Spaniards in the northern region of the Basque Country were angry after the Eurovision Song Contest banned spectators from flying the region's official flag – the ikurriña – at the finals in the Globe Arena in the Swedish capital, to be held in mid-May.
The singing contest released its “official flag policy list” on Wednesday, which included the banner 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 flats,” MEP for the Basque Nationalist Party Izaskun Bilbao Barandica told The Local on Friday.
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 Navracsisc 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 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 Fransisco 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 an 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 flag policy document shows the banned Basque flag above that of Isis.
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.
The Eurovision spokesman also confirmed that the document initially posted by the venue was a draft and the official list would be posted later on Friday.
“If the portraying of the flags in the document has offended anyone, we of course apologize 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, Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabach and Northern Cyprus. The draft document said that rainbow flags and the European Union flag would be tolerated as long as they were not used to “make a political statement during the show”.