Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA; Basque Homeland and Freedom) is a clandestine organization dedicated to establishing the Basque provinces of Spain and France as an independent state through armed struggle and terror. ETA was founded in 1959 by student activists frustrated by what they saw as the excessive passivity of the historic party of Basque nationalism, the Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV).
The turn to armed struggle was a response to the repression of the Basque language by the regime of Francisco Franco as well as to the influence of Marxism and movements of national liberation in the colonial world. ETA's initial acts were to set off bombs in major cities in the region and, in 1961, to attempt to derail a train. In 1968 ETA carried out its first planned killing, and by 1975 ETA had killed forty-five people: members of the army or police and political figures. Its most spectacular act was the assassination of Franco's hand-picked successor, the prime minister Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, in 1973. Even though ETA was concerned only with freeing the Basque country, acts such as this, and the 1970 Burgos trial of ETA activists and sympathizers, earned the organization considerable solidarity among anti-Franco groups.
The death of Franco in November 1975 and the subsequent transition to democracy only increased ETA's activity. For etarras (ETA members), a democratic Spanish state was no better than a dictatorial one. Indeed, a democratic state that granted the Basque region considerable self-government, as the new "state of the autonomies" did, was an even more dangerous enemy. Consequently, the number of assassinations increased sharply in the late 1970s. Military figures were favored targets, as ETA believed that the military was the real power in Spain. This upsurge in ETA violence was an important part of the backdrop to the failed military coup of 23 February 1981.
Over the years, ETA has undergone a number of schisms and changes of tactics, as some groups renounced armed struggle in favor of strictly political action. In September 1998 it announced a cease-fire, but then announced a return to violence in November 1999.
Since the restoration of democracy, ETA has had close links to a broader social movement known as the "patriotic Left." From 1978 until 1998, a party called Herri Batasuna (HB) acted as ETA's political wing. During the 1980s, in particular, HB enjoyed significant electoral support in the region, winning as much as 18 percent of the vote in regional elections. This support dropped during the 1990s, and in 1998 HB changed its name to Euskal Herritarrok (EH).
Another aspect of political violence connected to ETA was the emergence in the 1990s of what was called kale borroka, struggle in the streets. This was carried out primarily by gangs of young people who would set fire to municipal buses and cause other damage of this sort. The kale borroka peaked in 2000, when there were 581 reported incidents; in 2003 there were only 150, largely as a response to changes in the laws making it possible to prosecute minors.
At the same time, ETA has suffered a continuous and serious loss of public support in the Basque country. A grassroots civic organization called Basta Ya! (Enough Is Enough) began to organize street demonstrations against ETA, and surveys done by the Universidad del País Vasco show that the percentage of Basques who supported or justified ETA's actions fell from 12 percent in 1981 to only 2 percent in 2003, while the percentage who totally rejected ETA rose from 23 percent to 64 percent in the same period.
Overtime, ETA's violence became more indiscriminate. Victims included businessmen, academics, and journalists, as well as people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
According to government statistics, 339 of ETA's 817 victims have been civilians. In effect, the Basque country has been living through a low-level civil war, as violence and insecurity have become widespread. Many academics, journalists, and politicians in the region have permanent bodyguards.
The government of Spain has taken a hard line with ETA. In the early 1980s, the Socialist government engaged in a "dirty war" in which suspected ETA militants were killed by hit squads. When this became public, it contributed significantly to the discrediting of the Socialist Party and led to one former minister being sent to jail.
ETA itself is a small organization. It is believed to have some twenty core members and a few hundred supporters. Its money comes from kidnappings, robberies, and extortion, what it calls "revolutionary taxes." ETA has ties with the IRA (Irish Republican Army).
From early in its existence, ETA took advantage of the proximity of the border with France, often using southern France as a base for its operations. Until the early 1980s, the French government tolerated this, so long as ETA did not commit any crimes in France itself. French policy changed after the Socialists came to power in Spain: with Socialist governments in both countries, the French agreed to withdraw their previous tolerance and to collaborate in efforts to combat terrorism. ETA thus found it harder to use southern France as a sanctuary. Such collaboration increased still further following the events of 11 September 2001; in October 2004, French police arrested the suspected leader of ETA and discovered large hidden caches of arms.
Clark, Robert P. The Basque Insurgents: ETA, 1952–1980. Madison, Wis., 1984.
——. Negotiating with ETA: Obstacles to Peace in the Basque Country, 1975–1988. Reno, Nev., 1990.
Núñez Seixas, Xosé M. "The Reawakening of Peripheral Nationalisms and the State of the Autonomous Communities." In Spanish History since 1808, edited by José Alvarez Junco and Adrian Shubert, 315–330. London, 2000.
Sullivan, John. ETA and Basque Nationalism: The Fight for Euskadi, 1890–1986. London, 1988.
e·ta / ˈātə; ˈētə/ • n. the seventh letter of the Greek alphabet (Η, η), transliterated as ‘e’ or ‘ē.’ ∎ (Eta) [followed by Latin genitive] Astron. the seventh star in a constellation: Eta Carinae.
ETA • abbr. estimated time of arrival, in particular the time at which an aircraft or ship is expected to arrive at its destination. ETA 2 / ˈetə/ a Basque separatist movement in Spain, founded in 1959 for an independent Basque state.
• Entertainment Trades' Alliance
• estimated time of arrival
• European Teachers' Association
• (or Eta; ˈɛtə) Euzkadi ta Askatsuna (Basque: Basque Nation and Liberty; nationalist organization)