Basque leader Jasus Maria De Liezaola, the last prominent exile from Franco's Spain, returned home on Saturday (15 December) in triumph.
Basque leader Jasus Maria De Liezaola, the last prominent exile from Franco's Spain, returned home on Saturday (15 December) in triumph. The frail, eighty-three-year old "Lendakari"--the name Basques give their President -- arrived in Bilbao aboard a specially-charted aircraft from Paris, where he'd lived in exile for forty-two years.
SYNOPSIS: Senor Leizaola was greeted at Bilbao airport by cheering crowds as he stepped firmly onto home soil. He had been back only one other time in his forty-two years of exile. That was in 1974, to make a clandestine appearance at illegal celebration marking Aberri Eguna, the Basque National Day. But this time he was home to stay.
Shortly before Leizaola's aircraft arrived, police had cleared the crowds from the airport because of bomb threat, but nothing was found. Leizaola was among two hundred thousand Basque Nationalists who fled Spain when General Franco's forces occupied Bilbao in 1937.
It was an emotional moment for many Basques as Leizaola entered the Parliament buildings in Guernica, with the President of the Basque General Council, Senor Carlos Garaikoetxea. Leizaola's return became possible when both houses of the Spanish parliament approved new home rule for Basques. Leizaola symbolically handed over they keys of his Paris apartment, which had served as headquarters for the Basque government in exile.
The Basque President also brought with him all the files of the exiled government. Later, receiving a tribute from forty-five thousand Basques at Bilbao football stadium, Leizaola said he had always lived through his exile believing he would return the next day to Spain, and some day, the Basque people would exercise their rights peacefully and democratically. He said: "This forty-two year period has only been a parenthesis, a long and laborious parenthesis."
Leizaola, a life-long member of the Basque Nationalist party, formally handed over power to the new autonomous Basque authorities. He and other Basque leaders then made a pilgrimage to the "Tree of Guernica', a shrine to Basque nationalism.
Leizaola's return was somewhat marred by political in-fighting between his party and other groups in the troubled region. Socialists, Communists and other parties accused the nationalist of trying to make political capital out of the event and stayed away from the ceremonies. But the Basque leader joined other Nationalist Party leaders in singing the Basque anthem to mark his return from exile.