Marchers in Iruňa (Spanish: Pamplona) called “Alde Hemendik!” for the Spanish occupation forces to get out of their country and also called the Nafarroan police “murderers”, in addition to calling for the liberation of Basque political prisoners.
The marchers were obliged to seek permission from the authorities for the demonstration and route as otherwise, from past experience, a police attack would have been certain. Even when approved, marchers in the past had to pass by ranks of police in full riot gear, which earned the latter the nickname “Romanos”, from their superficial resemblance to Roman Legionaires. Of course the police are given many other names too. On this occasion, the police presence was not as intimidatory as is normally the case.
The event took place on October12th which is national Spanish holiday, the Día de la Hispanidad, in which the State celebrates the spread of the Castillian language through conquest of the Canaries, Americas and part of North Africa. Naturally enough, forces that are opposed to the character of the Spanish State or to its presence in their country tend to hold counter-demonstrations on that day.
Although I did see one poster of the ‘official’ Basque Abertzale (pro-Independence) Left in the town I saw no other sign of them except banners on their local HQ (at least that’s what I was told it was). There seemed to be no intention of their holding a demonstration on that day.
The size of the march was perhaps somewhat less than had been hoped for but it made a good show going through the old town. Curiously, the march seemed much reduced by the time it reached the end square.
The marchers set the tone from the start with their banner and slogans and did not hesitate to call out “Policia asesina!” (‘police murderers’ in Castillian) as they approached and passed the police. Later people within the march began to lead chants also, some in Castillian and many in Catalan. The march did not pass by the nearby local HQ of the ‘official’ leadership of the Basque Abertzale Left. A marcher told me the were not permitted to do so but I was unsure whether that was an assumption taken for granted or whether they had been refused. However, the march leaders took people on a winding route through the old town, passing by residences, bars, businesses and many tourists.
Concluding in the Plaza de San Francisco (St. Francis [of Assisi1] square) opposite the Municipal School, to the security bars of which the banner was secured, no speech was given but the marchers sang “Eusko Gudariak” (‘Basque Soldiers’), a Basque song of resistance (and anthem) with clenched fists, at the end of which a woman let out a long irrintzi.
IRUŇA AND NAFFAROA
Iruňa is the capital of the ‘autonomous’ southern Basque province of Nafarroa/ Navarra (and according to some, to be the capital of an independent Basque Country though by no means agreed by all). The Basque Kingdom of the Middle Ages was called the Kingdom of Nafarroa (Navarra in Castillian, Navarre in French). The present-day province is located at the north end of the Spanish state, on the border with the French state, much of that border area in the Pyrenees mountain range. The province has the other southern Basque ‘autonomous’ region of Euskadi (three provinces) to its west and the Aragon region to its east (with Basque provinces on the other side of the French Border too).
Until recently, the majority political party there was the mainstream Spanish unionist party, the Partido Popular, now outnumbered and ousted by a coalition of pro-independence Basque parties.
The legal linguistic provision of Nafarroa is unique in the Basque Country as its territory is divided into three distinct linguistic regions: all Castillian-speaking; Castillian and Euskera bilingual; Euskera-speaking. Access to services, education and facilities through Euskera depends on in which area one lives or works, which might seem fair until one remembers that official services through Castillian are available always, no matter the region – it is the official language of the Spanish state. Euskera speakers also complain that in the bilingual region they are not getting the provision which they need and to which their numbers entitle them.
Nafarroa was the only part of the Basque Country which can be said to have experienced what is called “the Spanish Civil War” (i.e an internal war) since the right-wing Carlists there slaughtered the 3,000 or so active Republicans, Communists and Anarchists — or just anti-fascists — before any of Franco’s troops or the Falange arrived there. As a result, the province was treated more lightly by the Franco dictatorship than the other three southern Basque provinces. This did not prevent repression of the Basque language in Nafarroa nor the armed attack on the more progressive Carlist movement of the 1980s during the “Transition” after Franco’s death.
Many political and physical battles have been fought by pro-independence Basques since the 1930s, even around bringing a giant Basque flag into the main square for the ceremony to begin the San Fermines festival in Iruna/ Pamplona and at this festival too, many women have been molested and one gang-raped in 20162. The shocking nine-years jail sentence over a barroom brawl with Guardia Civil was imposed some months ago on youth from Altsasu, a town in Nafarroa.
1St. Francis Xavier (1506-1562), born in Nafarroa, is the more common St. Francis to find referred to in the Spanish state and many Basques are called Xavier. St. Francis of Assisi (1881/2-1226) was Italian. There’s a story that an airman is falling out of the sky, his parachute having failed and he calls desperately for St. Francis to help him. A giant hand appears under him and as he comes to rest on it, a voice booms from the sky: “Which St. Francis did you mean, my son?” “Of Assisi”, gasps the airman. “I was named after him. Thank you!” “Alas,” the voice replies, “I am St. Francis Xavier.” And the hand is removed ….
2See the ongoing “Manada” case.