NetWar: The Land of the Amiable Tyranny (1)
The Basque Conundrum Revisited

Contents Letter From Paris

Contents Letter From Paris

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


The Land of the Amiable Tyranny (1)
The Basque Conundrum Revisited


It’s been a while since I first had the idea of writing about the Basque Conundrum.

I felt it was an interesting subject. After all, terrorist groups in Western Europe are nowadays almost exclusively Islamic. What justifies the “almost” is precisely the murky Basque separatist group ETA (acronym of Basque Fatherland and Separation in the Basque language).

So I started to gather material and tried to sort it out in order to provide a sensible, well-thought-out vision of why the word Basque has become to terrorism what Sicilian has long been to organized crime: an unfair stereotype supported by a terrible factual reality.

The ETA has been active for at least 4 decades since it was launched in 60s with the support of the Communist block and is responsible for many hundreds of killings in the tiny Basque Country ( 2 M, about the size of the San Francisco area…). In the last ten years, Basque terrorists have gradually distanced themselves from their traditional Marxist origins and taken on an ideology of ethnical solidarity, inching progressively closer and closer to traditional Basque irredentism, largely based on unsullied lineage (no Jews, no Arabs, no dark-haired Southerners), blood groups, racial angles and the whole paraphernalia of 19th century Central European racialism, the sort of ideology you usually find among supporters of your run-of-the-mill Aryan Nation type of assortment.

I found the subject pretty manifold, too labyrinthine to explain for outsiders. I really felt that because of my Spanish roots I was too close to the trees to describe the forest for, say, someone from Singapore. I felt I needed some outside help and I found it via Coby Lubliners, a scientist at Berkeley by trade and a marvelous political observer and essay writer. So, I secured his permission to quote extensively from his essay “Mailbombs and Car Bombs: the Basque Conundrum” (Find here the whole essay, via Montmartre) to provide a sensible background for my own update on the situation, which I will give in a coming post. Let me just say that it is now my opinion that the Basque Country constitutes the most worrisome situation from a human rights point of view throughout Western Europe. The very last shelter (for the time being) of scientific racialism in the developed world, the one spot in the European Union where people are openly discriminated against because of their ethnical origins, often by local public servants.

Excerpts from “Mailbombs and Car Bombs: the Basque Conundrum” by Coby Lubliners (Find here the whole essay, via Montmartre)

"Euskal Herria" is the name by which Basque nationalists call the greater Basque Country, whose independence from Spain and France they seek. What provoked the mailbombing (against a nationalist web site) was outrage over the brutal killing--by the ultranationalist terrorist organization ETA--of a non-nationalist municipal councilor named Miguel Ángel Blanco in the Basque town of Ermua, along with a sense that the Web site, while not managed by ETA, was sympathetic to it. In the wake of the killing and the massive protests that it provoked, within the Basque Country and without, ETA declared a "truce," which it maintained for a year and a half, until, on January 21, 2000, a car bomb (ETA's favorite weapon) in Madrid killed an army officer, also named Blanco (blanco, incidentally, means 'target' in Spanish).

Basque nationalists are a definite minority in Euskal Herria. Even in the Basque Country in the narrower sense, that is, the Basque Autonomous Community (formerly the Basque Provinces) of Spain--which covers only about a third of the territory claimed by the nationalists)--they constitute at most half the population; in the Spanish Province of Navarre (the historic heartland of Basquedom) and in the French Basque region they are far fewer than that. That the Basque Autonomous Government has been headed, since its inception in 1979, by the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV)--the moderate wing of nationalism--is due largely to the division of the non-nationalists between socialists, radical leftists, and conservatives.

The PNV's moderation is expressed, above all, by its opposition to violence. During most of the 1980s and 1990s it kept its distance from ETA by not explicitly advocating independence, only a vague "self-determination," as well as by vigorously claiming all the advantages of the special tax status that the Spanish Constitution gives the Basque Country and Navarre, a status that has led the region from post-industrial depression to a renewed prosperity symbolized by the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum.

But the recent ETA truce led the PNV's leaders to believe that the association between full separatism and violence was no longer valid, and they committed themselves to joining forces for independence with ETA's political arm, Herri Batasuna (which now uses the name Euskal Herritarrok as a political party), and with a smaller moderate party, a PNV offshoot named Eusko Alkartasuna. Now, with the truce broken, only the next elections will tell what political price the PNV will have to pay for its gamble [Note.- The essay was written in 2000 JAH].

The Basque self-styled "national liberation movement" represented by ETA, which sprang up in the 1960s, was consciously modeled on the one of Northern Ireland, with the IRA as the armed branch and Sinn Féin as the political one. What the two have in common is not only organization but an ethnically based ideology, something that sets them apart from other nationalist movements in the West.

