WHAT’S THE PROBLEM WITH WOLVES?

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 8 mins.)

The wolf was hunted to extinction in Ireland during English occupation1 – in fact, a similar bounty was paid by the colonial administration on delivery of Catholic priests and resistance fighters as was paid on a wolfskin2. They were extirpated in most of western Europe and in large parts of the USA and plans to reintroduce them run into lots of opposition. But really, what is the problem with wolves?

The canine with closest ancestry to our domestic dog is the wolf, the Eurasian and American subspecies – close enough to our dog to mate and produce viable offspring – and the divergence from a common ancestor is estimated to have occurred 11,00 to 16,00 years ago.3 The wolf is an apex predator usually in a pack ruled by an alpha male and alpha female, the only ones permitted to mate and their offspring are cared for by the whole pack.

Highly social, adaptable to different terrain and weather, the wolf is a highly-intelligent animal able to travel long distances and fierce in defence or attack. Many people might fear wolves through imagining they or their children being attacked by them – and certainly there are enough childhood stories to feed that fear — but the main opposition to their conservation or reintroduction does not come from that source. Nor is the source those pet owners, particularly of weak or diminutive descendants of the ancient canine stock, like those for example in Los Angeles who complain that a coyote ate their toy poodle.

Wolves playing among themselves in juxtaposition to humans in Gorbeia, the largest natural park in the south-western Basque Country. The presence of wolves there is mentioned in only some of the tourist promotional literature and no explanation was provided with the youtube posting of this remarkable video.

The main opposition, and by far the most powerful, are the livestock farmers4. And their fears are far from irrational. Wolves are top-range predators easily capable of killing a sheep, pig or goat and, as a pack, of killing cows and even horses too5. Most livestock farmers are not going to be convinced by arguments in favour of biodiversity when they largely favour one or two breeds of meat or dairy animal, selectively-bred for high production relative to maintenance cost.

And the bigger the livestock farmer, the more realistic his problem with wolf conservation — or worse, wolf reintroduction. The bigger the herd, the more widely it is dispersed for grazing, the more difficult to protect. Paid guards with high-powered rifles are only effective by day. Corralling by night requires electrified fencing and even they are not infallible.6

So how did people manage before? In some parts of Western Europe, there have been wolves in living memory and people raising livestock in those areas made a reasonable living. How did they do it?

The answer is dogs7. Not the poodle or spaniel or terrier type but big strong dogs capable of fighting wolves and, in the case of some breeds, more than a match in a one-on-one contest. The studded or spiked collar was invented to shield the dog’s vulnerable neck and throat.

PROTECTION FROM WOLVES BY DOG

In a video from the Basque Country I viewed some years ago, some villagers talked about wolves and the mastiff dogs they had and these are discussed also in a video in Spanish included here with shepherds from the Zamora region, in Castille and León, in central Spain. This type of dog is not a sheep or cattle herder8 but rather a livestock guard; living around the livestock, it knows them and does not permit predators of any size to approach them. In some parts of the world and in the case of some breeds, nor will they permit the approach of any humans, other than their masters and their known associates. Livestock guardian dogs are not all mastiffs but all are typically big and strong breeds, hardy to the prevalent weather conditions typical to their area, socialised to the herd animals and therefore at ease with them (and vice versa), protective of the livestock and inhibited from injuring or killing them, even when hungry. They are comfortable enough with their owners (although reputedly some do not enjoy petting) and his or her close associates, with some breeds also very protective of their owners.

Vikham LGD from Pakistan (Image sourced: Internet)

There are around fifty currently known breeds around the world to fill this role9 including: Akbash and Aksaray Malaklisi of Turkey, Bakharawal of India, Beauceron of France, Cane di Manara of Sicily, Estrella Mountain dog of Portugal, Georgian Mountain Dog, Great Pyrenees and Pyrenean Mastiff, Greek Shepherd, Himalayan Sheepdog, Karakachan of Bulgaria, Mazandrani of Iran, Mucuchies of Venezuela, Slovak Cuvac, Vikhan Sheepdog of Pakistan. The Irish Wolfhound was probably not one, it seems to have been primarily a hunting chase dog, though its name suggests it might have been used to hunt wolves too.10

2019 interviews in Castillian Spanish with shepherds who use Mastiffs livestock guard dogs in Zamora region, central Spain.

It should be born in mind that in many parts of the world, wolves are not the only mammalian apex predators; big cats and bears compete with them; in those regions guard dogs have to be and are willing and able to confront those species too. Despite the size and armament differential, a good guard dog will confront such predators displaying extreme threat in appearance and sound (and possibly also summoning assistance). Livestock guard dogs have been known to fight to the death but bear or even lions will usually back off to seek easier prey. Besides, a flock needs a minimum of two livestock guard dogs and and there might be more.11

These breeds are mostly comparatively rare now in many parts of the world, where apex predators have been extirpated, since their function has largely been dispensed with, or they are maintained as pets or competition show dogs.

Carpathian LGD (Image sourced: Internet)

None of the Basque villagers interviewed had mastiffs any longer, although one Basque livestock farmer informed the interviewer that his father had two. However, in some other parts of Iberia, the mastiff breed is still active as a working dog and a shepherd in Zamora (Castille and León autonomous community, central Spain) with a flock of 450 sheep has five mastiffs; all five might not be necessary but as he explains, one must have a working reserve in case of injury, sickness etc among the guard dogs. He spends €5,000 p.a on the dogs. The shepherds there have no interest in the show specimens of the breed saying that they are not being judged by their working ability. “If a wolf sees a show dog, it laughs,” says another shepherd. “If our dogs see one, they’d laugh too.” “It is impossible for the necessary qualities of a working dog to be judged in show environment”, says another shepherd, pointing out too that a mastiff that is too heavy cannot run, thereby rendering it it useless for guarding the flock.12 The dogs also need to learn from experience how to respond not just to an individual wolf but to a pack, where individual members of the pack will seek to lure the dog away towards others in ambush, or to detach it from the prey which others will then attack.

Iberian Mastiffs LGD with sheep (Image sourced: Internet)

A wikipedia entry on Livestock Guard Dogs links their use with wolf coexistence: “With the reintroduction of predators into natural habitats in Europe and North America, environmentalists have come to appreciate Livestock Guard Dogs because they allow sheep and cattle farming to coexist with predators in the same or nearby habitats. Unlike trapping and poisoning, LGDs seldom kill predators; instead, their aggressive behaviors tend to condition predators to seek unguarded (thus, non-farm animal) prey. For instance, in Italy’s Gran Sasso National Park, where LGDs and wolves have coexisted for centuries, older, more experienced wolves seem to “know” the LGDs and leave their flocks alone.”13

Adult Akbash LGD & juvenile Central Asian Ovcharkas guarding beef calves, Sublette County, Wyoming, USA. (Photo sourced: Internet)

Some Basque and Spanish shepherds seem to agree and are prepared to coexist with the wolf, using more traditional methods of livestock farming, corralling their stock by night with dogs to protect on duty as they are also by day.14 With a different apex predator in Australia, the widely-hated by farmers dingo, a few farmers are seeking to coexist with the predator against the opposition of the majority of their colleagues, in areas where dead dingoes may be seen suspended from trees or even roadside structures.

Dingoes are pack animals in which only the alpha pair breed (like wolves) and one of the cattle farmers states that dingo extermination attempts break up the pack, resulting in more individuals breeding. He also relates that kangaroos eat down the vegetation which competes with his cattle but also contributes to drying out of the land. When he stopped trying to eliminate the dingo, he says, they preyed on the kangaroo which in turn resulted in more surviving vegetation and land in better condition.15

Dingoes (Canis familiaris dingo), Apex wild predator, Australia (Photo credit: Jurgen & Christine Sohns/Alamy)

A shepherd in the Zamora range states too that the wolf keeps down the numbers of wild boar and deer and generally across Europe these ungulates are reported to be on the increase (the white-tailed deer also in the USA). Boar are well-known in some regions for raiding cultivated fields, trampling growing plants to reach what they find edible, well able to knock down types of fencing, squeeze through gaps and so on. Increasingly on the Internet one can find videos of wild boar, often accompanied by their litter, foraging in villages and towns (in one video, even successfully overturning a trash dumper to feed on the contents). These types of ungulates contribute their own kind of environmental damage in addition in some cases to nuisance to humans16.

The Zamoran shepherd comments also that deer, a natural prey of wolves, often carry brucelosis and infect cattle, which in turn is is transmissible to humans and treated as a serious disease. In cattle it results in loss of weight, abortion of fetuses and lower milk production and as the shepherd says, state control procedures require the destruction of the whole herd upon finding of some infected animals. Apart from anything else, clearly this measure can have serious economic consequences for the farmer and for the whole state in question.17

If wolf conservation and reintroduction is be successful in the long-term, it will require livestock farmers to have smaller herds and a partnership with herd guard dogs, as well as other defensive means. This entails the irony that the expansion in herd protector dogs results in protection for wolves, in preventing their cousins from causing depredation in the herds, which would entail reprisals from humans.

It may be that farmers will occasionally lose a lamb or a calf or a pig from their ranges to a predator – but they lose occasional animals anyway, to pests, disease and mishap. Their stock animals will probably be healthier and tend towards the sturdier types.

Yes, but smaller herds? Well, is it not widely accepted (except by big farmers and banks) that we breed too many meat animals, with huge emission of greenhouse gasses and lots of waste? Smaller herds would surely be environmentally welcome.

Map of Grey Wolf distribution in the present (green) and past (red). (Source: Wikipedia, Grey Wolf distribution by Country)

CONSERVATION AND REINTRODUCTION PROGRAMS

Reintroduction methods for wolves vary from releasing adult animals from captivity, whether alone or as a pair, to placing captive-bred pups within a wild litter, when according to reports they are fostered without difficulty by the wolf bitch.

The problems involved in projects of conservation and reintroduction are not small. The wild mammalian apex predators can compete with and threaten the other mammalian apex predator – the human. Direct predation on humans by the other land-based predators is statistically low; fatal encounters for humans are much, much rarer than those for the other mammal involved and, when occurring, usually arise from self-defence by the animal or defence of kind (especially of the young), along with rabid animals. So, in general, leave them alone and they’ll leave us alone.

Still of a Mexican Wolf Reintroduction from video (Video credit: Arizona Game & Fish Dept. 2018)

OPPOSITION

But leaving our livestock alone is a different proposition entirely and even more so if our livestock and livestock management systems have reduced the wolves’ natural prey, both in number and variety. And we tend to do that. Our systems tend to reduce forest to favour grassland for our domesticated grazers, which reduces or wipes out forest prey. Then we set out to reduce or even eliminate the wild grazers competing with our domesticated ones. Even when we develop forests we tend to favour monoculture or restrict to a few species of commercial timber with high turnover in comparatively shorter time.

