Monday, January 18, 2016
The Ertzaintza is the police force for the Basque Country. An Ertzaintza member is called an ertzaina and most eye catching when seeing one, is the red beret (or txapela).
The origins of the current Ertzaintza, can be traced back to the old municipal militias, which were popular organizations at the service of local bodies, created to satisfy the need for public safety. But it was not until the 19th century when the almost permanent police corps of a professional nature was created.
It was a response to the banditry caused by the continuous social and political upheaval occurring from the end of the 18th century and well into the 19th. The decisive argument for its configuration was the First Carlist War, when the Miqueletes of Biscay and Guipuzcoa and the Miñones of Alava commenced their activities.
On October 1, 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, the Basque Statute of Autonomy come into force, leading to the establishment of an autonomous government with actual authority over the provinces of Biscay and Guipuzcoa. One of the priorities of the new government was the re-establishment of public order.
When the war on the Basque front concluded, the Ertzaña was dissolved, and Franco's Nationalist regime pretended that this institution had never existed in the first place.
Having allied themselves with the losing Republican side, Biscay and Guipuzcoa were considered "traitor provinces" and most of their autonomy was annulled. However, since at the outbreak of the civil war Alava and Navarre had thrown their lot in with the Nationalists, the Miñones and Miqueletes continued on duty, with assignments such as traffic patrols and custody of the regional institutions.
The first officers were members of the Basque Nationalist Party. Although the law required that Ertzaintza commissioned officers had to be previous members of the Spanish army or the State police forces, this was often ignored.
This new police force, made up of Basque citizens, developed in an organized manner from 1982, and was progressively deployed starting from the countryside towards the cities.
The Ertzaintza is currently a fully-fledged police force, except for border control. The state police bodies have decreased their numbers in the Basque Country. Combating ETA and pressuring violent Basque nationalist organisations is also part of their remit.