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  • The desire for self-government took the form of a statute of autonomy. The moderate sector of Basque nationalism, the “euskalerriacos” (mainly CNV) would promote a campaign in favour of autonomy in 1917.

  • Spanish and international context: at the end of the 1st World War there were problems of nationalities and the proposals for peace and the rights of self-determination will be decisive.

  • In this context, Eusko Ikaskuntza society emerged (1918), promoted by the 4 Diputaciones in order to promote the study of Basque subjects.  Euskaltzaindia also emerged from this society.

  • PNV did not take part in the signing of the Pact of San Sebastian (1930) delaying the approval of Basque Statute.


1.1.Political forces in the Basque Country during the Republic

The Basque political map will be divided mainly into three political vertices (not like in Spain, left-right).

  • Nationalism: United around PNV. Basque nationalism didn´t only constitute an ideology, but also a strictly organized way of life:  different organizations (Batzokiak, Emakume Abertzale Batza, Egi, Mendigoizaleak, ELA, Euskadi, celebration of Aberri Eguna since 1932.

  • Carlism: (Comunion Tradicionalista). It was the political force of the majority right in Euskal Herria. The Carlismo had Araba under control ( thanks to the Cacique Oriol) and Navarra. At first nationalists and Carlists worked together, but they separated as they had a different way of understanding the level of autonomy of the Basque Country.

  • The left: (PSOE -CNT-PCE). Political force in the capital and industrial zones.

1.2. Towards autonomy (1931-1936)

Complicated way to autonomy. Reasons:

  • Different idea of autonomy of political parties.

  • Not participation of PNV in the Pact of San Sebastian.

  • Political alliance of PNV with Carlists during 1931-1933.

In April 1931 the 2nd Republic was proclaimed in Spain. From that moment the Nationalist mayors (head José Antonio Aguirre) started promoting self-government. They started to work on the promotion of a statute. The first text was written by Eusko Ikaskuntza, being the starting point of all the draft statutes during the Republic. 2 attempts:

  1. Statute of Lizarra(1931) gathered in Lizarra in an assembly of municipalities (nationalists and carlists), was approved on June 1931. In the Statute the nationalist right and confessional footprint would be signed.


  • The Fueros would be recovered.

  • Basque Country would be a confederation (strength role of Diputaciones).

  • Limited rights of immigrants.

  • Confessional state.

  1. Statute of the Juntas Gestoras (1933): promoted by the left through the Juntas Gestoras (Diputaciones) appropriate to the constitution of 1931. Met in Pamplona for approval. Navarre decided to be outside of the space of the autonomy of the 4 territories, but the project continued for the three territories.


  • Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Araba would be an autonomous territory.

  • Parliament and government more important than Diputaciones.

  • Less autonomy  but eliminated discrimination against immigrants.

  • Government of right (CEDA, 1933-1935) eliminated drafted statutes.

  1. Statute of 1936: After the victory of the Popular Front, the draft autonomy was recovered. There were negotiations between the socialist Prieto and the nationalist Agirre. In October 1, 1936, the Cortes approved the Statute in Valencia.

  • It was a limited statute (only 14 articles).

  • In a war situation Basque government had to worry about other issues (Eusko Gudarostea, currency...).

  • Lehendakari Aguirre (PNV) was elected in Gernika (7 october) by unanimity of all the political parties and the 1st Basque Government loyal to the Republic made up of all political parties: EAJ/PNV (4), PSOE (3), EAE/ ANV (1), Izquierda Republicana (1), Union Republicana (1) and Partido Comunista de Euskadi (1).

  • From outside, important to have a moderate and Catholic lehendakari because it broke with the idea of the rebels against the comunion-atheism.

  • The control of the Basque Government would be limited to the areas that were not controlled by the rebels (only Bizkaia, Aiara and Eibar) and until Bilbao falls in June 1937.


2.1. The First Basque Government

Special characteristics:

  • The nationalist bourgeoisie on the side of the left parties in favour of the Republic.

  • As a result of the isolation of Basque Country emerged the Basque army (Eusko Gudaroztea).

