Luis de Guezala
Luis de Guezala

Luis de Guezala has a PhD in History and a Masters in Archiving from the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU).  He is also the director of the Uzturre Periodicals Library and the Sabino Arana Fundazioa Archive of Nationalism Library.


This year’s Day of the Homeland on April 12, 2020 is going to be rather different: the lockdown imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic has Basques all over the world locked up at home.

While it’s true that this situation is not really comparable to the one our fellow Basques had to live through in clandestinity, war, or exile, it is true that we cannot commemorate this day together, celebrating as well as demanding.

That’s why, as we stated in an earlier entry, we blogged about how the best way to make the most of this day would be by filling up the streets and social media with ikurriñas.  Check out that article.

The ikurriña, the national ensign of the Basques, has spent most of its life illegal and persecuted.  And we’re not speaking only in the past tense: just a few yaers ago, in our own country, people waving the flag were attacked and stopped by the police, like during San Fermines a few years ago.

No other Basque flag in all our history has reached the same level of symbolic meaning, nor gained so much social acceptance, as the representation for the thirst for Freedom of our People.  The movement to defend the Cause of the Basque Pople was created with this flag.  With, and for, that flag, that representation of our homeland, our gudaris fought and died defending Basque soil.  With that flag, tens of thousands of Basques went into exile.  And all the Basque Centers all over the world still fly it.  In order to see it, many Basques during the dark years of the Franco dictatorship crossed the Pyrenees since, for so long, it has been a symbole that represents us all.

The Ikurriña, born as a symbol of a Biscay that was independent of the Spanish occupation at the end of the 19th century, has become, thanks to popular support and acceptance, the flag of all Basques.

And the ikurriña is a flag that one day will fly on the Esplanade of the UN in New York, and in Brussels, to represent a federal republic that unites all the Basque territories as free, equal brothers, fulfilling a dream we’ve had for over a century.

DEIA has brought back Luis de Guezala’s article, which was originally published on July 12, 2014 to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the ikurriña; a translation can be found below.  It tells the story of our flag’s history, which is why, even though it’s not from the international press, we share it here.

Regarding the Basque Homeland and Freedom

Luis de Guezala

The Ikurriña, originally drawn up by brothers Sabino and Luis de Arana y Goiri in 1894, has transcended its initial meaning, as it is not just a symbol of the Basque Homeland, but also of Freedom
La Ikurriña ondeando por primera vez
The Ikurriña when it first flew

It was on Saturday, July 13, 1894, when the ikurriña first flew, to celebrate the inauguration of the first Basque nationalist organization, the Euskeldun Batzokija, in Bilbao, on the second floor of the building on the corner of Correo Street and El Arenal, at the time Number 34.  At six in the evening, Ciriaco de Iturri y Urlezaga, as he was the oldest member, aged 50, among the 94 founders of the Batzokija, had the honor of hoisting the ikurriña for the first time.

That first ikurriña would suffer the same fate as so many of its sisters that would follow: on September 12, 1895, it was seized by the Spanish authorities when they shut the Euskeldun Batzokija down.  It lasted just over a year.  But now, we get to celebrate the 120th anniversary of its birth.  The ikurriña was the brainchild of Sabino de Arana y Goiri and his brother Luis.  During this journey of nation-building, both as a political movement and as the defense of the endangered Basque national identity, which they had both undertaken, they thought the idea of the adoption of national symbols was very important: country name, coat of arms, flag, and anthem.  And the first of those which they came up with was the flag, which was initially created as the flag of Biscay.  In the Sabino Arana Foundation Archives, we can still see the original sketch of the ikurriña, possibly drawn up by Luis, who was an architect.

Original design of the ikurriña, drawn up by brothers Sabino and Luis de Arana y Goiri.
Original design of the ikurriña, drawn up by brothers Sabino and Luis de Arana y Goiri.

Anticipating modern vexillology, the two brothers understood that the flag of Biscay had to be a translation of the type of emblem that had historically served the same purpose: the coat of arms.  So, on a field of red, which they considered to be the original color of the coat of arms, and also a representation of the residents of the Lordship of Biscay, they placed a green cross, like the St. Andrew’s cross, green like the Tree of Gernika and also a reference to a semi-legendary battle in the 9th century, which took place on that saint’s feast day, when the Biscayans fought in defense of their independence.

Old coat of arms of Biscay
Old coat of arms of Biscay

Over all of that they placed a white cross, which would occupy the most predominant part of the coat of arms, as an expression of the supreme importance Sabino de Arana gave to the transcendence of the Catholic religion and the values he attributed to it.  The wolves of the coat of arms, which the founder of the Basque Nationalist Party considered represented the Lords of Biscay, were considered by the defender of republicanism as exotic and harmful to Biscay, so they were not copied to the flag.  As can be seen in the original design, the creators of the ikurriña also created a version to be hung from balconies, with horizontal stripes of the same colors, red, green, and white.  The size of the cross and the St. Andrew’s cross on the original design were narrower than in the current design.