Hunting and fishing reserve managers kill predators ranging from hawks, eagles, and owls to stoats, badgers, wolverines, foxes, otters, bears, felines and wolves; legal and illegal means of killing predators include shooting, trapping and poisoning. But those practices also favour only those particular wild species valued for hunting, often edging out a diversity of other species which are now faced with “unfair competition” from the “sport” species, resulting in damage to diversity and to the particular eco-system.

Large-scale elimination of prey animals in order, for example, to protect crops, also reduces the natural prey available to predators. Growing only particular kinds of trees will result in quicker turnover and or greater profits but also in monoculture forests giving little shelter to diverse wild life.

For good reasons as explained by their supporters, the presence of apex predators affects not only their prey and other predators but also vegetation, which in turn affects other animals, birds and fish (through their effect on water courses) – in fact, a top-down effect on the whole local environment which has been shown to beneficial.

The objectors argue that large mammalian predators can cause significant problems to humans and most significant among those humans are the livestock farmers. They, ranging from rancher livestock operations of thousands of animals, down through the medium enterprises of some hundred head, to small farmers with up to a sore or so, are the main source of opposition to wolf conservation or – what are we thinking of? — reintroduction.

The opposition based on fear of attack on person, largely without contemporary logic but relying on ignorance and some folklore, can be educated and managed by conservationists but the livestock farmers are a different proposition. Those who rely on livestock to make a decent living and those companies for which it is big business, along with their shareholders and banks, are not going to be easily persuaded. The smaller or even medium-sized concerns are potentially more amenable to convincing, especially if aided by state grants to offset losses to predation18. The evidence is that for them a change to investing in livestock guard dogs would be manageable and very possibly more emotionally rewarding19.

Big business is another matter. Grants would have to be substantial to convince them and, in any case, ecological grants to big business have not turned out to be of benefit to the environment overall. Quite crudely, big business will need to be forced to reduce the size of its operations or be put out of business one way or another; how that may be achieved is another day’s discussion. Meanwhile, progressing with smaller and medium-sized livestock farmers will make some difference and play an important educational role in what is good for the environment and for us.

NATURAL REINTRODUCTION AND VIABILITY

Not all reintroduction is human-initiated. In the Pyrenean region of the Iberian peninsula, in areas devoid for years of the native wolf, they speak of the appearance of the Italian wolf (sub-species) slightly divergent from its Iberian cousin), though none of those migrants having yet bred and thereby established a pack. This situation is leading to increased discussion around the pros and cons of wolf conservation and herd protection there.

The wolf is protected in Iberia and though classified as game species in the northern part of the Spanish state20 a ban on hunting wolf was introduced even there in February of this year (2021). This had been agreed some years earlier by the Euskadi regional Government but not implemented, until conservationists (with the support of some traditional shepherds took a successful court case to force the implementation.21 Compensation is paid for livestock killed by wolf or bear but in uneven amounts and by different systems across the state.

In the case of achieving general agreement and support for reintroduction, there remains the problem of viability of the reintroduced animals. Although the White-Tailed Eagle reintroduction to Ireland has been successful, reintroduced Golden Eagles struggle to survive and expand on the amount of suitable prey available to them. Wolves might not fare much better, once they had reduced the red and roe deer populations in the country.

However, a puzzle for us is that the earlier well-referenced wolf existence in Ireland predates that of the deer, raising questions on what were its main prey animals at that time. Perhaps it was the wild boar and certainly the presence of the torc is attested to in many Irish place-names.

In a number of other European countries, wolves could probably build sustainable populations preying on deer and boar, in addition to rodents and lagomorphs, along with some waterfowl (in particular ground-nesting ones such as the mallard). Swans in Ireland for example would presumably have to change their nesting habits to more isolated reed-beds and islands (though wolves are good swimmers).

In countries with large wild areas the problems of wolf and human interaction are reduced but Ireland is not such a country. The success of such a project in Ireland would require substantial areas apart from bogland being given over to wildness, with substantial forest coverage (the benefits of the latter are discussed below). Sheep flocks and cattle herds would need to be smaller and require guarding by day and night; the benefits of smaller livestock herds and a mechanism for their protection has been discussed earlier here.

Also required would be a rigorous enforcement of predator protection legislation which does not have a good record in Ireland (see http://trinitynews.ie/2016/10/farmers-wildlife-freak-outs-and-facts/) and and a compensation scheme for farmers in case of livestock loss (or indeed cultivated land loss to wilding habitat, multi-species deciduous forest planting, etc).

SUPPORT — WHY BOTHER?

The financial and educational benefits of eco-tourism are often quoted in defence of reintroduction of wolves and other terrestrial apex predators and, for some, those are sufficient justification. Eco-tourists are particularly interested in seeing apex predators and even hearing them, especially in the case of wolves. Certainly providing for such tourism is a niche which can permit a living to be made from management of low livestock numbers or even land without any livestock at all. As such it can be a convincing argument for small herding communities or for individual farms in livestock country.

Another reason quoted is the psychological and scientific benefits of living more in tune with the natural world and, though hard to quantify, in a world heading for ecological disaster such potential benefit should not be ignored. Which is what it is likely to be, however, in communities and enterprises focused on surviving in the present (not to mention those for whom extracting maximum profits is the only viable reason for any undertaking).

Another and more tangible benefit of encouraging mammalian apex predator conservation or reintroduction is the early and visible environmental improvement resulting in places where it has been tried. Wild grazers compete with livestock grazers, often more efficiently than livestock can manage. Not only that but they will graze areas being left for regrowth by the farmer. Such overgrazing results in arid ground, retaining little moisture, soil erosion and can even end in desertification. What long-term benefit to the environment if reducing domestic herds results in more and more land being overgrazed?

In addition, there are the problems of infection of livestock and in turn humans by diseases carried by wild ungulates (e.g. deer, bison, antelope, boar, wild goats, mountain sheep22).

The large predator can be the solution. Wolves and other apex predators keep down the numbers of wild ungulates, keeping them also on the move (in fear of predators), allowing vegetation to recover from grazing, in turn assisting moisture retention in the soil. These changes in turn benefit many other animals and plants, from invertebrates up to birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Previously to wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone, the moose had only the occasional bear to worry about and they chewed their way through branch and leaf; rangers had to cull large numbers every year and even so there was substantial deforestation and large numbers of moose would die during severe winters, only to be quickly replenished the following year. Only one family of beavers was seen at work (their food of shrubs and low trees by the water margins was being eaten by the moose).

Twenty-five years after the reintroduction of wolves, willow and aspen had recovered in some areas of Yellowstone, beaver colonies had increased 14-fold, song-birds had recovered and some new species were being seen. The soil is retaining greater moisture. There are arguments about how much these changes are due to the action of the wolves but most experts grant the wolves at least some credit while some others give them a lot.23

Yellowstone Park protected wolf pack (Photo credit: Doug Smith, via National Park Service)

So that’s good news for the environment and the wolf, not so good for the moose, right? Actually, it seems to be good news for the moose too, with lower die-off for moose in winter,24 signalling a general improvement in health of the stock surviving predation.

When the numbers of grazers is controlled, tree seedlings of willow and alder get a chance to grow on the edges and banks of bodies of freshwater, which tends to control soil erosion on banks and reduce flooding. When grazers are prevented or restricted from eating seedlings, new trees survive to extend the woods and forests or to replace fallen trees and harvested timber.

Beaver in Yellowstone National Park (Photo crdt: Neal Herbert, National Park Service). Although wolves will kill and eat beaver if they can, the wolves also control Moose which were a greater threat to the beaver, eating the woody waterside vegetation upon which the beaver depends for food.

Many ecologists and forestry experts blame the white-tailed deer for changes across large parts of the USA, involving reductions in canopy-cover, reductions in diversity of tree species and general forestry maintenance (to say nothing of failure to extend)25.

For the ecology of the world, the thinning out of wild grazers is perhaps the most valuable service rendered by large mammalian predators although other factors need to be taken into account, including pattern and variety of planting and management, domestic herd sizes, along with of course responses to insect and fungal pests.26

It has long been known too that many species of trees prevent or restrict soil erosion and restrict flooding by holding water margins and, in some cases such as mangroves, sap the effects of hurricanes coming from the seaward side, along with tidal waves.

More crucially, trees produce oxygen and consume or hoard carbon. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen”.

We all know that we need oxygen to breathe and also to combine with other elements, such as carbon dioxide, to produce water.27 But the problem of excess loose carbon dioxide is recognised as one of the most serious confronting the eco-system at this moment, with carbon dioxide emissions creating part of the “greenhouse” cover over the earth, contributing hugely to global warming. This process in return is causing sea-levels to rise and also to warm, causing mass deaths in seas, along with big changes in weather systems with devastating effects for human and animal populations.

The wolf can also play a role in mediating the effect of other predators and has done so in part of the USA with regard to the coyote, similar to what the dingo has done to the European-introduced red fox, which has become a problem in Australia.

American mink in Ireland, an invasive versatile semi-aquatic predator (Photo sourced: Irish News). Could the wolf help control this pest?

In Ireland another introduced species, more likely through escape from fur farms, the american mink, is also a problem and is spreading.28 It may be that the wolf can play a helpful role there too, along with having some effect in controlling that other american, the grey squirrel which, in turn, might assist the red squirrel’s return to areas from which it has long been absent.

End.

FOOTNOTES

1Though indications exist of some hunting of wolves by humans in Ireland, in England, wolf persecution was enforced by legislation and the last wolf was killed in the early 16th century during the reign of Henry VII (see Wikipedia on the Eurasian Wolf). Ireland was invaded by British-based forces in 1169 and over time native forces were defeated and the whole country came under English rule until partly independent in 1921.

2For priests: “An 1709 Penal Act demanded that Catholic priests take the Oath of Abjuration and recognise the Protestant Queen Anne as Supreme Head of the Church of England and, by implication, in Ireland. Priests who refused to conform were arrested and executed. ……….The reward rates for capture varied from £50–100 for a bishop, to £10–20 for the capture of an unregistered priest; substantial amounts of money at the time. The work was dangerous, and some priests fought in self-defence. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priest_hunter

For Wolves: “In AD 1652 the Commissioners of the Revenue of Cromwell’s Irish Government set substantial bounties on wolves, £6 for a female, £5 for a male, £2 for a subadult and 10 shillings for a cub”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolves_in_Ireland

For Resistance fighters: https://www.historyireland.com/early-modern-history-1500-1700/some-days-two-heads-and-some-days-four/

3This estimate relies on assumptions on the mutation rate, which has not been directly estimated for domestic dogs (see https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982215004327#:~:text=The%20divergence%20between%20the%20wolf,directly%20estimated%20for%20domestic%20dogs). As the paper discusses, this is a highly-contentious area of study with some theories proposing the existence of domestic canids as early as 36,000 years ago and the appearance of the domestic canid predating that of the current grey wolf.

