Alejandro Pulido Azpíroz
University of the Basque Country, Spain | Published: 17 March, 2024
ISSUE 19 | Pages: 154-167 | PDF | DOAJ | https://doi.org/10.24162/EI2024-12533

Creative Commons 4.0 2024 by Alejandro Pulido Azpíroz | This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged for access.

This paper examines the inner debate in Basque nationalism resulting from the Easter Rising between 1916 and 1918. Basque nationalists firmly believed that the Irish Revolution would affect the British war effort, the outcome of the Great War and hence Basque political vindication itself. The official nationalist leadership and its organ, Euzkadi, supported Great Britain, arguing a British military triumph in Ireland and in the Great War would bring a worldwide era of autonomy for national minorities. Pro-independence militants, however, not only expressed solidarity and outspoken support towards the rebels, but also associated their victory with a post-war scenario favourable to independence movements. This study focuses on the two competing Basque nationalist interpretations as presented in the media. Simultaneously, traditionalist parties (i.e. Carlists and Integrists) exacerbated nationalists’ differences in order to weaken a direct political rival.

Este trabajo examina el debate interno del nacionalismo vasco acontecido entre 1916 y 1918 a raíz del Alzamiento de Pascua. Los nacionalistas vascos creyeron firmemente que la Revolución Irlandesa afectaría al esfuerzo de guerra británico, al resultado de la Gran Guerra y por ende a la propia reivindicación política vasca. La línea oficial del nacionalismo vasco y su órgano, Euzkadi, apoyaron a Gran Bretaña, argumentando que un triunfo militar en Irlanda y en la Gran Guerra traería una era de autonomía para las minorías nacionales a nivel mundial. Los militantes independentistas, en cambio, no solo expresaron abiertamente su solidaridad hacia los rebeldes, sino que también asociaron su victoria a un escenario posbélico favorable a los movimientos independentistas. Este estudio se centra en las dos interpretaciones del nacionalismo vasco según fueron presentadas en los medios. Simultáneamente, los partidos tradicionalistas (es decir, carlismo e integrismo) intentaron exacerbar dicha lucha para debilitar a un rival político directo.

Primera Guerra Mundial; Alzamiento de Pascua; Nacionalismo Vasco; Euzkadi; Autonomismo; Independentismo

The Great War and the Southern Basque Country: Introduction, Context and Methodology

The Great War was a total war, a power struggle between empires aiming to dismantle each other. Both the belligerent and neutral countries generally believed that a new international political scenario would be imposed by the victorious side. Even the Basques, in the Western Pyrenees on the Franco-Spanish border – where the Basque nationalist Party (EAJ-PNV) had been claiming independence since its foundation in 1895 – shared this view.

Basque nationalists in the so-called Southern Basque Country (South of the Pyrenees) deemed war an opportunity to obtain independence or at least a considerable autonomy, which would be the starting point for eventually achieving independence. Basque nationalism was a remarkable political force in Biscay, relatively strong in Gipuzkoa and had some presence in Navarre, while it was almost imperceptible in Alava. The French Basque nationalists nonetheless lacked local support for seeking either independence or autonomy. The Basque Nationalist Party monitored closely foreign affairs since 1914 with a considerably greater interest than in the pre-war period.[1] They gave moral support to some specific nations (Nuñez Seixas 2017: 454), such as Belgium – invaded by the Germans at the beginning of the war – and the Basque nationalist press devoted numerous articles to the Irish question. They believed that any successful national minority breakaways would lead towards Basque independence. The sole Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) had two branches, which showed some sympathy either towards the Triple Entente or the Central Powers, depending on which would benefit their political goals the most.

Despite its conservative politics, the official Basque nationalist organ, Euzkadi, supported the British Empire and consequently the Entente, as did most liberals and socialists. The Entente’s victory was associated with worldwide expansion of liberalism and leftist values, while it was understood that Germany’s victory would lead to the military and ideological triumph of conservatism (Fuentes 2014: 40-44; 51-55). Although the Basque daily presented Great Britain as a warrantor of Home Rule for national minorities – especially after recognising the status of Dominion for Canada (1867), Australia (1901), New Zealand (1907) and South Africa (1910) –,[2] that position still surprised the general public. It also puzzled many Basque nationalist militants, shaking the internal stability of the PNV, also known as Basque Nationalist Communion (hereinafter CNV) by then (Mees 1990: 125, 127 and 134).[3] Internal tension grew between 1914 and 1916, eventually exploding in a heated internal Basque debate during the Easter Rising.

Being the representative of a conservative and profoundly Catholic movement, many expected Euzkadi and Euzkadi Buru Batzar (EBB, the Basque Nationalist Party’s leadership) to support Germany, as some other conservative parties did. In addition, the Northern Basque Country was under French direct rule, a circumstance which made France and the Triple Entente an enemy in the eyes of hardcore Basque nationalists. Euzkadi could also have remained strictly neutral, like the Catalan party Lliga Regionalista and its organ La Veu de Cataluña at the first stages of the war (Fuentes 2008: 1333, 1342-3). Notwithstanding, Euzkadi supported Great Britain both for ideological and practical reasons. Firstly, Euzkadi thought that only a British victory would encourage other countries to accept Home Rule for their own national minorities, while a victory for the Central Powers – which had invaded Belgium and Serbia – would benefit imperialism. Secondly, prominent Basque nationalists were strongly tied to the United Kingdom, such as Ramón de la Sota, whose role as a cargo handler and supplier for the British Isles during the war earned him a knighthood (Torres 1998: 226).[4] However, many Basque militants not only refused to support Britain or any other empire, but also discarded autonomy and claimed direct independence from Spain.

