Spaniards in the northern region of the Basque Country are angry after the Eurovision Song Contest banned the region’s official flag – the ikurriña – alongside that of Isis.
The singing contest released its “official flag policy list” on Wednesday, which included the Basque Country’s flag directly above the flag of Isis. The Basque Country’s flag is the only regional Spanish flag to appear on the banned list, which has angered politicians in the region.
“It seems incredibly unfair to us to include the ikurriña on the list of banned flags,” MEP for the Basque Nationalist Party Izaskun Bilbao Barandica told The Local on Friday.
“The ikurriña is a constitutional Spanish flag, just the same as the flags of Catalonia, Galicia, Andalusia… and the other 17 Spanish Autonomous Communities,” she added.
Barandica is leading the call for the Eurovision Song Contest, to be held this year in Stockholm on May 14th, to reinstate the Basque flag, arguing that banning it is not in keeping with the EU's official slogan: “united in diversity”.
“The banning of regional and local flags in itself does not seem to be compatible with the slogan, but the inclusion of the Basque flag on a blacklist together with that of the Islamic State is incomprehensible,” the MEP wrote in a letter sent out to Tibor Navracsics, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport.
The letter is calling on Navracsics to contact the Swedish authorities and ask that “they formally end this boycott”.
Barandica confirmed to The Local that she had also sent the letter to the Swedish and Spanish ambassadors to the EU, the Spanish minister for European affairs and the 20 Swedish MEPs in the European parliament.
The flag policy document shows the banned Basque flag above that of Isis.
“The ikurriña is the official flag of Euskadi, one of Europe’s oldest nationalities,” she writes in the letter, explaining that the flag and other Basque symbols were banned under Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and were only recently recovered after “decades of democratic, civil struggle”.
“The inclusion of our flag on a list of specifically banned symbols, and its comparison with the flag of the so-called Islamic forces is en error that one would not expect of a country with the standard of education and democratic track record of Sweden.
“It is an offence to all the people of the Basque Country,” she added.
The Eurovision Song Contest’s flag policy includes the banning of “regional flags”, yet includes only the Basque flag among the banned regional Spanish flags – not the flags of other politically charged regions such as Catalonia.
But speaking to The Local on Friday, Eurovision spokesman Paul Jordan said the aim was not to single out specific territories.
“The European Broadcasting Union aims to assure that the Eurovision Song Contest is free from political statements, unauthorized commercial messages and offensive comments,” he said.
“It is important to state that the flag policy is not aimed against specific territories or organizations, and certainly does not compare them to each other,” he added.
“If the portraying of the flags in the document has offended anyone, we of course apologise for that,” he told The Local.
Both the Catalan and Basque flags have been linked with their regions' growing independence movements, with the Basque flag also used by separatist terror group Eta during their violent campaigns.
Other banned flags include those of Palestine, Crimea and the Islamic State.