4In some parts of the USA and Western Europe, where hunting big game is a widespread activity, fear of competition with the wolf in hunting season is also an important factor and one where “the common man” may come into conflict with those wishing to protect or reintroduce the wolf.

5It is worth noting that wild grazing mammals are capable of defence against hunting canines by outrunning them and, usually as a last resort, by fighting them with horn, antler, tusk, teeth or hoof. In turn, wolves have to plan, ambush, select targets and coordinate attacks. Old and very young grazers are vulnerable but calves and foals are pushed by their mothers to stand minutes after birth; in an hour or two, they can run. A wolf injured in attack cannot travel with the pack and will miss out on most food and, if failing to heal rapidly enough, will die. There is a constantly flexing relationship between the survival mechanisms of both prey and predator.

6In the first place they need to be high enough to prevent wolves leaping or scrambling over them, also proof against digging under. And since anecdotal evidence relates livestock guard dogs being willing to stand the pain of electric shock if sufficient stimulus is provided to get out of an electrified enclosure, one must assume that wolves will develop that same resolution at some point. Finally, there is the issue of possible weather damage and failure of the power supply to the barrier.

7In some situations donkeys and alpacas have also been used with success as livestock guard dogs, though a Spanish shepherd commented that the donkey only functions with cattle, since they respond to its warning, while sheep ignore it. (See also https://www.jandohner.com/single-post/2016/05/01/the-other-livestock-guardians-llamas-and-donkeys and https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/guard-donkey-zbcz1310). None of these are capable of physically defending against a canine pack, however.

8There are a few types that can combine the characteristics of herding and guard, such as the Beauceron but in general livestock dog breeds specialise in either guarding or herding. In Australia, where the apex land predator is not the wolf but the smaller and lighter Dingo, some herding breeds also act as livestock guard dogs.

9Two are known to be extinct: The Alpine Mastiff and the Molossus.

10It seems that this breed was so valued abroad that Irish chieftains and English occupiers exported them, so that no originals of the breed remain. The current breed that goes by that name, a gentle attractive dog of high stature, is derived by cross-breeding. Wikipedia: “Based on the writings of others, Graham had formed the opinion that a dog resembling the original wolfhound could be recreated through using the biggest and best examples of the Scottish Deerhound and the Great Dane, two breeds which he believed had been derived earlier from the wolfhound. Into the mix went a Borzoi (“Korotai”), who had proved his wolf hunting abilities earlier in his native Russia. For an outbreed a “huge shaggy dog” was added, which may have possibly been a Tibetan Mastiff.

11https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Livestock_guardian_dog

12https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GScuF2ZEGOA

13https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Livestock_guardian_dog

14See videos in Spanish from Zamora and the Basque Government region (latter in References & Resources)

15See Sources and References at article end for items in relation to dingo conservation,

16Apart from upending trash containers and raiding farms, boar may also attack humans, especially in the case of a sow accompanied by her litter and is capable of inflicting mortal wounds. Should boar become widespread in very close contact with humans, children might be attacked too.

17https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/animal_diseases/brucellosis/downloads/bruc-facts.pdf

18A Zamoran shepherd says he receives no grant and though not asking for one, says he should be supplied free of charge the ID chip he is required by law to embed in his dogs. On the other hand the Euskadi regional Government agreed to pay a grant and other regions have done so too, in areas where the wolf and bear are known to be in residence, without having to prove or even claim a kill of any of their stock.

19Partnership with working dogs is likely to be therapeutic in itself and surely wholly preferable to setting out traps, poison bait (which kills other predators and scavengers too) and shooting, including even killing cubs. Besides, break up the pack and more wolves will mate and bear litters.

20Ironically that status can serve to protect predators from extermination and since it was given that status in Poland, the wolf population increased substantially (see Wikipedia the Eurasian Wolf).

21https://www.eitb.eus/es/noticias/sociedad/videos/detalle/5937840/video-el-gobierno-vasco-incluira-al-lobo-catalogo-especies-amenazadas/

22In some parts of the world these would also included wild horses, camels, llamas, alpaca …. See earlier mention of brucellosis

23https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/csp2.413

24Ibid.

25https://blog.nature.org/science/2013/08/22/too-many-deer/

26https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10342-011-0523-3

27https://www.savatree.com/whytrees.html

28p.4, Mink distribution and populations, https://www.npws.ie/sites/default/files/publications/pdf/IWM40.pdf

SOURCES & REFERENCES:

The Eurasian wolf: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurasian_wolf

Grey Wolf previous and current population around the world: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_gray_wolf_populations_by_country

Dogs bred for guarding livestock: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Livestock_guardian_dog

Introducing wolves in northern Europe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_reintroduction#Northern_Europe

Wolf repopulation and conservation in southern Europe: https://www.lavanguardia.com/local/girona/20190220/454285446272/lobo-pirineos-abre-debate-proteccion-projecte-llop.html

Catalonia: https://www.lavanguardia.com/natural/20200212/473446529246/lobos-catalunya-fotografias-camara-oculta-dos-ejemplares-localizados.html

Aragon: https://www.heraldo.es/noticias/aragon/huesca/2018/02/25/tras-las-huellas-del-lobo-pirineo-1226897-2261127.html

Basque Country: https://www.eitb.eus/es/noticias/sociedad/videos/detalle/5937840/video-el-gobierno-vasco-incluira-al-lobo-catalogo-especies-amenazadas/

EU: https://blog.humanesociety.org/2019/10/breaking-news-european-court-upholds-strong-protections-for-wolves.html

Issues and effects of reintroduction in Yellowstone USA: https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/csp2.413

Issues in reintroduction of the American Red Wolf: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/mar/10/can-red-wolves-come-back-from-the-brink-of-extinction-again-aoe

Protection and reintroduction of the American Grey Wolf: https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/gray_wolves/

Not wolves but related subject — conservation of dingoes in Australia: https://theconversation.com/why-do-some-graziers-want-to-retain-not-kill-dingoes-77457

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-25/farmers-suggest-changing-regional-australia-approach-to-dingoes/100147468

Protection of forests by predation on grazers and other issues: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/275na4_en.pdf

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10342-011-0523-3

Importance of trees and grazing damage: https://www.savatree.com/whytrees.html

Adverse effect of present levels of loose carbon dioxide: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/greenhouse-gases

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/greenhouse-gases

Mexican Wolf: https://www.breakingnews.ie/world/mexican-wolf-breeding-programme-gets-boost-from-zoo-1160719.html

Suggestion of reintroduction of grey wolves to Scotland: https://www.conservationjobs.co.uk/articles/wolf-reintroduction-in-scotland/

Ireland: https://greennews.ie/why-we-need-to-plan-for-the-reintroduction-of-wolves/

https://www.thejournal.ie/is-ireland-ready-to-reintroduce-wolves-ireland-2029-podcast-4761981-Oct2019/

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/science/the-return-of-the-large-predator-to-mainland-europe-1.3727602

Related — Issues of reintroduction of raptors to Ireland: https://www.goldeneagle.ie/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&layout=item&id=660&Itemid=195

https://www.tobinconsultingengineers.com/blog/a-brief-overview-of-the-reintroduction-of-raptor-species-in-ireland/

https://www.jstor.org/stable/24394182

Survival of reintroduced raptors, hostile propaganda, illegal poisoning and low number of prosecutions: http://trinitynews.ie/2016/10/farmers-wildlife-freak-outs-and-facts/

Wild mink control: https://www.npws.ie/sites/default/files/publications/pdf/IWM40.pdf

CATALAN INDEPENDENCE PARTIES AGREE TO FORM GOVERNMENT

(Translation D.Breatnach from Publico report 12 May 2021)


ERC, JxCat and the CUP parties reached a “minimum” agreement this Wednesday to unravel the investiture negotiations to avoid an electoral repetition after the results of the elections on February 14th in Catalonia. The deadline for investing the President of the Generalitat is May 26 (after that new elections would need to be called — DB).

After two hours of meeting in the Parliament, the three organisations issued a joint statement that to promote an “overall National Agreement for Self-determination” and a “space for the debate on the independence strategy beyond governance.”

After the meeting, the Deputy General Secretary and ERC spokesperson, Marta Vilalta, the JxCat Deputy Francesc Dalmases and the leading spokesperson of the CUP in the Catalan Chamber, Eulàlia Reguant, came out together.

In the lobby of the Catalan Parlament after agreement was reached, front row L-R: Eulàlia Reguant, leading parliamentary spokesperson of the CUP; Deputy General Secretary and ERC spokesperson, Marta Vilalta; the JxCat Deputy Francesc Dalmases (Photo credit: Toni Albin, EFE)

Formation of a new Government

The act of separating the debate on the independence strategy from the formation of a new Government was one of the obstacles that prevented the agreement, JxCat until now requiring ERC to link both items.

Although the wording of the statement is ambiguous on this point, it already aims to unlink the creation of a unitary strategic direction of independence from the negotiation for governance, which was threatened recently by the disagreements between ERC and JxCat.

Relations were very strained last Saturday, when the ERC candidate for the investiture, Pere Aragonès, announced that he would no longer continue negotiating a coalition government with JxCat, which he accusef of delaying the negotiation, and that from now on only he would contemplate ruling alone.

In the joint communiqué, entitled “Commitment to a National Agreement for Self-determination”, the three formations emphasize that the results of the 14 February elections “offer the independence movement the possibility of opening a new cycle for national liberation.”

Four “minimum points”

The negotiators have agreed on four “minimum points” based on a proposal that the CUP, convener of the summit in Parliament, had put on the table, in which it has become a mediator to facilitate a rapprochement of positions between ERC and JxCat.

In the first point, they undertake to “provide a response to the social and economic crisis” that Catalonia is experiencing, while in the second they commit to “build a wall to defend fundamental and basic rights that have broad support from Catalan society and which do not fit within the framework of the State “.

Third, they commit to convening a first working meeting to configure “an Overall National Agreement for Self-determination, to go beyond political parties and to bring together the broad social majority of the country in favour” of a referendum.

“With the unequivocal commitment that through dialogue and democratic struggle in the (Spanish) State the exercise of self-determination and amnesty can be achieved during the next legislature,” they added.

Finally, they are committed to “reaching a space for the debate on the independence strategy beyond the framework of governance.” This last paragraph modifies – and adds ambiguity – the fourth point proposed by the draft of the CUP, which suggested “placing the debate on the independence strategy outside the framework of the government pact.”

Unraveling the negotiations

Sources with inside knowledge of the meeting indicated to Efe (news agency) that the meeting was positive in moving forward, although it is too early to say if it will be enough for ERC and JxCat to get back on track to an agreement that in recent days had been difficult.

For his part, the leader of the PSC in Parliament, Salvador Illa, asked ERC to “lift the cordon sanitaire” that he raised against the social democrats before the 14 February elections and to facilitate a left-wing majority led by the PSC. “I challenge them: with the failed independence path not working, at least let a left-wing government be constructed and lift the cordon sanitaire that they signed against the PSC,he said on a visit to Mataró (Barcelona).

