The 5th of March is the anniversary of the naval Battle of Cape Machichaco (cabo matxitxakoko borroka, in Euskera/ Basque), which took place on 5 March 1937 off Bermeo (Bizkaia province, Basque Country), during the Spanish Anti-Fascist War, between the Spanish Military-Fascist heavy cruiser Canarias and four Basque Navy trawlers escorting a Republican convoy. The trawlers were protecting the transport ship Galdames, which was sailing to Bilbao with 173 passengers.
(The following account of the battle is from Wikipedia; the section titles and comment are mine)
On 4 March, four armed trawlers of the Basque Auxiliary Navy section of the Spanish Republican Navy, Bizcaia, Gipuzkoa, Donostia and Nabarra departed from Bayonne, France. Their intention was to defend Galdames‘s mail, passengers, machinery, weapons, supplies and 500 tons of nickel coins property of the Basque government.
Canarias sailed from Ferrol with Salvador Moreno as the captain, with orders to stop the transport ship. Galdames, which was steaming up with the lights and the radio switched off, and was unknowingly left behind by Bizcaya and Gipuzkoa.
FOUR CONVERTED TRAWLERS AGAINST A BATTLE CRUISER
Next morning, while all the trawlers were watching for Canarias, Galdames rejoined them. Bizcaya‘s captain was Alejo Bilbao, Nabarra‘s Enrique Moreno Plaza from Murcia, and Gipuzkoa‘s Manuel Galdós. The trawlers had the intention of luring Canarias close to the Biscay coast to have the assistance of the coastal batteries.[
The first trawler to spot Canarias was Gipuzkoa, 30 kilometers (19 mi) north of Bilbao. The Basque trawler was hit on the bridge and the forward gun. Return fire from Gipuzkoa killed one Canarias seaman and wounded another. The armed trawler, with five fatalities and 20 injured aboard, managed to approach the coast, where the shore batteries forced Canarias to retreat.
Nabarra and Donostia tried to prevent Canarias from finding Galdames and engaged the cruiser.
Donostia withdrew from the battle after being fired on by Canarias, but Nabarra faced the enemy for almost two hours. She was eventually hit in the boiler and came to a stop; 20 men abandoned the sinking trawler, while other 29 were lost with the ship, including her captain, Enrique Moreno Plaza.
The transport Galdames, which was hit by a salvo from Canarias and lost four passengers, was eventually captured by the military-fascist cruiser.
Gipuzkoa arrived at Portugalete seriously damaged and Bizcaia headed for Bermeo, where she assisted the Estonian merchantman Yorbrook with a load including ammunition and 42 Japanese Type 31 75 mm mountain guns, previously captured by Canarias and released.
Donostia sought shelter in a French port.
The 20 survivors from Nabarra were rescued by the military-fascists and taken aboard Canarias. Instead of the expected hostility and mistreatment, they were given medical assistance, and both the cruiser commander, future Francoist Admiral Salvador Moreno and Captain Manuel Calderón interceded with Franco when the Basque seamen were sentenced to death in retaliation for the shooting of two crewmembers of the armed trawler Virgen del Carmen, captured by Republican sympathizers and diverted to Bilbao in December 1936. The survivors were eventually acquitted and released in 1938.
In contrast, one of the passengers aboard Galdames, Christian Democrat politician Manuel Carrasco Formiguera, from Catalonia, was imprisoned and executed on 9 April 1938.
COURAGE, COWARDICE AND CRUELTY
The story is one of incredible bravery of a number of converted trawlers and their Basque crews, in particular that of the Nabarra and her Captain from Murcia. One account I read related that her Captain consulted his crew and they agreed to fight to the death or the sinking of their ship. Their valour and stubbornness (two qualities which commentators often associate with the Basques) was of such magnitude as to impress even their military-fascist opponents, to the extent of their interceding with Franco to save their lives.
It is also the story of the cowardice of at least the captain of the Donostia.
And of the bestiality of the military-fascists in the execution of a member of the Catalan Governmentreturning to his country with his family, guilty of no crime but to serve his the administration of his elected republican government (one of hundreds of thousands of such crimes of the miiltary-fascists coupists and their victorious regime).
VISIT TO CAPE MATXITXAKO
I visited the land part of the location on a number of occasions in recent years. Access by public transport is by a bus every hour but I was driven by friends.
On a windy promontory on private land I saw one of the shore artillery battery sites (which has had nothing done to conserve it) and, close enough, the monument to the battle. Not far from there is a local bar-restaurant which is popular and a short trip by car, the iconic hermitage of Gastelugatxe. Many tourists visit the area but I wonder how many get to hear of the story.
Thinking of the determination and courage of those crews, not even trained for war, in converted trawlers, facing a trained naval crew of a huge battle cruiser, I am not ashamed to say my eyes fill and my lip trembles.
When Basque independentists celebrated Gudari Eguna this year, the Day of the Basque Soldier, some of the celebrants were affiliates of the Abertzale (Basque pro-Independence) Left while others were supporters of the Basque Nationalist Party, nominally at least and often in reality, political enemies. However, it is not the same day for each.
The PNV (Basque Nationalist Party) commemorates the execution of 42 Basque fighters in one jail by the Franco forces on 28th October in 1937, whilst the Abertzale Left carries out their commemoration a month earlier, on the 27th of September, anniversary of the last executions under Franco (and, officially, in the Spanish state since): ETA martyrs Juan Paredes Manot (Txiki) and Ángel Otaegi Etxeberria, along with three members of FRAP (Revolutionary Antifascist Patriotic Front) Jose Luis Sanchez Bravo, Ramón Garcia Sanz and Humberto Baena, all shot by firing squads in 1975 (despite world-wide protests and riots outside Spanish embassies).
For much of the Abertzale Left, Gudari Eguna commemorates not only the martyrs of the 27th September 1975 but also all those who fought for Basque independence during the Spanish Anti-Fascist War and all who fought for it since, in particular those martyred in the struggle.
But even in agreement on that date and that purpose, there are differences too. For some years now some commemorations have been by supporters of Amnistia Ta Askatasuna (Amnesty and Freedom), who denounce the “Officials” for dropping the demand for an amnesty for political prisoners but also criticise them on many other political and cultural grounds: ceasing to push for the everyday use of Euskera (the Basque language), making political pacts with social democrats, etc.
Increasingly, ATA and the “Officials” find themselves incapable of sharing a commemoration or a platform as the latter move further down the path of accommodation to the Spanish regime, social democracy and the PNV, commemorating police killed, apologising for the ‘crimes’ of the now-defunct Basque armed organisation ETA.
JARKI – A COMPARATIVELY NEW ORGANISATION REJECTING THE ABERTZALE LEFT “OFFICIAL” LEADERSHIP
In Ireland, though they themselves might reject that appellation, the equivalent to ATA would be called “dissident Republicans” and Basques are not as touchy about being counted part of the dissidencia. But one new group has emerged which does reject that term as descriptive of themselves, while at the same time very clearly against the positions of the “Officials” and resolutely for independence and socialism.
This group is called Jarki, (of various meaning: “Resist/ Stand fast/ Push back/ Commit”; the first letter is pronounced like the Spanish “j” or the Irish “ch”).
Among other posters of factions of the Abertzale Left proclaiming Gudari Eguna in the Basque Country this September, I had seen one, very large, side by side with a declaration of position against the subjugation of the Basque nation, for socialism and class struggle. Curiously, there had been no venue advertised for a commemoration ceremony to take place. Was this group, this Jarki, not intending to have one? I made discreet enquiries, someone spoke to someone ….. who perhaps spoke to someone else ….
On Gudari Eguna this year,
27th September, I was met fairly early in the morning by my appointed guide. The mist gathered high upon the marshes and river and in the valleys as we drove higher, eventually coming out on a scenic site, the day cold but the climbing sun burning off the last of the mists. We rendezvoused with other carloads, then drove to another spot and parked. Asked to leave my mobile in the car, I accompanied my hosts on a long walk in unseasonal sun and heat to a field, where a temporary stage had been set up. It was to be a Gudari Eguna event organised by the Jarki organisation.
The security precautions were not excessive. This was taking place in the Spanish state, where fascism had never been defeated but had instead had a paint-over job in order to allow the Western states, after the death of Franco, to pretend it was a democracy. Until a few years ago, detentions of Basques had been like an epidemic, torture by police and army routine and just as routinely ignored by judges who sentenced the prisoners on the basis of their “confessions” or those of others to long years in jail. In contravention of EU and UN protocols for the treatment of prisoners, the political victims of the State had been dispersed to its furthest reaches, far from spouses, children, relatives and friends. And though the armed group ETA had ceased operation in 2012 and was now disbanded, persecution went on: that very month, 45 people of various organisations arrested in 2013, 2014 and 2015 for supporting the prisoners, including psychologists and lawyers, “supporting terrorism” according to the State, had been brought to trial1.
