Skip to Content

Basque Country and Catalonia rally in Bilbao, Spain; ETA slogans

Basques take to streets in pouring rain to protest against Madrid’s moves

More than 50 000 people rallied in the northern Spanish city of Bilbao against Spain's direct rule of Catalonia. This Basque Country region had boasted its own separatist movement, ETA.

Published: November 8, 2017, 8:37 am

    Read more

    While several separatist political parties attended Saturday’s rally, the Basque Nationalist Party, which rules the autonomous region, refused to officially take part in the rally.

    Madrid’s forceful reaction to the Catalonian independence declaration has caused alarm in other semi-autonomous regions of Spain such as the Basque country and Galicia.

    The current Basque leadership worry that the Catalan crisis could impact their progress towards self-rule. Leader of the Basque regional government Inigo Urkullu, has offered careful support for Catalonia, while also decrying the divisions in society that has developed since the region held a referendum on 1 October.

    Urkullu also has to deal with pressure at home from pro-independence forces, such as Bildu, which won 21 percent in the 2016 regional elections on his party, the PNV, winning 38 percent.

    Speaking to the media during the Bilbao protest, Arnaldo Otegi, leader of Basque pro-independence party EH Bildu and a former jailed ETA member, expressed concern over the recent moves by Madrid against Catalonia.

    “In the face of this situation, it’s necessary that the Basques take to the streets, as we’re doing today, and build a popular, democratic wall that allows us to confront this situation,” he said.

    But according Urkullu the Catalan referendum was not legal or binding. The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) is “above all a law and order party,” says Borja Lasheras, director of the European Council of Foreign Relations in Madrid. “They don’t like the chaos we are seeing in Catalonia.”

    Lasheras added: “We have come out of a dark period, which saw Basque society fractured. The lesson learned is that it doesn’t make sense to push for independence because it galvanises your opposition.” Lasheras believes the Basques have “nothing to envy the Catalans”.

    The most recent surveys show that support among Basques for independence has fallen in recent years. A 2017 study by the University of Deusto found 17 percent of Basques back independence from Spain, with 29 percent satisfied with the current level of self-rule and 38 percent in favour of increased autonomy.

    The lehendakari, as Basque premiers are called, was involved in the marathon 11th-hour negotiations to prevent his Catalan counterpart, Carles Puigdemont, from unilaterally declaring independence in Catalonia’s parliament.

    Inigo Urkullu

    Urkullu was ultimately unsuccessful in convincing Puigdemont not to declare independence.

    Indeed the northern region has a better self-rule deal than Catalonia. Unlike Catalans, Basques do not pay more in taxes than is spent on their region – a rule that is enshrined in law, the BBC reported.

    Juan José Ibarretxe, also a member of the ruling PNV, had also pushed for a referendum on self-determination earlier at the turn of the century, but his plan failed to challenge Spain’s constitution, which denotes the country as “indivisible”.

    The Spanish Congress rejected his proposals in 2005 and Basque laws laying the framework for a binding vote were similarly declared unconstitutional by Spain’s highest court.

    ETA has since declared an end to its campaign of violence, in being faced with rising socioeconomic challenges in their region. Urkullu enjoys good relations with Spain’s central government, and that has resulted in improvements in the Basque region’s financial package and degree of self-rule.

    ETA members

    The separatist campaign by Basque region’s paramilitary group ETA has left some 850 people dead. When ETA surrendered its weapons earlier this year, it effectively ended its armed resistance.

    But protests against Madrid flowed over into the streets of the northern city of Bilbao in the Basque Country, putting this new cosy relationship at risk. According to the regional paper Naiz, the ultraleft party Podemos’ regional branch and several labor unions also participated in the march.

    The organisers of Saturday’s rally said they were angry at how the Madrid government had imposed direct rule on Catalonia following an independence referendum.

    Protesters carried a banner that read “No to 155. Democracy and right to decide,” in reference to Article 155 of Spain’s constitution, which Madrid had triggered to suspend Catalonia’s bid for regional autonomy. Spain also called a snap election for the region next month.

    Despite the rain, thousands of demonstrators had turned up waving Basque and Catalonian flags.