The leader of En Comú Podem in Parliament, Jéssica Albiach, insisted in TV3 that for them “they continue to” attempt to form a Government with ERC, although she also declared the possibility of facilitating Esquerra to govern alone.

The president of Citizens in Parliament, Carlos Carrizosa, rejected the idea of ​​new elections if the Government is not formed because he believes that it would reflect a “lack of respect” for citizens.

For her part, the president of the Catalan National Assembly, Elisenda Paluzie, demanded an agreement from ERC, JxCat and the CUP to form the Government and called a demonstration for this Sunday in Plaça Sant Jaume in Barcelona to demand a pact between them.

Map of Catalunya including the part inside the French state (in dark olive green) and showing position within the Spanish state and comparing size with other countries including Ireland. (Source: Wikipedia)

COMMENT

Diarmuid Breatnach

THE PARTICIPANTS

ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya – Republican Left of Catalonia), republican party of a left outlook varying from radical to social-democratic. Its leader, MEP Oriol Junqueras, is in jail arising out the Spanish State’s opposition to the holding of the Referendum of October 2017. The party has 32 seats in the Parlament.

JuntsXCat (Junts per Catalunya – Together for Catalunya), a coalition of forces originally brought together by liberal conservatives but pushing hard for independence and more lately adopting many socially progressive policies. It leader, MEP Carles Puigdemont, is en exile in Brussels to avoid Spanish jail, along with others. The party has 33 seats in the Parlament.

CUP (Canditatura d’Unitad Popular – People’s United Candidature) is a more radically left-wing coalition of groups that until recently focused on local democracy than on national politics but is completely in favour of independence from the Spanish State. One of its leading activists, Anna Gabriel, is also in exile to avoid Spanish jail. CUP now has nine seats in the Parlament

ERC and JuntsXCat have 65 seats between them which give them a comfortable enough parliamentary working majority in the 135-seat Parlament and with CUP’s nine seats, could defeat a vote of no confidence even if the social-democratic (but unionist) PCE (33) and Comu Podems (8 — a local version of Podemos) supported a vote of no confidence by the right-wing parties of Ciutadans (6), Vox (11) and PP (3).

ANC (Asamblea Nacional de Catalunya – National Assembly of Catalonia) is a huge grass-roots pro-independence organisation which pushed for the Referendum in the 2017, organised massive demonstrations for independence and participated in organising a number of one-day general strikes of protest in and since 2017. Its former leader Jordi Sanchez is an MP but is also in jail along with another grass-roots movement leader, Jordi Cuixart of Omnium Cultural.

DIFFERENCES

What is at stake here is not merely a power struggle between one independentist political party and its leader and another party and its leader, but also a division over tactics and perhaps even strategy. Puigdemont of JuntsXCat led all the independentist parties and, in a sense, the whole united t movement through the Referendum, Spanish police invasion and violence and as far as declaring a republic – but then blinked and a few minutes later suspended that declaration.

Apparently he had been promised by ‘friends’ in the EU that if he suspended the declaration, they would come in and put pressure on the Spanish State. Predictably, I would say, they didn’t come through on that, Spanish State repression followed and Puigdemont went into exile.

Since the repression, ERC has been insisting they need to sit down and talk with the Spanish Government, which is a coalition of the social democratic PSOE and the radical social-democratic and trotskyist alliance of Unidas Podemos. However, the Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, has stated unequivocally that although he wants to talk, he will not be discussing holding a government-authorised referendum on independence for Catalonia nor the freeing of the political prisoners arising out of the last Referendum. They also voted in the Spanish Parliament to support the Government getting its budget approved, thereby helping to keep it in power.

Naturally enough, much of this has raised suspicions that ERC was preparing a sellout and even those who did not necessarily suspect that were exclaiming, since independence referendum and prisoner freedom is ruled out: “Talks with the Spanish Government about what?”

Despite Puigdemont’s faulty judgement at the time of declaring the Republic, he continues to have a lot of support in the independentist movement. However his insistence and therefore that of JuntsXCat that the forum for discussing and deciding independence strategy has to be the Consell per la República (Council for tge Republic) has caused a lot of trouble within the movement for Catalan independence. The Consell was formed as a private organisation by Puigdemont in Barcelona and in Brussels and, while in the latter sense it is out of the reach of the Spanish State, it is also out of any democratic control from within Catalonia, which ERC has pointed out as its reason for not agreeing to that measure.

The current agreement has bridged the gap temporarily and avoided the parties having to go into other elections for the second time this year, purely for the reason that the two main parties of the movement cannot agree with one another on the way forward. And momentum, the loss of which can be fatal for revolutionary movements, can hopefully start gathering force again. But there are likely to be further disagreements ahead. Which must be pretty depressing for the ordinary activists and supporters in a movement that has come so far so quickly and then stalled, while a number of people went to jail and over 700 town mayors are awaiting processing by the Spanish courts.

On the other hand, the role of mediator played by the CUP has no doubt enhanced their standing in the eyes of pro-independence Catalonia.

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?pli=1#inbox/FMfcgxwLtszrnTpPXbWkgvGlTDthntTh

ATHLETE, REPORTER, FEMINIST, ANTIFASCIST — Anna María Martínez Sagi

MARCEL BELTRAN@@BELTRAN_MARCEL

(Translated by Diarmuid Breatnach from Castillian [Spanish] in Publico)

(Reading time: 4 mins.)

At the end of the 1970s, an elderly woman came to to live alone in the town of Moià, 50 kilometers from Barcelona. Nobody knows anything about her. No neighbour knew her or knew anything of her past. The only thing that is becoming apparent, little by little, is her unfriendly character. The old woman doesn’t communicate much but when she does she is dry and sharp. Like a knife just sharpened. She has a reputation for being elusive and sullen. Some people joke that not even dogs dare to bark at her. She will live twenty years in the village, the last of her life. And it will only be after her departure that the mystery that surrounds her will begin to fade. Under so much loneliness and silence a secret could only throb. When they find out, those who crossed paths with her in that last bitter stage of her life will be shocked.

The first time he came across the name Anna Maria Martínez Sagi (1907-2000), Juan Manuel de Prada was reading a González-Ruano interview book. The author, in the same volume in which he conversed with Unamuno or Blasco Ibáñez, referred to that woman as “a poet, trade unionist and virgin of the stadium.” It was these last three words that triggered De Prada’s curiosity, that he began to follow the trail of that person of which he had strangely never heard. He asked colleagues, academics, and historians, but they could not help him much. He searched archives and newspaper back-issues without luck. And, when he was about to give up, a friend who worked in the Treasury found the address of his missing woman, which confirmed that she was still alive. The novelist sent her a letter so they could meet and chat about her story.

“Why do you want to resurrect a dead woman?” was the answer that came from Moià. Martínez Sagi, at age 90, had resigned herself to anonymity — or more, to oblivion. Because someone who has been famous at some point is no longer anonymous, no matter how much they disappear from the conversations or stop being mentioned in the newspaper. Rather she fades from memory. And that is what she found when she returned home from the long exile to which the conclusion of the Civil War condemned her; she had been wiped off the map. Her vibrant reports had been of no use (she had become one of the most influential journalists of the Second Republic), her penetrating verses (the poet Cansinos Assens saw in her “the heiress of Rosalía de Castro”) or her milestones as a pioneer of feminism in Spain (she founded the first women workers’ literacy club in Barcelona) during the 1930s. Her interesting and unusual life had been reduced to zero.

That enormous and valuable legacy had been buried under the mantle of the dictatorship, first, and later by the passage of time. And now it seemed that Martínez Sagi did not exist. Or, worse, that she hadn’t existed. Something that De Prada remedied when, respecting the pact they had reached, he published her unpublished work two decades after the death of the author. That volume that was released in 2019, La Voz Sola (The Lone Voice), served to begin to repair the injustice of this inexplicable ignorance.

Anna Maria Martínez Sagi became the first woman member of the board of a soccer club

But where did that “virgin of the stadium” reference come from that had piqued De Prada’s interest? Anna Maria was born into a family of the Catalan gentry. Her father was in the textile industry and her mother was a conservative woman who wanted her daughters to study in Spanish and French and not in Catalan, which she considered “a peasant language.” That child would not have mastered the language with which she would later write so many journalistic texts if it weren’t for the help of her nanny Soledad, who would also open the doors to the world of the popular masses who got on the trams, populated the bars and walked through the streets of the city centre.

In any case, Martínez Sagi’s life would not change completely until, having hormonal problems, the doctors recommended that she play sports. She felt the benefits of physical exercise. And not only that, but she was especially good at it. Skiing, tennis, swimming. There was no discipline in which that girl with agile and resolute movement did not stand out among the young men. Neither in soccer, which she practiced assiduously with her cousins ​​and her brother. Or the javelin throw, in which she would later become the national champion. Precisely as a result of her other vocation, that of a reporter, she began to collaborate with the sports weekly La Rambla, where she met its founder, Josep Sunyol, a member of Esquerra Republicana1 party and president of FC Barcelona,2 ​​who was later shot by the Francoists. In 1934, when the writer had just turned 27, Sunyol would even give her a position in the Barça organization to create a women’s section. In this way, Anna Maria Martínez Sagi became the first woman to be a member of a football club board.

Anna Maria Martínez Sagi about the throw the javelin 1931

She would last a year in office, from which she escaped as soon as she realized that those men in suits with cigar stink in their mouths didn’t really want to change anything. “The environment at that time was one of very densemasculinity,” says De Prada. “And they saw her as a threat, because she was not only a woman with her own ideas, but she also fought them to the end.” She understood sport as a necessary vehicle to lead women to modernity. She dressed in the latest fashion, she attended the demonstrations of the progressives and did not allow herself to be stepped on by anyone. In the newspapers, she interviewed from beggars and prostitutes to politicians, and she also made a name for herself writing reports in defense of women’s suffrage, which at that time was not even supported by some sectors of the Left. She also aligned herself with the proclamations of Buenaventua Durruti, who dazzled her in a speech the anarchist gave at the Palau de Pedralbes. In 1936, when the war broke out, she asked permission to accompany the antifascists to Aragon and report from the front.

Those who saw her write in the conflict say that when she heard the whistle of bullets she did not crouch low. Perhaps that reckless bravery is nothing more than a legend, but it helps to focus Martínez Sagi in the time, a person who defied roles and stereotypes. With the arrival of Franco’s troops in Barcelona, ​​she was left with no choice but to flee to France. That circumstance would initiate the process of her loss. And would forever mark the exile, whose life continued to follow the dips of a roller coaster.

