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Q&A on the Basque conflict

Xavier Mas De Xaxas
Xavier Mas De Xaxas  

CNN International anchor Jonathan Mann interviewed Xavier Mas De Xaxas, U.S. correspondent for the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, during a special edition of Insight in January 2001 on the Basque conflict in Spain.

Jonathan Mann: Thank you so much for being with us. So many people obviously abhor the violence, how many people support it? How many Basques actually support ETA?

Xavier Mas De Xaxas: Well, you couldn't really tell. But if you (look at) the result in the last elections, HB and the radical nationalist movement, the one who is supporting violence in order to gain independence, got around 200,000 votes.

Mann: Which would mean what, what percentage roughly, do you think?

Basque conflict: Violence in Spain 

Mas De Xaxas: There are 3 million Basques, around 2 million voting. So you do the math.

Mann: So the violent campaign for independence doesn't have much support. What about independence peacefully? If there were a simple referendum or a vote held tomorrow on the Basque region, even as ETA imagines it, as big as that, would the region vote for its own independence, do you think?

Mas De Xaxas: I don't know. It's very close. I mean, the Spanish parties, the Popular Party and the Socialist Party, they have like around 50 percent of the votes. The other parties have 50 percent of the votes, too.

But the separatist movement is also very split. You have the ones who support violence and the ones who don't. The ones who don't, they're running the government. They have been running the government for the last 20 years, and now they are also divided.

Mann: And what does the Spanish government want? What has it been doing?

Mas De Xaxas: The Spanish government, after the truce was over, has been fighting very hard in order to stop the violence. I mean, they have to win the war against ETA through the police. There is a fear in the Basque country many people have left their homes and their towns. They are living abroad.

Most of them are living in the United States.

So there is a social pressure for the government to end the violence and impose a peace. At the same time, the government needs to find a way to open dialogue with the nationalist movement. How to do that, I guess that after the elections -- there are going to be elections later this year -- they will need to find a way to make a coalition government. I mean, a government with all the democratic parties, in order to corner ETA.

Mann: Now, you passed over something very quickly, which is all of this has happened since the cease-fire ended. The cease-fire seemed like an enormous opportunity to do the kinds of things you're describing. Why was that opportunity lost?

Mas De Xaxas: There was a lack of confidence in both sides. ETA thought the government wasn't playing fairly. The government thought ETA wasn't playing fairly also. So I think under those circumstances and with, as I said before, the political nationalist movement also divided, it was impossible to get the atmosphere in order to proceed with the negotiations.

Mann: In the decades that ETA has been fighting, the Spanish government has changed enormously, of course, from a fascist state to a democracy. In that time, has ETA changed much?

Mas De Xaxas: It has. I think that ETA is pretty much more radical right now. Why? Because they are targeting anybody. I mean, we're finding ETA right now is very similar to the one in '86 or '82 -- people who are willing to kill anybody in order to gain their aims.

ETA is supported mainly now by very young people. People who have been raised in democracy, people who have lived all their lives in a country who is a member of the European Union, who enjoys almost any advantages you can find in any industrial country. So why are they finding the way to separate?

Why? Because I think they are angry. They are angry (at) Spain and they are angry because they can't find a way in order to live their nationalism without confrontation, constant confrontation toward Spain.

Mann: How do they keep a war like this going for 40 years? Are they getting help from outside the country or from inside? Where do they get the manpower? Where do they get the money?

Mas De Xaxas: Well, they get the money from the revolutionary tax, this extortion. For many years, they had the support, the tacit support of the French government, and they've been able to develop bases in the south of France.

Now that's over. France is cooperating very much with the Spanish government in order to crack ETA. But also in the north of Africa, they have been training and at the same time, I guess, in Latin America.

Mann: So they still can attract the people they need, they still have the material they need to fight for another 40 years, do you think?

Mas De Xaxas: They have the money, and they have the people. I mean, the Spanish government has not found a way in order to stop the young generations from joining ETA. I don't know how they're going to do it without cooperating with the Basque government.

Mann: People who travel in the Basque region or people who live there, do they feel like they're in an oppressed society, in a place where people are not free, where the culture is being weakened, where there is a problem?

Mas De Xaxas: Yes. I mean, you cannot talk freely in the Basque country. There was a poll a couple of days ago in the Basque newspaper saying that 80 percent of the population believes that it's impossible to speak freely about politics there. So there is fear, much fear.

Mann: Are they afraid of the government, or are they afraid of ETA?

Mas De Xaxas: They are afraid of ETA. I mean, I think that if you speak freely against ETA in the Basque country, you are going to be targeted, and you're under a death sentence. I mean, you can be killed, really.

Mann: So, does this go on because the conditions that created this conflict continue, because there is some kind of cultural or political repression? Or is this now a war that just has a logic and a momentum of its own that really doesn't have its roots in any political problem, but just has its roots in the war itself?

Mas De Xaxas: I think so. I mean, in fact, there's a cultural war going on. I mean, the young Basque street agitators, that's the main point from wherever it starts, you know? They are against Spain because they've been taught that everything coming from Spain is bad, (that) Spain is an oppressive force and (that) it's occupying this land without any legitimacy.


• Basque conflict: Violence in Spain
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