There were divided opinions about the best political strategy: seeking independence directly or obtaining it after autonomy. A heated debate had taken place after Sabino Arana’s death in 1903. He was the founder and unquestioned pro-independence leader of Basque nationalists, but he surprisingly supported autonomism shortly before dying. Some deemed it a real change of ideology, whereas others considered it a mere strategy to avoid Spanish government repression. Basque militants had been imprisoned for their outspoken independence statements; however, the Spanish Government was more tolerant with autonomist parties (De Pablo, Mees, Rodríguez Ranz 1999: 59, 70, 77-82, 143). The official leadership eventually decided to prioritise autonomy.

The largest Basque pro-independence associations, Basque Youth and especially Euzkeldun Batzojika, mainly supported national minorities and their struggle for independence.[5] They particularly praised the Irish rebellion in May 1916 through their corresponding newspapers – Aberri and Bizkaitarra – and confronted Euzkadi’s stance. They also supported Poland’s partial independence from Russia in November 1916 and expressed indirect sympathy towards the Second Reich for facilitating it. Nonetheless, Polish independence is beyond the scope of this paper. Regarding Basque nationalist inner discussions about Ireland, an unexpected ally appeared: Basque Traditionalist-unionists (far-right royalists). The two main branches of Traditionalism, Carlists and Christian fundamentalists, held a pro-German and Anglophobe stance, which clashed with the Basque Nationalist Party’s views. While they associated a German victory with the worldwide defeat of liberalism, they saw the British Empire had been a traditional rival of the Spanish Empire. Additionally, Traditionalists felt sympathy towards Irish Catholics rebelling against their Protestant oppressors.

Traditionalist media criticised Britain, encouraged the Irish rebels and pointed out the contradictions of the Basque Nationalist Party. They published Basque nationalists’ criticism of their leaders. Such a decision was a political strategy, since both parties shared voters, that is, Catholic pro-autonomy Basques. If Traditionalism were able to discredit the Basque Nationalist Party/CNV by associating them with a protestant and liberal empire fighting Catholics, the emerging CNV could lose local support. Disappointed Basque Catholics might then vote for Traditionalist parties, who supported some sort of minor autonomy as way to integrate into centralised Spain and forego local privileges (Andrés Martín 2000; Mikelarena 2019). Local leftists remained largely aloof from the controversy, as their sympathies were with the Entente and there was little point in criticising or supporting the CNV. Euzkadi had shown a strong attachment to the Allies as guarantors of Home Rule, but this was not a convincing reason to aid a declared political enemy.[6]

To better understand the reactions of Basque nationalism, a brief explanation of Irish politics is appropriate. In 1914, the Home Rule Act was passed by the British Parliament in reaction to Irish agitation for Home Rule, and to the political campaigning of John Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party – morally supported by the CNV in the Basque Country. However, the Act was delayed following massive resistance by Irish Unionists, who also threatened armed resistance. Furthermore, Irish nationalists created their own paramilitary group under Redmond’s leadership, the National Volunteers. At the outbreak of the war, the National Volunteers contributed to the British war effort believing that their adherence to the Empire would mean a further development of autonomy.[7] However, another paramilitary Republican group – openly Republican and nationalist – refused to support the British Government. Its ranks included members of the Irish language promotion organisation Conradh na Gaeilge, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The Irish Volunteers were the major military association participating in the Easter Rising, and both Basque Youth and Euzkeldun Batzokija praised them in the Basque press.

Regarding the methodology for this study, each political party’s media paper has been consulted with a view to establishing their political stance towards the Easter Rising. The press has been the main information and reference source for this paper. The daily issues between May 1, 1916 and December 31, 1918 have been reviewed: Basque nationalist daily Euzkadi and its equivalent in Navarra Napartarra, Basque nationalist pro-Irish paper Aberri and Bizkaitarra. On the conservative and pro-German side: Gaceta del Norte and La Constancia. Republican La Voz de Guipúzcoa has also been consulted due to its additional information on Basque nationalist activity in Gipuzkoa. Diario de Navarra has been consulted for its ample coverage in Navarre. The terminology used by the press in reference to the Irish rebels (e.g. “anarchists”, “martyrs”, etc.) has also been analyzed. This provides better comprehension of each Basque branch’s stance on the Easter Rising and its participants. Complementary archival research about Basque nationalist inner debate has been conducted, in order to verify the statements of Basque traditionalists and Basque dissidents. In other words, archival research has helped confirm whether Euzkadi’s rival newspapers described a real division within the CNV or if the press were merely exaggerating the problem so as to discredit Basque nationalist leadership publicly. The Basque Nationalist Party’s archive and letters on this theme to and from prominent nationalist leaders have been the main source of archival information.