Civic and ethnic nationalism

Over the past century it has generally been recognized by political thinkers, especially German and British ones, that there is a drastic difference between East (eastern Europe and most of Asia) and West (western Europe and the territories settled by its emigrants) in what is meant by a nation. The Austrian churchman, political scientist and statesman Ignaz Seipel went so far as to assert that "Europe is divided by a line which separates two entirely different conceptions of the idea of the 'Nation.' On one side of the line are the peoples for whom the state is everything, and who also understand national sentiment as a great enthusiasm for the state to which they, of their own free will, belong. On the other side of that line of demarcation, the sentiment of civilization, of a common tongue and a common origin, preponderates."

Various terms have been used for the two concepts: "state nation" and "cultural nation" (F. Meinecke), "political" and "personal" nation (C. A. Macartney), "territorial or civic" and "ethnic" nation (A. D. Smith). Smith takes pains to label the former as "of course, a peculiarly Western conception of the nation." His avoidance of a reference to a state (which is characteristic of German thinkers on the subject, from F. J. Neumann to Jürgen Habermas) shows an awareness of Western communities that define themselves as nations on the basis of a territory which does not necessarily constitute a sovereign state (whether or not they may aspire to one): Scotland, Québec, Catalonia, Corsica, the Faeroes... And the nationalist movements of these communities are generally quite explicit in rejecting an ethnic basis for their aspirations. A spokesman for the Scottish National Party, for example, has said flatly: "Ours is a civic nationalism, based on historic borders rather than ethnic blood rights." The Parti Québécois proclaims Quebec to be "a pluralistic society," and guarantees that under sovereignty the language rights of les Québécoises et Québécois de langue anglaise will be fully protected. And in Corsica, the Regional Assembly has defined "the Corsican people" (le peuple corse) as "a living historical and cultural community comprising all those who are Corsicans by origin and Corsicans by adoption."
It is probably no coincidence that these nationalist movements have been, unlike their ethnic counterparts in the East, largely nonviolent, with the possible exception of Corsica. For it's quite a different matter to regard your neighbor, even if he speaks a different language or practices a different religion, as a member of your nation, and to see him as one of "the others" (think Chechnya, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Indonesia...).

The exception of Corsica is, in fact, more apparent than real. The violence of the Corsican National Liberation Front (FLNC) has been, in the words of the Corsican historian R. Caratini, "mainly strategic," its purpose being more to attract attention to the island's plight than to terrorize. "Homicidal violence is extremely rare," he writes, "and its political character is debatable and debated." Indeed, what violence there is (as another Corsican, G. X. Culioli, has written) cannot be separated from the lawlessness that has been endemic on the island for centuries, with bloody conflicts between north and south and among various mafia-type organizations. ....In the Spanish Basque region too, what had been a civic movement, led by the thoroughly Hispanicized urban bourgeoisie and called fuerismo, in defense of the fueros (the royal charters by which the Basque Provinces and Navarre enjoyed a degree of autonomy unlike any other province, and which were threatened by the increasing centralization in Madrid), was transformed into an ethnic one by a scion of that bourgeoisie named Sabino Arana.

Arana was a devout Catholic who was unhappy with the way the fueros had evolved into purely economic entitlements (conciertos económicos)--which, as I mentioned above, are maintained in the present Spanish Constitution--that led to a rapid industrialization of the region and the consequent immigration of large numbers of maketos (non-Basques). It was in reaction to the overly materialistic (in his view) fuerismo that in 1897 he founded the PNV, and its chief goal was the independence of the "Basque race" in its homeland. The mythology surrounding the racial notion of Basque identity is largely Arana's creation.

The primordial symbol of this identity is, of course, the Basque language--which is not related to any other--but since a great many Basques, especially urban ones like Arana himself, had lost the actual use of their language, a different identifying badge had to be found. It was to be the family name, a "true" Basque being one among whose forebears at least four Basque surnames could be found. (When Arana fell in love with an illiterate peasant girl name Nikole Achica-Allende, what concerned him was not their obvious social difference but the clearly Spanish "Allende" part of her family name, which he found to his joy, after thoroughly combing her parish records, to be merely a recent addition intended to distinguish her family--impeccably Basque--from another Achica family.) Other supposedly singular aspects of the race have been adduced by the ideologues of Basque nationalism, for example blood type (by the PNV's current leader, Xabier Arzalluz) or brain size.

Basque and Spanish politics

In purely political terms, the PNV is of the Christian Democratic persuasion, while ETA and its affiliates call themselves socialist. The PNV has, moreover, oscillated throughout the 20th century (since Arana's death in 1903) between the goals of independence and of economically advantageous autonomy within Spain, including support of whichever party rules in Madrid in exchange for concessions (a deal that has been eagerly embraced by both socialists and conservatives). To ETA, however, the latter orientation is treasonous, and whenever it has prevailed, the PNV has not been spared from ETA's violence. Indeed, many cynical observers attribute to self-protection the PNV's latest swing toward independence.

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Chapter Three: A World in Flux - Ripe for Netwar Chapter Four: Varieties of Netwar
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Chapter Six: Implications for U.S. Doctrine and Strategy

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