Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Nationalism, political violence, and the democratic polity: The case of San Sebastián in the Basque Country
by Cibrian, Ramiro, Ph.D., Yale University, 2014, 613; 3580654
Abstract (Summary)

The theoretical problem tackled by this study is that of the stability and durability of democracy in plurinational states. The issue at stake is whether it is possible for these states to preserve both the democratic process and their territorial integrity without eventually disintegrating into their constituent nationalities. Spain—one of the earliest states of the Modern Era—consolidated as a democracy after the authoritarian Franco regime, but thirty-six years after the adoption of its current democratic constitution it is still facing in the Basque Country and Catalonia challenges affecting the nature and integrity of the state. It constitutes, therefore, a relevant case to study the long-term viability of democracy in nationally heterogeneous societies. The particular case of the Basque Country in Spain is of special interest. Until 2011 contemporary democracy there has been undermined by nationalist violence aimed to obliterate Spanish constitutional legality and the state's territorial integrity. Robert A. Dahl underlines that the democratic process presupposes the legitimacy of the territorial unit in which it takes place. If that unit is not appropriate or legitimate, then it is difficult to legitimize it just by democratic procedures.

The problem of the viability of contemporary democracy in the Basque Country was addressed by Juan J. Linz in his work Conflicto en Euskadi (1986), written in 1980. On the basis of extensive 1979 survey data, Linz takes stock and concludes that although the initial legitimacy of Spanish constitutional legality in the Basque Country was not strong, there was no viable alternative to it. This was so because the legitimacy of the independence alternative sponsored by radical nationalists was as weak, or even weaker, than the constitutionalist option. The present research revisits Conflicto en Euskadi, focusing on the city of San Sebastián as a representative microcosm of the Basque Country. The choice of this city can be justified on the central role that San Sebastián plays in the contemporary political life of the Basque Country. Once staunchly liberal and cosmopolitan, San Sebastián is today primarily the capital of the province of Guipúzcoa, which used to be a stronghold of Basque primordialism and is today one of radical nationalism. Against this background, San Sebastián has featured prominently in the violent ETA conflict that since 1977 has run in parallel with thirty-six competitive elections.

A key research tool of this study is constituted by a survey of contemporary elites of San Sebastián. The Donostia 2012 Elites survey was carried out in the spring and summer of 2012 by the author. It includes 142 extensive interviews with some of the most prominent business leaders, political officers and professional personalities of the city. Despite the time elapsed, the conclusions of the present study largely follow those reached by Linz in Conflicto en Euskadi. As measured by the attitudes and choices of Donostia 2012 Elites and wider population surveys, legal constitutional legitimacy has since 1979 moderately improved but does not yet reach levels that would keep it at bay of nationalist challenges. As regards the numbers of those who favor the independence alternative, the picture has meanwhile remained basically stable. But the intensity of their feelings and determination to pursue this option may have increased. Between Spanish Constitutionalists and pro-independence Sabinian nationalists there is an intermediate group of light-minded elites. They are important because their numbers and middle-ground positions give them on many issues a majority coalition-making capacity with either Constitutionalists or Sabinians.

The relative stability during contemporary democratic years of the Basque political system and of elites' and citizens' preferences has taken place against a background of never-experienced-before political and social changes. They include the consolidation of a very broad level of self-government, with full fiscal competences, a major expansion in the knowledge and use of the vernacular Euskera language, and an end to almost five decades of ETA terrorism that has left behind more than 850 victims. The present study underlines that the fragile institutional and behavioral stability that has prevailed so far is not guaranteed to last. It is likely that pro-independence Sabinian nationalist in control of local, provincial and Basque autonomous institutions will continue to push initiatives challenging the established constitutional legality, while some of the options that middle-ground, light minded citizens and elites may favor—such as increased levels of autonomy—may not be sustainable. They cannot be continuously implemented without eventually changing the nature of the constitutional legality they are supposed to only quantitatively modify.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Cameron, David R.
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 75/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Political science
Keywords: Democracy, Democratic polity, Nationalism, Political violence, San Sebastian
Publication Number: 3580654
ISBN: 9781321048261
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