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When Basque independentists celebrated Gudari Eguna this year, the Day of the Basque Soldier, some of the celebrants were affiliates of the Abertzale (Basque pro-Independence) Left while others were supporters of the Basque Nationalist Party, nominally at least and often in reality, political enemies. However, it is not the same day for each.
The PNV (Basque Nationalist Party) commemorates the execution of 42 Basque fighters in one jail by the Franco forces on 28th October in 1937, whilst the Abertzale Left carries out their commemoration a month earlier, on the 27th of September, anniversary of the last executions under Franco (and, officially, in the Spanish state since): ETA martyrs Juan Paredes Manot (Txiki) and Ángel Otaegi Etxeberria, along with three members of FRAP (Revolutionary Antifascist Patriotic Front) Jose Luis Sanchez Bravo, Ramón Garcia Sanz and Humberto Baena, all shot by firing squads in 1975 (despite world-wide protests and riots outside Spanish embassies).
For much of the Abertzale Left, Gudari Eguna commemorates not only the martyrs of the 27th September 1975 but also all those who fought for Basque independence during the Spanish Anti-Fascist War and all who fought for it since, in particular those martyred in the struggle.
But even in agreement on that date and that purpose, there are differences too. For some years now some commemorations have been by supporters of Amnistia Ta Askatasuna (Amnesty and Freedom), who denounce the “Officials” for dropping the demand for an amnesty for political prisoners but also criticise them on many other political and cultural grounds: ceasing to push for the everyday use of Euskera (the Basque language), making political pacts with social democrats, etc.
Increasingly, ATA and the “Officials” find themselves incapable of sharing a commemoration or a platform as the latter move further down the path of accommodation to the Spanish regime, social democracy and the PNV, commemorating police killed, apologising for the ‘crimes’ of the now-defunct Basque armed organisation ETA.
JARKI – A COMPARATIVELY NEW ORGANISATION REJECTING THE ABERTZALE LEFT “OFFICIAL” LEADERSHIP
In Ireland, though they themselves might reject that appellation, the equivalent to ATA would be called “dissident Republicans” and Basques are not as touchy about being counted part of the dissidencia. But one new group has emerged which does reject that term as descriptive of themselves, while at the same time very clearly against the positions of the “Officials” and resolutely for independence and socialism.
This group is called Jarki, (of various meaning: “Resist/ Stand fast/ Push back/ Commit”; the first letter is pronounced like the Spanish “j” or the Irish “ch”).
Among other posters of factions of the Abertzale Left proclaiming Gudari Eguna in the Basque Country this September, I had seen one, very large, side by side with a declaration of position against the subjugation of the Basque nation, for socialism and class struggle. Curiously, there had been no venue advertised for a commemoration ceremony to take place. Was this group, this Jarki, not intending to have one? I made discreet enquiries, someone spoke to someone ….. who perhaps spoke to someone else ….
On Gudari Eguna this year,
27th September, I was met fairly early in the morning by my appointed guide. The mist gathered high upon the marshes and river and in the valleys as we drove higher, eventually coming out on a scenic site, the day cold but the climbing sun burning off the last of the mists. We rendezvoused with other carloads, then drove to another spot and parked. Asked to leave my mobile in the car, I accompanied my hosts on a long walk in unseasonal sun and heat to a field, where a temporary stage had been set up. It was to be a Gudari Eguna event organised by the Jarki organisation.
The security precautions were not excessive. This was taking place in the Spanish state, where fascism had never been defeated but had instead had a paint-over job in order to allow the Western states, after the death of Franco, to pretend it was a democracy. Until a few years ago, detentions of Basques had been like an epidemic, torture by police and army routine and just as routinely ignored by judges who sentenced the prisoners on the basis of their “confessions” or those of others to long years in jail. In contravention of EU and UN protocols for the treatment of prisoners, the political victims of the State had been dispersed to its furthest reaches, far from spouses, children, relatives and friends. And though the armed group ETA had ceased operation in 2012 and was now disbanded, persecution went on: that very month, 45 people of various organisations arrested in 2013, 2014 and 2015 for supporting the prisoners, including psychologists and lawyers, “supporting terrorism” according to the State, had been brought to trial1.
On the way to the rally, I saw many young men and women, in their middle-to-late teens or early twenties and also many others in ages ranging from late 50’s to 80s, also with a sprinkling of young adolescents. In other words, there were hardly any there of raising a family age. The sun was very hot now and I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist and, even so, was soon sweating.