On the way to the rally, I saw many young men and women, in their middle-to-late teens or early twenties and also many others in ages ranging from late 50’s to 80s, also with a sprinkling of young adolescents. In other words, there were hardly any there of raising a family age. The sun was very hot now and I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist and, even so, was soon sweating.
I and one other were provided with a translator to Castillian (Spanish) for the speeches in Euskera – nobody else seemed to need one, a state of affairs that would not be matched in Irish Republican or Socialist circles with regard to our native language.
The heat beat down and I worried about getting sunburned, while at the same time very interested in what was going on. A large dragonfly wheeled above us, hovered a second then shot off. One of the folkloric Basque names for it translates as “Witch’s Needle” but it is important to recognise that in Basque society, sorgina or “witch” does not have the same negative connotations as can be found in much of western society, even today.
“THE STRUGGLE MUST CONTINUE — IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER”
A man perhaps in his 60s took to the stage and recalled his years in guerrilla resistance (i.e in ETA), his capture and the killing of his comrades (one was executed on the spot by the Guardia Civil2). He went on to talk about his yearsbeing dispersed around Spanish jails throughout the territory of the State. Speaking about the historical memory of resistance, the man commented that it was necessary to keep that alive – both of the Antifascist War and of the resistance afterwards.
Euskal Herria3 was still divided and still not free, he continued and therefore the struggle had to continue in one form or another, despite the abandonment of the path of resistance by the current leadership of the Abertzale Left. Similarly the demand had to be maintained not only for an end to dispersal but for an amnesty for political prisoners.
After his speech, a young male bertxolari stepped forward to sing his composition. This is a cultural form of social and/ or political commentary, composed by those skilled in the art to fixed rules of rhyme, length of line and a selection of airs.4
He was followed by an elderly left-wing journalist who, apologising for her inability to speak in Euskara, did so in Castillian (Spanish). She referred to her family’s history of anti-fascist struggle, both in the War and in the resistance that followed the victory of the military-fascist forces. She too spoke about the need to continue resistance to unjust regimes and for the right to self-determination.
The journalist speaker was followed by the performance of another bertxolari, this time a young female.
Last to speak was a young woman, speaking on behalf of the Jarki organisation. She recalled the anti-fascist resistance in the Basque Country in ……….. (a nearby battle during the Anti-Fascist War) and elsewhere, also by ETA in the years following the victory of the military-fascist forces. While others might try to pacify the people and to wind down the resistance, the need for active participation in resistance is as great as ever, she said. The woman ended with the call “Gora Euskal Herria askatatua eta independentzia!” (“Long live a free and independent Basque Country!”), to which all the audience (myself included) responded with a roar of “Gora!”.
The young woman then led the audience with the song Eusko Gudariak (“Basque Soldiers”, similar in content to the Irish national anthem, the Soldiers’ Song), most of us who knew the words or not with raised fists, then a couple of women let out the irrintzi5 yell, raising goose pimples on my skin.
Obviously, given my presence, not all the attendance had been Jarki activists but on the other hand, not all its supporters had been able to come either, I was told on the long walk back to the caron tired leg muscles in the blistering unseasonal heat. I joked that if I’d had my mobile with me I’d have phoned an ambulance. Some cured sausage sandwiches and a few mouthfuls of ardoa (wine) from a traditional wineskin, kindly offered where the vehicles were parked revived me somewhat for the journey back to my pickup point that morning but thankfully, we also stopped on the way for lunch and a cold beer at a Basque bar (for which my attempts to pay were kindly but firmly refused by my other travelling companions).
“MOST OF THE RESISTANCE NEEDS TO BE AT STREET LEVEL”
Later, at an appointment with a Jarki activist, I asked what the relationship with other Basque organisations was, given that his group will not accept the appellation of “dissident” and others will. He told me that they enjoy friendly relationships with a number of other Basque political and cultural organisations that have also broken away from the “Official” leadership. Jarki is a revolutionary socialist organisation for an independent Basque country and in support of the Basque language, he told me. “Although we do not at the moment put forward electoral candidates, we are not necessarily against doing so as a tactic”, he added, speaking quietly. “But the ‘officialistas’ are only interested in the electoral path and we think most of the resistance needs to be at street level”.
The organisation expects a disciplined commitment from its members, for which it also recognises the need for political education, especially of the youth. There had been wide criticism of the lack of this kind of education within the Abertzale Left since the 1990s and earlier, right up to the present.6
“The national independence and socialism of the Basque Country is of benefit to the world and the independence and socialism of other countries is of benefit to our nation,” he said in reply to my question about the issue of internationalist solidarity. He admitted that the representative of Jarki at their Gudari Eguna commemoration had not mentioned that aspect.
CALL FOR RUPTURE WITH THE SPANISH CONSTITUTION
A few days ago, while I was writing this long-overdue piece from contemporary notes, Jarki issued a national call to Basque society (translated by me from a Castillian version): “The Basque working-class people responds with rupture to the Spanish Constitution.”
The Spanish Constitution, despite not being accepted in the Basque Country7, is being imposed upon us. It is a document edited by the Francoists in a pact with the Spanish political parties. This document denies the self-determination of the peoples and besides accords to the military the role of guarantor of the union of Spain.
This Constitution designed the administrative separation of the provinces of the southern Basque Country.8
Faced with this imposition it is more important than ever that the working-class population of the Basque Country creates a revolutionary alternative which should be a political vision to lead the struggle for national construction and liberation and for socialism, the struggle for a united Basque Country, without classes.
For all those reasons we call for the organisation and mobilisation against the imposition, in which the Basque working-class population should follow its own path. Because of all that, we call for participation in the demonstration to take place on 6th December (Spanish Constitution Day) in Durango.
Although they wished to silence us, they will hear us. We have enough reasons. It is time to take to the streets. This people needs a revolutionary alternative.
1The day after 50,000 demonstrated for the right to support the prisoners and in solidarity with those on trial, Basque society was shocked when those charged admitted their “guilt” in exchange for walking free or a maximum sentence of five years’ jail for the “leaders” (instead of the up to 20 years normal from the Spanish court). The reverberations of that – the act of pleading ‘guilt’ itself but also permitting 50,000 to demonstrate in ignorance of the intention — are still travelling through the Abertzale Left and are likely to cost the “Official” leadership, who must have approved or perhaps even brokered the deal, very dearly. In contrast to the 45, another four, leaders of Askapena, Basque organisation for internationalist solidarity, charged with similar ‘crimes’, had fought the case earlier, for which they had won much respect and had beat the charges. Askapena, however, had quietly split from the Abertzale Left some years previously.
2The Guardia Civil is a militarised police force of the Spanish State with a very political role, the most active in the past against the Basque national movement and now similarly against the Catalonian. In addition the Spanish State has the Policía Nacional, also armed and active against movements for self-determination. Each region also has a separate police force, for example the Policía Foral in Nafarroa, the Ertzaintza in Euskadi, Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalonia, etc. And there are urban police forces too in every town or village.
3Meaning “the country where they speak Basque”, the term is now used to describe the whole Basque nation of seven provinces, three currently within the French state and four within the Spanish territory. “Euskadi”, the former term, now only describes the “Basque Authority” area of three provinces: Bizkaia, Alava and Gipuzkoa.
4This cultural form, at one time perhaps in danger of dying out, has become very popular and national competitions are broadcast on the Basque TV network. I have witnessed two bertxolari given pieces of paper laying out their respective roles (for example an Irish landlord and a Polish tenant) and, minutes later, engage in a battle of bertxos (verses) which had a Basque audience in roars of laughter and appreciation for the wit and skill of each. Close attention is paid by Basque listeners to bertxolari which, for a nation not culturally given to admiration for the song of the single voice (unless they can join to sing along), is truly remarkable. The Irish “comhrá beirte” is a similar performance art form but much less developed, certainly now, in Irish tradition.
5It is a long ullulating or yodelling cry, by males or females, said to be a call to war or to encourage Basques while fighting (it was also the name of a short-lived Basque resistance organisation functioning in the “French” Basque provinces). Such calls are common for communication of different kinds among mountain people, the sound carrying from one mountain to another and echoing but curiously enough it is also a feature of Arab culture in the desert and of some Native Americans. Example with a commentary in Castillian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcSaW6JUnUc
6That this has been neglected for decades in the Abertzale Left is a fact admitted even by many who remain within the “official” line.