The Easter Rising also influenced other nationalist movements in Spain, namely that in Catalonia. Some, like the main Catalan regionalist party, Lliga Regionalista, condemned the rebellion, while other individuals, such as the militant Daniel Cardona enthusiastically supported it (Nuñez Seixas 1992: 39-42). It is worth mentioning that the Galician press, despite its Celtic background, showed little interest due to the absence of an organised political regionalist movement. Nonetheless, cultural associations – as well as part of the Galician clergy – were active and expressed solidarity with the Irish. May 1916, particularly, saw the publication of a number of articles supporting the Irish rebellion. El Eco Franciscano published “Crónica de sucesos” on 15 May 1916, detailed the political situation of the “afflicted and oppressed Irish people” and described the armed revolt in Dublin (El Eco Franciscano 1916). Galician regionalist and playwright Manuel Lustres Rivas publicly supported the rebels, publishing “A mi modo de ver”, on 12 May 1916, naming them “hermanos de raza” (“ethnic brothers”). As stated above, both Catalonia and Galicia lie outside the scope of this paper.

This paper aims to demonstrate that the Great War – and especially the Irish question – conditioned Basque nationalist political activity and fuelled a debate between 1914-1918, noticeably harsh during 1916. It particularly seeks to confirm these three hypotheses. In the first place, Basque nationalists associated the result of the war and especially of the Easter Rising with their political demands. Secondly, the pro-autonomy and pro-independence branches and their newspapers intensely fought each other, and even grass-root militants, as well as prominent leaders, participated in the dispute about the Easter Rising. Last but not least, Basque Traditionalists tried to settle scores with their political rivals and to obtain political benefits from the CNVs’ inner conflict. In addition, the CNV split in 1921, but that schism and other political phenomena (election results, etc.) are beyond the scope of this paper for methodological reasons.

This article has been structured as follows: it firstly covers the 1914-1916 period and describes the growing tension regarding foreign affairs between the official leadership of Basque nationalism and Basque Traditionalists, as well as hardcore Basque independence militants. Finally, the article also addresses the influence of both Irish nationalism and the Easter Rising on the Basque Country during the Great War, as evidenced by the media war between British sympathisers and pro-Irish rebels. The table below shows a summary of Basque political parties and associations, including their war preferences.

AssociationIdeology NewspapersStance towards the Great War
Basque Nationalist Party (CNV)Basque nationalistEuzkadi, NapartarraPro-Triple Entente (pro-Belgium and pro-Great Britain)
Basque YouthBasque nationalistAberriNeutral, critical with Euzkadi’s support to the Triple Entente
Euzkeldun BatzokijaBasque nationalistBizkaitarraNeutral (slightly more sympathetic toward the Central Powers)
Carlist PartyTraditionalist RoyalistLa Gaceta del Norte (although a Catholic newspaper, it was ideologically close to Carlism during the Great War)Pro-Central Powers (Anglophobes)
Integrist PartyTraditionalist Royalist, Christian integristLa ConstanciaPro-Central Powers
Liberal PartyLiberal, moderate RepublicanEl LiberalPro-Triple Entente
Republican parties in GipuzkoaRepublicanLa Voz de GuipúzcoaPro-Triple Entente (Pro-France)

 

The Great War Breaks Out. Germans against Belgians, Poles against Lithuanians and… Basques against Basques

Southern Basques remained a priori safe from military action due to the neutrality declared by the Spanish Government. Notwithstanding, most Basque newspapers took sides, supported one of the warring countries and passionately defended their position. Euzkadi defended “small nationalities” and strongly condemned the Central Powers for invading “innocent” countries, such as Catholic Belgium. They even defended pro-Allied national minorities when oppressed by Catholic authorities. However, both Basque Traditionalists and several Basque nationalists observed certain contradictions regarding the rights of nationalities and the defense of Catholicism. Two controversies arose regarding Belgium from 1914 onwards and Poland in 1915, and they paved the way towards media discussion about the Easter Rising in 1916.

As early as 3 August 1914, “Imanol”, a major war correspondent of Euzkadi, claimed that the war would benefit national minorities. One day later, Euzkadi criticised the Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph both for invading Belgium alongside Germany and invoking God for achieving victory. The Basque organ also published numerous articles in favour of the Belgians and even declared themselves a pro-Belgium newspaper.[8] “Axe”, one of the main editors of Euzkadi’s international section, praised the Belgians and criticised the German Empire in “Belgium über Alles” on 1 November 1914. Euzkadi’s enthusiastic stand was soon criticised by a prominent Basque nationalist.