She first settled in Paris and then she went to Châtres, where she slept on the park benches and ended up working as a clerk in a fishmonger’s shop. She later joined the Resistance. “All my life I have fought against injustice, dictatorship, oppression, so I decided to join and saved many Jews and many French fleeing the Nazi advance,” she said. “It was always voluntary. I always did it because I wanted to.” In 1942 she herself was on the verge of being caught by the Gestapo, who appeared by surprise at her apartment. She escaped through a window and by miracle was saved. On French soil she also became a street painter, selling patterned scarves to passersby, and thus she met the Aga Khan’s wife in Cannes, who hired her to decorate their house for them. When she had some more money, she retired to a town in Provence to dedicate herself to the cultivation of aromatic flowers, and later she moved to the United States, where she taught language classes at the prestigious University of Illinois.

While her story jumped and changed landscapes, Martínez Sagi did not abandon poetry either, which was perhaps of all her passions that to which she gave herself most vehemently. Her poems were a mark of her existence, the sentimental record of what was happening to her. And for a long time they rested in the shadow of another woman, Elisabeth Mulder. Martínez Sagi met Mulder when the latter reviewed one of her first collections of poems and praised her, defining her as “a woman who sings among so many screaming women.” Martinez fell madly in love with her, despite the fact that Mulder was a widow and had a seven-year-old son. They came to spend a vacation together in Mallorca during Easter 1932, but the idyll was unexpectedly broken. The pressures of the young poet’s family and distancing by her lover, who never wanted the relationship to develop, ended the relationship and opened a wound that Martínez Sagi took many years to heal. “I found myself in front of you. You looked at me. / I was still able to stammer a banal phrase. / It was your livid smile … Later you walked away. / Then nothing … Life … Everything has remained the same”.

Anna Maria Martínez Sagi

This frustrated love, conditioned by the rejection that the writer received for wanting to live freely in homosexuality, may be one of the causes that explain why the flame of her memory was allowed to go out so abruptly. Also the distancing by exile, the story of politics, inclement weather, the cruelty of memory. Faults that portray a country with very poor retention that always forgets those who matter most. Among many other reasons, that is why it was necessary for someone to renovate the name of Anna Maria Martínez Sagi and make an effort to rescue her from oblivion.To do justice.

End.

SOURCES & FURTHER INFORMATION:

https://www.publico.es/sociedad/periodista-frente-guerra-poeta-atleta.html

https://www.ccma.cat/tv3/alacarta/sense-ficcio/la-sagi-una-pionera-del-barca/video/5829196/

1Republican social democratic pro-Catalan independence party that had many members killed in battle, executed or tortured and jailed during the Spanish Antifascist War and the following Franco dictatorship. Currently the party has a couple of leaders in Spanish jail, including elected members of the Catalan autonomous Government and Members of the European Parliament. The party is currently negotiating coalition government with other Catalan pro-independence parties; ERC has one seat less than Junts per Catalonia, another independentist party (D.B)

2Famous Catalan and international soccer club (D.B).

Rappers in Catalan and Spanish call for freedom of expression — and commitment!

Catalan political activists are in jail for following their electorate’s wishes for independence from the Spanish State, while many election observers are on trial or threatened, along with 700 town mayors in Catalonia … meanwhile other political activists are in exile. In exile too is a rapper who had been sentenced to jail for his lyrics and actually in jail is rapper and poet Pablo Hasél.

Excellently compiled performance slices here in this video put together by rappers (and dancers) in Castillian (Spanish) and Catalan:
“Freedom of expression!

Take up a position!

Down with the prisons!

The Bourbons are robbers!”

Repression reigns in the southern Basque Country too and anywhere people in the Spanish state take up a position of dedicated resistance. But Catalonia is the current frontline.

Pablo Hasel portrait mural painted by street artist Jordit on a basketball court in Naples, southern Italy Photo: Ciro Fusco/ EFE)



End.

“THOUSANDS OF RUSSIAN SOLDIERS TO HELP CATALONIA WIN INDEPENDENCE FROM SPAIN”

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 5 mins.)

In the midst of an arrest operation on Wednesday of 21 people for alleged misuse of public funds to assist the Catalan independence movement, the Spanish State issued a statement alleging that Russia had offered the movement 10,000 Russian soldiers to aid their struggle. It wasn’t the only Russian connection to the Spanish police operation, which they had named Operación Volkhov.

The arrests this week form part of measures by the State against Catalan independence activists since 2017. That year, a coalition of pro-independence political parties and a huge grassroots movement in Catalonia pushed for a referendum to vote for or against an independent Catalan republic, which the pro-Spanish union opposition called on people to boycott. The Spanish State sent its police to raid Catalan regional government offices, confiscate ballot papers, search for ballot boxes (unsuccessfully) and, on the day of the Referendum itself on October 1st, to storm polling stations and beat up voters.

Since then, the Spanish State has jailed seven Catalan politicians and two leaders of grassroots movements on charges of sedition, charged senior Catalan police officers with disobedience (recently acquitted), charged activists with possession of explosives (turned out to be fireworks), other Catalan politicians – including the former President — are in exile, the current President of the regional government has been banned from holding office, 700 local town mayors are under investigation and others are facing charges arising out of strikes and acts of civil disobedience such as blocking streets and a motorway (for which one activist was charged with terrorism). The raid this week comes in addition to all those legal processes.

Members of the Guardia Civil (spanish militarized police) arrested pro Catalonia independence activists. (Photo source: Internet)

There is something of an irony in charging Catalan activists with misuse of public funds in pursuance of independence, given that independence is what many of the Catalan public desire but even more ironic considering the rampant corruption endemic in Spanish political circles and the Monarchy itself, the former King Juan Carlos resigning amidst allegations of financial corruption and being allowed to flee the country ahead of an investigation.

Whatever about the charges of misuse of public funds it is unlikely that most political observers will take the allegations of an offer of Russian military intervention seriously and not only because it comes from Guardia Civil intelligence, a police force maintaining the fascist Franco dictatorship for four decades and, according to many, especially Basques and Catalans, not much changed since. The notion that Russia would risk a war with the EU and the US-dominated NATO, in order to help free a nation of 7.5 million people nowhere near its own territory, must be laughable.

For those facing charges, under investigation, in exile or already in jail, the situation is not humorous. And then there is the sinister name of the police operation. During WW2, General Franco, dictator of a neutral Spain sent fascist volunteers to aid the Axis in Europe, many of them fighting on the Russian front. Franco had quite recently led a successful military-fascist uprising against the Spanish left-wing Popular Front Government, for which he had been aided by Nazi German and Fascist Italian armament and men. His victory was followed by a repression that left Spain with more mass graves than anywhere else other than Cambodia. The Spanish volunteers to fight Soviet communism formed the Blue Division – blue, from the colour of the Falangist shirts and uniforms.

SPANISH FASCISTS ON THE VOLKHOV FRONT

Among the Nazi German forces in the Volkhov region were the men of the Blue Division and it seems they carried out a successful night crossing of the Volkhov River on 18th October 1941. A subsequent Red Army advance in January 1942 failed ultimately because not all the components of the operation had advanced according to plan. In August 1942 the Blue Division was transferred north to take part in the Siege of Leningrad, on the south-eastern flank of the German Army.

However in February of that 1943, operations on the Volkhov Front formed Part of the Red Army plan to first break the siege of Leningrad and then trap Nazi forces in encirclement. According to what seems a Spanish-sympathetic Wikipedia account of the battle at Krasny Bor, in the vicinity of Volkov, the Blue Division fought stubbornly from 10-13 February 1943. On February 15, the Blue Division reported casualties of 3,645 killed or wounded and 300 missing or taken prisoner, which amounted to a 70–75% casualty rate of the troops engaged in the battle. The remnants were relieved and moved back towards the rear.

Red Army casualties were much higher and, although forces attacking well-fortified positions backed by good artillery and tanks, all of which the Nazis had, can expect to lose three attackers for every one defender, Russian analysis later blamed bad leadership, ineffective use of artillery and clumsy use of tanks for their losses.

A Spanish police force evoking today the memory of Spain’s fascist troops in WW2 might seem ominous but to those who believe that the Spanish ruling class and their police force have never ceased to be fascist, the only surprise will be its effrontery. To the Guardia Civil, the fighting in the vicinity of Volkhov in October 1941 might seem the finest hour of the Blue Division but they might do well to remember that effectively it also met its end there in 1943: the Division ceased to exist and was reformed as the Blue Legion, soon afterwards to be disbanded, some soldiers absorbed into the Waffen SS and others withdrawn home.

RUSSIAN TROOPS FOR CATALONIA?

Fast forwarding to the present, the Russians, at least in their Embassy in Madrid, treated the allegation of their offering troops to support Catalan independence as a joke. The following post in Spanish appeared on their electronic notice and comment board (translated):

Note: The information that appeared in the Spanish media about the arrival of 10,000 Russian soldiers in Catalonia is incomplete. It is necessary to add a further two zeros to the number of soldiers and the most shocking thing of all this conspiracy: the troops were to be transported by “Mosca” and “Chato” planes assembled in Catalonia during the Civil War and hidden in a safe place in the Catalan Sierra (mountain range) until they received the encrypted order to act through these publications.

Russian Embassy Madrid, Main entrance (Photo source: Internet)

End.

SOURCES:

Police operation name, raid and arrests: https://english.vilaweb.cat/noticies/spains-paramilitary-police-names-newest-raid-after-ww2-fascist-victory/

https://english.vilaweb.cat/noticies/new-police-raid-against-pro-independence-activists-and-business-people/

History of the Volkhov Front, WW2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkhov_Front

Battle of Krasny Bor: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Krasny_Bor#Soviet_Union_–_Leningrad_Front

Russian Embassy humorous comment: https://spain.mid.ru/es_ES/-/replica-de-la-embajada-sobre-la-informacion-aparecida-en-los-medios-espanoles-sobre-la-llegada-de-10-mil-soldados-rusos-a-cataluna?redirect=https%3A//spain.mid.ru/

OPEN LETTER TO THE CATALAN INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT

Diarmuid Breatnach

(NB: Versiones en Catalan y Castellano al fondo)

(Reading time: 5 minutes)

Brothers and sisters, greetings! Your valiant struggle is now at a pause. Although in revolutionary struggle it is important to keep up the momentum, nevertheless a pause gives time for reflection. A useful time to look at what worked and what did not, to review the lessons learned in the struggle so far and also to compare with other historical periods.

YOU CANNOT STAND ALONE AND WIN

          It is clear to most people that Catalonia cannot, as things stand, win independence on its own efforts alone. The total population of Catalonia, rather like that of Ireland, is a little over 7.5 million, while the population of the rest of the Spanish state comes to just under 45.5 million. Even with the populations of the rest of the Paisos Catalans, Valencia, Balearic Islands and Pau, the numbers are stacked against you. And not all Catalans are in favour of independence either, even if the majority in Catalonia favour it. Not to be ignored either is the French State, which sits on your northern border and claims dominion over Pau.