7The Spanish Constitution was presented on a “take it or leave it” basis during the Transition period after the death of Franco, with much violence from police and fascist organisations and the fear of a return to the full-blown fascist dictatorship. The Spanish Communist Party with its huge and then militant trade union, Comisiones Obreras and the social-democratic PSOE, with its smaller Unión General de Trabajadores, were both legalised on condition they supported the monarchist and unitary state Constitution. In such circumstances it was hardly surprising that the referendum on 6th December 1978 brought in a huge majority for the Constitution – but not in the Basque Country, where it was rejected.
8Three of the four southern provinces, i.e those currently within the Spanish State, are under one regional government administration while the fourth, Nafarroa, has its own.
All kinds of socialists deride nationalism, as do some republicans. It is often seen as a recruiting base for fascism, for imperialism and the cause or justification for war. Indeed it has been all those things. And yet …. Perhaps the way in which nationalism has been viewed by the Left and Republicans is one-sided and its progressive potential overlooked. And perhaps taking a look at Basque, Catalan and Irish nationalism can demonstrate this.
Was James Connolly1 being reactionary when he upheld the rights of the Irish nation to separation from the United Kingdom, to self-determination? Was Thomas Davis being reactionary when he composed the words
Recently I began to question some of the criticisms of nationalism politically while at the same time I had struggled with them culturally for much longer. A few people may say that it matters nothing to them whether they are Irish, Italian or Iraqi. But most Irish people identify themselves quite strongly as “Irish”. I think that is primarily a cultural question. They have accents, sayings and history they share, character flaws and positive aspects, heroes, songs, poems, writers …. It is not the same for everyone but some of those aspects, in some kind of mix, are there for each person who identifies themselves as Irish. And of course, the sadly neglected Irish language. I don’t believe identifying oneself as Irish (or Icelandic, Iranian or Indonesian) makes one any less an internationalist.
“OK,” the socialist and the republican might say, especially the socialist, “but what does that matter? You can have regional cultures too. They do not detract from the fact that we are all socialists, fighting for the working class everywhere.”
And I would agree.
But the socialist is not finished. “It’s a different matter entirely when you elevate that cultural distinction to a political one, which is nationalism. That creed puts your nation above others and is a breeding ground for fascism and war and, in powerful nations, for imperialism.”
He has a strong case – but we’ll see.
Fascism is on the rise all across Europe and many other parts of the world and we see signs of its resurgence here in Ireland, with discourses against migrants, moslems and social freedoms on the rise. The fascists and the racists working among those discourses are indeed using nationalism as a cover and at the same time as some kind of a base. Recently, supporting Gemma Doherty, they were playing the Soldiers’ Song and Irish Republican ballads and they were waving the Tricolour. Some of them approached the antifa opposing them, asking questions like “Are we not all Irish?” 3
Now, as it happens, the national flag, the Tricolour, is not only about inclusiveness, i.e of a unity (white) between the descendants of colonists (orange) with those of the indigenous (green), but was also made by foreigners and presented by them to the Irish. It was in fact republican women of Paris, which was then amid revolution, who presented it to Thomas Francis Meagher in 1848.
Of the heroes and martyrs mentioned in the ballads, many were born outside of Ireland, including two of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence: Tom Clarke and James Connolly. Constance Markievicz too was born in England, daughter of a colonist family in Ireland; Wolfe Tone and Henry Joy McCracken, Republican leaders and martyrs of the 1798 United Irish uprising, were descendants of French Protestants. Many too were the sons of a non-Irish parent, such as Thomas Davis, whose father was Welsh and Patrick and William Pearse, whose father was English., also Eamonn De Valera, son of a Cuban father. The man who organised the sea journey to Howth with German Mausers as illicit cargo for the Irish Volunteers in 1914, Erkine Childers, was English and his wife and one of his crew, Molly, was from the USA.
On the other hand, those who made the deal with the British ruling class after years of liberation struggle were Irish — in 1921 they paralysed the revolutionary struggle, agreed to the partition of the country and in 1922 set out, even using artillery on loan from the British, to slaughter their opposition, their former comrades who wished to continue the revolution. Childers, the English gun-runner to Howth, joined the IRA in the War of Independence and in the Civil War, during which the new Irish State executed him.
The conservative forces, political and religious, that were the base of the new state and gave rise to the Civil War, had a kind of nationalism but it was quite weak. Most of Ireland became part of the British Dominions4, owed allegiance to the British Crown and “God Save the King” continued to be played at state occasions even while the Tricolour waved overhead. And it was from that seedbed that Irish fascism sprung for the first time, in the form of the Army Comrades Association, popularly known as “The Blueshirts”.
And because this fascism came from what was perceived as a State that had sold out the struggle to the foreign oppressing power, the Irish Republican movement found itself obliged to fight it and did so. From the most anti-communist right-wing Republicans to the most left-wing, they fought the fascists with publicity and physically, with fists and boots and, occasionally, with pistol shots. Socialists and democrats fought them too but it was the Republican-nationalist Government of Fianna Fáil5 that banned the Blueshirt march intended to lead to a coup and forced the organisation to back down, after which, despite enthusiastic support of the Catholic Church hierarchy, it did not again pose a serious threat of assuming state power.
Since those years and particularly since the end of WWII, Irish society has been on the whole anti-fascist in sentiment and the Irish Republican movement, with some exceptions, particularly so.
It seems to me, upon reflection, that although much of this sentiment is based on democratic and even socialist ideals, it is also, in part, a defence of Irish nationalism, a deep-seated wish for independence and self-determination, a memory that fascism in Ireland serves British domination.
And not only a memory but current reality: British Loyalism in Ireland, the militant force that garrisons and underpins colonial possession of the Six Counties (one-sixth of the area of Ireland) by Britain, is extremely reactionary. Apart from the numerous links with British (and even European) fascist groups over the years, Loyalism is deeply socially and politically reactionary. British Loyalism in Ireland is opposed to immigration, has been implicated in racist attacks on migrants, is opposed to any state recognition of the Irish language or civil rights for people of Catholic background, in addition to being against the struggles of the Palestinians, Basques, Catalans; also to gay rights and to the right to choose abortion.
SPAIN AND “THE RISE OF THE RIGHT”
In another part of Europe, there is a state which had experienced a military-fascist coup and war, after which it suffered four decades of fascist repression. Spain, after the death of the dictator Franco, went through a supposed Transition to democracy but the fascists remained in their positions of power which they handed down to their sons and daughters, these making room for a few social-democratic climbers at the table.
The November 10th elections this year in the Spanish State saw the rise, it is being widely said, of the far-right. It would seem so on the surface but one needs to understand that all the parties of the Right in the Spanish state have their origins in the Dictatorship: the allegedly “conservative” Partido Popular was created by followers of Franco; the allegedly “centre-right” Ciudadanos was formed by deserters of the Partido Popular, while the “ultra-Right” Vox was formed by deserters of Partido Popular and of Ciudadanos. There is in fact little political difference between those who vote for different parties of the Right and certainly none between those who voted for Ciudadanos before and those who have now voted for Vox. Most of the trumpeted “rise of the Right” in the Spanish territory is in fact a re-allocation of votes from one right-wing quasi-fascist Spanish party to another, rather than an increase of votes for fascism. Of course, that does not at all mean that there is no danger to popular and democratic forces but still …..
Viewing the rise of those votes for Vox and their pattern across the territory of the Spanish State, one can see that Catalonia and the Basque Country remain untouched, as any map of voting results will show. Basque and Catalan independentists tend to be proud of this, no doubt justifiably so but perhaps there is a danger here too. Do they think that at base, Basque and Catalan people are superior to those in the rest of the Spanish state? If so, they should think again …. and think deeply.
The Basque Country was, until the military-fascist coup, ruled by deeply conservative and Catholic elites. When Franco and the other Generals struck with German Nazi and Fascist Italian assistance in 1936, of the four Basque provinces within the territory, only two unequivocally decided to fight it: Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa. Alava’s resistance was half-hearted and in Nafarroa, the conservative Carlists wiped out three thousand socialists, anarchists and democrats and joined the fascist-military forces.
Until very recently, the Nafarroan regional government has been dominated by the UPN, a Basque version of the Partido Popular and, after a brief interval, they are in power again. The other three southern Basque provinces have a separate regional government which, for most of its existence, has been in the hands of the right-wing Basque Nationalist Party and the only time it has not, has been a brief period under the Basque version of the Spanish social-democratic party, the PSOE.
