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Backgrounder: Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) (Spain, separatists, Euskadi ta Askatasuna)

Council on Foreign Relations

Updated: November 17, 2008


ETA, one of Western Europe's last terrorist groups, is rumored to be weakening as a split forms between those who call for violent resistance and those who advocate negotiation. The November 2008 arrest of the group's alleged military leader, Garikoitz Aspiazu Rubina, may help swing the group away from violent tactics. Spain has historically resisted ETA and the idea of an independent Basque homeland. In November 2008, left-leaning political party Eusko Alkartasuna (EA), which had previously belonged to a coalition affiliated with ETA, announced it will run in regional elections in March 2009. This, experts say, could restart the integration of the group into the political process. ETA's violent past, however, keeps it designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, and United Nations.
What is ETA?

ETA, which is pronounced "etta," is a leftist group that conducts terrorist attacks to win independence for a Basque state in northern Spain and southwestern France. ETA stands for Euskadi ta Askatasuna, which means “Basque Fatherland and Liberty” in the Basque language. When the group formed in 1959, its founders focused on Gen. Francisco Franco's suppression of the Basque language and culture. More moderate Basque nationalist organizations, including the Basque Nationalist Party, the Partido Nacionalista Vasco, were denounced as collaborators by ETA, which evolved by the 1960s into a revolutionary Marxist group. In 2003, the Spanish Supreme Court banned the Batasuna political party, which was considered the political arm of ETA, and successive efforts by Spanish governments to negotiate with ETA have failed.

Who are the Basques?

The Basques are a culturally distinct Christian group that straddles the mountainous region between modern-day Spain and France. According to a census from 2001, there are between 2 million and 3 million people living in Spain's Basque regions.

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Copyright 2008 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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