[Paleopsych] NYT: Spanish Basques Approve Secession Measure

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Spanish Basques Approve Secession Measure
NYT December 31, 2004

MADRID, Dec. 30 - The Basque Parliament approved a measure
on Thursday that says the Basque region has the right to
secede from Spain, a move analysts described as the most
serious threat to national unity since the establishment of
democracy here nearly 30 years ago.

The measure, approved by a vote of 39 to 35, is part of a
complex plan that calls for an overhaul of the region's
relationship with the central government in Madrid.

"We express our will to form a new political pact," the
plan says, "that grows from a new model for relations with
the Spanish state based on freedom of association."

Before the vote, which was held in the Basque capital,
Vitoria, Juan José Ibarretxe, the president of the Basque
region and the main author of the plan, said, "We are not
proposing a project for breaking away from Spain, but we
are formalizing a project for friendly coexistence between
the Basque region and Spain.

"The Basque country is not a subordinate part of the
Spanish state," he added. "The only way there will be a
shared relationship with the state is if we decide there
will be one."

Political analysts said that the vote gave momentum to the
separatist movement in the Basque region, and presented the
central government with the task of confronting the
movement without inflaming it.

"This is the clearest push for independence that the Basque
country has made," said Antonio Caño, a senior editor at
the newspaper El País. "It is a very clear challenge to the
unity of Spain. I'd say it places the country in its
biggest crisis of unity since democracy began here."

For nearly 40 years, the various regions that make up Spain
were kept together by the iron fist of Gen. Francisco
Franco. But since his death in 1975, some analysts have
wondered if a democratic government would be able to keep
the country united. The central government, led by the
Socialist Party, has said that it is willing to discuss
requests for greater autonomy, but has rejected the claim
that the Basque region has the right to unilaterally
determine its relationship with Madrid.

"We've made it very clear," María Teresa Fernández de la
Vega, the deputy prime minister, said at a conference
before the vote. "The plan goes against the Constitution."

The plan now moves to the national Parliament, where it
will surely be rejected, analysts said. But supporters of
the plan, led by Mr. Ibarretxe, said a defeat would not
stop them from submitting it to a popular referendum in the
Basque region next year. The central government has said
such a referendum is illegal.

Thursday's vote surprised analysts here, who expected the
measure to fail to gain the support of a small group of
separatists who had said the plan was too moderate. But
three members of the group, a party known as Herri
Batasuna, decided to support it, providing enough votes for
the majority needed for passage.

The Basque region, a mountainous area of two million people
on the northern border with France, is one of 17
semi-autonomous regions that make up Spain. Many of them,
most notably Catalonia, are also seeking greater autonomy
from Madrid.

But it is the Basques who are most clearly associated with
a drive for looser ties with the central government, and
even separatism. The militant group ETA has made headlines
for decades through a bloody campaign to establish an
independent Basque state, killing more than 800 people
since 1968 in the process.

The overwhelming majority of Basques oppose ETA, whose
tactics may even weaken support for independence, analysts
said. But slightly more than half of Basque voters support
so-called nationalist parties, which advocate greater


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