In 1936 the attempt to bring Catalonia into the fascist-military side was only prevented by a workers’ uprising and actual street battles. After the death of Franco Catalonia was also run, until very recently, by right-wing Catalan forces which, not so long ago, sent its regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, to beat social and economic protesters off the streets and to shoot them at close range with rubber bullets, causing around a dozen young men and women to lose an eye.
On the other hand, the regional Government of Andalusia, now seen as a stronghold of the Vox party, has been ruled by the social-democratic PSOE from the moment the region had democratic elections after the Transition. However years of corruption and lack of concern for the fate of working people and high unemployment in the region has whittled away the electoral lead of the PSOE until this year, when Vox and Ciudadanos were able to combine and to take over the regional government.
FOR NATION, AGAINST FASCISM
Within both Catalonia and the Basque Country, independentist forces, which is to say, those of a nationalist and republican motivation, have evolved to be led by groups espousing left-wing ideology. Generally, the young activists and supporters are atheist or agnostic, anti-racist, liberal socially and environmentally conscious. But they also defend their language, enjoy their cultural expressions and either support independence or at least the right to self-determination. The opposition of these forces to fascism seems to me to rest on two pillars: 1) left-democratic ideology and 2) defence of the nation.
Similarly to the case of Ireland, those of unionist ideology and opposed to self-determination in Catalonia and the Basque Country tend to be on the Right with a fascist core and the major support for those fascists and unionists comes directly from the Spanish State through its police, military and judicial systems, as well as from fascist groups mobilised from outside Basque and Catalan territories. English and English-colonist nationalism tends to be based on colonial and imperialist history and thinking, to be reactionary and even fascist, features which it shares with Spanish nationalism, with the added factor that the forces creating and managing the Spanish state in its current form have been actually fascist and fascist-collusive.
I have therefore come to the conclusion that Basque, Catalan and Irish people are no better than anyone else fundamentally, including the English and the Spanish, but that the conditions governing the development of their culture and their resistance to foreign occupation and domination have given rise to a different kind of nationalism. This nationalism tends to be progressive, democratic, inclusive and anti-fascist …. and is playing a progressive role in the world.
1James Connolly (1868-1916), born into the Irish diaspora in Edinburgh, is considered by many the foremost revolutionary socialist thinker in western Europe in his time but he was also a trade union organiser, founder of political parties, journalist, historian, author and song-writer. He was a co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army, the first worker’s army in the world, which also recruited women on an equal basis.
2A Nation Once Again, published in The Nation, by Thomas Davis (1814-1845), Irish Republican journalist and song-writer.
3Protest of racist campaigner Gemma Doherty against proposed restrictions on “hate speech” at the Irish Department of Justice, Stephens’ Green, Dublin at the beginning of November this year.
4This however changed in 1937 with De Valera’s new Bunreacht (Constitution) which declared the Irish State to be a Republic and the Articles 2 and 3 of which laid claim to the Six Counties (overturned in 1999).
5A 1926 split from Sinn Féin on the issue of occupying seats in the Dáil (the Irish Parliament), it grew quickly and was soon elected to government (1932) and, as the preferred party of the native Irish capitalist class, has been in government more years than any other Irish political party. Despite its Republican origins and rhetoric, it continued to support the capitalist-Catholic Church alliance of its predecessor until very recently, when it criticised abuses by the Church of those in its care and failure to pay adequate compensation.
Conspiracy theorists get laughed at which, since some of the theories are indeed laughable, seems fair enough. Conspiracy deniers, on the other hand, get an easy time of it, which is a pity – because there are conspiracies going on. All of the time.
Then there’s simple convergence of interests, which give rise to conspiracies but can also operate independently.
A current example of convergence of interests: The EU and all its constituent governments decide that the struggle between Catalonia and the Spanish State is an internal matter for the Spanish ruling class and can they please sort it out without dragging most of Europe into the mess? In fact, if they don’t sort it out, it endangers a number of key players in the EU and, inevitably, the EU itself.
As the current President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Junker reminded everyone on the question of Catalonian independence in 2017, there are member states of the EU other than the Spanish one that are vulnerable to the same kind of ‘problem’, i.e that of a bid for separation and independence of some part (or parts) of the state in question.
And if we look at Europe outside the Spanish State, we can see what he might have meant. There’s the French state, which contains within it three provinces out of the seven of the Basque Country, a part of Catalonia, also Brittany, Occitania and Corsica. Each of those regions was at one time an independent kingdom or part of a kingdom other than that of France; each also has its own language and each has struggled against French domination at some time or other.
Italy is a state with huge differences between its north and south, a composite of many different parts that did not come under one state rule even formally until 1871, at which time the spoken language of one region could hardly be understood in another. And there is Sardinia, still with its own language and currently engaged in another struggle for independence.
The UK is in the process of ceasing to become part of the EU now but it is still a part of the pattern of alliances (and hostilities) that forms part of modern Europe. And the UK contains the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, not long out of the three-decades guerrilla war, also Scotland with a strong popular movement for independence. In addition the Celtic nation of Wales was subjugated but still has a strong language movement and there are some stirrings of nationalism in the Celtic nation of Cornwall.
Belgium is a united state but containing the French-speaking Waloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemish and, although both languages are officially recognised, as polities, the two groups don’t get on very well together.
Even the separation of Catalonia from the Spanish State’s territory on its own would be bad enough from the point of view of EU leaders – but it could also precipitate the separation of the four southern Basque provinces, also of Galicia and Asturies. Which would certainly attract the interest of the southern regions of the French state.
In summary then, a successful bid for independence by Catalonia would start an “infection” (which is what Borrell, the Spanish Foreign Minister to the EU called Catalan independentism) which has the potential to cause the breakup of a number of major and medium states of the EU. And Junker also said that he didn’t want “an EU of ninety-nine states”. Of course not, such a union would be very difficult for the big European states to dominate and, in fact, those same European states would not be so big any more.
Conspiracy? Probably not – just convergence of interests. The ruling elites would have no need to get together, decide what they wanted their politicians to do, then have their various ministers sit down, formulate the policy of each state, have the foreign ministers of each get together and then inform the managers of the EU. The politicians have been trained and schooled, they know in general what their ruling elites want, without having to be told. They would react to Catalonian independence almost instinctively – with rejection. They view nationalism and independence, if it breaks up a rival power (such as the Eastern Bloc), as a good thing – but not in their own group!
THE USA IRAN-CONTRA CONSPIRACY
However, conspiracies do indeed happen, of course they do – and often. We have just passed by the anniversary of a key point in one huge one, the point when the “Iran-Contra” scandal began to break, in early November 1986. And President Reagan of the USA said that “the speculation that the US has sold arms to Iran has no foundation”, which was of course a lie. Basically, the US sold arms to the fundamentalist theocratic regime in Iran but, due to a US Congress embargo on such exports there, had to do it through Israel. They did so for two reasons, one for money to fund a military terrorist campaign against the government of Nicaragua which the US Congress would not approve, second in order to seduce the Iranian military (as they have done with the Egyptian military) and having them overthrow the Iranian regime. And the US wanted the Nicaraguan revolutionary government overthrown because it was not aligning itself with US foreign policy in what the USA considers its back yard (and a major source of raw materials) and also because a successful state of the type which Nicaragua was (then) would provide a ‘bad example’ to the other states of Latin America.
The Israeli Zionist ruling elite went for the deal because they too hoped the Iranian military would overthrow the theocratic regime and bring Iran back under the western-imperialist umbrella, as it once had been so secure that the CIA had its HQ for the whole Middle East located right there (and got caught with its pants down, or its secret documents in the process of shredding). And besides, the USA is the No.1 supporter of the Israeli Zionist regime in the world (another example of convergence of interests).
But despite the convergence of interests between the ruling elites of the USA and Israel, along with former Nicaraguan military, right-wing groups (for terrorist personnel) and US client regimes such as Honduras (for Contra bases) and Panama (for drug money to also fund the Contras, apparently through the CIA to sell in California – another conspiracy theory), a conspiracy was necessary to execute the operation. This was because of the unusual nature of the arms deal, its illegality according to US (and presumably Israeli) law and the number of partners involved. And the silent complicity of the US mass media was necessary, at least until a CIA plane delivering weapons was shot down by Nicaraguan forces over their territory and an operative, Eugene Hasenfus, captured alive.
