Spain is a country with rich history that is demonstrated with its many communities with vast cultural and political groupings. The fact that Spain managed to transform itself from an authoritarian and rigid regime to a democratic parliamentary based liberal and stable regional autonomy country is seen as one of the most remarkable political developments in the 21st century. This was a great achievement because despite the unstable historical situation in the country with justifiable claims from autonomous groups such as Basque, the country was able to rise and establish one of the most stable democracies in the world. In spite of decades of repressive dictatorship, citizens have readily adapted to the new system of democracy through participating in the election process.

Goble (152) notes that Spain is organized into 17 autonomous communities which are considered as the first level political divisions belonging to the Kingdom of Spain. These communities are recognized by the Spanish Constitution of 1978 which acknowledges the need to accept the independence of the countries and regions. This was to enable them to govern themselves but most importantly declare the indissoluble unity of the nation of Spain. He further states that Spain is under the leadership of a central government with powers devolved to the seventeen autonomies.

Historical background of Basque Country

The disagreements in Basque country stated during the 15th century. It was majorly caused by the traditional tendency to protect a different social group that included people with different language, culture, or customs. Many conflicts and wars were waged in the years leading to the 19th century because of capturing of Kingdoms and States which wanted to include the provinces of Basque into their jurisdictions and to practice dominion over the Basque people. Consequently, Basque nationalism came up as a political group more than 100 years ago.

According to Brading (121), the group was first established in the 19th century under Sabina de Arana Goiri. Later it was given autonomy by the government of the republic in 1936 which oversaw the Spanish civil war. The dictatorial regime of Franco ensured that Basque people endured for supporting the Republicans. Brading (121) observes that the culmination of this dictatorship saw the killing of over 1000 people at Guernica in the Basque town in April 1937. It was the first material sign which showed Franco’s hate toward the Basque.

The end of the war made Franco to further repress the Basque. He commanded the removal of any status of autonomy which Basque people had diligently worked to get besides strict prohibiting of the Basque culture and language. The aftermath of this prohibition was that people were not permitted to use their natural language which was widespread and was used in their daily life.  Furthermore, people were restricted from practicing any  traditions and customs that had been the backbone of the previous generations. Additionally, there was rampant spread of imprisonment and torture of the intellectuals from Basque people who held any cultural and political opinions (Brading 78).

These obvious and unjust discriminations by Franco against people of Basque irritated them, and made them more anxious to reach some level of self-rule. There was an attempt to negotiate for autonomy in the 1940s and 1950s without success. This made the people to turn to protests and other violent means to try and attain autonomy from the dictatorship. Notably, success would later come in the late 50s when Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) was established.  The name meant “Basque for Basque Homeland and Liberty” (Brading 82).

 The ETA was formed as a section of the Basque National Party (BNP) that had split over peaceful policies.  These two groups had different philosophies concerning independence. One argued that there was no need for violence in the attempt of demanding for autonomy while the other (ETA) argued that sometime violence was essential in order to achieve the goal (Brading 58). ETA was further subdivided into two groups in 1966 based on their methods and goals. The first group strongly supported the ideals of Marxism-Leninism that favored assassinations and disruption to get total independence while other group had national ideas. Even though they supported the use of violence, this group did not approve violence with the same intense like the other one (Guibernau 189).

During the 1970s, pressures between the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna and the Spanish government reached their peak and culminated in 1973. It was in the year of the assassination of Prime Minister Luis Carrero Blanco who had just been appointed by Franco. As a result, Franco stayed in power until 1975 when he died without having chosen his successor. King Juan Carlos, a more tolerant leader, took over and began working with labor groups and politicians in order to come about Spain’s shift to democracy. Brading (78) notes that in the Constitution of 1978 the government allowed Spain to be subdivided  into seventeen regions with different levels of autonomy. One of these divisions was the Basque region which was given many liberties. Among other liberties it was permitted to form its own police force and to elect its own parliament that was absolutely independent from the central government of Spanish.

The Rise of Autonomous States in Spain

The presence of separatists groups played a great part in the politics of Spain. The moderate parties had to compromise to allow them come up with the constitution in 1978. They feared that separatist groups would lead to the emergence of dictatorial leadership and instability in the country that had seen enough dictators. In making this compromise, they wanted to appease the separatist elements. This led to the establishment of a decentralized state. The drafted constitution required the autonomous communities’ classification into groups of two. Every group was given a special route to follow in order to attain autonomy. In this regard Catalonia,  Galicia and Basque country were given the historical nationalities. They were also given autonomy in a fast and simple process since the three had previously voted and approved the statute of autonomy (Brading 85).

However, according to Brading (82), the granting of autonomy to these three regions caused other regions to start agitating for their autonomy. He observes that Andalusia led other regions demanding for autonomy with close to two million people demonstrations. This eventually led to all regions being granted autonomy even though they had to comply with certain requirements. The article 143 and that of 151 allowed giving rise to the autonomy of the communities in most of the regions. Madrid had an exceptional case because it was not considered as a province which had separate regional identity part. Consequently, this process of autonomy led to the resuscitation of the ancient competition between Toledo and Madrid. Being the capital city of Spain Madrid was given the privilege of enjoying self-government but the Castilians demanded that the community provinces be regarded as equals and treated thus. Finally, they agreed to create an autonomous community. Nevertheless, for purposes of a region historical identity, Madrid received autonomy in the interest of a nation with the help of the 144th article (Brading 82).