The French and Spanish states are powerful and also prominent members of economic and military alliances, chief amongst which in our discussion perhaps is the European Union. Many of you appealed to the EU for support when the Spanish State sent its police forces to attack you at the time of your Referendum on Independence in 2017. You received your reply when then President of the EU Commission Claude Juncker declared that they “don’t want a European Union of 99 states” and also indicated that some EU existing member states might face similar problems to the Spanish State’s (clearly having in mind France, Italy, the UK at the time and Belgium, states that include subject nations or conflicting national identities). The answer was repeated when Catalan MEPs Puigdemont and Comin were for a period banned from entering the European Parliament.

European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker delivers a speech as he makes his State of the Union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on September 14, 2016. / AFP / FREDERICK FLORIN (Photo credit should read FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Catalan MEPs (left to right) Toni Comin and Carles Puigdemont, both barred from the EU Parliament late May 2019 and finally admitted only in January this year.  MEP Jordi Solé is to Puigdemont’s left.
(Photo sourced: Internet)

Those of you who expected something different from the EU were disappointed, some of you bitterly so. It was so unjust. Yes, it was very unjust – yet entirely predictable. The EU is an alliance which is not only capitalist, not only dominated by a neo-liberal approach to economics but also dominated by imperialist states. And it should not have been expected that they would encourage the breakup of one of those states, however they might wish that it behaved itself with more cunning and less brutal force. By the way, they prefer cunning to brute force not because they believe the latter is wrong but because once one resorts to brute force the mask is off and then the outcome of the contest depends on which side has the most force. The rulers of states are very few in numbers and their close supporters few also. The ruled people on the other hand constitute a huge mass.

This brings me back again to the question of numbers and how few you are. You have courage and intelligent innovations but you need allies. There are many places in the world to look for allies but the most obvious and effective places are the nearest – in the very states that oppress you. Let us for a moment concentrate on the territory of your main oppressor here – the Spanish State.

THE CLOSEST AND MOST OBVIOUS ALLY

          When looking for potential allies there is an obvious one that springs to mind: the Basque Country. That nation’s population is not even half the size of yours and it is divided much more than is your nation by the border with the French State. Yet, after the victory of Franco’s fascist-military forces, that small nation fought a hard struggle against the Spanish State throughout the Dictatorship, through the Transition and afterwards. Though the armed side of that struggle is what observers often focus upon, the struggle was also and mainly one might say, social, linguistic, ideological and trade unionist. An obvious partner, one might think. Yet things have not, so far, turned out that way. It might be worthwhile examining why.

One reason I believe was the rejection by much of the Catalan independence movement of the armed side of the Basque struggle, even though that had already ended by 2012. One of the exiled Catalan leaders, for the moment an MEP, even stated publicly that “We Catalans are not like the Basques; our struggle is a peaceful one.” She was repeating what countless Catalans have said about their struggle being a peaceful one, though of course the insult to and alienation of another struggling nation was gratuitous.

Firstly, even if the struggle of the Catalans for independence was going to be a peaceful one, forever and ever amen, that was no reason to reject the assistance of an ally and furthermore one that had abandoned armed struggle over five years earlier. I am sorry to say and you would be ashamed to admit that those comments disparaging the Basques and the armed part of their history of resistance were in order to make yourselves, as you thought, more attractive to the EU. It didn’t work, as you know now and in fact could never work because it is the very consequences of your struggle for a member state to which the EU objects, not whatever your methods.

Secondly, from a historical and practical point of view, it is illogical to forever commit oneself (or one’s people) to one method of struggle alone. It flies in the face of the history of Catalonia as well as the history of practically every other nation on Earth opposing an invading or colonising force. It ignores too the history of the Spanish State itself which from its beginning has been one of violent suppression of not only every people it invaded outside the peninsula and also the nations within its current territory but also every democratic, liberal and socialist movement that arose among its own core population. But let us leave that question aside for the moment and return that of allies.

Knowing the history of the Basque people, many expected some kind of popular rising there in 2017 in support of Catalonia, to stretch the forces of repression and give the Spanish State an even more serious headache. It did not happen. Apart from a demonstration or two and messages of support, we only saw the blocking for a short while of one of the main commercial motorways into the Spanish State. Many were surprised or even shocked at such a weak response from a movement that had not long before been capable of putting tens of thousands on to the streets in protest against the State.

Whether the Catalans asked for that kind of support or didn’t does not, in essence matter. The opportunity was there, the enemy the same – but the Basque pro-independence movement leaders chose not to act.

Does this mean that the Basques will never support the struggle of Catalonia for independence? I do not think so ….. but the issue requires a little deeper investigation.

A CHANGED LEADERSHIP

          Had this crisis arisen in the 1970s or 1980s, the practical support from the Basque Country would have been enormous and stretched the forces of Spanish State repression to breaking point. Perhaps so even in the early 1990s. By the end of that decade however, most of the leaders of the Abertzale Left, the Basque pro-Independence Left, were looking to give up armed struggle completely and were attracted by what they saw as the success of the pacification processes in Ireland, Palestine (for a short period) and South Africa. Unlike the Irish and South African examples, they dissolved the military side of their organisation without getting a single thing in return from the Spanish State (except more repression). It soon became apparent that the armed aspect was not the only form of struggle that they were giving up and that henceforth they would focus nearly completely on the electoral path.

One may wonder at a leadership which once declared itself for the independence and socialism of an entire Euskera-speaking nation now settling for electoral campaigns in which, even in the highly unlikely event of becoming a majority party in one part of of its nation, it would still be on territory divided by two powerful states. It does seem ludicrous but perhaps they just wanted to have ‘normal lives’ for a change and felt unable to admit their true motivation.

Meanwhile, the Catalans, now having risen in struggle, have lives far from what might be considered “normal”. Their pro-independence organisations are preparing for the next stage of the war and their people wondering what that will be and whether their leaders have the capacity to take the right decisions; other leaders in jail or in exile on framed charges, well over another 700 activists facing charges in future – and all arising out of struggle against a State that has backed down not one inch.

The need for effective allies has if anything increased. There are still the Basques. Yes, I say that despite the abandonment of struggle by their movement’s leadership. The heart of resistance still beats there, though the head is somewhat confused and uncertain.

FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND SOLIDARITY

          Over four weeks ago, Patxi Ruiz Romero, a Basque political prisoner who would be considered a “dissident” by some, went on hunger strike, 12 days of which were also a thirst strike.

Image of Patxi Ruiz, Basque political prisoner on solidarity poster of the Amnistia movement.
(Photo sourced: Amnistia Garrasi FB page)

A Basque movement that would be considered “dissident” by some people too, Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression, has mobilised public protests in solidarity with Patxi Ruiz and public fasts, pickets and marches have taken place across the Basque Country, including each of its five cities: Gastheiz/ Vitoria, Irunea/ Pamplona, Donosti/ San Sebastian, Baiona/ Bayonne and Bilbo/ Bilbao. All of this has happened despite not only a lack of support from the Abertzale Left leadership but its condemnation of the mobilisation on the streets. And you Catalans, you know the importance of the streets! Isn’t Els carres seran sempre nostres (“The streets will always be ours”) one of the popular slogans of your movement?

Patxi Ruiz solidarity protest Bilbao 15 May 2020, organised by Amnistia movement.
(Photo sourced: Amnistia Garrasi FB)

I ask you now to stretch the public hand of solidarity to this movement (as was done last Friday in Barcelona). Both out of solidarity for human rights and also for a partnership in struggle with the Basque Country. Some will say that they don’t agree with the path chosen by Patxi Ruiz which led to his arrest. I reply that you don’t have to support that but you SHOULD SUPPORT HUMAN RIGHTS to self-determination, against torture, against beatings in prison and in support of serving one’s sentence near one’s family (remember when the Catalan political prisoners were being held in Madrid?).

Others of you may object that the “dissident” movement is a small one. I would reply that a small movement that will fight is worth much more than a huge one held back by its leaders. Also that the Abertzale Left was once also a small movement.

Some may say that your movement will be accused of being supporters of ETA and you are not. Firstly, ETA no longer exists. Secondly, what is one more accusation thrown at you by Spanish unionists and fascists?

Mass picket in Barcelona on 5th June in solidarity with Patxi Ruiz.
(Photo source: personal)

You should not need me, an insignificant activist though of many years’ experience to be telling you this. The truth is clear in this case. And at this late stage, perhaps even your support will be insufficient to save Patxi’s life. But it would be remembered and would help in forging a unity in action against a common enemy, a unity to which other forces, at the moment more or less quiet, would come and help to break up this fascist State and bring freedom for all. From wherever he is then, I am sure Patxi would thank you. And so would your own people. And many other struggling people around the world.

Dublin 9th June 2020.

 

CARTA OBERTA AL MOVIMENT INDEPENDENTISTA CATALÀ

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Temps de lectura: 5 minuts)

Germans i germanes, salutacions! La vostra valent lluita és ara en pausa. Encara que en la lluita revolucionària és important mantenir l’impuls, de vegades una pausa dóna temps per a la reflexió. Un moment útil per veure què funcionava i què no, per revisar les lliçons apreses fins ara en la lluita i també per comparar amb altres períodes històrics.

NO PODEU GUANYAR SOLS

          És evident per a la majoria de la gent que Catalunya no pot, tal com estan les coses, obtenir la independència només pels seus propis esforços. La població total de Catalunya, aproximadament similar a la d’Irlanda, és gairebé de 7.500.000, mentre que la població de la resta de l’estat espanyol ascendeix a gairebé 45.500.000. Fins i tot amb les poblacions de la resta dels Països Catalans, València, les Illes Balears i Catalunya Nord, les xifres no sumen prou. Ni tampoc tots els catalans estan a favor de la independència, tot i que hi ha una majoria parlamentària que li pot donar suport. Tampoc ha d’ignorar-se l’estat francès, que es troba a la vostra frontera nord i reivindica la dominació sobre la Catalunya Nord.

Els estats francès i espanyol són poderosos i també destacats membres de les aliances econòmiques i militars, entre les quals, en aquest debat, sens dubte destaca la Unió Europea. Molts de vosaltres vau demanar suport a la UE quan l’estat espanyol va enviar les seves forces policials per atacar-vos amb motiu del vostre referèndum d’independència el 2017. Vau rebre la vostra resposta quan el llavors president de la Comissió, Claude Junkers, va afirmar que “no volen una Unió Europea de 99 Estats”, i també va indicar que alguns dels estats membres de la UE podrien enfrontar-se a problemes similars als de l’estat espanyol (en clara referència a França, Itàlia, Regne Unit – en aquell moment – i Bèlgica, estats que inclouen nacions o identitats nacionals en conflicte). La resposta es va repetir quan als eurodiputats Puigdemont i Comin se’ls va impedir durant un període de temps d’entrar al Parlament Europeu.