A COMMON KIND OF CONSPIRACY
Another example of conspiracy is that of price-fixing between big companies on given products. There have been a number of these exposed over the years. A conspiracy is necessary in this case because normally, the interest of big companies is to increase their share of the market over that of the competition. But at times, they perceive that it is in their joint interests to cease cutting one another’s throats and to regulate the prices of their products by agreement among themselves. Not only is this illegal in most administrations but it runs counter to the philosophy of capitalism, i.e that competition, instead of the cooperation advocated by socialists, is good for society. The fact that price-fixing is out of the norm of capitalism requires coming to formal agreement between the participants and the fact that it is illegal and undermines capitalist propaganda, requires secrecy – hence conspiracy.
However, most of what goes on in the world when government or other reactionary elements cooperate is probably just the result of convergence of interests, easily recognised by the participants.
A CONVERGENCE OF VERY DIFFERENT INTERESTS
Generally speaking, it is when their partnerships are put under pressure that the established convergence begins to crack; when one partner or another decides that the price of remaining in it is too high or that it’s time for sauve qui peut (everyone for himself). What can achieve that level of pressure is another kind of convergence of interests, that of the masses of wage-earners, small business people, peasants and indigenous people, recognising that by acting together, they can overthrow the existing system and set up an alternative that corresponds to their needs.
When ETA, the armed Basque Left pro-Independence group) abandoned armed resistance and decommissioned its weapons, many wondered at the absence of public dissent among its ranks. A dissident trend did appear in the Basque pro-independence movement but it took longer than it had in Ireland; it is in existence now and growing.
In using the term “dissident”, a description not always accepted by those to whom it is applied, I mean those who disagree with the direction taken by the leadership of the organisation and who have therefore separated themselves from the organisation. It becomes a problematic term when it is implied that the “dissidents” have diverged from the original path – on the contrary, those who have left the organisation would say, it is the leadership which has left the path and it is those being called “dissidents” who remain on the “true path”.
In the Basque pro-independence movement, as in the Irish Republican movement, the “dissidents” are in a minority but that should not be taken to mean that those who have remained within the “official” movement are in complete agreement with the leadership nor happy with the state of affairs within the movement. Indeed, within the Izquierda Abertzale (Basque Left pro-Independence movement), many are very unhappy indeed. Some do not agree with alliances with social democrats or attempted with the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party), others with complete disarmament, some with disarmament without concessions in return, yet others with particular decisions at various junctures (such as pleading guilty to “terrorism” when the work they had been doing was nothing of the sort, as happened recently in the mass trial of prisoner solidarity activists arrested back in 2013). Or with “apologising to the victims” as the Spanish State has been pressing on prisoners and detainees (the Spanish State of course apologises for nothing, neither the fascist-military uprising of Franco and company, nor the Dictatorship of almost four decades, nor executions, nor recent torture).
There were splits enough in the Irish Republican movement even soon after the Civil War but they also came thick and fast in the early 1970s, out of which grew the Provisionals (Sinn Féin and PIRA) and the IRSP and INLA, leaving Official Sinn Féin and OIRA as a rapidly-diminishing and eventually disintegrating remainder. Another split came about as a result of the electoral path of Provisional SF in 1986, out of which came Republican Sinn Féin. But it was the Good Friday Agreement and its effects which caused the most splits and desertions from the ranks of the Provisionals, leading to the creation of a number of organisations over time: éirigi, 32 County Sovereignty Movement, 1916 Societies, Saoradh and others.
POLITICAL PRISONERS, IRELAND & BASQUE COUNTRY
Most unfortunately, the number of Republican organisations led also to a number of political prisoner support groups and currently there are three main ones: Cabhair (RSF), Cogus (mainly 32 CSM) and Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association (mainly Saoradh).
In the Basque movement, the Izquierda Abertzale, although there were the abiding split has come over the issue of the Republican prisoners. The traditional line of the IA has always been that the prisoners, whether captured ETA volunteers or political activist victims of repression, are political prisoners. It follows that they should be released in any settlement of the Basque national question. But in the meantime, if prisoners, they should be kept in prisons near their homes so that they can be visited without too much difficulty by relatives and friends. That is not only a humane principle but is underwritten by EU and UN policy recommendations on the treatment of prisoners. The Spanish State, however, keeps its political prisoners dispersed throughout its territory, hundreds and even a thousand kilometres away from the family and friends of the prisoners (as does the French State). This is not only an additional punishment on the prisoners, one which was not a specified part of their sentence but also – and perhaps principally – on their relatives, children, partners and friends.
The organisation Amnistia (Gestoras pro Amnistia) was created in 1970 within the movement to agitate for a total amnesty for the prisoners. As is usual with the Spanish State, in 2002 it banned this organisation also as one “assisting terrorism”, threatened its activists with prison and the organisation ceased to exist publicly, their trial beginning in 2008. The State’s outlook was fully expressed in the infamous statement of the former judge and overseer of torture but so beloved of liberals, Baltazar Garzon: “Everything is ETA”.
The organisation of relatives of prisoners on the movement’s “official” list, Etxerat (Homeward) continued to exist and to organise visits, share information and agitate about the prisoners’ treatment but it is not a political organisation as such, which is difficult to combine with welfare work.
To carry out the specifically political work around the prisoners, the organisation Herrira (to the Homeland) was created some years ago. The Spanish State reacted in the usual manner and arrested a number of its activists – for “assisting terrorism”, of course. After that, it was noted that the official line had changed – while not specifically abandoning the call for amnesty, now only the call for and end to dispersalwasheard (along with of course the repatriation of seriously or terminally-ill political prisoners).
LEADERSHIP CHANGE IN LINE AND DISSIDENCE
The change in line, the dropping of the demand for amnesty, led to the creation of a new Amnestia, but with the addition of Ta Askatasuna (and Freedom), this time in the hands of “dissidents”. The “oficialistas”, the current leadership of the main body of the pro-independence movement, Otegi, EH Bildu etc, say this is pure opportunism on the part of the dissidents, who are expressing their disagreement with the abandonment of armed struggle and dissolution of ETA by seizing on the issue of amnesty for political prisoners. They could be right, of course, at least in part. But unlike the leadership of SF and PIRA, the Basque “oficialistas” got no deal whatsoever for their prisoners.
Recently, a significant part of their youth section Ernai left the “oficialistas” and maintains a working relationship with the new ATA. Their issue was that they had prepared a position paper for discussion at the annual congress and the “oficialistas” had refused to permit it to be discussed, since it was critical of current leadership positions.
Another group, Jarki, is revolutionary, socialist, for independence, internationalist and in defence of the language and has been organising.
Apart from those three trends, there also exist anti-authoritarian, ecological etc trends that owe no allegiance to the official leadership of the movement. These are national in the sense that they are spread across the Basque Country and also in that they speak and write in Euskera (Basque language); they are also for social justice, feminist, anti-racist and anti-sexuality discrimination.
It remains to be seen to what degree these various trends will coalesce and whether the “official” movement will continue to see defections from its ranks.
Introduction: The Spanish State requires the Basque resistance to repent. The State refused Basque independence and suppressed the movement for self-determination and the language, arrested and tortured its activists. In response ETA (Basque Homeland and Freedom) was created and for nearly a decade carried out no armed action until finally it killed an armed policeman when stopped at a checkpoint (the activist was also killed in the incident) and later also the police chief in charge of tortures. Years of struggle and repression added hundreds of Basque prisoners to Spanish (and French) jails, dispersed all over the state.
The Spanish State in more recent years insisted at first that in order for the repression to end, that ETA would have to end its armed activity. ETA did so in 2010 but successively the State insisted on decommissioning of arms, then disbandment of the organisation (which ETA did in 2017 and 2018 respectively), then that its prisoners and Basque leaders apologise for their armed actions. Most of the prisoners still refuse to do that and serve out their sentences or die in jail – but some of the leadership outside have done so, including taking part in commemorations of some of the agents of the Spanish State killed by ETA. Meanwhile, the Spanish State considers it a terrorist-law crime to commemorate the fallen fighters of ETA who died in prison or were gunned down by the forces of the State.
So …. this is on behalf of those who have apologised and those who are planning to.
WE REPENTEVERYTHING, SPANISH STATE!
We repent everything … everything! We beg your forgiveness for all that we have done – we have been like bad children in the face of your goodness. Even worse – much worse!
It’s difficult to know where to start ….
Firstly, we repent having come to this land before you, with our own language that was not even Indo-European. What arrogance! What an insult to your rightful sovereignty! Not even the Moors of Al Andalus, with their lofty science and their pretentious toleration of all religions, had the arrogance to arrive before you. We beg your forgiveness.
