MARGARETTA D’ARCY SPEAKS IN THE BASQUE COUNTRY

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 7 minutes)

An anti-fascist bookfair was held in Portugalete1, not far from Bilbo (Bilbao) in the southern Basque Country on Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th September. There was ample room for the many stalls in the old disused indoor market in the town’s Casco Viejo (old town quarter), along with a curtained-off play area for children. One of the events in the two-day bookfair was a launch of the translation into Castillian (Spanish) of D’Arcy’s book “Tell Them Everything”(“Di Les Todo”). The translation was published by Sare Antifascista, one of the organisers of the bookfair and D’Arcy spoke in English at the launch, her talk translated into Castillian; also speaking was Basque ex-political prisoner Ziortza Fernandez Larrazabal. 

Section of the audience at the talk (Photo: D.Breatnach)

          Trembling from the illness that has affected her for a number of years (which she later commented resulted from attacks by fascists during the Greenham Common protest and later in Ireland by police) D’Arcy spoke clearly and coherently about her activism, the founding of Women Against Imperialism, the Greenham Common protest camp, her period in jail with Republican women and her activism against the USA’s military use of Ireland’s international airport at Shannon (despite the country’s constitutional neutrality).

Going on to speak about Ireland today, D’Arcy outlined some of the aspects of the notorious Direct Provision Centres for asylum seekers in the Irish state, the issues arising from the location of such centres and the opportunistic intervention of fascists against immigration. She went on to talk about the targeting on social media of those who spoke up welcoming asylum seekers or against racism and commented that the worrying thing about this development was that the fascists had a youth wing. Recalling the referendum on conditions of nationality in 2014 which had removed the rights of people born in Ireland to Irish citizenship unless they had an Irish citizen parent or grandparent, D’Arcy concluded by saying that Ireland is a racist country.

Referring to the Six Counties, D’Arcy criticised Sinn Féin for using the proposed Irish Language Act as a political football and as something with which to attack their political opposition, the Democratic Unionist Party2. Continuing, she said that “Scottish Irish”3 also existed in the Six Counties and asked why that could not be included in the Act, also quoting James Connolly that he didn’t care what language people spoke as long as they could communicate together.

Whatever about the issues in the Brexit question, the speaker said, Britain had used Ireland as a military training ground and had many bases in the Six Counties and these needed to be dismantled.

D’Arcy concluded by advising Basques to approach the Irish Consulate in the Basque Country to enquire whether it would be safe to travel to Ireland, given the US military use of Shannon Airport and the growth of fascism and racism in the country.

Ziortza Fernandez Larrazabal speaking. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

After the Irish speaker and speaking in Castillian, Ziortza Fernandez Larrazabal, ex-political prisoner from the locality, spoke first in tribute to D’Arcy’s record of activism. Moving on to her own activism in support of Basque independence and socialism and her five years in jail, Ziortza recounted being moved through a number of jails as part of the Spanish State’s policy and practice of dispersing political prisoners far from their homes and the strain this places on their friends and relations.

Commenting on the effects of imprisonment in Spanish jails, Ziortza said that some political prisoners had died through neglect, some had killed themselves but some had come out stronger, clearer in their minds and confirmed in their political views, which is what she felt had happened in her case. Ziortza said that some prisoners had 40 years of jail sentence and that they should be released.

After applause for the speakers, the Sare Antifaxista chairperson opened the meeting to questions from the audience. After a silence of some minutes, one man spoke in praise of the courage and commitment of both women and their record of activism. Speaking in Castillian with an Irish accent, he said he felt he had to distance himself from some of D’Arcy’s words. He felt it was important not to confuse government with people and that the Irish people were not, on the whole, racist and in fact racists and fascists had found it very difficult to organise within the territory of the Irish State.

