Euskadi and Catalonia are looking for their way

It has been almost 23 years since that unprecedented alliance between the PP and the PSOE to defeat Lehendakari Juan José Ibarretxe, who at the time was leading an experiment in the process of sovereignty in the Basque Country.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
20 April 2024 Saturday 17:17
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Euskadi and Catalonia are looking for their way

It has been almost 23 years since that unprecedented alliance between the PP and the PSOE to defeat Lehendakari Juan José Ibarretxe, who at the time was leading an experiment in the process of sovereignty in the Basque Country. I remember the overflowing landing in Euskadi of journalists from Madrid. Some of us also went there from Barcelona. The difference in media attention with the campaign that ends today is abysmal.

In that spring of 2001, a media hive followed the pulse between the two sides. The PP had chosen Jaime Mayor Oreja, Minister of the Interior highly rated in the polls and who unfortunately was forced to attend funerals of ETA victims frequently. The PSE had Nicolás Redondo Terreros. Coming from the UGT, he was one of the first socialist councilors in Biscay, which had reached agreements with the PNB. In theory, the most maroon of each house, united to overthrow Ibarretxe and his proposal to vote in a referendum to turn the Basque Country into a free associated state and, in return, Spain into a confederated country.

Despite media support, the constitutionalist unity experiment was a fiasco. Ibarretxe won 33 of the 75 seats in the Basque Parliament, one more than the bloc that sought to unseat him. The PP got 19 (it went up by one) and the Socialists even lost a seat and were left with 13. On election night many of those who arrived from Madrid did not understand what had happened. I would say that the Catalan journalists were not so surprised. In view of that alliance, many voters mobilized who may not have shared Ibarretxe's plan, but who believed that they were thus defending their national identity and self-government.

It seems that this campaign has nothing to do with that one. ETA stopped killing in 2011, but it wasn't until October 2021 when the leftist Abertzale took a first step in recognizing the victims of the terrorist group. Although incomplete, this process has given him electoral gains in a vertiginous manner. But there is a similar position in the behavior of Basque society, which, just like in 2011, is now also jealous of its identity. The Parliament that emerges from the polls today will be the most nationalist in a long time, even if it does not propose independence. Perhaps the fact of having a favorable tax system influences the latter, although it was already there when the Ibarretxe plan was proposed.

The majority of Basques who vote nationalist today will not do so thinking of separating from Spain. Many of them, from both trends, will also do it without thinking about ETA. In these elections, it will be possible to see to what extent terrorism has ceased to be an element that conditions Basque society. It is a double-edged statement. On the one hand, the citizens of Euskadi have every right to turn over decades of suffering, but at the same time it would be worrying if this became an uncritical oblivion of what happened. Identity is built from the reading of the past. In the Basque case, ETA terrorism cannot be erased.

The turning point of the campaign has been the hesitant statement of Bildu's candidate, Pello Otxandiano, in an interview with Ser in which he tried to avoid the designation of terrorists as terrorists. The Abertzale left has been avoiding interviews in which this issue could appear throughout the campaign. They present a candidate in theory free of past regrets, but it has become clear that Otxandiano continues to be conditioned by others who are still governed by codes of consent with ETA. We will see to what extent this continues to influence Basque society. The fight between the PNB and Bildu is very tight and the former are convinced that Otxandiano's statements (he wavered on this issue three times in 24 hours) will take their toll.

The Bildu episode delves into the contradictions of the PSOE, which warns that the nationalist left still needs to make progress in condemning terrorism in order to agree on it in Euskadi, while it negotiates its votes in Congress. As much as Sánchez considered that the last general elections endorsed this relationship, as well as his policy towards Catalan independence, it is a slippery slope for the socialists.

The experience of the Ibarretxe plan vaccinated the PNB against uncertain adventures, and the process is , Bildu. If after these elections the PNB and the PSE return to govern, a negotiation process will be opened between the Penabistas and Pedro Sánchez to achieve a "new status" in the Basque self-government within the constitutional framework in which it would also be included Bildu. The idea is that the pact includes the widest possible spectrum of Basque society and Congress.

The result of the Catalan elections will complete the picture in two historical communities that have experienced turbulent years in terms of their identity. It remains to be seen if in this case the big three, PSC, ERC and Junts, can try to reach an understanding similar to the Basque one with Sánchez or if another dynamic is imposed. It will also be interesting to know the position of the PP in each case. Euskadi and Catalonia are looking for their way in this electoral spring.