Aquells de vosaltres que esperàveu de la UE alguna altra cosa vau quedar decebuts, en alguns casos de forma molt amarga. Va ser tan injust. Sí, va ser molt injust… però totalment previsible. La UE és una aliança que no només és capitalista, no només està dominada per un enfocament neoliberal de l’economia, sinó que també està dominada pels Estats imperialistes. I no era d’esperar que fomentés la ruptura d’un d’aquests Estats, fins i tot si haurien preferit que es comportés amb més astúcia i menys força bruta. Per cert, prefereixen l’astúcia a la força bruta no perquè creguin que aquesta última està malament, sinó perquè una vegada que s’ha recorregut a la força bruta, cauen les màscares i després el resultat de l’envit depèn de quin costat té més força. Els governants dels Estats són molt pocs en nombre i els seus partidaris propers també. En canvi, la gent governada constitueix una massa enorme.

Això em torna a la qüestió dels números i com sou d’escassos. Teniu valor i innovacions intel·ligents, però necessiteu aliats. Hi ha molts llocs al món per buscar aliats, però els llocs més evidents i eficaços són els més propers, dins els mateixos estats que us oprimeixen. Ens concentrarem per un moment en el territori del vostre principal opressor aquí: l’estat espanyol.

L’ALIAT MÉS PROPER I EVIDENT

          Si esteu buscant possibles aliats, n’hi ha un de ben evident que ve a la ment: el País Basc. La població d’aquesta nació no és ni la meitat de la vostra, i està molt més dividida que la vostra per la frontera amb l’estat francès. No obstant això, després de la victòria de l’exèrcit feixista de Franco, aquesta petita nació va lluitar contra l’estat espanyol durant tota la dictadura, durant la transició i després. Tot i que els observadors sovint se centren només en el seu vessant armat, es podria dir que la lluita era també, i principalment, social, lingüística, ideològica i sindicalista. Un soci evident, es podria pensar. No obstant això, les coses no han funcionat, fins ara, d’aquesta manera. Sembla interessant analitzar el perquè.

Una de les raons, crec, va ser el rebuig de gran part del moviment independentista català a la vessant armada de la lluita basca, tot i que ja s’havia acabat el 2012. Un dels dirigents catalans exiliats, actualment Eurodiputada, va afirmar públicament que “els catalans no som com els bascos; la nostra lluita és pacífica.” Estava repetint el que molts catalans també han dit sobre el caràcter pacífic de la seva lluita, encara que per descomptat l’insult i l’alienació amb relació a un altre país en dificultats van ser del tot gratuïts.

En primer lloc, fins i tot si la lluita dels catalans per la independència es mantingués pacífica pels segles dels segles amén, això no seria cap raó per rebutjar l’ajuda d’un aliat que, a més, havia abandonat la lluita armada feia ja més de cinc anys. Lamento dir, i no us agradarà admetre, que aquests comentaris distanciant-se dels bascos i del vessant armat de la seva història de resistència tenien com a objectiu fer-se més atractius per a la UE. No va funcionar, com bé sabeu ara, i de fet mai no podria funcionar, perquè és la conseqüència esperable de lluitar per un estat propi al qual la UE s’oposa, independentment dels mètodes utilitzats.

En segon lloc, tant des d’un punt de vista històric com pràctic, és il·lògic comprometre’s (o comprometre el teu poble) per sempre a un únic mètode de lluita. Contradiu la història de Catalunya, així com la història de pràcticament qualsevol altra nació del planeta que s’hagi resistit a una força invasora o colonitzadora. També ignora la història de l’estat espanyol que des dels seus inicis ha estat repressor violent no només de cada poble que ha envaït fora de la península, així com de les nacions dins de les seves actuals fronteres, sinó també de tots els moviments democràtics, liberals i socialistes sorgits d’entre la seva pròpia població. Però deixem de banda de moment aquesta qüestió i tornem a la dels aliats.

Coneixent la història del poble basc, molts el 2017 esperaven que s’hi alcés algun tipus de moviment popular en suport de Catalunya, per pressionar a les forces repressores i augmentar el mal de cap a l’estat espanyol. No va passar. A part d’una o dues manifestacions i missatges de suport, només vam veure el bloqueig per un curt temps d’una de les principals carreteres comercials de l’estat espanyol. Molts van quedar sorpresos, per no dir impactats, per la resposta tan feble d’un moviment que poc abans havia estat capaç de posar desenes de milers de persones als carrers en protesta contra l’estat.

Si els catalans van demanar aquest tipus de suport, o no, és realment el que menys importa. L’oportunitat hi va ser, l’enemic era el mateix, però els dirigents del moviment independentista basc van optar per no actuar.

Vol dir això que els bascos mai no donaran suport a la lluita de Catalunya per la independència? No és això el que penso… però el tema requereix una mica de recerca més profunda.

UN CANVI DE LIDERATGE

          Si aquesta crisi hagués sorgit en els anys 70 o 80, el suport pràctic del País Basc hauria estat enorme i hauria tensat moltíssim a les forces repressores de l’estat espanyol. Potser fins i tot en la dècada de 1990. Al final d’aquesta dècada, però, la majoria dels dirigents de l’esquerra abertzale estaven tractant d’abandonar per complet la lluita armada i van ser atrets pel que van veure com l’èxit dels processos de pau a Irlanda, Palestina (per un curt període) i Sud-àfrica. A diferència dels exemples irlandesos i sud-africans, van dissoldre el costat militar de la seva organització sense obtenir de l’estat espanyol ni una sola cosa a canvi (excepte més repressió). Aviat es va fer evident que l’activitat armada no era l’única forma de lluita a la que estaven renunciant, i que des de llavors es centrarien gairebé de forma exclusiva en el camí electoral.

Sembla lògic fer-se preguntes sobre un lideratge que un dia es va declarar a favor de la independència i el socialisme de tota una nació al voltant de l’euskera, i que ara es conforma amb campanyes electorals en les quals, fins i tot en l’improbable cas de convertir-se en un partit majoritari en una part de la seva nació, encara tindria el seu territori dividit entre dos estats poderosos. Per ridícul que pugui semblar, potser només els venia de gust tornar a tenir “vides normals” i els va faltar coratge per admetre la seva veritable motivació.

Mentrestant, els catalans, ara alçant-se en lluita, tenen unes vides lluny del que es podria considerar “normal”. Les seves organitzacions independentistes s’estan preparant per a la pròxima etapa de la guerra i la seva gent es pregunten en què consistirà aquesta, i si els seus líders tenen la capacitat de prendre les decisions adequades; altres líders a la presó o a l’exili per acusacions manipulades, més de 700 activistes que s’enfronten a càrrecs, i tot això arran de la lluita contra un estat que no ha cedit ni un mil·límetre.

La necessitat d’aliats efectius, en qualsevol cas, és ara encara més gran. Encara hi ha els bascos. Sí, dic això malgrat l’abandonament de la lluita pels líders del seu moviment. Allà el cor de la resistència encara batega, encara que el cap estigui una mica confús i incert.

PELS DRETS HUMANS I LA SOLIDARITAT

          Fa més de quatre setmanes, Patxi Ruiz Romero, un presoner polític basc que podria ser considerat per alguns com ser un “dissident”, va començar una vaga de fam, de la qual 12 dies van ser també una vaga assedegada. Un moviment basc que alguns també consideren “dissident”, el moviment per l’amnistia i contra la repressió, ha mobilitzat protestes públiques en solidaritat amb Patxi Ruiz i dejunis, mítings i marxes han tingut lloc a tot el país Basc, incloent-hi cadascuna de les seves cinc ciutats: Gasteiz / Vitòria, Iruñea / Pamplona, Donosti / Sant Sebastià, Baiona i Bilbo / Bilbao. Tot això ha passat no només sense el suport de la direcció de l’esquerra abertzale, sinó fins i tot amb la seva condemna de la mobilització als carrers. I vosaltres, catalans, sabeu de la importància dels carrers! No és “els carrers seran sempre nostres” un dels eslògans més populars del vostre moviment?

Ara us demano que doneu la mà de la vostra solidaritat amb aquest moviment (com vau fer divendres passat a la concentració de Barcelona). Tant per la solidaritat pels drets humans com per la fraternitat en la lluita amb el País Basc. Alguns direu que no esteu d’acord amb el camí escollit per Patxi Ruiz i que va conduir a la seva detenció. Jo responc que no teniu per què donar suport a aquest camí, però sí que HAURÍEU DE RECOLZAR ELS DRETS HUMANS a l’autodeterminació, contra la tortura, contra les pallisses a la presó i a favor de complir amb la seva sentència a prop de la seva família (recordeu quan els presos polítics catalans van ser detinguts a Madrid?).

Altres podeu objectar que el moviment “dissident” és petit. Jo respondria que un petit moviment que lluita val molt més que un altre de grans, però frenat pels seus propis líders. També respondria que l’esquerra abertzale va ser també, en algun moment, un moviment petit.

Alguns podreu dir que el vostre moviment serà acusat de ser partidari d’ETA, quan no ho sou. En primer lloc, ETA ja no existeix. En segon lloc, quina importància té encara una acusació més contra vosaltres llançada per feixistes i unionistes espanyols?

No hauria de necessitar-me a mi, un militant insignificant encara que amb molts anys d’experiència, per entendre això. La veritat és evident en aquest cas. I a hores d’ara, potser fins i tot el vostre suport serà insuficient per salvar la vida del Patxi. Però seria apreciat i recordat, i ajudaria a forjar una unitat d’acció contra un enemic comú, una unitat a la qual altres forces, en aquest moment més o menys inactives, acudirien i ajudarien a trencar aquest estat feixista i portar la llibertat per a tots. Des d’on estigui en aquell moment, estic segur que el Patxi us ho agrairia. I també el vostre propi poble. I moltes altres persones que estan en lluita arreu del món.

CARTA ABIERTA AL MOVIMIENTO INDEPENDENTISTA CATALÁN

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Tiempo de lectura: 5 minutos)

Hermanos y hermanas, ¡saludos! Vuestra valiente lucha se encuentra ahora en una pausa. Aunque en la lucha revolucionaria es importante mantener el impulso, a veces una pausa da tiempo para la reflexión. Un momento útil para ver lo que funcionó y lo que no, para repasar las lecciones aprendidas hasta ahora en la lucha y también para comparar con otros períodos históricos.

NO PODÉIS GANAR SOLOS

          Está claro para la mayoría de la gente que Catalunya no puede, tal como están las cosas, ganar la independencia solo por sus propios esfuerzos. La población total de Catalunya, más o menos similar a la de Irlanda, supera por poco los 7,5 millones, mientras que la población del resto del Estado español asciende a casi 45,5 millones. Incluso con las poblaciones del resto de los Països Catalans, Valencia, Baleares y Catalunya Nord, los números no suman suficiente. Y tampoco todos los catalanes están a favor de la independencia, aunque la mayoría parlamentaria la pueda apoyar. Tampoco debe ser ignorado el Estado francés, que se encuentra en vuestra frontera norte y reclama el dominio sobre la Catalunya Nord.

