) and the centre-left Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) have held since the restoration of democracy in 1977 following the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.

Podemos (We Can) have quickly garnered a large and active support base
Podemos (We Can) have quickly garnered a large and active support base

Podemos advocates the ‘nationalization of key economic sectors, a state-guaranteed living wage, a 35-hour workweek, mandatory retirement age of 60, a law preventing profitable companies from firing their employees, and a citizen’s audit of public debt’. (Encarnacion, 2015) Such radical policies have populist appeal, particularly amongst Spain’s jobless youth. However, despite a general discontent with the mainstream political parties, are Spaniards ready for a return to radical politics given their recent history?

Prior to Franco’s dictatorship was the Spanish Civil War, which tore the country apart between 1936 and 1939 and ended up involving several competing European powers in a form of proxy war. This period was characterised by extremist political parties, ranging from the far-right Falangist fascists to the ultra-left FAI anarchists. In between was a diverse mixture of interest groups, including monarchists, republicans, communists, nationalists and trade unionists, each with their own agendas and each wary of their competition for supremacy.

Black-shirted Falangists march during the Spanish Civil War
Black-shirted Falangists march during the Spanish Civil War

An estimated half-a-million people died during the Spanish Civil War with the outcome being Franco’s brutal dictatorial regime. Atrocities were committed by both the Republican and Nationalist factions and this, together with pre-existing regional tensions, have created social unease in Spain ever since.

It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that the Spaniards have largely remained patient with the PP and PSOE, despite their mixed political performance in the past few decades. Government incompetence and corruption is surely preferable to civil conflict and death. Yet with the number of Civil War survivors decreasing and a new generation of Spaniards intent on a political upheaval to revive their economic fortunes, Podemos may have risen at an opportune moment.

There is little doubt that, like Syriza in Greece, Podemos will find it impossible to enact their radical agenda without irreparably damaging their country. Whether this would stop them trying should they win the general election remains to be seen. Yet we could be witnessing another momentous change in one of the EU’s member states; a return to radical politics for Spain, whose tragic recent past is in danger of being forgotten.

Marcos Ana is one of just 12 surviving combatants of the Spanish Civil War. He fought on the side of the Spanish Second Republic and was imprisoned by Franco for years
Marcos Ana is one of just 12 surviving combatants of the Spanish Civil War. He fought on the side of the Spanish Second Republic and was imprisoned by Franco for years

Source

Encarnacion, O.G., ‘Can the Far Left Sweep Spain? Radical Politics and the “Podemos” Wave’, Foreign Affairs (08/02/2015)

Foreign Fighters in a Foreign War: ISIL and the Threat to Global Security

The United States has promised ‘intense’ support for the Iraqi government as it tries to halt the formidable advance of Islamist militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). At the same time, major concerns have been raised in Britain about the increasing frequency with which Muslims are travelling from the UK to fight for ‘jihadist’ causes and the potential ramifications their unmonitored return might have for national security.

Nasser Muthana (r), from Cardiff, has appeared in ISIL recruitment videos
Nasser Muthana (r), from Cardiff, has appeared in ISIL recruitment videos

British Muslims have trained, fought and been killed in a number of countries over the past few years, particularly Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen. Radicalised by hate-spewing preachers at home, they travel abroad for terrorist training camps before either fighting the enemies of radical Islam or returning to the UK with destructive intent.

There is an historical precedent for men, and to a lesser extent women, travelling abroad to fight for a political or religious cause. One need only look at the medieval Crusades to see that this is not a modern phenomenon. Perhaps a more comparable and recent example, however, is the Spanish Civil War.

Between 1936 and 1939, some 35,000 volunteers from across Europe, including many British, fought beside forces of the Second Spanish Republic as part of International Brigades opposed to General Franco’s Nationalist troops.

British International Brigade battalions were made-up of left-wing sympathisers
British International Brigade battalions were made-up of left-wing sympathisers

 

These men were not forced to fight abroad but felt a compulsion, driven by political and ideological reasons, to risk their lives in a foreign conflict. The atrocities committed by ISIL in their march through Iraq, including acts perpetrated by foreign fighters, has shocked many. Yet the Spanish Civil War was no less brutal with torture, rape and mass executions an horrific commonality. Although it has been argued that the majority of these atrocities were committed by Franco’s men, the Republicans too enacted their own barbarities such was the hatred between the two sides. (see Preston P, The Spanish Holocaust, 2012).

Whilst there are some similarities, therefore, between the nature of foreign fighters in the Spanish Civil War and the Middle East today there is also one major difference. The men that returned from Spain were not intent on destroying the existing political, religious and social fabric of their country, as the jihadists are now.

Fighters from the International Brigades may have returned to their countries intent on challenging the existing ruling order but not using the same terror tactics advocated by the Islamic extremists.

The International Brigades fought to uphold a democratically-elected government. Though it may be too far to label their cause ‘just’, it certainly had more legitimacy than that of the Islamic extremists (or even the Crusaders) who seek to destabilize the status quo.

Michael Adebolajo, who murdered soldier Lee Rigby in daylight on the streets of Woolwich, had previously been arrested in Kenya seeking to join up with Al-Shabaab terrorists
Michael Adebolajo, who murdered soldier Lee Rigby in daylight on the streets of Woolwich, had previously been arrested in Kenya seeking to join up with Al-Shabaab terrorists

More worryingly, the ability of these fighters to return to their host countries, filled with the desire to replicate the bloodshed seen daily across the Middle East, is alarming. Such a reality dents the notions that the troubles of the Middle East are none of the West’s concern. Such a lackadaisical attitude could prove fatal.