Ensign used on the official vehicle of Lehendakari José Antonio de Aguirre y Lekube.
Ensign used on the official vehicle of Lehendakari José Antonio de Aguirre y Lekube.

The change would arise at another, later event, forty-two years later, at another key moment in the construction of a Basque nation: the Spanish Civil War and the constitution of the first Basque Government.  The Basque Government over which José Antonio de Aguirre presided over would adopt the ikurriña as its official flag on October 19, 1936, at the behest of the Minister of Industry, socialist Santiago Aznar.



The greater width of the crosses was motivated by the fact that they were indistinguishable at a distance, which was a problem during the war, which was being fought on land and at sea.  The flag which had been conceived as the flag for Biscay had popularly become the flag of all Basques long before it was made official, and against the wishes of Luis de Arana, who wished it to remain the flag of Biscay alone.Evolución de la Ikurriña desde su idea original de ser la bandera de Bizkaia dentro de la Confederación vasca (conformada por todos los territorios, confederados como hermanos libres e iguales), hasta representar a todo el país. En ese primer esquema de banderas, cada uno de los seis territorios tenía su propia «ikurriña» y había una que representaba a toda la nación.

Evolution of the Ikurriña from its conception as the flag of Biscay within the Basque Confederation (made up of all the territories, in a confederation as equals), to when it came to represent the whole country.  In the first outline, each one of the six territories had its own ‘ikurriña’, and then there was another one to represent the nation as a whole.But symbol had long gone beyond its creators and had become hugely popular.  In 1925, the Euskaltzaleen Biltzarra had already adopted it as their flag at their meetings.  And in 1931, when the City of Durango consulted with the Eusko Ikaskuntza regarding which flag could be considered the Basque national flag, representative of the Basque Country as a whole, they replied that flying the ikurriña “could not, in our times, be linked with any party idea, but rather the expression of the spiritual unity of the Basques”.

Izada de la Ikurriña en el Bou Gipuzkoa, unidad de la Marina de Guerra Auxiliar de Euzkadi. Febrero 37 poco antes de la Batalla de Cabo Matxitako
Hoisting the Ikurriña on the ‘Bou Gipuzkoa’, part of the Auxiliary War Navy of Euzkadi.  February 1937, before the Battle of Cape Matxitxako

he free use of the ikurriña in the Southern Basque Country lasted as long as it could resist the advancing army of the insurgent Franco.  After the military victory of Spanish National-Catholicism, it was, like so many things, instantly made illegal.  Those ikurriñas which had not been captured were hidden as well as possible, to prevent the cruel repression their owners would face.  They were hidden in attics or inside walls, inside mattresses or masked with sheets and bedclothes.  Or buried, like treasures whose secret hiding place would be passed down from generation to generation.  Many of them managed to survive the war and the dictatorship and are today preserved at the Sabino Arana Foundation, thanks to the numerous donations of those who managed to keep them safe in such difficult times.

Ikurriña del Batallón Arana Goiri, conservada en un convento de Pau.
Ikurriña of the Arana Goiri Battalion, preserved in a convent in Pau.

These old ikurriñas, survivors of a thousand and one vicissitudes, battles, and persecutions, carry the hearts of those who drew and sewed them, who hoisted and flew them, who defended and hid them.  They carry the souls of the Basques who were, are, and will be.  But the ikurriña was not the only thing made illegal during the long, long, Franco dictatorship.  Even the combination of colors was.  Still, appearances of those three colors did make appearances, timid as they were.  For example, when the Basque dance group Dindirri started dancing again after the war, they wore white dresses with red txapelas, and belts that, while not green, were definitely on the green side of blue

Gudari nº 43.1967. Boletín clandestino de EGI. Colocación de una ikurriña en la Catedral de Burgos el 12 de octubre.
Gudari nº 43.1967. Clandestine gazette of the EGI.  Hoisting an ikurriña on Burgos Cathedral on October 12

To avoid fines, sanctions, arrests, and beatings, they were able to argue before the Francoist police that the belt was blue.  But it didn’t take much imagination to see the red, white, and green when the dancers went on stage.  Throughout the dictatorship, the ikurriña became a fundamental symbol of the resistance.  It was painted on walls and mountains.  It found its way into a thousand public and sporting events.  Tiny ikurriñas flew like confetti.  They were hung from power lines to make them difficult to remove.  And they were also, at night, hung from church steeples, to popular cheer until they were removed.  Even Burgos Cathedral awoke one day decorated with an ikurriña, and that image would later be shared via clandestine pamphlets and publications.  There even came a moment, in those dark, sad years, when the ikurriña again transcended its initial meaning, and went from being just a symbol of the Basque Homeland to also being a symbol of Freedom.  Would that it had never stopped being that.

Ikurriña which flew on the ‘Goizeko Izarra’ ship on its voyage from Bilbao to Pauillac on May 6, 1937, when it evacuated the elderly, women, and children, to save them from the war.
Ikurriña which flew on the ‘Goizeko Izarra’ ship on its voyage from Bilbao to Pauillac on May 6, 1937, when it evacuated the elderly, women, and children, to save them from the war.


Last Updated on Dec 20, 2020 by About Basque Country

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