Los Estados franceses y españoles son poderosos y también miembros prominentes de las alianzas económicas y militares, entre las que, en lo tocante a esta discusión, destaca sin duda la Unión Europea. Muchos de vosotros pedisteis apoyo a la UE cuando el Estado español envió sus fuerzas policiales para atacaros con ocasión de vuestro referéndum sobre la independencia en 2017. Recibisteis su respuesta cuando el entonces presidente de la Comisión, Claude Junkers, declaró que “no quieren una Unión Europea de 99 Estados” y también indicó que algunos de los estados miembros de la UE podrían enfrentarse a problemas similares a los del Estado español (en clara alusión a Francia, Italia, el Reino Unido – en ese momento – y Bélgica, estados que incluyen naciones o identidades nacionales en conflicto). La respuesta se repitió cuando a los eurodiputados catalanes Puigdemont y Comin se les prohibió durante un período la entrada al Parlamento Europeo.

Aquellos de vosotros que esperabais de la UE algo diferente sufristeis una decepción, en algunos casos muy amarga. Fue tan injusto. Sí, fue muy injusto… pero era totalmente previsible. La UE es una alianza que no sólo es capitalista, no sólo está dominada por un enfoque neoliberal de la economía, sino que también está dominada por Estados imperialistas. Y no se esperaba que alentaran la ruptura de uno de esos estados, aun cuando hubieran preferido que se comportara con más astucia y menos fuerza bruta. Por cierto, prefieren la astucia a la fuerza bruta no porque crean que ésta última está mal, sino porque una vez se ha recurrido a la fuerza bruta, caen las máscaras y entonces el resultado del envite depende de qué lado tiene más fuerza. Los gobernantes de los estados son muy pocos en número y sus partidarios cercanos pocos también. En el otro bando, el pueblo gobernado constituye una enorme masa.

Esto me lleva de nuevo a la cuestión de los números y lo pocos que sois. Tenéis valor e innovaciones inteligentes, pero necesitáis aliados. Hay muchos lugares en el mundo para buscar aliados, pero los lugares más obvios y efectivos son los más cercanos, en los mismos estados que os oprimen. Concentrémonos por un momento en el territorio de su principal opresor aquí: el Estado español.

EL ALIADO MÁS CERCANO Y OBVIO

          Si se buscan aliados potenciales hay uno obvio que viene a la mente: el País Vasco. La población de esa nación no es ni siquiera la mitad del tamaño de la vuestra y está dividida mucho más que la vuestra por la frontera con el Estado francés. Sin embargo, después de la victoria del ejército fascista de Franco, esa pequeña nación luchó una dura lucha contra el Estado español a lo largo de la dictadura, durante la Transición y después. Aunque los observadores a menudo se centran sólo en su vertiente armada, se podría decir que la lucha fue también, y principalmente, social, linguística, ideológica y sindicalista. Un socio obvio, podría pensarse. Sin embargo, las cosas no han resultado, hasta ahora, de esa manera. Parece interesante analizar el por qué.

Una razón, creo, fue el rechazo de gran parte del movimiento independentista catalán a la vertiente armada de la lucha vasca, aunque ya hubiese terminado en 2012. Uno de los líderes catalanes exiliados, por el momento eurodiputada, incluso declaró públicamente que “nosotros los catalanes no somos como los vascos; nuestra lucha es pacífica”. Estaba repitiendo lo que innumerables catalanes han dicho también sobre el carácter pacífico de su lucha, aunque desde luego el insulto y la alienación respecto a otra nación en dificultades fueron gratuitos.

En primer lugar, aunque la lucha de los catalanes por la independencia vaya a ser pacífica por los siglos de los siglos amén, eso no sería razón para rechazar la ayuda de un aliado que, además, había abandonado la lucha armada hacía ya más de cinco años. Lamento decir, y no os gustará admitir, que esos comentarios de distanciamiento de los vascos y de la vertiente armada de su historia de resistencia tenían como objetivo hacerse más atractivos para la UE. No funcionó, como bien sabéis ahora, y de hecho nunca podría funcionar, porque es la consecuencia propia de luchar por conseguir un Estado propio al que la UE se opone, independientemente de los métodos usados.

En segundo lugar, desde un punto de vista tanto histórico como práctico, es ilógico comprometerse para siempre a uno mismo (o a su pueblo) a un solo método de lucha. Contradice la historia de Catalunya, así como la historia de prácticamente cualquier otra nación del planeta que se haya resistido a una fuerza invasora o colonizadora. Ignora también la historia del propio Estado español que desde sus inicios ha sido represor violento no sólo de cada pueblo que ha invadido fuera de la península, así como de las naciones dentro de sus fronteras actuales, sino también de todos los movimientos democráticos, liberales y socialistas que surgieron entre su propia población. Pero dejemos esta cuestión a un lado por el momento y volvamos a la de los aliados.

Conociendo la historia del pueblo vasco, muchos en 2017 esperaban que surgiese allí algún tipo de movimiento popular en apoyo de Catalunya, para presionar a las fuerzas represoras y dar al Estado español un mayor quebradero de cabeza. No sucedió. Aparte de una o dos manifestaciones y mensajes de apoyo, sólo vimos el bloqueo por un breve tiempo de una de las principales autopistas comerciales del Estado español. Muchos quedaron sorprendidos o incluso impactados ante una respuesta tan débil de un movimiento que poco antes había sido capaz de poner a decenas de miles de personas en las calles en protesta contra el Estado.

Si los catalanes pidieron ese tipo de apoyo, o no, en realidad es lo de menos. La oportunidad estaba ahí, el enemigo era el mismo, pero los líderes del movimiento independentista vasco optaron por no actuar.

¿Significa esto que los vascos nunca apoyarán la lucha de Catalunya por la independencia? No es eso lo que pienso… pero el tema requiere una investigación un poco más profunda.

UN CAMBIO DE LIDERAZGO

          Si esta crisis hubiera surgido en los años 70 o 80, el apoyo práctico del País Vasco habría sido enorme y habría tensionado enormemente a las fuerzas represoras del Estado español. Tal vez incluso a principios de la década de 1990. Sin embargo, al final de esa década la mayoría de los líderes de la izquierda abertzale estaban tratando de abandonar por completo la lucha armada y se sintieron atraídos por lo que veían como el éxito de los procesos de pacificación en Irlanda, Palestina (por un corto período) y Sudáfrica. A diferencia de los ejemplos irlandés y sudafricano, disolvieron la vertiente militar de su organización sin obtener del Estado español ni una sola cosa a cambio (excepto más represión). Pronto se hizo evidente que la actividad armada no era la única forma de lucha a la que estaban renunciando, y que a partir de entonces se centrarían casi completamente en el camino electoral.

Parece lógico hacerse preguntas sobre un liderazgo que en su momento se declaró a favor de la independencia y el socialismo de una entera nación en torno al euskera, y que ahora se conforma con campañas electorales en las que, incluso en el muy improbable caso de convertirse en un partido mayoritario en una parte de su nación, todavía tendría su territorio dividido entre dos estados poderosos. Por ridículo que parezca, tal vez sólo tenían ganas de volver a tener “vidas normales” y les faltó valor para admitir su verdadera motivación.

Mientras tanto, los catalanes, ahora alzándose en lucha, tienen vidas lejos de lo que podría considerarse “normal”. Sus organizaciones independentistas se están preparando para la siguiente etapa de la guerra y su gente se pregunta en qué consistirá y si sus líderes tienen la capacidad de tomar las decisiones correctas; otros líderes en la cárcel o en el exilio por acusaciones amañadas, más de 700 activistas que se enfrentan a futuros procesos, y todo ello a raíz de la lucha contra un Estado que no ha cedido ni un milímetro.

La necesidad de aliados eficaces, en todo caso, es ahora mayor. Todavía están los vascos. Sí, lo digo a pesar del abandono de la lucha por los líderes de su movimiento. Allí el corazón de la resistencia todavía late, aunque la cabeza esté algo confusa e incierta.

POR LOS DERECHOS HUMANOS Y LA SOLIDARIDAD

          Hace mas de cuatro semanas, Patxi Ruiz Romero, un preso político vasco que podría ser considerado por algunos un “disidente”, inició una huelga de hambre, durante la cual 12 días fueron también una huelga de sed. Un movimiento vasco que también algunos consideran “disidente”, el Movimiento por la Amnistía y Contra la Represión, ha movilizado protestas públicas en solidaridad con Patxi Ruiz y han tenido lugar ayunos, concentraciones y marchas en todo el País Vasco, incluyendo cada una de sus cinco ciudades: Gasteiz / Vitoria, Iruñea / Pamplona, Donosti / San Sebastián, Baiona / Bayona y Bilbo / Bilbao. Todo esto ha ocurrido no sólo con la falta de apoyo del liderazgo de la izquierda abertzale, sino incluso con su condena de la movilización en las calles. ¡Y vosotros, catalanes, sabéis de la importancia de las calles! ¿No es “Els carres seran sempre nostres” (“Las calles siempre serán nuestras”) uno de los eslóganes populares de vuestro movimiento?

Os pido ahora que tendáis públicamente la mano de vuestra solidaridad con este movimiento (como hicisteis el viernes pasado en la concentración de Barcelona). Tanto por solidaridad por los derechos humanos como por hermandad en la lucha con el País Vasco. Algunos diréis que no estáis de acuerdo con el camino elegido por Patxi Ruiz y que llevó a su arresto. Yo respondo que no tenéis por qué apoyar ese camino, pero sí que DEBERÍAIS APOYAR LOS DERECHOS HUMANOS a la autodeterminación, contra la tortura, contra las palizas en prisión y a favor de cumplir su condena cerca de su familia (¿recordáis cuando los presos políticos catalanes estaban detenidos en Madrid?).

Otros podéis objetar que el movimiento “disidente” es pequeño. Yo respondería que un pequeño movimiento que lucha vale mucho más que otro enorme pero frenado por sus propios líderes. También respondería que la izquierda abertzale fue también, en algún momento, un movimiento pequeño.

Algunos podéis decir que vuestro movimiento será acusado de ser partidario de ETA, cuando no lo sois. En primer lugar, ETA ya no existe. En segundo lugar, ¿qué importancia tiene una acusación más contra vosotros lanzada por fascistas y unionistas españoles?

No deberíais necesitarme a mí, un militante insignificante aunque con muchos años de experiencia, para entender esto. La verdad está clara en este caso. Y a estas alturas, tal vez incluso vuestro apoyo será insuficiente para salvar la vida de Patxi. Pero sería apreciado y recordado, y ayudaría a forjar una unidad de acción contra un enemigo común, una unidad a la que otras fuerzas, en este momento más o menos inactivas, acudirían y ayudarían a romper este Estado fascista y traer la libertad para todos. Desde dondequiera que esté en ese momento, estoy seguro de que Patxi os lo agradecería. Y vuestro propio pueblo también. Y otras muchas personas que están en lucha en todo el mundo.