We are sorry also for having fought for the independence and rights of the Kingdom of Navarra and for even having supplied some of your early royal families. Again, what arrogance! We beg your forgiveness once more.
We regret not having participated wholeheartedly in your rightful, restrained and proportionate Inquisition. We heartily repent leaving so many witches unburned. Please, please forgive us for that, though in truth it was unpardonable.
And throughout, still speaking that language, probably the oldest in Europe! What shameful arrogance. What lack of gratitude for the Indo-European language you offered us!
We regret – oh, how we regret! — having stood against that wonderful, righteous and Christian leader, Generalisimo Franco. We find it hard to believe now that we had the arrogance to stand with a government elected by the people against the rightful military intervention of the Four Generals and especially his exalted self, General Franco. What could we have been thinking of? How right he was to have his German allies – may they be blessed! — bomb Gernika (sorry, Guernica)!
We apologise for those priests, monks and nuns who did not embrace the Christian Crusade of the Caudillo and the Spanish hierarchy, who persisted in defending the indefensible ideas of nationhood, of giving aid to prisoners and in teaching our accursed language. Of course it was right to shoot some of them – they should all have been shot!
We feel ashamed and deeply repent that even after Franco and his troops showed us the correct way — having had to shoot thousands to do it – that we continued to speak that unChristian language and to teach it in secret in houses, even when you had lawfully forbidden it.
We humbly apologise for the industrial strikes we have carried out in protest against your wise guidance and are very sorry that we forced you to shoot or imprison us.
We can hardly continue, we are so choked with grief and yet must do so; we beg your indulgence, for in some ways, our worst is to come.
On bended knee — no, prostrate on the ground – we beg your forgiveness for having formed the organisation “Land and Freedom”. To have banded together to spread ideas of independence and socialism – independence from you! Atheistic socialism! Your police were quite right to hound us, arrest, torture us and even shoot us. But did we learn? No – instead we took up arms! Against the Power in the land!
For our newspapers that you rightly banned, for our radio stations you rightly shut down; for our activists you rightly forced to confess and jailed, for our other activists who had the temerity to flee so that you had to send assassination squads after them into another state’s administration; for the disgraceful conduct of relatives of people imprisoned who traveled hundreds of kilometres to visit them and had the temerity to campaign for an end to their dispersal; for the prisoners who continued to resist and those who had the arrogance to shame you by ending their own lives; for the refugees whom you had to pursue to Latin America, to Canada and to states of Europe; for continuing to speak that accursed language, for singing it and for even developing an art form of impromptu dialogues in it …..
For all of that, we repent, we apologise, we humbly beg your forgiveness, even though we know we are not worthy of it.
If you allow us, in your benevolence and forbearance, undeserving as we are, although we know we can never achieve it properly and will be but pale imitations, we will try – really, really try – to become like you.
NOS ARREPENTIMOS DE TODO, ESTADO ESPANOL!
Lo arrepentimos de todo … pero detodo! Pedimos vuestro perdón por todo lo que hemos hecho, hemos sido como niños malos ante su bondad. Aún peor, mucho peor!
Es difícil saber por dónde empezar …
En primer lugar, lamentamos haber llegado a esta tierra antes que ustedes, con nuestro propio lenguaje que ni siquiera era indoeuropeo. Qué arrogancia! Qué insulto a vuestra soberanía legítima! Ni siquiera los moros de Al-Andalus, con su gran ciencia y su pretendida tolerancia a todas las religiones, tuvieron la arrogancia de llegar antes que ustedes. Pedimos perdón.
Arrepentimos también haber luchado por la independencia y los derechos del Reino de Navarra e incluso por haber proporcionado algunas de sus familias reales. Otra vez, qué arrogancia! Pedimos vuestro perdón una vez más.
Lamentamos no haber participado de manera sincera en vuestra Inquisición legítima, moderada y proporcionada. Lamentamos profundamente dejar muchas brujas y herejes sin quemar. Por favor, perdónenos por ello, aunque, en en realidad, es imperdonable.
Y encima, hablando este idioma vasco, probablemente el más antiguo de Europa! Qué vergonzosa arrogancia. Qué falta de gratitud por la lengua indoeuropea que nos ofrecisteis!
Lamentamos – oh, como lo lamentamos! – habernos mantenido en contra de ese maravilloso, justo y cristiano líder, el Generalísimo Franco. Nos resulta difícil creer ahora que teníamos la arrogancia de apoyar a un gobierno elegido por la gente contra la legítima intervención militar de los Cuatro Generales y sobre todo su exaltado persona, el general Franco. En que podíamos haber estado pensando? ¿Que acertado estuvisteis con sus aliados alemanes – ! benditos sean! – en bombardear a Gernika (perdoname, Guernica)!
Nos disculpamos por nuestros sacerdotes, monjes y religiosas que no aceptaron la cruzada cristiana del Caudillo y la jerarquía Española, que persistieron en la defensa de las ideas indefendibles de la nacionalidad, de dar ayuda a los prisioneros y de enseñar nuestro idioma torpe. Por supuesto, era correcto disparar a algunos de ellos: todos debían de haber sido fusilados!
Nos sentimos avergonzados y profundamente arrepentidos de que, incluso después que Franco y sus tropas nos mostraran el camino correcto — habiendo tenido que disparar miles para ello — seguimos hablando de esta lengua no cristiana y la enseñamos en secreto en las casas , incluso cuando había estado ya prohibido legalmente.
Humildemente nos disculpamos por las huelgas industriales que hemos llevado a cabo en protesta contra vuestra sabia dirección y lamentamos mucho haberles obligado a dispararnos o encarcelarnos.
Apenas podemos continuar, estamos tan abrumados por el dolor y, sin embargo, debemos hacerlo; rogamos su indulgencia, porque de alguna manera, nuestro peor final ha llegado.
De rodillas – no! postrado en el suelo! – le pedimos perdón por haber formado la organización “Tierra y Libertad”. Reunirse para difundir ideas de independencia, socialismo –¡independencia de ustedes! ¡Socialismo ateo! Su policía tenía toda la razón para perseguirnos, arrestarnos y torturarnos e incluso dispararnos. Pero, ¿aprendimos? No, en cambio tomamos las armas! ¡Contra el poder de la tierra!
Para nuestros periódicos que con tanta razón prohibisteis, para nuestras estaciones de radio cerrados correctamente, para nuestros activistas a los que con razón obligasteis confesar y encarcelar, para nuestros otros activistas que tuvieron la temeridad de huir, por lo que tuvisteis que enviar escuadrones de asesinatos en la tierra de otro estado, por la vergonzosa conducta de familiares de personas encarceladas que viajaron cientos de kilómetros para visitarlos y tuvieron la temeridad de hacer campaña para poner fin a su dispersión, por los prisioneros que continuaron resistiendo y los que tenían la arrogancia para avergonzarles por poniendo fin a sus propias vidas, a los refugiados que tuvisteis que perseguir en América Latina, a Canadá y a los estados de Europa, por continuar hablando ese lenguaje maldito, por cantarlo e incluso por desarrollar una forma de arte de diálogos improvisados en él. …
Por todo eso, nos arrepentimos, nos disculpamos, pedimos humildemente vuestro perdón, aunque sabemos que no somos dignos de ello.
Si nos permiten, en vuestra benevolencia y paciencia, sin merecer lo que somos, aunque sepamos que nunca podremos lograrlo correctamente y seremos solo imitaciones pálidas, intentaremos, realmente, realmente intentaremos llegar a ser como vosotros.
ENS PENEDIM DE TOT, ESTAT ESPANYOL!
Ens penedim de tot … pero de tot! Demanem el vostre perdó per tot el que hem fet, hem estat com a nens dolents davant la vostra bondat. Encara pitjor, molt pitjor!
És difícil saber per on començar …
En primer lloc, lamentem haver-nos arribat a aquesta terra abans que tu, amb el nostre propi llenguatge que ni tan sols era indoeuropeu. Quina arrogància! Quin insult a la vostra sobirania legítima! Ni tan sols els moros d’Al-Andalus, amb la seva gran ciència i la seva pretesa tolerància a totes les religions, van tenir l’arrogància d’arribar abans que vosaltres. Demanem perdó.
Sentim també haver lluitat per la independència i els drets del Regne de Navarra i fins i tot per haver subministrat algunes de les seves famílies reals. Una altra vegada, quina arrogància! Demanem el perdó una vegada més.