Similarly, Navarre and the Basque country had exceptional cases. Basque was among the countries that were granted autonomy in this rapid process. Besides this, the country was also allowed to continue enjoying its economic as well as fiscal autonomy. On the other hand, Navarre was given autonomy by means of the updating and improving of the former charters. Reportedly, the region is the solely autonomous part that does not comprise an Autonomy Statute. The region got its autonomy through the law that was seeking to have the privileged regime to be reintegrated and improved (Brading 82).

 Another autonomous region was proposed by Leonese administrations who wanted a Leonese Autonomous Community for their Province of León. Brading (79) observes the administrations wanted this to be a connectedness of the Leonese Region which comprised of Salamanca, Zamora, and León provinces that were formed in 1833. This proposal was supported by majority of the people found in this region, some on ground of historical nationality. However, it was the rejection of the proposal by the Constitutional Tribunal of Spain in 1984 that led to León being united with Castile to form another autonomous region called Castile and León Autonomous Community with the supported of less than 4% of Leonese municipalities (Brading 82)

Basque Country-under Franco

Basque country has always been confronted with two historical questions. One, there has been the persistent difficulty in harmonizing the interior relations of the country. Another challenge has been the difficulty in striking an agreement in regard to the relationships between the Basque country and the state. As a result, there has always been the danger of resorting to violence as a means of solving the problems. According to Guibernau (89), the disagreements in Basque country date back to 15th century. Since 15th century, there has traditionally been a tendency to protect a different social reality or identity. This social reality or identity includes taking into account the people’s customs, language and culture.

Guibernau (90) further notes that the dictatorship that was widely practiced by the Fascist between the year 1936 and 1975 worsened Basque’s challenges during the 20th Century. For instance, it violently and unjustly suppressed all signs of the identity of its spirit of determination. Franciso Franco as the leader of the dictatorial regime believed in a unified Spanish state and violently opposed any attempt to establish regional diversity. The aftermath of this was the prohibition of Basque language as well as outlawing of the various expressions of the Basque culture. Guibernau (90) observes that this led to the formation of the “Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna” (ETA) in the year 1958 as a response to this repression. Consequently, the death of Franco in 1975 led to the rise of Juan Carlos I de Borbón’ Monarchy.

In addition, Brading (85) states that the formation of ETA was as a protest against what was considered as an unreceptive attitude on the part of the restrained nationalists and against the Franco dictatorship. Evidently, the outfit was aimed at creating an independent Basque state that would integrate the Basque community within France and further secure it territories within Spain. During the first decade of ETA’s existence, it was focused on the spreading of propaganda. Nonetheless, violence, such as the use of bombs, sabotage, and robbery, gradually became its conventional method for pushing for political agenda. Notably, Brading (87) observes that since 1968 violence from this group has been persistent and has been directed to politicians and journalists.

However, a majority of Basque people openly reject the violence of ETA. Still there are a minority who sympathizes with its actions, justifying it as an act of self-defense. Brading (90) notes that throughout its history, ETA has caused over a thousand deaths in the country. Despite this, the group credited with calling for two major ceasefires. First was in 1989 following the failure of the negotiations that were being held in Algiers with Spain’s government while the second time was in 1998 that resulted to 14 months of non-violence. In recent past, ETA has particularly struck people who are considered as leading to an extreme political tension in the country (Goble 155).

The race and language factors

Conversi (89) notes that Spain has seen many races settling it its territory since its formation in 1471 and thus has been a victim of multiple languages. The first group to settle over the Peninsula was the Iberians who came from Libya. They were later joined with the Celts whose intermarriage gave rise to a new group of people called the Celtiberians who divided themselves into the tribes of Cantabrians, Asturians, and Lusitanians. The next to arrive were the Phoenicians who were attracted by the booming mining business and established points of trade such as Cadiz. The Greeks were later to arrive and take possession of Spain under the leadership of Hamilcar Barca. Rome arrived around the same time to start a border dispute over the areas that were under the influence of Greek thus the start of the Peninsula Second Punic War. (Conversi 90)

As a result of interaction between various races in Basque country, Spanish and French languages are in widespread use. These languages have widely grown because of the support of both the governments of Spain and French who have suppressed the Basque linguistic identity. For instance, public education is done through the two phenomenon languages which have effect on the present status of Basque country. Conversi (91) observes that the Basque language is historically highly dialectalized and that this has played a role in increasing the usage of Spanish and French. As a result, the current standard of the Basque language was introduced by the end of the 20th century, which has helped Basque country to move away from being perceived as a language that is not fit for educational purposes even by its own speakers.