The party’s president, Luis Arana – Sabino Arana’s brother – sent several private letters to Engracio “Kizkitza” Aranzadi, Euzkadi’s editor, reprimanding him in September 1914 for his outspoken sympathy towards Belgium and indirect support for the Entente.[9] However, Luis Arana was not an outright German sympathiser, but he considered Euzkadi’s editorial policy as jeopardising the party’s agreement to remain neutral during the war (Pulido Azpíroz: 103-9). Such discussions remained hidden to Basque nationalist rank and file members until late December 1915 when Luis Arana was expelled from the party. Despite additional reasons, such as Arana’s tendency to excessively control the party, its daily’s inefficient economic management and an electoral fraud scandal in late 1915 (De Pablo, Mees, Rodríguez Ranz 1999: 110-13), Euzkadi devoted a whole front page to justify their decision and related it to Luis Arana’s views about the war.[10] Subsequently, a group of CNV militants broke away to form the dissident faction known as Euzkeldun Batzokija led by Arana.[11]

In addition to this internal dispute, Euzkadi attacked everyone considered to be against Belgium. It specifically tried to discredit La Gaceta del Norte for justifying the German invasion and turning against a Catholic nation. Euzkadi also accused them of being pro-German and disobeying Pope Benedict XV’s exhortation to all Catholics to remain neutral (Pulido Azpíroz: 86-7). La Gaceta del Norte attacked Euzkadi by pointing out British abuses against the Irish. It also defended itself by minimising the effects of German attacks on Belgium and denying any German abuses against civilians. These arguments were shared by the Christian integrist newspaper La Constancia,[12] as well as by Catalan Traditionalists, who deemed the invasion of Belgium divine retribution for having elected a liberal government.[13] However, Euzkadi disregarded this justification and continued accusing La Gaceta del Norte of hypocrisy. Such accusations contributed to creating resentment, and La Gaceta del Norte did not have to wait until the Easter Rising to take its first revenge. They took advantage of Euzkadi’s contradictory stand about issues between Poles and Lithuanians in summer 1915.

During summer 1915 the Polish clergy once again tried to assimilate Lithuanians, and Euzkadi supported the latter. It is worth mentioning that prominent Lithuanian independence leaders, such as Juozas “Jean Gabris” Parsaitys, were openly pro-Entente; major Polish leaders such as Józef Piłsudski, however, were more favourable towards cooperating with the Central Powers against the Russians (Leśniewski 2014).

Euzkadi accused the Polish clergy of being driven by political passions and oppressing legitimate Lithuanian national yearnings.[14] Euzkadi also published an article by “Jean Gabris”, describing the abuses of Polish bishops even against Lithuanian priests.[15] Euzkadi, however, distinguished the attitude of the Church from the behaviour of some of its clergy. It claimed that the Church itself and its doctrine condemned the conquest of the weak by the strong and, hence, “imperialism and the injustice of the enslavement of nations”. This reasoning did not convince its rivals. La Gaceta del Norte seized the opportunity to criticise Euzkadi in return and published a series of articles under the title “Euzkadi y el nacionalismo” on July 17, 20 and 26. They accused the CNV of prioritising its political interests (the defence of nationalities) to the detriment of Catholicism. They also regretted that Euzkadi’s criticism provided anti-clerical arguments for leftism. They even claimed that Euzkadi was manipulating the Basque Youth association to foster the official line and boasted that numerous nationalists agreed with their opinion. Luis Arana also pointed out this increasing disagreement in his letters to Engracio Aranzadi, Euzkadi’s editor.[16]

There was malaise within the party due to the official line’s incoherencies in its official line on its principles: the defence of other nationalities’ rights and Catholicism. Euzkadi and Napartarra were constantly announcing the “bankruptcy” of imperialism and the birth of a new age in which “the voice of the weak who proclaim their right will be heard as never before”.[17] Nonetheless, the EBB exclusively associated such liberation with the victory of the British Empire and mainly supported minorities associated with the Allies, such as Belgium. They considered any German contribution to national independence as insincere and only designed to serve their own war effort. For instance, “Axe” criticised Finland for accepting Germany’s help against Russia to achieve independence and clearly stated he did not expect Poland to follow their example.[18] In November 1916, however, the Central Powers constituted the Kingdom of Poland and Euzkadi received the news without enthusiasm, to the dismay of Basque outright pro-independence militants.

Basque nationalists were deeply interested in the Great War from the very beginning, but failed to find a consensus. However, Basque dissidents had remained partially quiet during 1914 and 1915, and inner conflict seemed to be under control. Nevertheless, in May 1916, Basque nationalist tensions boiled over with the emergence of one of the greatest challenges they faced during the First World War: the Easter Rising. In addition, Traditionalists seized the opportunity to settle accounts with Euzkadi by repeating the strategy used during the Polish controversy.

“Who is Ireland’s Ally, Who is Ireland’s Enemy?” Anglophobes and Fenians versus Anglophiles

The Basque Nationalist Party faced simultaneously Traditionalist media and dissident nationalists beginning in May 1916, as shown in the following three cases. Firstly, conservative media’s arguments against Euzkadi, occasional until 1916 and constant throughout the Easter Rising; secondly, dissidents’ pro-Irish statements and activity; and finally, the Basque nationalist leadership’s dispute with Basque Youth and Euzkeldun Batzokija, supporting Great Britain and the Irish autonomist leader John Redmond, who had promised full Irish support to the Allies during the Great War (Encyclopedia Britannica 2023a, 2023b).

Between January and August 1914, Traditionalist media moved from brief references to Home Rule to backing the Irish independence cause. They eventually confronted Euzkadi’s pro-Britain views and supported Basque nationalist dissidents during 1916. As explained above, Traditionalists fought the United Kingdom – the champion of liberalism – and all their supporters at all costs. Moreover, Carlist leader Juan Vázquez de Mella declared that being an Anglophile means being a Hispanophobe.[19] Hence, all kinds of travelling companions were to be accepted, even Basque pro-independence militants.