Lamentem no haver participat de manera sincera en la vostra Inquisició legítima, moderada i proporcionada. Lamentem profundament deixar que moltes bruixes i heretges sense cremar. Si us plau, perdoneu-nos per això, encara que, en veritat, no era vàlid.
I tot, parlant encara aquest idioma basc, probablement el més antic d’Europa! Quina vergonyosa arrogància. Quina falta de gratitud per la llengua indoeuropea que ens vau oferir!
Lamentem – oh, com ho lamentem! – Davant d’aquest meravellós, just i líder cristià, el Generalíssim Franco. Ens resulta difícil creure ara que teníem l’arrogància d’estar amb un govern elegit per la gent contra la legítima intervenció militar dels Quatre Generals i sobretot el seu exaltat general, el general Franco. En què podíem estar pensant? Quin dret era tenir els seus aliats alemanys, que beneïts siguin! – Bombardejar Gernika (ho sento, Guernica)!
Ens disculpem pels nostres sacerdots, monjos i religioses que no van acceptar la creuada cristiana del Caudillo i la jerarquia Espanyola, que va persistir en la defensa de les idees indefensables de la nacionalitat, de donar ajuda als presoners i d’ensenyar el nostre idioma maldestre. Per descomptat, era correcte disparar alguns d’ells: tots haurien estat disparats!
Ens sentim avergonyits i profundament penedits que, fins i tot després que Franco i les seves tropes ens mostressin la manera correcta: havent hagut de disparar milers per fer-ho, continuem parlant d’aquesta llengua cristiana i ensenyem-la en secret a les cases, fins i tot quan tenies ho ha prohibit legalment.
Introduction and translation by Diarmuid Breatnach
The San Fermines Festival in Iruña (Pamplona in Castillian) is renowned around much of the world for its colour and also danger with the running (corrida) of the bulls. But for many years it has been the occasion and site of sharp political struggle and there have been other dangers too.
ANTI-BASQUE NATIONALISM IN NAFARROA
Although the city is Basque, centre of the medieval kingdom of Nafarroa (Navarre), it was run for decades by UPN (Union of Navarrese People), what some considered the Basque version of the Partido Popular, post-Franco Spanish political party founded by the Dictator’s supporters. Although in 2008 UPN broke from its fraternal relations with the PP, the party remains Spanish-unionist and conservative, strongly opposed to Basque independentism and wishing to remain separate from the rest of the Basque Country, whether the other three southern provinces or the three across the French border.
During the Spanish Republic of 1936, the ruling political interests in Nafarroa broke with the Basque nationalists and opted for supporting the military-fascist coup of Franco and the other three generals – the reactionary Nafarroan Carlists murdered 3,000 Basque nationalists, republicans, communists, anarchists and social democrats in their province alone. They also took part in fighting as part of the military-fascist forces.
For many years, the first day of the San Fermines festival has been the scene of struggle between those who sought to bring the Basque national flag, the Ikurriña, into the main square, to be present during the launch of the week of festivities. And beatings and for Basque independentists have resulted, even fines and jail sentences, especially when they have been successful.
But in the elections of 2015, a coalition of political parties of Basque independentism, nationalism, and left-social democracy took power in the Navarrese regional Government and began to change matters on a number of fronts. In 2017 the Ikurrina was flown from the official balcony and the the Spanish Government Delegation in the region took a judicial case against those responsible and the same people in 2018, EH Bildu, refrained from flying it, displaying instead a bare flagpole. However, that coalition lost its majority of seats in the elections this year and the UPN came back into power, with the resumption of ‘business as usual’.
ASSAULT AND RAPE
In recent years, another menace has come to the fore, with some men assaulting women in the press of the crowd. Most horrifying was the multiple rape of an 18-year-old woman on July 7th, during the San Fermines festival of 2016. The woman, who approached a few men to help her find her way and was apparently under the influence of intoxicants, was led into a doorway, her phone taken off her and raped in a number of ways by each, who also videoed the event and put it up on the Internet. Due to the description to the Nafarroan police by the victim and their promotion of their act on social media, the perpetrators were soon arrested. But they were tried not for the more serious crime of rape but for sexual abuse, because she appeared not to resist and therefore no violence was necessary to restrain her – a feature of Spanish law.
The group of five violators and rapists had given themselves the boastful title of La Manada (the Wolf-Pack) contained a Spanish Army soldier and a Spanish Guardia Civil policeman among its members. And they on a previous occasion filmed themselves having sex with an intoxicated woman on the flat bed of a truck and put that too out on social media.
The Pack claimed that their victim was willing but found it difficult to explain that she had only met them seven minutes before the assaults or their taking of her mobile phone and some other matters and were found guilty and sentenced to nine years jail but allowed bail when they appealed. Since their appeal might find them not guilty, one might argue that they were entitled to bail while awaiting the hearing.
BASQUE AND CATALAN INDEPENDENTISM V. RAPE
However, the youth from Alsasua (Basque town in Nafarroa), who were accused of assaulting off-duty Guardia Civil policemen who entered a Basque independentist late-night bar as a provocation in October 2016, were not only kept in jail while awaiting trial in Madrid but also four of them while awaiting an appeal hearing (against sentences of between two and 13 years jail!). And the Catalan independence grass-roots campaign leaders and elected politicians who were charged with sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds for organising a referendum on independence in October 2017, were kept in jail until their trial and are there still, now awaiting judgement. They include one who was elected an MP while in jail and another who was elected an MEP (Jordi Sanchez and Oriol Junqueras).
Many aspects of the Manada case led to an outcry over the whole Spanish state. Although the Prosecution had asked for sentences of 22 year and 10 months, they were sentenced to nine year jail. On December 5th 2018 their sentences were confirmed to those nine years, although two judges on the panel disagreed, wishing for sentences of a little over 14 years as they felt that there had been intimidation and coercion, there had been “degrading acts” and she had been left half-naked on the ground with her mobile phone taken (and memory cards removed). The five-judge panel however ordered the first court that tried them to issue another sentence for the filming and publishing of the rape as her privacy had been violated. The Defence lawyer has indicated that his clients would appeal the sentence as did also the City of Iruna (Pamplona).
THE BATTLE OF THE FLAGS
Translation of short article in Publico.es
In the end, the ikurriña was present. The images of the first Sanfermines after the return of the Right to the City Council of Pamplona are already crossing the world and they do it with the ikurriña and the flag of Navarre displayed among the public. The earlier threats of Mayor Enrique Maya (UPN) had no effect, nor did the police deployment in the surrounding area.
Under an intense sun and in a crowded square, the txupinazo (firing of ceremonial rocket — Translator) of the Sanfermines – the act that marks the beginning of the festivities — took place at 12.00 o’clock. Minutes before, (many of) the attendees managed to deploy a ikurriña of great proportions, accompanied by the Flag of Navarra. A white placard also appeared in which the return of the ETA prisoners was demanded (i.e end of the dispersal of independentist prisoners all over the Spanish state — Trans).
“UPN, kanpora” (UPN, out!) was heard in the square when the Mayor was on the balcony. A few days before, Maya had issued a notice announcing that entering with fabric of large proportions was strictly forbidden, citing security reasons. However, the same Councilor said shortly after in an interview in the newspaper El Mundo that there would also be “a device” to prevent the EH Bildu councilors unfurling the Basque flag on the balcony of the town hall.
POLICE SEIZURE OF FLAGS
One hour before the txupinazo, journalist Gara Aritz Intxusta reported by Twitter that local police had seized “150 small ikurriñas that were going to be used in a kalejira” (festival parade) that was going to be performed in the streets of the city to protest against the Mayor’s party.
of daring event as the hour for the launch approached, Basque independentists in “disguise” of anglers, cast a line across from the rooftop on one side of the square to the other and then a stronger line was taken across with a giant ikurrina attached. One can see earlier, police rushing to confiscate a flag or banner and a giant political prisoners’ banner being held above many in the crowd. In 2013 the UPN Mayor deliberately delayed the launch past the traditional hour of noon so as to give secret police time to cut the line and not to have it happening with the Ikurrina hanging over the square.
The Basques have a saying in their language which means “The first and last words in Euskera” (Basque language: “Lehen eta azken hitzak euskeraz”). The Irish would do well to adopt the slogan or dictum for their own: “Na céad focail agus na focail deiridh i nGaeilge”.
