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When ETA, the armed Basque Left pro-Independence group) abandoned armed resistance and decommissioned its weapons, many wondered at the absence of public dissent among its ranks. A dissident trend did appear in the Basque pro-independence movement but it took longer than it had in Ireland; it is in existence now and growing.
In using the term “dissident”, a description not always accepted by those to whom it is applied, I mean those who disagree with the direction taken by the leadership of the organisation and who have therefore separated themselves from the organisation. It becomes a problematic term when it is implied that the “dissidents” have diverged from the original path – on the contrary, those who have left the organisation would say, it is the leadership which has left the path and it is those being called “dissidents” who remain on the “true path”.
In the Basque pro-independence movement, as in the Irish Republican movement, the “dissidents” are in a minority but that should not be taken to mean that those who have remained within the “official” movement are in complete agreement with the leadership nor happy with the state of affairs within the movement. Indeed, within the Izquierda Abertzale (Basque Left pro-Independence movement), many are very unhappy indeed. Some do not agree with alliances with social democrats or attempted with the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party), others with complete disarmament, some with disarmament without concessions in return, yet others with particular decisions at various junctures (such as pleading guilty to “terrorism” when the work they had been doing was nothing of the sort, as happened recently in the mass trial of prisoner solidarity activists arrested back in 2013). Or with “apologising to the victims” as the Spanish State has been pressing on prisoners and detainees (the Spanish State of course apologises for nothing, neither the fascist-military uprising of Franco and company, nor the Dictatorship of almost four decades, nor executions, nor recent torture).
There were splits enough in the Irish Republican movement even soon after the Civil War but they also came thick and fast in the early 1970s, out of which grew the Provisionals (Sinn Féin and PIRA) and the IRSP and INLA, leaving Official Sinn Féin and OIRA as a rapidly-diminishing and eventually disintegrating remainder. Another split came about as a result of the electoral path of Provisional SF in 1986, out of which came Republican Sinn Féin. But it was the Good Friday Agreement and its effects which caused the most splits and desertions from the ranks of the Provisionals, leading to the creation of a number of organisations over time: éirigi, 32 County Sovereignty Movement, 1916 Societies, Saoradh and others.
POLITICAL PRISONERS, IRELAND & BASQUE COUNTRY
Most unfortunately, the number of Republican organisations led also to a number of political prisoner support groups and currently there are three main ones: Cabhair (RSF), Cogus (mainly 32 CSM) and Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association (mainly Saoradh).
In the Basque movement, the Izquierda Abertzale, although there were the abiding split has come over the issue of the Republican prisoners. The traditional line of the IA has always been that the prisoners, whether captured ETA volunteers or political activist victims of repression, are political prisoners. It follows that they should be released in any settlement of the Basque national question. But in the meantime, if prisoners, they should be kept in prisons near their homes so that they can be visited without too much difficulty by relatives and friends. That is not only a humane principle but is underwritten by EU and UN policy recommendations on the treatment of prisoners. The Spanish State, however, keeps its political prisoners dispersed throughout its territory, hundreds and even a thousand kilometres away from the family and friends of the prisoners (as does the French State). This is not only an additional punishment on the prisoners, one which was not a specified part of their sentence but also – and perhaps principally – on their relatives, children, partners and friends.
The organisation Amnistia (Gestoras pro Amnistia) was created in 1970 within the movement to agitate for a total amnesty for the prisoners. As is usual with the Spanish State, in 2002 it banned this organisation also as one “assisting terrorism”, threatened its activists with prison and the organisation ceased to exist publicly, their trial beginning in 2008. The State’s outlook was fully expressed in the infamous statement of the former judge and overseer of torture but so beloved of liberals, Baltazar Garzon: “Everything is ETA”.
The organisation of relatives of prisoners on the movement’s “official” list, Etxerat (Homeward) continued to exist and to organise visits, share information and agitate about the prisoners’ treatment but it is not a political organisation as such, which is difficult to combine with welfare work.
To carry out the specifically political work around the prisoners, the organisation Herrira (to the Homeland) was created some years ago. The Spanish State reacted in the usual manner and arrested a number of its activists – for “assisting terrorism”, of course. After that, it was noted that the official line had changed – while not specifically abandoning the call for amnesty, now only the call for and end to dispersal was heard (along with of course the repatriation of seriously or terminally-ill political prisoners).
LEADERSHIP CHANGE IN LINE AND DISSIDENCE
The change in line, the dropping of the demand for amnesty, led to the creation of a new Amnestia, but with the addition of Ta Askatasuna (and Freedom), this time in the hands of “dissidents”. The “oficialistas”, the current leadership of the main body of the pro-independence movement, Otegi, EH Bildu etc, say this is pure opportunism on the part of the dissidents, who are expressing their disagreement with the abandonment of armed struggle and dissolution of ETA by seizing on the issue of amnesty for political prisoners. They could be right, of course, at least in part. But unlike the leadership of SF and PIRA, the Basque “oficialistas” got no deal whatsoever for their prisoners.
Recently, a significant part of their youth section Ernai left the “oficialistas” and maintains a working relationship with the new ATA. Their issue was that they had prepared a position paper for discussion at the annual congress and the “oficialistas” had refused to permit it to be discussed, since it was critical of current leadership positions.
Another group, Jarki, is revolutionary, socialist, for independence, internationalist and in defence of the language and has been organising.
Apart from those three trends, there also exist anti-authoritarian, ecological etc trends that owe no allegiance to the official leadership of the movement. These are national in the sense that they are spread across the Basque Country and also in that they speak and write in Euskera (Basque language); they are also for social justice, feminist, anti-racist and anti-sexuality discrimination.
It remains to be seen to what degree these various trends will coalesce and whether the “official” movement will continue to see defections from its ranks.