The Partido Nacional Vasco (Basque Nationalist Party) was founded at the end of the nineteenth century by Sabino Arana in order to protect the native Basque population from what he saw as contamination by immigrants from other regions, who had come to work in a rapidly industrializing area. Arana thought that the native population's best defence was its language, Basque (Euskera), which would be a barrier against the horrors of a foreign invasion by people whom he considered racially inferior, immoral and atheistic. To make matters worse the immigrants formed branches of the socialist PSOE and its associated trade union, the UGT.
   Surprisingly, given that history, the PNV has become a moderate Christian Democratic party, the dominant force in the Basque country, and a power in the Spanish state. The party's orientation changed in the 1930s when the Second Republic granted the Basque country a Statute of Autonomy. As a result, the PNV and the newly created Basque government were on the losing side in the Civil War. During WWII, while the PNV-dominated Basque government in exile waited for the Allies to restore their democratic rights, the victorious Franco regime persecuted the Basque language and culture. A section of the PNV's youth grew dissatisfied with their elders" inactivity, and broke away in 1959 to form ETA, which aimed to achieve independence through armed struggle.
   In the early 1970s, the PNV, now led by people such as Javier Arzallus, revived, much to the surprise of the new generation of anti-Franco activists. In the parliamentary elections held in 1977 the party emerged as a strong force whose co-operation would be necessary if a new constitution was to be agreed. The PNV leaders welcomed the constitution of 1978, which made an Autonomy Statute possible, but as they did not want to be seen to accept either the monarchy or Basque inclusion in the Spanish State, its MPs left the chamber before the crucial vote. In the referendum held to ratify the constitution the PNV recommended abstention.
   The PNV leaders do not, in practice, think it possible to break away from Spain, but many of their members want independence. The party continues to promote Basque, but the function of the language is no longer to differentiate natives from immigrants, but to serve as a mark of identity for the whole Basque population. The PNV has been the leading force in the Basque parliament, established in 1980 to administer the Basque autonomous community, although it has usually had to govern as part of a coalition. The Basque government runs education and health and has its own police force and television channels (see also Basque television). Opponents complain that the PNV hardly distinguishes between the party and government, so that PNV membership is helpful in gaining public office. "Spanish" parties still feel a measure of distrust about the PNV's loyalty to Spain and its constitution, although they have great respect for the head of the government, PNV member José Antonio Ardanza.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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