Recounting the historical experience with the fascist Blueshirts in the 1930s, the Irishman said that they had been fought on the streets and defeated. When Pegida tried to launch their fascist and islamophobic group in the capitals of European states in 2016, they had failed in Ireland because firstly their gathering point had been occupied in advance by anti-fascists and anti-racists and, secondly the fascists themselves had been physically attacked and beaten. He talked also about a recent initiative to launch a “yellow vest” movement in Ireland but which fascists and racists had moved in to lead – that initiative had, as a result, been rejected and had faded away. Fascists are active on social media but find it difficult to hold events in public. The danger of racism and fascist organising should not be dismissed, the Irishman said but so far, in Ireland, racism and fascism was being repulsed among the people.

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

While it was true that the Government had proposed changing the nationality clause in the Constitution in 2014, he said, this had been part of a process across the whole of Europe. The referendum was held on that question along with another at the same time and only the social democrats and trotskyists had noticeably campaigned against the change. The vote in favour had to be seen in that context.

Moving on to the question of nation and language, he said that nations had a right to self-determination which, in many cases, was opposed by imperialism, which also damaged many languages. The loss of a language, he said, means the loss of a way of thinking and seeing, of literature, poetry and song; the loss of such is a loss for entire humanity.

A Basque woman also spoke from the floor, partly in Castillian and partly in Euskera (Basque), expressing her admiration for the record of both women speakers and referring to her own involvement in her youth in Greenham common. She went on to speak about the danger of nationalism but also in support of the rights of language and said that if there were no states in the world, she would not want one either but as long as there are, she wanted one for her own nation.

She also said that at this time it was important to support the struggles for self-determination not only of the Basques but also of the Catalans.

Poster advertising the book launch and talk

The event came to an end and people moved off for lunch in various bars, or to chat or to browse the bookstalls. The latter were run by a number of organisations: Inugorria Liburodenda (Gernika revolutionary and progressive bookshop), Sare Antifaxista; CNT, Mujeres Libres, IPEs, Baskale, FAI, DDT Banaketak, Periko Solabarria Elkartea, Komite Internazionalistak, Jazz Oi!, Templando el acero, Amnistía Ta Askatasuna, SRI.

FOOTNOTES

1 Portugalete has a Metro station, reachable from Bilbao. The Casco Viejo (old town) is a number of narrow streets lined by bars and shops heading steeply downwards from the Metro station towards the river front, where there are a number of restaurants and bars and a nearby port museum. The interesting Puente Colgante is nearby; a pedestrian bridge across the river worked something like a horizontal lift.

2 Given that Sinn Féin makes no effort to ensure its own membership is Irish-speaking, or even its leaders (despite some of them being very proficient in the language), also that all its internal and nearly all public meetings are conducted through English, this would seem to be a correct assessment by D’Arcy.

3 D’Arcy probably meant Ulster Scots or Ullans, which is not any kind of Irish but a variant of Scots, the Germanic-English dialect once prevalent in the Scottish Lowlands (often called “Lallands”), in which for example Robbie Burns wrote. It has Minority Language Status in the Six Counties and while Irish-speakers generally have no opposition to the promotion of that dialect, hardly anyone speaks it today and it was raised as an issue by Unionists purely as a counter to the rights of Irish-language speakers. Scotland does have Scottish Gaedhlig, with over 57,000 recorded speakers (2011 Census) but this is not spoken in the Six Counties.

Gernika bookshop stall in foreground
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
Other stalls
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION

Sare Antixista: http://sareantifaxista.blogspot.com/

Dissidence in the Basque Country: https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2019/09/27/dissidence-in-the-basque-pro-independence-movement/

Basque political prisoners:

Amnistia Garrasi: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100013870776872

Etxerat: https://www.facebook.com/Etxerat-Elkartea-255302801219340/

(Photo: D.Breatnach)

(Photo: D.Breatnach)
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
Buying at stall at the Bookfair
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
Nearby poster honouring “Argala”, an ETA leader assassinated by GAL, the Spanish State death squad.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

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