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Assessment for Basques in Spain

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Basques in Spain, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 22 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Spain Facts
Area:    504,782 sq. km.
Capital:    Madrid
Total Population:    39,134,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

There is no reason to think that the militant activity of the ETA will cease anytime in the near future. The most recent cease fire failed in 1999, when a new round of bombings and killings began. Although the Socialist-led government has moved to reopen talks with ETA, no new ceasefire has emerged. The Basques have many of the risk factors which contribute to rebellious activity, including government repression, territorial concentration, and high levels of group organization and cohesion. While the Spanish government has granted the Basques extensive regional autonomy, many Basques want more autonomy from the Spanish central government and resent the presence of Spanish civil guards, Spanish businesses, and other intrusions into Basque life. Recently there has been improved cooperation between Spanish and French anti-terrorist authorities, and it is appears that they have had some success in finding and arresting many Basque militants. The bombings continue despite the arrests.

As with militant activity, there is also no reason to think that non-militant political action will wind down. Public protest is a long-enshrined part of the Basques' repertoire in dealing with the Spanish government. It is difficult to identify concessions the Spanish government might offer that would check the protests- short of independence, which does not appear to be an option. The ETA has begun to direct some of its actions at other groups in Spain, notably the Catalans, who have responded with anti-Basques protests. There is also a backlash among Basques themselves against some of ETA's actions but this seems more likely to affect ETA's tactics than to end support for its long-term objective of independence. The other hope for ending Basque protests and militant activity is the Basque regional government's affiliation with the European Union, which gives it the opportunity to function autonomously in the international arena. This does not seem sufficient to satisfy the militants' demand for full sovereignty.

Analytic Summary

The area that runs along the border of Spain and France is known to the Basques as Euskadi and has been their traditional homeland for millennia (TRADITN = 1). The Basques are concentrated in the region (GROUPCON = 3) with few of them choosing to live elsewhere in Spain. The group is not racially distinct from the rest of Spain (RACE = 0), and their most striking distinguishing characteristic is their language (LANG = 3), which has no resemblance to any other living European language. Less than half the group speaks Basque, however, despite its mandatory teaching in schools at younger ages. The Basques have a long history of resisting external authorities who have tried to control them and are highly cohesive (COHESX9 = 5). They were briefly autonomous under the Spanish Republic and regained regional autonomy in 1979. The regional government does not extend to the adjoining province of Navarre, part of their traditional homeland, which is a source of continuing grievance.

The Basques currently do not face demographic disadvantages (DEMSTR00 = 0), and are not politically or economically discriminated against (POLDIS00 and ECODIS00 = 0). To the contrary, the Basque region - along with Catalonia - is one of the most prosperous in Spain. Since 1979 the Basques have had their own provincial parliament and Prime Minister. They can raise and spend a significant proportion of their taxes and display their own flag. They have their own police force and their language, Euskera, is compulsory in all schools in the region. They experience no discrimination in access to private or public sector jobs. During the Franco regime they were severely repressed and since some Basque activists are involved in militant activities, they currently face what some would describe as overt government repression. This repression takes the form of arrests of suspected terrorists, increased police presence, and some use of force against protesters. It is important to note that this repression is used by both Spanish authorities, and at times the Basques police force- the Ertzaintza. Basques police have recently been cracking down on both terrorist activities and demonstrations they deemed too confrontational, as well as working with both French and Spanish authorities.

While most external attention is given to the terrorist organization Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna (ETA), other organizations, both conventional and militant, are more widely supported advocates of Basque interests. The Basque Nationalist Party, a conventional party, gets more support in regional elections than the more militant Herri Batasuna, which is in fact the political wing of the ETA. In election in 2001, the Basque Nationalist Party increased its representation in the Basque regional parliament, winning 33 seats, six more than it gained in the previous election. Herri Batasuna, on the other hand, lost seven of the 14 seats it had held. In 2000, a youth wing of the ETA and a French Basque group combined to form Haika, a new militant group intent on attaining Basque sovereignty. The Basques in Spain have also relied on the Basques in France, a smaller and less militant community, to provide safe-houses and to store equipment for ETA's terrorist operations in Spain.

Only the most radical of Basques seek complete independence and unification with the Basques in France to create a new country (SEPX = 3). Others call for broadening the autonomy they currently have and extending the regional government to Navarre. Many Basques also seek an end to the government's practice of moving Basques arrested for political offenses to distant regions of Spain.

As mentioned, the Basques have long protested for greater rights and autonomy (PROT45X = 4). While they could do very little during the Franco regime, protest continues to the present (PROT00 = 3), usually demonstrations that sometimes dissolve into street violence. In addition, ETA continues a campaign of bombings and assassinations that began in the 1960s (REBEL65X = 2) and continues to the present (REB03 = 2), interrupted by periodic cease-fires, the most recent of which ended in 1999 after holding for 14 months. It should be noted that some large recent demonstrations have been called to protest ETA's acts of violence against Basque targets, and to protest the ETA's tactics in general. These protests have called for co-operation as opposed to confrontation.


The Economist. May 10, 2001. "Fatherland, liberty and blood: Basque terrorism."

Keating, Michail "Spain: Peripheral Nationalism and State Response" in John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary eds. The Politics of Ethnic Conflict Regulation, Routledge, 1993. pp. 204-25.

Phase I Summary

Lexis/Nexis: US Department of State Human Rights Reports for 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 2001-2003.

Lexis/Nexis: All news files 1990-2003

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