Carlos Garaikoetxea, one of the great referents of Basque politics, is very sorry for the drift that Eusko Alkartasuna (EA) has taken, the party that he himself created in 1986 after the split in the PNV. This nationalist formation is going through the deepest crisis in its history. Two sectors are waging a bitter battle that has lasted five years and shows no sign of ending amicably. On the contrary, the confrontation has intensified at the gates of a national congress, scheduled for February 19 and 20, where a total division will be staged that endangers the continuity of the project launched by its founder. The internal power war and the discrepancies over the fit of the party in EH Bildu have led EA to an extreme situation.
In that congress there will be a train wreck between the official current led by the general secretary, Eba Blanco, and the critics, headed by the Navarre parliamentarian Maiorga Ramírez, the latter backed by the exlehendakari Garaikoetxea. They have to resolve their differences in the worst possible environment, with an exchange of public accusations, expulsion files from the party opened against four critical leaders and crossed legal complaints that make understanding impossible.
The underlying problem, explains Garaikoetxea in statements to this newspaper, lies in “the different conception of EH Bildu, which was conceived as a coalition of parties with different ideologies and democratic traditions. An authoritarian leadership has been turning it into a single party, integrated with the characters of Sortu”. “Because of negligence, inertia or human interests, EA’s management has confused things and gone for an integration de facto which means erasing the main virtue of a coalition”, he adds.
From being an influential party with broad electoral support until the end of the 1990s, EA currently lives in political insignificance. He had government responsibilities in the Basque Executive ―his ceiling was the 13 parliamentarians in the autonomous elections of 1986― and he was very strong in Gipuzkoa, but his political project gradually deflated until he was left with a single representative in the Basque Chamber in 2009. His incorporation into the Bildu electoral coalition in 2011, together with the left abertzale, Aralar and Alternatiba, allowed him to regain political prominence, but this was short-lived. EA has definitely been devoured by Otegi’s hosts, critics of Blanco’s direction maintain.
Iker Ruiz de Egino, national spokesman for the party and aligned with the official sector, flatly disagrees: “These fears are unfounded. Entering EH Bildu was a strategic agreement and EA has always supported the line of following EH Bildu as a federation of parties and not as an electoral alliance. Going back to an EH Bildu as a coalition is something outdated and belongs to the past”. In the management cadres of the formation directed by Arnaldo Otegi there is no representative of EA. The left abertzale (Sortu) has absolute control of the command: “It is true that people from EA are missing, but we don’t have to be on the front line either” of Bildu.
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According to Maiorga Ramírez, EH Bildu has been “totally surrendered”, a progressive deglutition that has ended in an “absolute submission” of EA: “The political paper approved at the last EA congress (2017) with the support of more 80% of the affiliation clearly speaks of betting on an EH Bildu as a coalition of parties, with rotating spokespersons; it does not contemplate the need to join EH Bildu in order to participate in its organs, as is the case now”. He criticizes that the apparatus led by Blanco “wants to dress de facto what he has done behind the affiliation’s back” and demands that “all the irregularities and bosses that the EA management has made be reversed”. And he warns that “if EA renounces its social democratic profile and chooses to dissolve into EH Bildu, it will be leaving the entire central lane of Basque politics free and will be the best favor for the PNV.” Ruiz de Egino denies the biggest: “EA is not going to dissolve into EH Bildu”.
Rafa Larreina, former secretary of Organization, Basque parliamentarian for almost two decades, former deputy for Amaiur and one of the four leaders who registered EA in the party registry in 1986, acknowledges being “very sad” at the “melodramatic” tone he has taken the internal crisis: “Things have not been done well because EA has in fact disappeared within EH Bildu, a coalition that I supported a lot at the time because it was a necessary instrument to achieve the end of ETA”. Larreina does not lose hope that “at the last minute a consensus will be reached.”
The division in EA began to become visible in the 2017 congress, from which Pello Urizar, the person who in 2011 had led the entry of EA into the sovereignist coalition after the electoral failures that his party had been reaping, was re-elected Secretary General. He was only 14 votes ahead of Ramírez, the critical voice that demanded greater autonomy, more visibility and weight within EH Bildu and had the support of Garaikoetxea and other party veterans. Urizar’s resignation in June 2019 gave rise, for the first time, to a very convulsive primary process to name his successor. There began the confrontation between Blanco and Ramírez, the two positions of the party with the highest institutional rank, as they are members of the table of the Basque and Navarre Parliaments, respectively.
Blanco presented about 60 endorsements in the primaries, compared to 400 for Ramírez, but he was removed from the electoral race due to alleged errors in some signatures collected among the members of the French Basque Country (there were only 19 members). This fact triggered a judicial process that is still open and has reached the Supreme Court after the appeal filed by the party leadership against the ruling of the Provincial Court of Álava that in July 2021 ordered the repetition of the primaries. With this litigation open, the official line of the party proclaimed Blanco acting secretary general at the end of 2019.
On the front opened up by control of the party, the Ramírez sector claims to have the majority support of the organizations in Navarra, Gipuzkoa and Álava, while the leadership is stronger in Bizkaia. This struggle for power has led Ramírez and his followers to criminally denounce several party leaders for the crimes of revealing secrets and forgery for allegedly accessing the protected files of party members. On March 11, Ruiz de Egino and the Organizing Secretary, Mariano Álava, will testify in court as under investigation for allegedly allowing EH Bildu’s Organization Director, Maider Karrere, to enter the database of the affiliates camouflaging her as an EA worker, despite the fact that she had ceased to be one in June 2017.
Karrere is also cited that day as being investigated. She is accused of accessing those confidential files from mid-2017 to the end of 2019, when the achievement of guarantees among affiliates was at stake during the struggle for leadership between Blanco and Ramírez. The party’s leadership, for its part, has countered by opening a disciplinary case for the suspension of militancy against Maiorga and the territorial coordinators of Navarra, Álava and Gipuzkoa (Miren Aranoa, Iratxe López de Aberasturi and Mikel Goenaga, respectively) and the responsible for EA in Pamplona, Esther Korres, for having publicly denounced irregularities in the 2019 primaries. The first faces a sanction that would separate him from the party for 12 years and for 17 years the remaining four files.
“A real cruelty is taking place against all of us who defend Garaikoetxea’s thesis. The party apparatus intends to condition and win a congress full of irregularities”, laments Ramírez. Ruiz de Egino considers it “surprising” that the opposing sector is “trying to condition the will of the affiliates with false accusations of manipulation” against the leadership. He assures that in the conclave “what the militancy wants will happen and the representation of all local organizations will be guaranteed.”
The congress will be held in Vitoria, but the place has not been disclosed. It will be held in a “mixed format”, both face-to-face and online, says the EA spokesman. Garaikoetxea wants this national event to take place “with all the democratic guarantees and to be a faithful reflection of the affiliation”. And he warns: “If the line of the current address persists, [Eba Blanco] it will lose a substantial part of its support”. Eusko Alkartasuna chose an oak leaf as its distinctive. That leaf is withered and split in two.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.