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The Spanish Civil War

It lasted between 1936 and 1939.
The special characteristics of Euskadi (Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa) in the II Republic (1931-36) are so important that they enable us to talk about a Basque system of parties with a new character. This system is characterised by the concurrence of four breaking lines which divided the right-wing, central and left-wing forces: the method of government (Monarchy or Republic), the national/regional matter (centralism or autonomies), the religious problem (clericalism versus anticlericalism) and the social matter (reaction, reform or revolution).

In the general elections of February 1936 the following parties were presented: the Bloque de Derechas (Right-wing Block), Frente Popular (Popular Front) and Partido Nacionalista Vasco (Basque Nationalist Party PNV), whose results were very similar. The general results, which were in favour of the coalition of the Frente Popular, opened a new period of reforms which gave rise to social mobilization of both the right-wing and the left-wing.

The military conspiracies which had been highlighted months before started to come together in the spring of 1936. The conspiracy organised by the military stratum and symbolised by General Mola from Pamplona and the one promoted by the Carlists, came together in mid July and were started on 19th July 1936 en Pamplona. After the assassination of a chief of the Guardia Civil, Mola proclaimed a state of war in the capital of Nafarroa. The garrison conspired in Vitoria did the same; however, the ones in Bilbao and San Sebastián did not.

The PNV positioned itself with the legitimate government of the Republic whilst in just a few days thousands of volunteers from Nafarroa, both traditionalists and Falangists went out to the orders of the army to combat the northern front and towards Madrid. The country was irremediably divided between the coastal provinces and the inland ones, in hands of the insurgents.

In October 1936 the Estatuto Vasco (Basque Statute) was approved by the republican government of Largo Caballero. The Basque Government was organised, with the Lehendakari (president) José Antonio Aguirre at the head, and the Basque army (Eusko Gudarostea) which had worse and fewer arms than the rebels, accentuated by the refusal of the European democracies to supply arms to the Basque battalions. The coup troops used air force, which was used in new war strategies and as a way of terrorising the civil population via massive bombings in Durango and in Gernika.

Towards the end of June 1937 Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and Nafarroa were definitively dominated by the rebel army, whilst some Basque battalions, obeying orders from the PNV, surrendered to the Italians in Santoña. Others continued to struggle in the northern front and later in the Catalonia front until the end of the war in April 1939.