March 5, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)

Ruslan Kostuk


Spain is afraid of getting Kosovo-2 in the Basque Country

Regional parliamentary elections took place in two Spanish autonomies (Galicia and the Basque Country) on May 1, 2009. In contrast to Russia, where the political preferences of the electorate don't seem to be influenced by the crisis, the latest elections turned to be a serious test for the governing party in Spain. Few months ago a public opinion polls showed that the ruling socialists would succeed both in Galicia and the Basque Country.

But the crisis has corrected citizen's electoral mood. Statistical data show that Spain is touched by the crisis more than any other country of "Old Europe". According to some sources, during this half a year the country has lost about a million of workplaces. At least, according to official data, unemployment rate has grown up to 14% today. Of course, as a consequence purchasing power is going down and the budget deficit is increasing. Social educational and housing construction programs offered by the government had to get "frozen" for an uncertain term.

As a result Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) failed the elections in Galicia, where the absolute majority of votes was given to oppositional centre-right People's Party. Neither was the expected success reached in the Basque Country, where socialists anticipated to get the first place, but only got 24 of 75 mandates, giving a way to Spanish Basque Nationalist Party (BNP). So now the situation in the Basque Country is getting a really tangle character.

The point is that since democracy was established in Spain and the Basque Country got rather wide inner autonomy in 1979 the very autonomy had been governed by the centrist BNP and its allies. And now, for the first time in thirty years autonomists couldn't get the majority of mandates in the regional parliament. By the way, the weakening of electors' trust to the regional government headed by Juan Jose Ibarretxe, the BNP leader, is not the only reason for that. Another reason is that by Madrid's efforts left separatist parties, accused in the support given to terrorist ETA organization, were debarred from taking part in the elections.

After ETA refused to take a "peaceful break" in 2000 and renewed terrorist acts, Spanish powers stroke the organization strongly few times. Many well-known terrorists were arrested and local ETA nets were destroyed. And from the political side Spanish judicial bodies achieved the decision of banning of some left nationalist Basque parties which were proved to have connections with ETA. To all appearances, its' voters didn't take part in the elections at all (according to ETA appeals to "revolutionary boycott"), which influenced BNP positions seriously.

So an interesting situation emerges. Autonomists' camp can count upon 32 mandates, which is definitely not enough to form a capable government. So-called "espanolist" parties (those ones which stand for keeping the state united) got majority in Basque parliament for the first time, but their unification against BNP is hardly probable, as scarcely will the PSOE create a coalition with their opponents from the People's Party, who got 13 mandates with their allies this time.

PSOE and BNP points of view on social and economic issues almost coincide. At least they have much more in common with each other than with the People's Party platform. At the same time national socialist government had twice (in 2005 and in 2008) declined the Basque Country administration projects of notable widening of the region's powers. Of course BNP doesn't long for the country's breakup but at the same time moderate Basque nationalists would like Bilbao and Madrid relations to move to the level of confederative commonwealth. In case PSOE and BNP create a coalitional government in the Basque Country, obviously, BNP "confederative" mood will have to be abated.

The formation of left-right "espanolist" government is also possible now, but personally I suppose it can happen only in theory. Now there is no even a single region where socialists and populists would govern together. And really, what could unite these two rival-parties, but the longing to keep Basque lands included in united state and irreconcilable attitude to terrorists-separatists? Even a less possible variant is the one with the formation of "right-nationalist" cabinet. The People's Party and the BNP have some points of contacts in questions of tax and financial policy, but their views on the future development of the Basque Country differ strategically.

The impossibility to form a stable government in the Basque Country objectively works for the worsening of the situation in the region. On the one hand, general level of support of ETA and separatism ideas is weakened to some extent, on the other hand – radical nationalists are pushed away from the political arena together with all the electors who supported them. What will they do now? How will they express their will to protest after getting "inspiration from Kosovo"? We can't exclude that measures undertaken by the central government of Spain will lead to widening of the social base of terrorism. Being added to economic problems, this factor might lead to destabilization of the Basque Country very soon.

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