Foreign affairs became a major theme and a constant controversy among the Basque media. Belgium was a controversial topic for Traditionalist newspapers, as Euzkadi had pointed out. La Gaceta del Norte responded by pointing out Euzkadi’s contradictions for supporting the British Empire’s abuses against small nations – especially Ireland – and praised other pro-Irish Basque nationalist media (Aberri and Patria).[20] They also compared Ireland and Belgium in an article which denounced Great Britain and its allies’ hypocrisy regarding national minorities.[21] They also translated a stanza of Brian O’Higgins’s poem “Who is Ireland’s Enemy?” into Spanish – previously published in Irish Freedom in 1914 – under the title “Un artículo sensacional. Who is Ireland’s enemy?”:

Not Germany nor Austria,
Not Russia, France nor Spain
That robbed and reaved this land of ours,
And forged her heavy chains;
But England of the wily words –
A crafty, treacherous foe –
‘Twas England scourged our Motherland,
‘Twas England laid her low![22]

However, the Irish revolution was a latent conflict waiting its turn to burst into local politics. The controversy started on 28 April 1916, after La Constancia published “¿Y Euzkadi?” They wonder about Euzkadi’s lack of support for and coverage of the Easter Rising, which the Basque paper had referred to as an “Irish plot” aborted by the British army. Euzkadi also mentioned in passing the arrest of the Irish “agitator” Sir Roger Casement, imprisoned for the failed transport of German weaponry. On May 6, Euzkadi directly replied to La Constancia with an article in which the Basque nationalist organ presented itself as a friend of the true Irish nationalist leaders – namely John Redmond and his autonomous party, and described the Irish rebels as “anarchists” rising up against the British Empire.[23] La Constancia responded with a new article, supporting Ireland, criticising Euzkadi and publicising Bizkaitarra’s support for the rebels. La Constancia affirmed that all those against the rebellion were either misinformed by British sources or were not aware of their acts.[24]

La Gaceta del Norte was even more explicit in its condemnation of Euzkadi while showing solidarity towards the Easter Rising. They not only published articles by Aberri and criticised the EBB for calling the rebels “anarchists who have sold themselves to the Germans”, but they translated and published into Spanish the proclamation of the Irish Republic.[25] La Gaceta del Norte also published several large pieces of news about the “martyrs” of the Irish Revolution. They published daily news on their front page and even an article by their contributor “Cirici Ventalló” on May 15, asking the Spanish Parliament to protest against “English repression” against Ireland. It is worth noting that, although other Catholic media in Biscay and other regions covered the Easter Rising, La Gaceta del Norte stood out for their ample coverage.[26] Conversely, Euzkadi paid little attention to the Easter Rising until Traditionalist media ignited the controversy and made public the internal nationalist debate.

Such an outspoken support earned the trust of Basque dissidents, who started sending letters to La Gaceta del Norte. On 11 May, Aguirregoitia Dobaran begged La Gaceta del Norte to publish a letter condemning “England’s organ in Bilbao” – referring to Euzkadi – accusing them of forgetting their Basque nationalist principles. On 16 May, La Gaceta del Norte deemed Euzkadi as lacking expertise in international political analysis, and published a new letter signed by “Un nacionalista de veras” (A real nationalist). The letter ended by quoting the Indian National Congress as published by Bizkaitarra six years earlier: “Indians and Irish will march arm in arm against THEIR COMMON ENEMY ENGLAND” [sic]. Given that their pro-Irish position was garnering them some Basque dissidents’ support, La Gaceta del Norte published two days later a poem in honour of another rebel leader, Countess Markievicz, composed by Garellano Regiment’s chaplain in Bilbao.

La Gaceta del Norte frequently quoted dissident Basque media during May 1916. They directly addressed Euzkadi recalling that Bizkaitarra supported Ireland and India against the British Empire in 1911, when Bizkaitarra was the EBB’s paper.[27]. They also published on their front page an outspoken article by Euzkeldun Batzokija, rebutting Engracio Aranzadi, praising the rebels, claiming “Glory to Ireland” and establishing that the Irish and the Belgian causes were equal. If Euzkadi had used the Belgian issue to discredit La Gaceta del Norte in the eyes of Basque Catholics, the conservative newspaper was then settling scores with the Basque daily. Likewise, Traditionalist media had used a similar strategy during the Polish clergy controversy, but this time more successfully due to the influence the Easter Rising was exerting on Basque nationalism. Moreover, Traditionalist media aimed to attract moderate Basque nationalists to Traditionalist parties and to encourage hardcore nationalists to abandon the CNV, as explained in the introduction. Hence, La Gaceta del Norte and La Constancia continued informing about the Irish Revolution in order to keep the useful polemic alive. For instance, in October 1916, La Constancia published Irish autonomist leader John Redmond’s complaint against the “martial law” established by the British in Ireland, while Euzkadi was still morally supporting the British Empire.[28] Moreover, La Constancia devoted another article to Euzkadi’s pro-British stance, its criticism of the Easter Rising and other contradictions regarding the Great War in “¿Por qué es Euzkadi anglófilo?” on 30 October 1918.