I and one other were provided with a translator to Castillian (Spanish) for the speeches in Euskera – nobody else seemed to need one, a state of affairs that would not be matched in Irish Republican or Socialist circles with regard to our native language.
The heat beat down and I worried about getting sunburned, while at the same time very interested in what was going on. A large dragonfly wheeled above us, hovered a second then shot off. One of the folkloric Basque names for it translates as “Witch’s Needle” but it is important to recognise that in Basque society, sorgina or “witch” does not have the same negative connotations as can be found in much of western society, even today.
“THE STRUGGLE MUST CONTINUE — IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER”
A man perhaps in his 60s took to the stage and recalled his years in guerrilla resistance (i.e in ETA), his capture and the killing of his comrades (one was executed on the spot by the Guardia Civil2). He went on to talk about his years being dispersed around Spanish jails throughout the territory of the State. Speaking about the historical memory of resistance, the man commented that it was necessary to keep that alive – both of the Antifascist War and of the resistance afterwards.
Euskal Herria3 was still divided and still not free, he continued and therefore the struggle had to continue in one form or another, despite the abandonment of the path of resistance by the current leadership of the Abertzale Left. Similarly the demand had to be maintained not only for an end to dispersal but for an amnesty for political prisoners.
After his speech, a young male bertxolari stepped forward to sing his composition. This is a cultural form of social and/ or political commentary, composed by those skilled in the art to fixed rules of rhyme, length of line and a selection of airs.4
He was followed by an elderly left-wing journalist who, apologising for her inability to speak in Euskara, did so in Castillian (Spanish). She referred to her family’s history of anti-fascist struggle, both in the War and in the resistance that followed the victory of the military-fascist forces. She too spoke about the need to continue resistance to unjust regimes and for the right to self-determination.
The journalist speaker was followed by the performance of another bertxolari, this time a young female.
Last to speak was a young woman, speaking on behalf of the Jarki organisation. She recalled the anti-fascist resistance in the Basque Country in ……….. (a nearby battle during the Anti-Fascist War) and elsewhere, also by ETA in the years following the victory of the military-fascist forces. While others might try to pacify the people and to wind down the resistance, the need for active participation in resistance is as great as ever, she said. The woman ended with the call “Gora Euskal Herria askatatua eta independentzia!” (“Long live a free and independent Basque Country!”), to which all the audience (myself included) responded with a roar of “Gora!”.
The young woman then led the audience with the song Eusko Gudariak (“Basque Soldiers”, similar in content to the Irish national anthem, the Soldiers’ Song), most of us who knew the words or not with raised fists, then a couple of women let out the irrintzi5 yell, raising goose pimples on my skin.
Obviously, given my presence, not all the attendance had been Jarki activists but on the other hand, not all its supporters had been able to come either, I was told on the long walk back to the car on tired leg muscles in the blistering unseasonal heat. I joked that if I’d had my mobile with me I’d have phoned an ambulance. Some cured sausage sandwiches and a few mouthfuls of ardoa (wine) from a traditional wineskin, kindly offered where the vehicles were parked revived me somewhat for the journey back to my pickup point that morning but thankfully, we also stopped on the way for lunch and a cold beer at a Basque bar (for which my attempts to pay were kindly but firmly refused by my other travelling companions).
“MOST OF THE RESISTANCE NEEDS TO BE AT STREET LEVEL”
Later, at an appointment with a Jarki activist, I asked what the relationship with other Basque organisations was, given that his group will not accept the appellation of “dissident” and others will. He told me that they enjoy friendly relationships with a number of other Basque political and cultural organisations that have also broken away from the “Official” leadership. Jarki is a revolutionary socialist organisation for an independent Basque country and in support of the Basque language, he told me. “Although we do not at the moment put forward electoral candidates, we are not necessarily against doing so as a tactic”, he added, speaking quietly. “But the ‘officialistas’ are only interested in the electoral path and we think most of the resistance needs to be at street level”.
The organisation expects a disciplined commitment from its members, for which it also recognises the need for political education, especially of the youth. There had been wide criticism of the lack of this kind of education within the Abertzale Left since the 1990s and earlier, right up to the present.6
“The national independence and socialism of the Basque Country is of benefit to the world and the independence and socialism of other countries is of benefit to our nation,” he said in reply to my question about the issue of internationalist solidarity. He admitted that the representative of Jarki at their Gudari Eguna commemoration had not mentioned that aspect.