  • Special paper of Basque clergy (against rebels).

  • Important mass movement in favour of uprising (Carlism in Navarre).

  • In Araba and Navarra,  the uprising had the sympathy and help of the majority. Reasons:

  • Economy based on agriculture.

  • Majority of rights.

  • Great influence of the Church.

2.2. Civil War. Military uprising and development.

  1. Military uprising: July 18, General Mola imposed the state war in Navarre with the help of the “requetes” (carlists). There were cruel repressions (3000 shot), and once that space was controlled they begin the control of Gipuzkoa.

  • In Araba, colonel Alonso Vega, helped by Mola the Carlist cacique Oriol and 1300 volunteers, controlled almost all the province (except north). War front would be established in Legutia.

  • In Gipuzkoa,there was a popular reaction and resisted the uprising. Defense Juntas (without coordination) would be in charge of leadership (tensions between anarchists and nationalists).

  • Bizkaia, not any kind of uprising, loyal to the Republic.

  1. Development of the War: The was was short and there were two phases: Gipuzkoa and Bizkaia.


  • Gipuzkoa, would soon be under the control of the rebels who arrived from Navarre. Although the republicans showed resistance, on 4 september (1936) they would conquer Irun and then San Sebastian, soon controlling all the interior of Gipuzkoa until Eibar, placing the war front towards the border with Bizkaia (next objective).


  • The second phase was developed after the approval of the Basque statute. The Basque Government was composed at a very difficult time and on october 7, 1936, at the head of José Antonio Aguirre  ⅔ of the territory was under the control of rebels.

  • From that moment on the Basque Government would take political and militar leadership under hegemony on PNV.

  • Objective of francoists was Madrid, so there was less pressure in the Basque Country. Basque Government was responsible for organizing the Eusko Gudaroste and the defense of Bilbao “the Iron Belt”. The Basque army composed of battalions led by different political parties (in total 90: PNV 28, PSOE 13, ISU 13, PCE 8, Republicans 8, CNT 7, ANV 4, ELA 3...)

  • To ensure public order it was created an autonomous police, Ertzaina. Basque Government took charge of postal service and currency and some other aspects functioning almost as an independent state.

  • Euskadi became an “Oasis” within the Republican Spain. Specific characteristics:

  • Respect shown to the Church, The Church didn't suffer any type of attack and carried out its activities with total normality.

  • There was no social revolution, no collectivization, no land expropriations (except to those who went over the national side).

  • Greater ideological diversity (but tension between the Basque Government and the Government of the Republic). The Basque Government complained about the little help received.

Development of the war in Bizkaia:

  • Eusko Gudarostea (15000 gudari) suffered a defeat in Legutia (Araba). As a result, it damaged the morale of the Basque army creating distrust between the Basque Government and Republican.

  • After spring 1937, the Francoist army will launch entire offensive to control Bizkaia. Main objective was to control Basque industry and nationalism. For this, the help of the German Condor Legion and Italian brigades using new military tactics (before the attack of the foot soldiers, the aviation and the heavy artillery would destroy with bombs Durango, Gernika and Bilbao) will be essential.

  • Civil cities would be massively bombed (Durango, Gernika, also Bilbao).

  • The Francoist would enter Bilbao in June 15, 1937 after passing the “iron belt”.

  • After falling Bilbao:

  • The nationalist battalions surrendered at the hands of the Italians (Pact of Santoña, August 22, 1937) it was a separate pact of the government of the Republic with Italians to put the interests of Basque people before of those of the Republic. But Franco would not respect the pact.

  • Socialists, communists and anarchists continued fighting in favour of the Republic until the fall of Asturias (October 1937).

2.3. Consequences of the War

  • Absolutely cruel repression, massive exile (around 150000 people, during the war 30000 children went into exile), imprisoned people, trials, executions…

  • Profound political and social cleansing in the administration.

  • Basque and Basque culture suffered persecution and prohibition

  • Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa were considered traitorous provinces, and as a result they were punished with the elimination of the economical agreement; Araba and Navarre were loyal to Franco.

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