Some Basque nationalists had replaced Euzkadi for La Gaceta del Norte as one of their trusted media sources. Nonetheless, most dissidents – many of them members of Basque Youth – expressed themselves more freely in Bizkaitarra (daily of Euzkeldun Batzokija) challenging the Party’s official line, since Euzkadi tended to censor or directly not publish dissident nationalist opinions (Ruiz Descamps 2012: 116-7). The conflict reached its peak in May 1916 – when dissident newspapers and even prominent members of the party showed their disagreement – and in August 1916 regarding Roger Casement’s execution. A foreign affair had become a domestic one and was turning into a media civil war.

Basque dissidents’ attitude towards the Easter Rising was explicitly shown in Bizkaitarra. That medium took an openly pro-independence stand and supported any nationality fighting for its political independence, even when it compromised the Allied war effort. Furthermore, Luis Arana, had been expelled from the party in part due to his reluctance to support the Entente. As early as 6 May, columnist “Equis” published his first two long articles in a series on the Irish revolution praising Irish Catholicism and its struggle for independence for centuries.

His article, “Irlanda”, was published on Bizkaitarra’s front page and reviewed Irish history, criticised British oppression, expressed empathy towards the Irish Revolution, and compared Irish and Basque history. He also lamented that the British Empire had dragged Ireland into the Great War and he declared the Irish rebels freedom “martyrs”, a topic which he developed in another article titled “La revolución de Irlanda”. He also recounted the English conquest of Ireland, – which he compared to the conquest of the Kingdom of Navarre “by Spain” – and the continuous rebellions against the British. In this second article, “Equis” described John Redmond as an ally of the British – and considered him more influential in London than in Dublin – whereas the Fenians appeared once again as freedom fighters. He defined Home Rule as a British ruse in order to garner Irish support in the Great War. “Equis” afterwards commented on the Easter Rising and praised Sir Roger Casement’s commitment to the Irish cause. Apart from Equis, more Basque militants publicly criticised the official line of the party. On 6 May, another contributor nicknamed “Zapi” directly addressed Luis de Eleizalde, expert in foreign affairs of the CNV, and demanded that he correct Euzkadi’s opinion about the “green Erin” and the Irish revolution. “Zapi” also recalled Euzkadi’s murky coverage of the Polish controversy. If Basque dissidents had remained partially quiet until 1915, in 1916 they started an open conflict with Euzkadi and the CNV.

Euzkeldun Batzokija’s organ, Bizkaitarra, accused Euzkadi of betraying both their own principles and the Basque people themselves, who showed evidence of political and historical similarities with the Irish. However, it was not solely an internal problem for the CNV, since fellow party members also expressed their disagreement. Regional leader Anacleto Ortueta (future elected deputy in 1918) sent a letter of complaint to the party’s President, Ramon Bikuña, in May. Furthermore, some Basque Youth leaders paid homage to the late Sir Roger Casement in August.

On 8 May, Anacleto Ortueta’s letter warned the party’s leadership of the risk of explicitly condemning the Irish rebels. Anacleto Ortueta disapproved the anonymous publication of “Euzkadi e Irlanda” two days earlier, where the author repeatedly declared the Sinn Féiners as “anarchists who have sold themselves to the Germans”. Although Ortueta admitted that Great Britain was “protecting” Belgium from the Central Powers, he pointed out that Basque nationalists must nonetheless denounce British abuses in Ireland. He also justified Irish acceptance of German assistance regarding independence, and confessed that he himself would accept such assistance were the Basque Country in a similar situation. He eventually demanded Ramon Bikuña publicly reprimand the author in order to avoid confusion within the CNV and “great harm” to the Basque people.[29] He also demanded that the author retract the article and the CNV take measures to avoid the publication of similar articles. In other words, prominent Basque nationalists were suggesting controlling Euzkadi’s speech.

The Easter Rising was strongly shaking CNV’s stability, unlike other previous controversies regarding the Great War. Not even Sabino Arana’s Anglophilia, questioned by La Gaceta del Norte and vindicated by Euzkadi, managed to pacify the party.[30] Euzkadi’s editor, Engracio “Kizkitza” Aranzadi, published therefore a series of articles in late May aiming to end the controversy.

“Kizkitza”’s first article, “Ante la revolución irlandesa”, appeared on 17 May. He called the Easter Rising James “Connolly’s attempted coup”, and used an ad hominem argumentation against Basque Traditionalists and Luis Arana. Moreover, “Kizkitza” portrayed Euzkadi as a victim of an “antinatural” alliance between Traditionalists and dissident nationalists against the CNV. He also accused Traditionalists of warmongering, remembering the “Carlistadas” (Traditionalist uprisings against the Spanish liberal government) from the 19th century. That is, “Kizkitza” aimed to present the Traditionalist media’s pro-Irish view as an act of Anglophobic, anti-liberal belligerence and militarism, and not as the defence of a legitimate Catholic rebellion. In addition, he questioned the honour of Luis Arana, bringing up his shenanigans during the elections of December 1915, which partially caused his removal from the presidency of the EBB. After trying to discredit critical voices, Engracio Aranzadi published new articles justifying CNV’s position.

