Overflowing streets, raised ikurriñas and a vindication that crossed Bilbao: Euskadi vindicated as a nation. 90 years ago, the PNV mobilized its bases in the Biscayan capital to give life to the first Aberri Eguna, the Day of the Basque Homeland. Thus was born a symbol that would end up being banned and persecuted by the Franco dictatorship.
“The sources speak of between 65,000 and 70,000 people, so we are possibly facing the largest political act held to date in the Basque Country,” he says from the Sabino Arana Foundation the historian Luis de Guezalaan expert in nationalism who today speaks from those same streets of Bilbao that in 1932 were full of protesters.
That year marked half a century of a key reflection in the historical development of Basque nationalist thought: in 1892, Sabino Arana (who would die in 1903) and his brother Luis broke with Carlism, while laying the foundations for the Basque national claim.
“Secondly, Basque nationalism was added to a mythical date for the Irish who a few years ago had ceased to belong to Great Britain. For the Irish, Easter Sunday was the date to celebrate national recovery annually,” says the historian Inaki Egana in one of the entries of the “New historical-political dictionary of Euskal Herria”, edited by Txalaparta.
The researcher also highlights that “the nationalist world of the early 1930s was going through a recent split, the appearance of ANV (Basque Nationalist Action)and it was in the crosshairs of Spanish nationalism as always”. “Thus, the Jeltzal leaders considered it necessary to call for a great mass mobilization aimed at recovering political protagonism,” he stresses.
Egaña points out another fact. With that call, “the PNV itself exercised a pulse with the Government of Madrid that, systematically, prohibited all their acts”. “This first Aberri Eguna –explains the historian– was camouflaged in the form of a religious-folkloric festival and also had a lot of it. In this way he received the approval of the government authorities.
For his part, Guezala points out that the call was made by Euzko Abertzale Idazkaritza, “an association that constitutes the PNV as a dynamic element”. In the Egaña dictionary, March 27, 1932 is indicated as a specific day of the celebration, Easter Sunday of that year.
The last Aberri Eguna before the long Francoist night took place on Easter 1936. “The war was just around the corner and the PNV delayed the celebrations in decentralized and local events that, without noise and much fear, were held on May 31. Only a month and a half later came the Franco uprising and the war”, describes Egaña.
The first Basque Homeland Day After the Civil War, it was held in 1963 in the town of Itsasu, on the other side of the border, convened by the Enbata organization “with the support of ETA, which published a special number of its publication Zutik“, explains the historian. On this side, the protest day included actions such as the appearance of numerous ikurriñas in Oiartzun (Gipuzkoa).
The symbol of Guernica
In 1964, the PNV convened an act of Aberri Eguna in Guernica which, as Egaña describes in his book, had the support of ETA. “There is talk of an attendance of between 25,000 and 60,000 people, in such a way that it overwhelmed the conveners themselves,” Guezala highlights for his part, who underlines the “great symbolic value” that both Gernika awakened and the recovery of that day claimed under the Franco dictatorship, staunch enemy of everything that implied a Basque claim.
The following year, the nationalist organizations tried to repeat the move in Bergara (Gipuzkoa), but the Francoist Police isolated the municipality. The calls would be repeated the following Resurrection Sundays, with brutal responses from the Security Forces. Only in 1967, coinciding with a unitary call for nationalism in Iruñea347 arrests were made and there were a multitude of injuries.
The following year, almost three hundred people would be arrested in Donostia. “The Police used agents mounted on horseback, as well as helicopters and barbed wire to separate the city by its bridges over the Urumea River into areas of diverse action,” says Egaña.
The PNV bulletin “Alderdi” collected these facts throughout its clandestine pages. “When a group of demonstrators appeared, the omnipresent force violently dissolved them by causing jeeps and fire trucks to come,” said the publication in an issue released shortly after the Aberri Eguna.
The PNV also described that “access by sea had been controlled with a frigate and several armed launches prevented the entry of any vessel”, while “numerous arrests were made”.
Franco died in 1975, but the persecution against the Aberri Eguna continued until 1977. That year, “the Police prevented a rally in Vitoria-Gasteiz surrounding the city”, recalls Guezala from the Sabino Arana Foundation.
The first Basque Homeland Day authorized by the Spanish Government came in 1978, when events were held in the main Basque towns. The Aberri Eguna also served then to take the banner of “self-determination” to the streets. Behind her stood socialist leaders such as Nicholas Round either Txiki Benegaswho would later move away from that position.