Basque Parliament Agrees to Debate Independence

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Nov 7 18:06:52 UTC 2003

>>From the New York Times, November 7, 2003

In Spain, Basque Parliament Agrees to Debate Independence


     MADRID, Nov. 6 A Basque independence plan, considered a far-fetched
dream even by some supporters, took a small step toward becoming a reality
when the divided Basque parliament voted this week to grant it an official
hearing and to open debate. Spain's justice minister, however, has
repeatedly vowed to block the plan in court, contending that it violates
Spain's Constitution on 100 counts. Representatives of Spain's major
political parties have condemned the plan, saying it is undemocratic and
legitimizes terrorism.

"A secessionist plan on top of 1,000 deaths from terrorism is barbaric,"
said Prime Minister Jose Mara Aznar, referring to the more than 800 people
killed since 1968 by the Basque separatist group E.T.A., which is on the
United States' list of terrorist organizations. The plan, by the Basque
government leader, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, would turn the small northern
region of 2.1 million inhabitants into a "freely associated" state within
Spain. The wealthy region where gourmet restaurants and seaside resorts
form a backdrop to periodic street violence by separatist youths would
have its own court system, social security fund and representation in
international organizations under the plan. Citizens would have dual
Basque-Spanish nationality, as well as the right to determine their
political future by referendum.

The Basque parliament is not expected to vote on Mr. Ibarretxe's plan
until September, and any referendum would not take place until 2005. But
the plan has already become the center of debate on the political course
of Basque identity. As the Constitution's 25th anniversary approaches, the
opposition Socialist Party is pushing for parliamentary reform, and in
Catalonia, the governing nationalist party has floated its own
independence plan.

"The thinking is that if one day the Basques gain independence, Catalonia
will follow, and those are the two richest provinces in Spain," said
Javier Elzo, a sociologist of Deusto University in the region. Even if the
plan is defeated in a referendum, the fear that a vote would set a
precedent is at the root of the vehement reaction to the plan, he added.
Roughly 60 percent of the region's population are Spaniards of non-Basque
origin who migrated to its industrialized cities looking for better jobs,
or their children, said a pro-independence political science professor,
Jose Ignacio Ruiz Olabuenaga. They would be expected to vote against the
plan, he said.

"It's a only a dream, but even if we would be likely to lose, it would
validate our right to self-determination, which would be a victory," he
said. The region, home to Guernica, the town bombed in the Spanish Civil
War and immortalized by Picasso's painting, had been repressed under
Franco, who outlawed its language, flag and other symbols. After Spain
became a constitutional monarchy, Basques signed an agreement with the
central government granting them limited autonomy, including control of
their own police force and the teaching of their ancient language,
Euskera, in schools.

The semi-independence plan, which leaves defense and diplomacy in Spanish
hands, falls far short of E.T.A.'s claims to a greater Basque state that
includes Navarre Province and part of southwestern France. But Mr.
Ibarretxe said the compromise initiative "will close the door to violence
and expel E.T.A." Mr. Olabuenaga says nationalist leaders were negotiating
with E.T.A. and that the group could call a truce to bolster the plan's
chances of winning support.

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