On 18 May, Aranzadi toned down his criticisms of La Gaceta del Norte and Arana, and justified Euzkadi’s coverage of the Irish Revolution.[31] He argued that Euzkadi could only consult British informative sources, a fact which explained their “apparent” anti-Irish tendency. He afterwards remarked that Euzkadi criticised “Irish anarchists selling out to Germany”, but supported “true Irish patriots” such as John Redmond and also admitted that not all the participants of the Easter Rising must be deemed as “anarchists”. Aranzadi ended his article by accusing La Gaceta del Norte of slandering Euzkadi, a defender of national minorities. On 27 May,[32] Aranzadi resorted to new tactics and justified Euzkadi’s condemnation of the Easter Rising on religious grounds. He attributed a violent and un-Catholic character to the Fenian movement, recalling that no Christian treatise justified violent insurrections. However, “Kizkitza”’s statement had no effect and the dispute continued until the end of the Great War, although its intensity varied in step with the development of the Irish revolution. Besides, CNV’s disunity was so evident that even left-wing papers such as La Voz de Guipúzcoa echoed it, expressing astonishment at “the hatred that both tendencies professed for each other”.[33]

The internal controversy died down as the Easter Rising was put down, but flared up in August 1916 following the execution of Roger Casement. Casement became a martyr both for the Fenians and for nationalist dissidents from Euzkeldun Batzokija and Basque Youth.[34] Two articles were published on 1 August in Euzko Deya, the organ of the Euzkaltzale Bazkuna, a cultural subsection of Basque Youth (Ruiz Descamps 2012: 117). One was entitled “Roger Casement. Ireland’en ziñopea (martira)” and was signed by Ceferino Jemein, a prominent nationalist and defender of pro-independence orthodoxy.[35] Basque Youth adhered to the ideal represented by the deceased and his cause, clashing with Euzkadi’s reading of it. Although Euzkadi finally recognised him as a patriot, stressing that Casement had been the victim of an “ambush” by “the enemies of Irish nationalism”.[36] That is, it denied the legitimacy of the Easter Rising considering it a trap set by Germany and independence militants against the “true Irish patriots”. In addition, Euzkeldun Batzokija also sponsored a mass for Casement on 13 August.[37] This was announced in La Gaceta del Norte, and it was most likely attended both by Traditionalists and Basque dissidents close to La Gaceta del Norte since May 1916. Euzkadi avoided commenting on this event in order to allow the controversy to fade away.

CNV’s internal conflict subsided later, although occasionally flared up again with the subsequent news during the Irish Revolution. However, those debates were not as intense as in May 1916. Besides, Euzkadi decreased their support for the British after mandatory conscription was passed in April 1918. All considered, the Easter Rising left its mark on Basque nationalism, as demonstrated by contacts during the 1920s between hardcore Basque independence militants and Irish Republicans. Even a political schism took place in 1921 – mainly because of dissent concerning autonomism and direct independence. The new party Aberri was set up in 1921, and many of their members were enthusiastic sympathisers of the Irish rebels. However, those events are outside the scope of this paper.

Conclusions

The Great War in general and the Easter Rising in particular exerted a noticeable influence on Basque nationalism. It was broadly accepted that the result of the Great War would determine world politics in the short term. Hence, the CNV linked itself and its political vindication to the British Empire and the Allies, as their press openly showed from August 1914 on – believing they would bring a new age of freedom for national minorities.

Basque nationalists’ official leadership initially condemned the Irish Revolution, a decision which shocked much of the general public and especially hardcore Basque independence militants. Such a decision caused disappointment and ultimately a fractious internal debate. They felt confused and betrayed since the CNV had not explicitly renounced independence. They could not understand the lack of solidarity towards a fellow nation, as well as the political incoherence of supporting a Protestant Empire against a Catholic national minority. Afterwing tension regarding the Great War, a Basque media war broke out in May 1916 involving prominent nationalists, and serving to discredit Euzkadi even among its own followers. Former president of the CNV Luis Arana, and his association Euzkeldun Batzokija, openly confronted the EBB and Euzkadi. Some militants from Basque Youth, an important section of the Basque Nationalist Party, criticised Euzkadi and approached Euzkaldun Batzokija. Even Euzkadi’s editor, “Kizkitza”, participated unsuccessfully, devoting a series of articles to reply to criticism and conclude the controversy.

In other words, both pro-autonomy and pro-independence Basque nationalists were convinced that the outcome of the Easter Rising’s would determine their political future. They therefore turned their differences into a civil war in the media, seemingly embracing the opinions of the British and the Irish autonomists on the one side, and the Irish revolutionaries on the other. This went so far as to compromise the inner instability of the CNV. Additionally, Euzkadi’s political rivals seized the opportunity to settle scores with Euzkadi and weaken a direct political rival. Since Euzkadi had discredited Traditionalists for supporting the German invasion of Belgium, Traditionalists outspokenly supported the Irish revolution and pointed out Euzkadi’s contradictions towards it. As a result, several grassroots dissident militants started following Traditionalist media.

