Tired by years of separatist strife, many Basques wary of new independence bid

The New York Times reports: Deep in the hills of the Basque region, in northern Spain, Luis Iriondo tapped a bridge with his walking stick.

Mr. Iriondo, 95, is one of the last survivors of a notorious assault on Guernica during the Spanish Civil War in 1937. He was 14 when German bombers fighting for Gen. Francisco Franco reduced this town, for centuries a sacred symbol of Basque identity, to rubble.

And it was somewhere beneath this bridge that Mr. Iriondo, more than 80 years ago, sheltered during the attack.

Franco won the war and ended Basque self-government, which did not return until 1979, after Franco’s death. Though Mr. Iriondo still hopes for greater autonomy for the region, he does not want Basque separatists to follow their counterparts in Catalonia, whose parliament voted on Friday to secede from Spain, prompting the Spanish government to take administrative control of Catalonia hours later.

“All my life, all I have had on my mind is war,” Mr. Iriondo said. “So what I look forward to is peace and unity.”

If the pollsters are right, his position is not uncommon among the Basques of Spain. As the secession crisis in Catalonia deepens, attention has turned to the northern Basque region — which, like Catalonia, has its own language, culture and long history of separatism — to see if the desire for independence proves contagious.

Until the 19th century, Spanish kings swore an oath to respect Basque autonomy underneath a tree here in Guernica. But the region’s self-government was dismantled in 1876, and so it remained (barring a brief period of autonomy during the Spanish Civil War) for more than a century.

Even after its restoration, self-government was still not enough for some Basques — including a militant group, ETA, which killed more than 800 civilians, policemen and soldiers in a decades-long campaign for independence that formally ended this year.

But despite this tortured history, or perhaps because of it, the Catalan crisis does not appear to have markedly increased the zeal for Basque independence. [Continue reading…]

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