CALL FOR RUPTURE WITH THE SPANISH CONSTITUTION
A few days ago, while I was writing this long-overdue piece from contemporary notes, Jarki issued a national call to Basque society (translated by me from a Castillian version): “The Basque working-class people responds with rupture to the Spanish Constitution.”
The Spanish Constitution, despite not being accepted in the Basque Country7, is being imposed upon us. It is a document edited by the Francoists in a pact with the Spanish political parties. This document denies the self-determination of the peoples and besides accords to the military the role of guarantor of the union of Spain.
This Constitution designed the administrative separation of the provinces of the southern Basque Country.8
Faced with this imposition it is more important than ever that the working-class population of the Basque Country creates a revolutionary alternative which should be a political vision to lead the struggle for national construction and liberation and for socialism, the struggle for a united Basque Country, without classes.
For all those reasons we call for the organisation and mobilisation against the imposition, in which the Basque working-class population should follow its own path. Because of all that, we call for participation in the demonstration to take place on 6th December (Spanish Constitution Day) in Durango.
Although they wished to silence us, they will hear us. We have enough reasons. It is time to take to the streets. This people needs a revolutionary alternative.
1The day after 50,000 demonstrated for the right to support the prisoners and in solidarity with those on trial, Basque society was shocked when those charged admitted their “guilt” in exchange for walking free or a maximum sentence of five years’ jail for the “leaders” (instead of the up to 20 years normal from the Spanish court). The reverberations of that – the act of pleading ‘guilt’ itself but also permitting 50,000 to demonstrate in ignorance of the intention — are still travelling through the Abertzale Left and are likely to cost the “Official” leadership, who must have approved or perhaps even brokered the deal, very dearly. In contrast to the 45, another four, leaders of Askapena, Basque organisation for internationalist solidarity, charged with similar ‘crimes’, had fought the case earlier, for which they had won much respect and had beat the charges. Askapena, however, had quietly split from the Abertzale Left some years previously.
2The Guardia Civil is a militarised police force of the Spanish State with a very political role, the most active in the past against the Basque national movement and now similarly against the Catalonian. In addition the Spanish State has the Policía Nacional, also armed and active against movements for self-determination. Each region also has a separate police force, for example the Policía Foral in Nafarroa, the Ertzaintza in Euskadi, Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalonia, etc. And there are urban police forces too in every town or village.
3Meaning “the country where they speak Basque”, the term is now used to describe the whole Basque nation of seven provinces, three currently within the French state and four within the Spanish territory. “Euskadi”, the former term, now only describes the “Basque Authority” area of three provinces: Bizkaia, Alava and Gipuzkoa.
4This cultural form, at one time perhaps in danger of dying out, has become very popular and national competitions are broadcast on the Basque TV network. I have witnessed two bertxolari given pieces of paper laying out their respective roles (for example an Irish landlord and a Polish tenant) and, minutes later, engage in a battle of bertxos (verses) which had a Basque audience in roars of laughter and appreciation for the wit and skill of each. Close attention is paid by Basque listeners to bertxolari which, for a nation not culturally given to admiration for the song of the single voice (unless they can join to sing along), is truly remarkable. The Irish “comhrá beirte” is a similar performance art form but much less developed, certainly now, in Irish tradition.
5It is a long ullulating or yodelling cry, by males or females, said to be a call to war or to encourage Basques while fighting (it was also the name of a short-lived Basque resistance organisation functioning in the “French” Basque provinces). Such calls are common for communication of different kinds among mountain people, the sound carrying from one mountain to another and echoing but curiously enough it is also a feature of Arab culture in the desert and of some Native Americans. Example with a commentary in Castillian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcSaW6JUnUc
6That this has been neglected for decades in the Abertzale Left is a fact admitted even by many who remain within the “official” line.
7The Spanish Constitution was presented on a “take it or leave it” basis during the Transition period after the death of Franco, with much violence from police and fascist organisations and the fear of a return to the full-blown fascist dictatorship. The Spanish Communist Party with its huge and then militant trade union, Comisiones Obreras and the social-democratic PSOE, with its smaller Unión General de Trabajadores, were both legalised on condition they supported the monarchist and unitary state Constitution. In such circumstances it was hardly surprising that the referendum on 6th December 1978 brought in a huge majority for the Constitution – but not in the Basque Country, where it was rejected.
8Three of the four southern provinces, i.e those currently within the Spanish State, are under one regional government administration while the fourth, Nafarroa, has its own.