Fortunately for the CNV, this situation progressively calmed down as the Easter Rising was suppressed, evolving from extreme tension in May 1916 to a relative calm in August 1916. The CNV leadership engaged then in a more moderate criticism of the Irish Revolution, avoiding another direct, harsh confrontation with Basque Youth. Media discussion occasionally flared up with the arrival of news about the Irish rebels and Traditionalist media commenting on Euzkadi’s contradictions, but such a discussion was not as violent as in May 1916. Ultimately, the Easter Rising created an inner tension and its consequences were visible throughout the next decades.[38]

Acknowledgements

The research for this article has received funding from grant PID2022-138385NB-I00 (MCIN/AEI/ 10.13039/501100011033) and the Research Group of the UPV/EHU, GIU 23/007. The author would also like to thank Scott Spellerberg for his insightful observations and suggestions, as well as the anonymous reviewers and proofreader for their comments.

Notes

[1] Several articles, many of them written by Luis Eleizalde and published in Euzkadi between 1913 and July 1914, created some interest in the Basque media about other national minorities, such as the Egyptians, Hungarians, Poles and, above all, the Irish.

[2] The same argument was mentioned again in Euzkadi. “La libertad inglesa”, June 8, 1915.

[3] CNV was the customary name since 1913, and the official one between 1916 and 1930. This new name reflected the victory of the autonomist line over the pro-independence line in the party leadership.

[4] The National Archives, Kew (United Kingdom), KV-2-3714.

[5] For further insight about the Basque Youth, see Ruiz Descamps (2012; 2013).

[6] See the schematic table at the end of this section for an overview of Basque politics and their attitudes towards the Great War.

[7] For further insight, see Townshend (2015) and Ó Cathasaigh (2010).

[8] Euzkadi. “Ante la guerra”. November 3, 1914.

[9] See Luis Arana’s letter to Aranzadi for neutrality regarding the Great War in Archivo del Nacionalismo Vasco, Bilbao (Spain), HAG-8-22.

[10] Euzkadi. “Con el Consejo Supremo. La causa”. December 23, 1915.

[11] Euzkeldun Batzokija was the first Basque nationalist association created and presided by Sabino Arana, and Luis Arana reactivated it in 1916.

[12] La Constancia [from here on, LC] “El miedo, único agente”. February 2, 1915.

[13] Euzkadi. “Dialogando. Del cercado ajeno”. November 16, 1914.

[14] Euzkadi. “Polonización de Lituania” and “Lo divino y lo humano”. July 7 and 11, 1915.

[15] Euzkadi. “Polonización de Lituania por las autoridades eclesiásticas polacas. II”. July 8, 1915.

[16] Archivo del Nacionalismo Vasco. HAG-9-11.

[17] Napartarra. “Nueva era”. March 6, 1915.

[18]Euzkadi. “¿Qué hará Polonia?” August 14, 1914.

[19] La Gaceta del Norte [from here on GN]. “El discurso del señor Vázquez de Mella. Tremendas acusaciones a Inglaterra”. June 1, 1915.

[20] GN. “Euzkadi y el nacionalismo. No acepta la invitación”. July 24, 1915.

[21] GN. “Oh, los protectores de los pobres belgas. Los mártires de Irlanda. Inglaterra sin antifaz”. January 29, 1915.

[22] GN. November 3, 1914. Originally published in O’Higgins, Irish Freedom. September, 1914.

[23] Euzkadi.“Euzkadi e Irlanda”. May 6, 1916.

[24] LC. “El nacionalismo y Euzkadi”. May 9, 1916.

[25] GN. “Los anarquistas de Irlanda”. May 10, 1916.

[26] For instance, a Catholic newspaper in Asturias (Northern Spain) El Carbayón published a few brief pieces of news in the international affairs section alongside information about the different war fronts.

[27] GN. “Para ilustrarse”. May 9, 1916.

[28] LC. “Para Euzkadi, Inglaterra e Irlanda”. October 14, 1916.

[29] Archivo del Nacionalismo Vasco. HAG- 8- 52.

[30] Sabino Arana sent a telegram to the United Kingdom after its victory in the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), wishing that “those peoples would find advantages under the gentle yoke of Great Britain and that British sovereignty would be for them protection rather than domination, as for others equally fortunate”. Euzkadi, May 10, 1915.

[31] Euzkadi. “Ante la revolución irlandesa. Verdad y sinceridad cristiana”. May 18, 1916.

[32] Euzkadi. “Ante la revolución irlandesa. Enseñanzas católicas sobre la revolución”. May 27, 1916.

[33] La Voz de Guipúzcoa. “El peligro separatista”. May 28, 1916.

[34] See Ruiz Descamps (2013: 56-7).

[35] For further information on Ceferino Jemein, member of the Party since 1904 and close to Sabino Arana, see Estornés Zubizarreta (2020).

[36] Euzkadi. “Por el alma de Casement”. August 7, 1916.

[37] GN. “Misa de sufragio por el alma de Casement”. August 11, 1916.

[38] For further insight, see Cullen and McCreanor (2022).

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Archives

Archivo del Nacionalismo Vasco (Bilbao): HAG-8-22, HAG-8-52, HAG-9-11.

The National Archives, Kew (United Kingdom), KV-2-3714.

| Received: 26-05-2023 | Last Version: 28-02-2024 | Articles, Issue 19