From Lhasa to Bilbao

The Basque people are an ancient minority group inhabiting the Pyrenees Mountains in northern Spain.  With the mountains as natural defense, and with their strong sense of cultural identity, they survived the Roman Empire, the Arab conquest, and the Christian reconquest.  Basques always arranged to have local autonomy.  They call their country “Euskada”.

After Franco won the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, he brutally oppressed the Basques, killed many, and moved Spaniards into the Basque region.  Bilbao is the largest Basque city, but only 50,000 of the 350,000 population now speak the Basque language.  The current Spanish government has renounced the oppressive policies of Franco and is trying to be conciliatory.

There is a Basque separatist movement, comprised of different groups, the most violent of which is ETA.  On April 17, Basque separatists exploded a bomb in Bilbao, targeting the Spanish Socialist Party which had just won re-election in Spain.  To show their “peaceful” intentions, the separatists telephoned in a bomb warning so the building could be evacuated.  Nevertheless, the building was damaged and seven Spanish police officers were wounded.

The Basque separatists’ attack in Bilbao in April is very similar to the Tibetan separatists’ attack in Lhasa a month earlier:

In both cases a unique, cultural minority has survived for centuries in remote mountains, able to achieve autonomous administration regardless of the government of the larger region.  The Tibetans in the Himalayas; the Basques in the Pyrenees.

In both cases, a national civil war resulted in the winner asserting full control over all of its national territory, including the former autonomous regions. The Communist Chinese took control in Tibet; the Franco Fascists took control in Euskada.

In both cases, the minority resists this change, often crossing the mountainous border to find refuge on the other side.  Tibetans finding refuge in India; Basques finding refuge in France.

In both cases, their capital city has experienced an influx of settlers.  Han Chinese coming to Lhasa; Castillian Spaniards coming to Bilbao.

In both cases, a separatist movement arises, including some groups claiming to be peaceful and some groups openly resorting to violence.  Most in the news is the Tibetan Youth Congress for the Tibetans; ETA for the Basques.

This year, merely one month apart, separatists attacked government buildings and police forces in both capital cities.  The Tibetan separatists also attacked civilians, killing some, even burning them alive.  The Basque separatists gave a forewarning so that civilian casualties would be avoided.

Nevertheless, the world wide response to these two events has been very different. After the attack in Lhasa, the response has been massive, with many street demonstrations denouncing China and supporting the separatists.  The French President, the British Prime Minister, and the UN Secretary General have announced they will boycott China.  Following the attack in Bilbao, there has been no response.  Nothing.  Perfectly nothing.  No street demonstrations in Paris, London, or San Francisco.  No one announcing a boycott of Spain.

There is one difference between these two very similar events that might explain this very great difference in the world wide response:  The United States government has been covertly backing the Tibetan separatists for fifty years.  No super-power has given such support to the Basque separatists.  This is not conspiracy theory, but easily accessible information.

In 1998, on October 2, the New York Times reported that “The Dalai Lama’s administration acknowledged today that it received $1.7 million a year in the 1960’s from the Central Intelligence Agency”.  The $180,000 paid annually to the Dalai Lama personally was used to set up lobby offices in Geneva.

In 2002, Kansas University Press published a history of “The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet”.  The authors are Kenneth Conboy who is a former analyst with the right-wing Heritage Foundation and James Morrison who is a career US Army veteran whose service included training Tibetan guerrilla forces for the CIA.

In 2003, Asia Times published an obituary of the CIA agent who arranged the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet in 1959.  Anthony A. Poshepny, also called “Tony Poe”, first organized the Tibetan guerrilla forces, training them in Colorado and flying them into Tibet via Dhaka.

People feeling a passionate need to protest China’s treatment of Tibetans should perhaps pause and wonder why.

FLOYD RUDMIN is Professor of Social & Community Psychology at the University of Tromsø in Norway. He can be reached at