Basque welcomes rights of self-determination across Europe
Interview with: Joseba Azkarraga Rodero, Minister, Department of Justice, Employment and Social Security, Basque Country
The Basque region of Spain hit the headlines recently with the fatal shooting of two Spanish Civil Guards, Raul Centeno and Fernando Trapero in Capbreton, in southwest France. It is the first such attack by ETA, an acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Freedom, in France since 1976. ETA members want an independent Basque state in northwest Spain and southwest France. The Basque country has its own government and police force and enjoys considerable autonomy from Spain. With the status determination of Kosovo being closely watched by all, especially regions with inspirations for independence Joseba Azkarraga Rodero, Basque Minister for Justice, Employment and Social Security, spoke to Tejinder Singh in Brussels about his assessment of the situation and its fallout on other simmering conflicts.
What is your opinion on the ongoing Kosovo demands for independence and related subjects?
Positive! It’s basically positive for all the people. Fighting for self-determination is the right of the people. We support the rights of self-determination of Scottish and Kosovo people through peaceful and democratic means to reach such ends.
How do you view the upcoming referendum in your region next year?
The deal by the (regional) premier Juan Jose Ibarretxe calling for a referendum is positive on behalf of three political parties including his. It calls for rights of people to self-determination. It is the will of the Basque government to go ahead and see the will of the people. We do not understand why there is opposition from Spanish government for this referendum. Are they afraid of what the result may be? What people want should be given as a right to determination.
If the referendum gives a yes vote, will your party press for independence?
The referendum is actually not for independence. My opinion and that of my party is that there are questions that are being put to people. There is the ethical question to Basque society if it wants to reject violent scenes. And then there is the democratic concept asking people what do they require of Basque parties in order to define their relationship with Spain. Thus this referendum is on these two major issues.
So how do you expect society to react?
Looking at results of recent elections, we can see thinking of people. In those elections people clearly voted for parties who go for independence. As there is a trend in position of society towards freedom, it shows the fear in Madrid.
What is the position of the Basque language and culture today?
Basque language and culture is suffering under the shadow of Spain. Earlier, also a Basque leader spoke in Basque in the European parliament and I believe that it was a very important sign to all. I will also speak in Basque language. Moreover, we are confident in running a good tax administration with good collections and then invest in uplifting of Basque culture. Spain defends its nationality in the Senate as Spanish is only spoken and Catalan or Basque can not be spoken. Spain talks of plural nationalities but does not practice.
Is it because Basque is a rich region, you are aspiring for independence?
No! It is not correct that Basque is aspiring for independence because of richness. Probably if they were poor they will become rich through independence.
But your region is rich?
True, we have a good situation. We have full employment in Basque country and industries are generating wealth. People now want to go towards independence because it’s positive for citizens.
Can you visualise a time frame for Basque independence if Kosovo gets independence?
There is talk of independence not because of Kosovo and it’s not only the process of Kosovo. People have been fighting for their own states. Large states talk of borders and that is not correct. We can see cases of Kosovo and Scotland – similar cases where people are fighting for self determination.
So have you contacted those like-minded people fighting for self-determination?
Yes, there are talks and cooperation but relationships are not at state level. These are more at party level like with Scottish Nationalist Party and others. There are no platforms yet but at the EU level, there is an active European Free Alliance.
What is your reaction to the incident in France resulting in the death of two police personnel?
First of all, we need to clear up what happened with the presence of the civil guards. This being one further step of ETA as there was no attack outside Spanish territory till now. ETA is a setback to dialogue and democratic ways to self-determination.
In case of independence will ETA be a part of the new government?
No! ETA is a negative factor and negative influence over Basque independence efforts. ETA is dramatic and it has no right to kill on behalf of Basque people. They do not do politics; they only know how to kill. Batsuana (political wing of ETA) will be considered for inclusion as it is doing political work.
Talking of Batsuana, your party is demanding the appearance of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Interior minister Alfredo Perez Rubaleaba and conservative former premier Jose Maria Aznar to appear as witness for cases against your regional premier Juan Jose Ibarretxe. Will you comment on that?
Legislature is influenced by political factors as the question arises why the Spanish Prime Minister can speak with ETA and its ok, while the Basque political leadership can not even talk with Batsuana for political dialogue. We have to make clear that majority of judges are very professional but there are instances of particular cases where political influences take place and these are weakening the judicial system.
What is your message?
I really do believe that there is a worsening image of Basque people who are hardworking and are seeking independence through democratic means. Self-determination is a right of all people.
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