    Puigdemont, meanwhile, who is facing prison time, wrote in Dutch on his Twitter account on Saturday that he would “cooperate” with Belgian authorities, although his lawyer has said the pro-independence politician would fight a forced return to Spain.

    “We are prepared to fully cooperate with Belgian justice following the European arrest warrant issued by Spain,” Puigdemont tweeted in Dutch.

    Prosecutors in Brussels, said they were examining the arrest warrants for Puigdemont and four of his associates and would launch extradition proceedings. But the proceedings could take weeks.

    Tensions between Madrid and Flemish politicians have mounted since the issuing of the warrants, Flemish daily Knack reported.  Madrid has accused the Flemish conservative party, the N-VA, among other things, of having “a history of xenophobia” after its chair Bart De Wever  said: “If you’re silent at a time when politicians are thrown into jail because they just make a point because they have an opinion and if violence is committed to civilians, then that’s just guilty of failure.”

    De Wever continued: “Here things happen that we should not tolerate in any EU country. It does not matter whether the Catalans agree or disagree. You do not exclude people because they simply exercise their democratic rights. You just do not do that. You do not do that, and certainly not in the European Union. ”

    He added: “About the party’s history, the Partido Popular should really be silent.”


    Keep ​your language polite​. Readers from many different countries visit and contribute to Free West Media and we must therefore obey the rules in​,​ for example​, ​Germany. Illegal content will be deleted.

    If you have been approved to post comments without preview from FWM, you are responsible for violation​s​ of​ any​ law. This means that FWM may be forced to cooperate with authorities in a possible crime investigation.

    If your comments are subject to preview ​by FWM, please be patient. We continually review comments but depending on the time of day it can take up to several hours before your comment is reviewed.

    We reserve the right to del​ete​ comments that are offensive, contain slander or foul language, or are irrelevant to the discussion.


    Islamo-leftists march in London

    LondonThousands of demonstrators gathered in London to protest against the "evil of racism" and "Islamophobia" in a strong show of Islamo-leftism.

    Porton Down not able to identify chemical used on Russian ex-spy

    Well-placed sources inside the British Foreign Office have confirmed that Porton Down scientists were not able to identify the nerve agent as being of Russian manufacture, and are angry about the political pressure from inside the government to lie about the poison being Russian.

    Joint allied statement against Russia after UK ignores OCPW convention

    LondonOn 15 March, the United Kingdom, together with allies Germany, France and the United States, issued a collective statement alleging that ex-spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by agents of the Russian Federation.

    Britain’s spy hysteria is damaging its credibility and standing

    LondonThe actions of the British government in response to the alleged poisoning of a British double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter is damaging Britain's credibility and international standing.

    Cost of EU Parliament steeply rising

    The costs of the European parliament have been steeply increasing since 2011. It won’t take long before it hits 2 billion euros a year, a Dutch newspaper reported.

    Telford: largest child sex abuse scandal in history ignored by the BBC

    The Sunday Mirror reported this weekend that a young English girl could be one of up to 1000 victims of grooming or child sexual abuse in the Shropshire town over the last four decades, thought to be one of the worst of its kind in modern Britain.

    UK Foreign Office issued letter in pidgin English to banned speakers

    LondonConservative vlogger Brittany Pettibone was given a letter written in pidgin English denying her leave to enter the UK. Pettibone, an American citizen and her partner the Austrian Identitarian activist Martin Sellner were both held in detention in the UK and denied entry into the country.

    Mainstream Polish author barred from UK visit

    LondonWhile the UK ban on two visiting conservatives from Austria and the US, Martin Sellner and Brittany Pettibone made headlines, the UK ban on award-winning Polish journalist received little attention.

    Dutch politicians call for end to EU’s ‘fact checking’

    The HagueDutch home affairs minister Kasja Ollongren is facing pressure from a majority of Dutch MPs who want on Brussels to disband its "fact checking" unit known as EU vs Disinfo.

    Facebook censors Flemish nationalists protecting historic castle

    A Flemish patriotic youth group launched a video on Facebook in which they pledge to defend their Flemish heritage and their future, but it was taken down quickly.

    Go to archive