Ikurrina: The Basque Flag


The Basque flag represents so much that it is difficult to put it into words. There is a sense of pride and conviction that emanates from the flag that can only be felt and created organically. This representation of the Basque people, their culture, and history soars proudly and will never be silenced.

The Basque flag not only represents who the Basque people are but is also a symbol of all they have endured. Basque culture, under the dictator Fanco, was diminished in importance with the purpose of destruction. Basques survived Spain's version of Mussolini and is now thriving with much pride and vigor. The flag is flown with contempt for those who were against their existence and with pride for who they are.


The Ikurriña is a red flag with two crosses. The first is a green saltire that goes diagonal from the four corners. The second is a white cross that goes vertical and horizontal and covers the green in the centre. It is the official flag of the Basque Country Autonomous Community.

The Basque flag was created in 1894 by the man who is credited as the Father of Basque nationalism, Sabino Arana. The flag itself is known as Ikurrina, which in Basque means flag. However, other flags are not referred to as Ikurriña but by using the spanish word bandera. The regard for Ikurrina is of the utmost and unwavering.

The red background of the Ikurrina derives from the provincial flag of Biscay (Bizkaia). It is also meant to represent the blood of the Basque people. Originally the flag was created solely for Bizkaia but over time became popular in all seven Basque Country provinces; the four in Spain and the three in France.

Sabino Arana's invention was to create a flag that promoted "Biscay, Independence and God."

The green saltire is meant to represent St. Andrew's cross and is a calling for independence. It is green instead of the traditional blue to symbolize the Gernika oak tree. The Gernika is another symbol of Basque independence. The white cross is meant to represent god.

Franco Years

When the Spanish civil war ended, Francisco Franco came to power. Basque Country had been devastated by the war and found itself in dire straits. To make matters worse Franco began to try and destroy all things Basque. The Ikurrina was banned and flying it was a criminal offense throughout Spain. In Basque Country provinces in France however still used the flag as they were out of the reach of Franco.

During the reign of Franco anything that was deemed as not promoting a unified Spanish national identity was censored and suppressed. The Basque provinces of Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa were stripped of their fiscal privileges and labeled as traitor regions. Franco also revoked state language recognition for all languages other than Spanish. Spanish became the only official language and any previous government documentation that was in Basque was deemed null and void. The use of other languages in schools, religious ceremonies and advertising were all prohibited.

Persecution of the Basque people, their language and culture continued throughout the reign of Franco which ended upon his death in 1975. Following the death of this dictator, Spain slowly transitioned towards a democracy.

After the Derby

More than a year after the death of Franco the Ikurrina was still illegal. However, momentum for legislation to legalize the flag was about to take a major step forward. On December 5, 1976 there was a derby between the two largest Basque soccer clubs Athletic Club Bilbao and Real Sociedad.

Players for the Real Sociedad team were able to get a hold of the illegal contraband and sneak it into the Atotxa Stadium. Although there were searches of the players before entering the facilities the police never found this Ikurrina. Once inside the locker rooms the captain of Real Sociedad, Inaxio Kortabarria, was given the flag and the responsibility to act.

Inaxio sought out the goalkeeper and Captain of Athletic Bilbao José Ángel Iribar to ask if Athletic's players would like to participate in their moment of action. José agreed to go ahead with the plan as long as it was a unanimous decision among his teammates. In an example of true unity all the players on both teams unanimously agreed that now was the time to act.

Risking serious consequences and repercussion the two sides walked onto the field together carrying the Ikurrina proudly. It was placed in the center circle of the field for all to see. Amazingly, the authorities in the stadium did nothing and this illegal act went unpunished. This gesture put forward by the players of these historic teams ended up being a major step in the direction of legalization.

The Basque flag was legalized in 1977 during the democratic shift away from Franco and his abhorrent legacy. This action was brought forward in Article 5 of the 1979 Statutes of Autonomy legislation. Just two years later the Ikurriña was adopted as the official flag for the Autonomous Community of Basque Country.

The history of the Ikurrina cannot be summarized or written about in full in any article. It means so much to so many and that meaning is not static. It was created as a proclamation that the Basques are their own people and won't be denied that. It represents what the Basque people have been through and yet endured. It is a symbol of loyalty to oneself and solidarity in struggle and survival. One people, one flag, the Ikurrina.

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