Portrait of a Nationalist Electorate

A rather clunky and rushed translation of an article in today’s Diario de Sevilla about the Basque elections. I think it reflects what a fair proportion of Spanish people think about the Basque country.

‘That a corner of the country that contains only 6% of the population should fill a fair amount of newspaper pages daily is something that irritates many – if not most – Spanish people. During the transition to democracy, I listened to a friend say that if there was ever a referendum on independence for the Basque Country there would be more in favour in the rest of Spain than in the Basque Country itself. The surveys don’t prove my my friend right, but conversations in the street and the bars certainly do.

Now that ETA is almost disarmed, it seems that the secret weapon of Basque independence campaigners was the deep tedium that the so-called ‘Basque question’ induces. But no – tedium is not a tactical weapon: those who have taken the trouble of analysing Juan José Ibarretxe (head of the Basque government) say he is unable to act duplicitously, and that the most worrying aspect of his character is that he believes what he says and never holds back, he simply announces his intentions. What others may understand as a threat for him is simply a prediction.

Basque nationalists usually say that outside their country no-one understands them. They may well be right. Not even the influence of the grinding nationalist propaganda can explain that almost half the population is prepared to risk their welfare in exchange for the fulfilment of a dream – but a nightmare for some – that resuscitates legends and myths which, in Antonio Elorza’s words, have less historical rigour than the adventures of Asterix.

But this is not a joke: the European experience of the first half of the 20th century showed us that historical fantasies kill. In the Basque Country the toll is almost a thousand dead, hundreds of thousands of exiles and half the population condemned to keep silent about their convictions, because, according to the surveys, they are afraid. The most terrible phrase I have read about the Basque Country was from a Partido Popular councillor from a town in Guipúzcoa: “I don’t know who my electors are”.

Fear even brings a mistrust of voting in secrecy. The Basque Country is the place in Spain where the postal vote is most used. Fortunately in today’s elections, postal suffrage is down. This could be a consequence of Batasuna’s prohibition, which has weakened terror. Another consequence is that the PP has held them meetings in towns where it could not even enter before. But it has held them without an audience. Many PP and PSE voters still have no face.

Maybe due to tedium, we have become resigned to the fact that things will never change in the Basque Country, that its political map is as perennial as its physical map, and that nationalist power is as immovable as a geological phenomenon. This is what we also thought 20 years ago about the Berlin Wall. Let’s hope that tonight we have a surprise.’

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