Basque Society under Francoist Spain: Repression and Resistance

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Lot of people were killed during the war, but the killings did not stop and a period of official state reprisal began. Those suspected of affiliation with pro-republic ideologies were summarily rounded up and executed. Many people fled the country.

The new Francoist state officially branded Biscay and Gipuzcoa as ‘traitorous’ provinces. This served to legitimize the state terror imposed on the inhabitants of the two provinces. Inhabitants were terrorized for being Basque.


  • Total suppression of the Basque language
  • Only university in the Basque Provinces was closed
  • Libraries of social and cultural associations were seized by troops and there was mass burning of books in Basque
  • Teaching of the language was prohibited in all schools
  • The use of Basque was prohibited in all public places, including casual conversations in the street, and on the radio and in the printed media
  • Basque cultural societies and their publications were proscribed
  • Basque was prohibited in all religious publications, as well as in religious ceremonies
  • A decree was issued that required translation into Spanish of all Basque names in civil registries and other official documents

Many Basque priests defended the Basque nationalist cause. Those priests who had been sympathetic to Basque nationalism were considered traitors and were imprisoned. Spanish priests were sent to replace them. The free priests, the family, and quadrilles were the only source to transmit the Basque language (however clandestinely) to younger generations.

After the war, the leadership of the Basque nationalist movement went into exile. Several attempts were made by exiled Basques to raise the ‘Basque question’ in the international community. They allied to the allied cause World War II and a Basque military unit was established. However, Winston Churchill’s reluctance to test Franco’s theoretical neutrality forced the disbandment of the unit the following year. So a spy network was established in Euskal Herria during 1942, to monitor movements between Francoist Spain and German-controlled France. They also transported refugees into the Spanish state and formed isolated pockets of resistance against the Nazi occupiers.

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