Goble (155) indicates that the use of Basque language has been resisted more in French than in Spain where the government has granted a degree of autonomy. This has seen a considerable overrepresentation of the Basques both in the Spanish Marine and military. However, the progressive actions beginning with the Carlist Wars have resulted in the production of a local Basque entity, clergy and military men who are historically associated with the Spanish Monarchy, especially colonies of Spain in America. Together, there was a continuing absorption of Spanish language by the Basque-speaking areas of the Spanish Basque country. This phenomenon was initially restricted to the elite classes, but progressively trickled down to the lower classes thus Western Biscay and Navarre regions have been Spanish-speaking for many years (Conversi 95).

Contrary to the resistance to Basque language by past dictatorial regimes, this language has received a notable acceptance by the central government which has since classified it along Spanish as an official language (Conversi 95). Furthermore, the language is now used in education in some regions like the Basque and Navarre. The Basque language is favored by some language policies sponsored by the Basque regional governments and there is a widespread opinion that it should be used generally in all its functions the language is spoken by close to a quarter of the total Basque country. Though it is not spoken as a cultural language in most of Álava, western Biscay and the southern half of Navarre an estimated half a million people who live in the Spanish Basque country are speakers of this language (Conversi 95).

Political and Constitutional Rights of the Basque country in Democratic Spain

A striking feature of new governmental system in Spain is the ability of the constitution to devolve power and responsibility to the autonomous regions. This has helped to gap the regional differences which had been the origin of friction between the different groups in Spain. Guibernau (50) states that the 1978 Constitution arguably managed to address these conflicts by providing for an unparallel degree of regional autonomy. Though not all the people of Spain have indicated their support of the speed with which devolution is taking place, it is evident that the benefits of the constitutional right have been remarkable. Similarly, he notes that the cooperation between the regions that possess more power and the central government has remained complicated by the double standardized terms of the Constitution.

According to Guibernau (82), the transition process towards democracy began after the death of Franco in 1978.  This was preceded by the approval of the new Spanish constitution in referendum on December 6, 1978. The new constitution gave full autonomy to Basque. A system of self-determination and self-government was later negotiated and agreed upon for Catalonia, Basque country and Galicia. They were granted autonomy as Basque Country communities to enjoy such powers as that of the formation of an autonomous police force, having an independent education and health systems (Goble 156).

Almost 3 decades after the establishment of democracy in Spain, Basque country still faces two major problems. There is persisting violence from the internal groupings and political disagreements on the kind of structure that was to guide how Basque county could continue relating with the Spanish State. Guibernau (82) observes that no basic consensus has been reached that could help integrating all the political practices of the people of Basque country. However, such documents as the constitution of Spain and various Pacts for the conciliation and normalization of co-existence have helped to achieve peace in this region.

Terrorism and the struggle for independence

According to Guibernau (67) the replacement of Bahamonde who was considered a dictator with what were perceived as democratic institutions failed to automatically lead to establishment of rule of law. He points out that reactionary element in the ruling elite constantly opposed to democracy. Evidently, there were perpetual rumors of coup plots that characterized the beginning of democracy. The government later on became stable and furnished the rumors of a coup. Furthermore, the civil service resisted transformation, and remained as ineffective and cumbersome as it was under the dictatorship of Franco (Guibernau 87).

Moreover, Spanish citizens with little experience with political involvement took democracy with enthusiasm and began to develop a viable party system.  This was evidenced in the declining support of extremist parties as well as peaceful power transition that saw the end of the rule by the conservative coalition in 1982 elections (Guibernau 75).  However, the governing party has had to face a number of challenges emanating from amongst its leaders who saw the prime minister as a betrayer as he neglected the very policies that he had promised to put in place.

Regional identity in other countries: US - Texas or California

Brading (78) notes that the struggle for independence and nationalism by the Basque country in Spain is a classic example of how a good course may be misused if left in the hands of extremists. He argued that, historically, the United States has had several regional identities like the Texas and California. However, unlike the case with the autonomous regions of Spain, these regional identities are enshrined in the constitution of America that has been the guiding principles over the years. 

Goble (157) notes that the fact that America has had a long history of immigration makes it difficult for any one state to claim autonomy from the central government. The country is also at risk of allowing terrorists to disguise as nationalists who want autonomy. Furthermore, regions like Texas and California lack legal ground which can make the central government to consider granting them the autonomous status. On the other hand, the Basque country had historical unifying factors such as language, culture and political standing that made their demands to be justified. Furthermore, a number of the past dictatorial regimes had ensured that people from these regions were denied privileges that they were entitled to. Brading (98) argued that the same cannot be said of states like Texas and California which have enjoyed full support from the central government.


From the above discussion, it is clear that Spain is a country with rich history over its struggle with separatists who claimed nationalism while engaging in terroristic acts.  The country has gone over most of these challenges and it is now involved in seeking for an independent role in the international community.  Furthermore, it seeks to maintain a European focus through its membership in the international organizations like European Community (EC) and through other associations, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Foreign policies continue to be established in relation to Spanish in Gibraltar, the need for the retention of the North African communities of Ceuta and Melilla.

This study has established that Spain still faces challenges from the Basque terrorism as separatists continue to commit assassinations and bombings in spite of the numerous agreements to end terrorism. Another challenge identified is the inability of the government to deal with the problem of unemployment in the light of the stretched economic resources and increasing dissatisfaction of the employees and the citizens in general.

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