Vicente de la Quintana Díez is contributor to FAES
On May 31, Aitor Esteban began his intervention in the motion of censure, which dealt the final blow to Rajoy’s administration, with these words: “When I saw today’s headlines in the morning, I said to myself: In the PNV’s hands? Really? Is this the great Spanish nation? What an inability to reach agreements! We don't want to destabilise the State, but neither do we have the vocation to govern Spain. We are a Basque party.”
Four months later, last week, the General Policy Debate was held in the Basque Parliament. The policy debated was so general that it dealt with the nature of the Spanish State. Disguising his intentions and turning them into expectations, the lehendakari warned the attendees: “I trust that the various structures of the State will demonstrate greater responsivity towards their own plurinational character.” In order not to feel any vocation to govern Spain, Basque nationalism is dedicated to defining it with an admirable relief.
This is what national minorities oppressed by tyrannical states have when a motion of censure promotes them as decisive arbitrators after fruitful budget negotiations with minority governments.
The PNV has traditionally looked for external “mirrors” reflecting the intimate conflict in which (and from which) the Basque nationalists live. Thus, in their speech, we Basques have been Irish, Gibraltarians, Puerto Ricans, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Czechs, Slovaks, Quebeckers, East Germans, Georgians, Chechens and Alandese islanders. So far, the term of comparison was always the Basque Country. The newness observed last week consists of the comprehension of the supposed plurinational and confederal nature of the Spanish State with... the European Union. According to the lehendakari, “our referent, Europe, is an example of how a plurinational democracy functions;” thus, the current “territorial crisis” (the secessionist coup) could be resolved by considering the EU as a confederal formula that works “to give solution to realities where different feelings of national belonging coexist.”
With the impetus provided by an analogous discursive strategy, Urkullu did not fail to recall “the Scottish referendum, the Belgian asymmetric federalism, Swiss shared sovereignty and the Bavarian multilateral loyalty within German federalism.” Although, in order to leave the “Spanish territorial labyrinth,” we have Ariadne's thread right here, at home. Urkullu claimed: “The ‘fueros system’ has an essentially confederal sense and this model works. Why not to apply it in the Spanish State?”
According to the lehendakari, it would be simple. Not even a constitutional reform would be necessary, but simply “a more ambitious re-reading of the First Additional Provision of the Constitution:” the nationalist one, which interprets pro domo sua the historical rights of some regional territories as derived from a different sovereignty, previous and superior to that of the Spanish people, collective author of the 1978 legal text.
Urkullu wanted to refer to a confederal transformation of Spain using the expression “confederation” stricto sensu, not as a variant of federalism. Because what is important in all this delirium is to break the sovereignty of the Spanish nation. It is not about seceding in one fell swoop, but, in Julián Marías’s words, about achieving the definitive “national dismantling of Spain.”
Was independence demanded with the “Ibarretxe Plan”? No, it “only” sought a “free association status” with Spain. On October 4, 2002, X. Arzalluz explained it as follows: “If Aznar disregards Ibarretxe, he will once again lose a magnificent opportunity to achieve that which he claims to appreciate so much: the unity of Spain.” The Basque Country’s free association status as “the last chance to prevent Spain from ending up as Yugoslavia.” A few days later, Arzalluz himself prophesied to the members of his youth organisation: “You will see the Basque independence,” and the PNV celebrated the Alderdi Eguna day by handing out stickers with the legend “Good bye, Spain.”
It is almost unanimous the verdict that considers the PNV to be chastened after that adventure which led them to the opposition. Chastened? Following the pace of their tactics, the PNV have been promoting a frankly unconstitutional reform of a Statute that they now consider to be amortised. They are now doing it with EH Bildu, while simultaneously asking the Basque PP for the vote they lack to get their budgets off the ground. The budgets of a Community that the PNV govern in an unbalanced coalition with the Basque socialists. Socialists who barely have anything to say about the “Pax confederada” promoted by their partners, and nothing to say about freeing imprisoned coup plotters and bringing terrorists closer to the Basque Country. They have nothing to say because they certainly agree with them.
Have so many who claim to defend the constitutional order really learnt anything?
The confederal proposal makes no sense. But certain nonsenses have some future when they find a good “atmosphere” in the most important of the “structures of the State,” according to Urkullu: the Spanish Government.
It is not by chance that the Spanish president is someone who, in 2014, claimed that Catalonia was a “nation” and “so should be recognised in a new Constitution;” and in 2016: “Spain is a nation of nations. Catalonia, as well as the Basque Country, is a nation within another nation, Spain, and this is something we have to acknowledge and talk about.”
Spain is experiencing its worst political crisis since the recovery of democracy. The non-dismantled process of secession converges with the growing amount of discourses that challenge the Transition, the Constitution and the foundation of both: national reconciliation. Indulgent diagnoses never recommend effective therapies.
Indulgence becomes voluntary blindness when the relevance of the nationalist discourse is minimised and, supposing it is innocuous, when appeasement is explored through semantics.
To those who do not know yet what Patxi López asked the current president of the Government: “...but, Pedro, do you know what a nation is?” To those who still babble the same answer that was then obtained: “well, it is... a feeling that some people have;” to all of those, we forgive them for not knowing what a nation is. But what is unforgivable is not to know what a nationalist is.
Let us make it clear patiently: a nationalist is someone whose basic creed is summed up in the old “principle of nationalities;” thus: every nation (defined as they wish) has the right to become a (sovereign) State.
Let us remind you kindly: it is dangerous to give a nationalist the noun (“nation”), because they will never dissociate it from the adjective (“sovereign”); that is the reason why they are nationalist.
And enthusiastically we invite them to plagiarise from a classic treaty of political law the recommendation to distinguish the dust from the chaff (when it comes to sovereign nations): “What matters is to recognise as a nation only the one that authentically is: a people threatened by an incomprehensible State, a national minority tyrannised by a despotic power are realities entirely different from a provincial and vain nucleus which, full of protectionism, boasts about an oppressed nation to consolidate their privileges and continue exploiting the 'tyrants'.” (For the original version in Spanish, see N. Pérez Serrano, Tratado de Derecho Político. Civitas, 1976, p.114).
Translation by Javier Martín Merchán