On 20th November 1975, Franco died. Juan Carlos I was appointed Head of State.26 Together with the end of the Portuguese and Greek dictatorships, Franco’s death indicated the end of totalitarian regimes in Western Europe. The Spanish state had thus to decide between three possible courses of action: to continue Francoism without Franco (a difficult option after the attack against Carrero Blanco); to modify the system without changing the dictatorship or the people in charge; or to establish a real democracy that would respect all the civil, political, social and cultural rights, solve the national problem by recognising national plurality, and accept the right of self-determination – a basic element for solving the Basque conflict. The second option, “change something, so that nothing changed”, was the option which received most support among moderate Francoists. For their part, the progressive forces of the state, including the main Spanish parties – Socialist Party (PSOE) and Communist Party (PCE) – and the Basque EAJ-PNV, were opposed to a limited reform process.

In July 1976, Adolfo Suárez, the head of the National Movement (fascism’s political body) and representative of its progressive wing, was appointed Prime Minister. He announced a referendum on the Law of Political Reform for December that year, which became the tool to guide the transition. He legalised some political parties, released a limited number of political prisoners (this hardly affected ETA, as the so-called common crimes were not included), and replaced some of the military and police leadership.

From that moment on, a dialogue was established with opposition forces that had joined in a democratic coordination body called Platajunta, named after the two main Spanish opposition forces in exile, the Democratic Assembly (Junta Democrática) and the Platform for Democratic Convergence (Plataforma de Convergencia Democrática) joined together. The former, created in July 1974, was comprised of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), the Spanish Labour Party (PTE), the Popular Socialist Party (PSP), the Carlist Party and the monarchist sectors who supported Don Juan de Borbón (the father of Franco’s successor). As part of its programme, it advocated the recognition of the Catalan, Basque and Galician peoples and the regional communities, under the unity of the Spanish state.27 For its part, the Platform for Democratic Convergence was formed by the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), the Workers’ Revolutionary Organisation (ORT), other progressive democratic forces and the EAJ-PNV.

Whereas the platform’s ideology was primarily republican at first – defending a federal system and even the right to self-determination, the transition process directed by the progressive sectors of the regime managed to include all the parties in a reform process where they left their principles behind.28 Even the aged leaders of the EAJ-PNV eventually agreed to enter the Platform for Democratic Convergence, for fear of being engulfed by the new nationalism represented by ETA.

By contrast, the abertzale left asserted that a simple reform process within the regime would not solve the basic confrontational elements of the main conflict, i.e. the Basque national question and the right to self-determination. It demanded the amnesty of all political prisoners and the return of all exiles, the dissolution of repressive forces, the legalisation of pro-independence parties and the establishment of a Basque self-governing body for all four provinces.

In August 1975, under the initiative of ETA-pm (and without the participation of ETA-m), several Basque political parties (including the Basque Socialist Party (EAS), the People’s Socialist Party (HAS) and the Patriotic Workers’ Committees (LAC) and labour committees created the Socialist Patriotic Coordinating Committee (KAS). It started off as a simple anti-repressive platform, but progressively turned into a platform of patriotic unity that tried to reach a consensus on the minimum conditions for the abertzale left to consider the reform process democratic.29 These conditions were presented under the name of “KAS alternative” in 1976.

In this context, the state initiated a first negotiation attempt towards the armed organisations existing at that time (ETA-m and ETA-pm). State representatives called a meeting in Geneva, at the end of 1976, with the leaders of ETA-pm. The military spokesman said that the prisoners would be released, the exiles repatriated and the political parties legalised if they agreed to a three-month truce and later abandoned the armed struggle. ETA-m rejected the offer, and communicated to the state that it was an unacceptable offer for abandoning the armed struggle. They said that what they offered were only minimum democratic conditions before any negotiation.

The division of the Southern land

26 He had been appointed Franco’s successor as Head of State in July 1969, following his father Don Juan de Borbón’s abdication from the throne.
27 This represented a shift from the PCE’s earlier position, as in 1970 the party’s then president Dolores Ibarruri had declared herself in favour of the right to self-determination of the Spanish nations, in a report presented to the central commission of the party.
28 For instance, the PSOE effected a 180-degree turn so that the political reform could be carried out. Whereas it had called at its 8th conference in 1974 for “releasing all political prisoners, dissolving all repressive institutions, (…) and recognising the right to self-determination of all Iberian nationalities”, it later shifted from defending self-determination to defending the unity of Spain, from supporting a republic to supporting the monarchy, from demanding total amnesty and the disappearance of police forces to accepting partial amnesty and no reform of state institutions.
29 These were the conditions: 1. to establish democratic rights; 2. amnesty; 3. to adopt measures for improving the living conditions of popular masses and the working class; 4. to eliminate the repressive bodies; 5. to recognise the national sovereignty of the Basque Country, so that the Basque people can decide their future freely and create their own state; 6. to establish a provisional autonomy statute immediately, for Araba, Gipuzkoa, Biscay and Navarre; and 7. to create a provisional Basque government within the framework of the statute.