Judicial offensive against the Basque language

03 Dec 2023

Judicial offensive against the Basque language. Huge demonstration in Bilbao: over 70,000 people demanded an end to court rulings against the Basque language

Last November 4th, the streets of Bilbao witnessed a huge demonstration: over 70,000 people demanded an end to court rulings against the Basque language. It was one of the largest demonstrations in recent years in favour of the Basque language.

The demonstrators were protesting because, in recent months, the Spanish courts have issued several rulings against the use of the Basque language in the area of municipal affairs as well as against the application of language requirements for public employment at the municipal or regional level. The platform for the language EUSKALGINTZAREN KONTSEILUA had planned this demonstration several months beforehand, which exceeded all its expectations in terms of the number of demonstrators.

The main Basque nationalist political parties, i.e. PNV and EH Bildu, supported the demonstration and urged their members to take part in it.

Since 2021, Spanish judges have annulled the measures approved by the Basque Government up to 13 times as well as measures passed by several city councils that required knowledge of the Basque language to work in public administrations. This judicial offensive against our own language has not only taken place in the Basque Country: in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and the Valencian Autonomous Community, there have also been sentences that have gone against Catalan in the same way. It seems that we are witnessing an attempt at setting back the linguistic policies of the Basque Country or the Catalan Countries, a regression led by the most conservative and ardent Spanish nationalist sectors of the judiciary. These sectors seem to forget that both Basque and Catalan are official languages in their respective territories.

These are some of the most controversial rulings handed down by Spanish judges against the Basque language:

-May 2021: the judges annulled a call of the Irun City Council requiring knowledge of the Basque language in order to become a municipal police officer.

-February 2022: a judge considered as "discriminatory" the dismissal of an interim employee of the Laudio Town Council who had not accredited her corresponding language profile.

-January 2023: the courts ruled against the language requirements of the Barakaldo Town Council for hiring bus drivers.

-March 2023: the courts considered it an "imposition" to require a language profile in 34 jobs involving the care of the elderly in the province of Gipuzkoa.

-May 2023: a court ruled that it should not be mandatory to require knowledge of the Basque language to become a municipal police officer in the town of Erandio.

-July 2023: the Spanish Constitutional Court annulled several articles of a law passed by the Basque Parliament in 2016 that sought to promote the "preferential use" of Basque in Basque municipalities. The Spanish Court considers that this law "violates the necessary language balance."

-October 2023: the Court of Justice of the Basque Country annulled several articles of a 2019 Basque Government decree which also sought to promote the preferential use of Basque in Basque town halls. For example, it annulled the precept which obliged the staff of the town halls to address citizens initially in Basque.

In all these sentences, the judiciary argues that "imposition" of Basque is "discrimination" against those who do not know the Basque language, a  "rupture" of the language balance, etc.

In face of these attacks on the language, an initial massive reaction took place in July 2023 when 170 mayors of the Basque Autonomous Community gathered in protest before the Spanish courts in Bilbao.

The Basque Government has indicated that it will launch an appeal against all these rulings in the courts and the EUSKALGINTZAREN KONTSEILUA platform has stressed the need for a major socio-political pact in favour of the Basque language.