Spain's Basques form 200km human chain calling for independence vote

Tens of thousands of people from Spain's autonomous Basque Country have joined hands to form a 202- kilometer human chain. The gesture comes as locals push for the right to hold an independence referendum.

More than 175,000 people in Spain's Basque Country joined to form a 202 kilometer-long human chain on Sunday, as they called for the right to host a referendum on independence form Madrid.

Society | 25.03.2018

The chain extended from the city of San Sebastian all the way to the Basque parliament in Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of the autonomous region.

The protest was organized by the Basque group Gure Esku Dago (In Our Own Hands).

The Basque Country has more autonomy than any of Spain's other sixteen regions, with its own police force, education system, language and special financial arrangement with Madrid.

Spanien San Sebastian baskische Separatisten

While only a small minority of the Basque population support independence from Spain, most believe the region should have the right to vote on the issue

While polls suggest that a vast majority of Basque people do not support full independence (only around 15 percent back total secession from Madrid), many nevertheless believe that the people should have the right to vote on the issue.

Read more: In final letter to Spain, Basque separatists ETA end 'all political activity'

Spanish laws block secessionist push

However, the Spanish government and the constitutional court maintain that any regional plebiscite on independence is illegal.

The Spanish Constitution, created in 1978 following the end of General Francisco Franco's dictatorship, states that the country is indivisible, referring to the "indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation."

Spanien San Sebastian baskische Separatisten

The human chain started in San Sebastian and extended 202km, all the way to the Basque capital of Vitoria

Last year's attempts by the Catalan government to hold an independence vote were met with a brutal crackdown by Spanish security forces. Catalonia's subsequent declaration of independence prompted Madrid to take temporary control of the regional parliament and detain dissident civil servants who took part in the vote.

Read more: Catalan independence - What you need to know

Related Subjects

Spain's former conservative prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, was widely criticized for his handling of the Catalan crisis. He was replaced by Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez after a no confidence vote on June 1 — a move backed by the autonomous Basque and Catalan governments.

Since taking power, Sanchez has indicated that he favors a more federal approach and that he would be willing to amend the constitution to grant the autonomous regions greater self-determination. However, he was stopped short of advocating for Catalonia or the Basque Country's right to full secession.


A Roman province

The Romans had several provinces with Hispania in their names on the Iberian Peninsula. Modern Spain also encompasses such wide cultural diversity that the Spanish themselves speak of Las Espanas (The Spains). The country in its present form was never united under a single ruler until after the 1702-14 War of the Spanish Succession.


A nation of regions

Spanish nationalism is strong in many regions, with former kingdoms such as Aragon largely content to be recognized as part of the Spanish nation-state. Asturias has its own language, but takes pride in its role as the birthplace of the Reconquista, or the taking back of Iberia from the Moors. Spanish nationalism was evident in recent protests in Madrid in response to Catalonia's referendum.


Bloodied fingers

Catalonia has long battled for independence. Its flag, the Senyera, is very similar to that of Aragon, to which it once belonged. The design is fabled to represent four bloodied fingers of Count Wilfred the Hairy being passed over a gold shield. Catalans were fairly happy with their situation until a court struck down the region's statute of autonomy in 2006 and support for independence grew.


No great appetite

Valencianismo, or Valencian nationalism, sprang out of the Renaixenca, an early-19th-century rebirth of the Catalan language, of which Valencian is just one variant. However, nationalist sentiment is not widespread in the region, which is home to Spain's Tomatina tomato-throwing festival. The Valencian Nationalist Bloc usually gets about 4 percent of the vote for the autonomous parliament.


Other Catalan territories

The Balearic Islands — Mallorca, Ibiza, Menorca, Formentera — all speak variants of Catalan. Though there is a greater nationalist feeling on the islands than in Valencia, it is still more subdued than in Catalonia. Meanwhile, La Franja, a strip of Catalan-speaking land in Aragon, was split by the independence referendum, though most residents do not advocate self-determination for themselves.


The Basque Country

Because of terror attacks by the ETA militant group, Basque separatists used to make the headlines far more often than Catalonia's independence movement. Separatists consider the Basque Country in France and Spain and the region of Navarre to be one nation. About a third of people want full independence, but most want more autonomy. A referendum proposed in 2008 was ruled illegal.


The Galician cause

Although it was the birthplace of the centralist dictator Francisco Franco, Galicia has the strongest tradition of separatism after Catalonia and the Basque Country. Even Spain's mainstream national parties display a streak of Galicianism in the region. Perhaps as a result, starkly nationalist parties receive a lower share of the regional vote.


From caliphate to community

The Arabic name al-Andalus originally refers to the areas of the Iberian Peninsula that were under Moorish rule for 760 years. As Christians reconquered territories, the area known as Andalusia shrank southwards. Most Andalusians voted for autonomy after Franco died in 1975, but there is little appetite for full independence.

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