The Basques developed their slogan (the word is from the Irish, slua-ghairm: to call the crowd/ multitude/ troop) in their movement to conserve their native language and spread it among those who had lost it. The Basque homeland (certainly once larger than it is now) is today situated on the north-west of the Spanish state and the south-west of the French one. Their language is considered an older arrival than all other languages extant upon the continent, to be not of Indo-European origin and so not of the same family group as any of the nearby Romance languages: Galician, Asturian, Castillian, Languedoc (Occitan), French, Catalan.
Within the territories they control, Spanish and French state administrations have dominated and suppressed all the languages other than respectively Castillian and French; they have done so through official disregard, censure, shaming, even physical punishment and jail. But the Basques have struggled to keep their language alive and to spread it among those who have lost it. And they have been much more successful at doing so than we Irish have at doing the same thing with an Ghaeilge. The Catalans have done even better yet, certainly in Catalunya itself1.
So, why the slogan of “first and last words in Euskera” and what happens in-between? Is it intended like the “cúpla focal” (“couple of words”) of Irish politicians (and increasingly, not even that many), a kind of mini-lip-service? Not at all, its intention is restorative towards the language and is a practical measure which anyone can adopt — indeed we in Ireland should embrace it for our own language.
When we meet someone, we greet them and, in Ireland, the majority of us do so in English. Having done so, the rest of the conversation is likely to continue in English too. Taking our leave of them, naturally, we tend to do so in English also.
The impression on anyone within hearing of this exchange and so many like it is that Irish does not exist or, if it does, hardly anyone in Ireland knows it or, if they do, don’t use it in their daily life. Not far from the truth, one might comment. Indeed but the reality is that a lot more know the language (or some of it at least) than one might think.
Let’s return to that interaction touched upon earlier, when one person meets another. It could be a customer in a bar, restaurant or shop. One of them says “Hello”, the other replies likewise and from there onwards the verbal communication is all in English. Or another scenario, a friend or acquaintance of one, introduces another in English and both who are strangers proceed in English also.
Perhaps the customer and the shop assistant, waiter or bartender in the first example were fluent Irish-speakers or at least competent – none knows this about the other and they continue in the dominant language, English; each may return home later without having spoken a word of Irish that day. The strangers being introduced to one another by a mutual acquaintance, perhaps at work on in a social setting, may have a similar experience.
THE FIRST WORDS
Suppose that instead the customer or person being introduced had greeted in Irish? The recipient of the greeting now has the choice, assuming some knowledge of the language, to respond likewise. Should this occur, they can now proceed to the limits of their knowledge of the language or of the situation in which they find themselves. Other factors govern the choice being made but we can discuss those later.
What of the impression on those others within hearing? They might be surprised or even astonished, impressed or embarrassed; however everyone is reminded that Irish exists, that it is a medium of verbal communication and that some people in Ireland use it, even outside the shrinking Irish-language reserves.
Of course, that was perhaps only two people heard speaking it in a whole month or even a year. But what if more people did the same? Why, some of those who overhear might even adopt the same habit, na céad focail in nGaeilge! Gradually at first and then suddenly, everybody would seem to be greeting in Irish! Why, it might even be worth learning a little oneself! At least enough to reply and take the conversation a sentence or two forward ….
In addition, sometimes the experience flushes out other Irish speakers too. On the top deck of a bus heading into the city centre one day, I could hear some young lads at the back of the bus (where else!) speaking in Irish. I could tell that they were not fluent but one at least was doing reasonably well. As they passed me to get off in Sráid Uí Chonaill, I remarked in Irish to them that it was great to hear the language being spoken in public. While they stumbled over a reply to me, the man across the aisle from me addressed them also, in fluent Ulster Irish. What an experience that must have been for the young lads but certainly for us, two Irish speakers a few feet away from one another and totally unaware, until that moment, of the other’s existence.
On another occasion at a demonstration in Dublin, I and another holding a banner between us were conversing in Irish – loudly as of necessity. Ahead of us, another group began to call back in Irish too. Spreagann Gaeilge Gaeilge, commented the comrade on the other end of our banner (“Irish [language] inspires Irish”).
AND THE LAST WORDS
What about the last words being in Irish – just a courtesy or a whim of some kind? Well, imagine one greeted the stranger, shop assistant, waiter or bartender in Irish and the reply came in English (which at the moment would probably be the case)? Thereafter the conversation flows in English but, as the Irish speaker is leaving, she says “Slán”. By now, the other has recovered a little from being somewhat wrong-footed by being addressed in Irish and furthermore, since the customer is leaving, is not worried about exposing what he considers to be his shamefully little knowledge of the language, so he replies also in Irish, “Slán”.
Of course, that situation was not momentous for the survival of the language but neither was it totally negative. The Irish speaker draws a little comfort from it. The other feels perhaps a little pride, is maybe even encouraged to respond in Irish should he see that person again or if some other addresses him in Irish. How hard can that be? He’d do it in Greek in Crete, in Spanish in Torremolinos or in Cancun, even though all he has is a few phrases from the tourist guidebook.
Of course, it is not the same. In the first place, the linguistic environment in Greece is Greek, in Torremolinos and Cancun, Spanish. Even migrant workers there will have learned the language. Not everyone around one in Ireland is speaking Irish in public, in fact, in most places, almost no-one is.
Secondly, there is no expectation of the English-speaker to be fluent in Greek or in Spanish. No expectation that the Irish person can speak Irish either, one might think. But actually, there kind of is. Inside the head of every Irish person there is the knowledge that this is their language and a feeling, buried deeply or lightly, that perhaps they should be able to speak it.
This feeling or knowledge can manifest itself in a reluctance to expose one’s limited knowledge of Irish to the perverse but understandable extent of refusing to speak it at all. Or of responding aggressively. Those are possible outcomes but so are more positive ones.
A person who has very little Irish may think: “But if I reply ‘Dia’s Muire dhuit’ and she lets loose with a flood of Irish, I won’t know what she’s saying and I’ll be mortified! Better to say nothing at all and not be so ashamed.” Of course, that is one choice. But it is not the only possible one. He could, instead, after she spoke to him some sentences in Irish he did not understand, reply in a sentence learned off by heart: “Gabh mo leithscéil ach níl ach cúpla focal agam” (“Excuse me, I have but a few words”). She might in turn reply: “Go raibh maith agat, úsáid a bhfuil agat” (“Thanks, use what you have”).
And why should the initiative be only with the person fluent in Irish? The person who knows only a few words is just as capable of making greetings and farewells in Irish — in fact I would go further and say that the language needs them to do that, to make that the norm.
In those kinds of exchanges, there will be a positive outcome for each participant. Not a huge step forward for the language in general but for anyone overhearing, a reminder that the Irish language does exist and perhaps that in this case, a person who did not seem know it well, still chose to learn a few words and use them. All of that goes to the credit side of the ledger in the psychological struggle for the maintenance and restoration of Irish.
An issue that is often raised with regard to speaking in Irish in the company of non-speakers, is one of politeness. It is generally considered rude to speak in a language that other people in the company do not understand. Strangely enough, people tend to think that more about people speaking Irish in Ireland than they do about people speaking French, German or Spanish among themselves here.
The issue must be faced. Neither of those languages is in any danger but Irish is – and in serious danger. Despite the growth of nurseries, primary and some secondary schools teaching through Irish, the actual daily use of the language is in decline. And the Gaeltachtanna — those areas where the language of the home has always been Irish – are shrinking at an alarming rate.
We need to find social strategies for linguistically-mixed company, whether it be occasional translation for the non-Irish speakers, or the tolerance of the latter – or conversing parts in Irish and parts in English. For the sake of the language we cannot allow the rules of politeness to deprive us of every social occasion to speak in the language other than some tiny domains hidden away somewhere, small groups of us meeting like conspirators in places where we are unlikely to meet anyone we know.
Another issue often raised is related to foreigners, whether they be migrants or visitors. I would say that the same rules apply. Most of those have their own language as well and speak it among themselves, in public too. And they must surely wonder why we don’t speak our own. The children of migrants are learning Irish at school and many are competent, some fluent in it. Some of their parents know a few words too: a Nepalese in a bar serves me through Irish and a Pakistani in a shop thanks me or tells me I am welcome, in Irish also.
In the public library, you may wish to greet in Irish and hand the returned books towards them saying: “Isteach”; the likelihood of you being misunderstood is minimal. Then, with the books you are borrowing, “Amach”. In the Post Office, you can ask for “Stampa i gcóir Sasana, le do thoill” or “Stampa i gcóir na hEorpa”. To the question “Payment by cash or card?” when you present your utility bill, you may wish to show notes and reply “Le h-airgead” or, displaying your card, “Le cárta”. “Do you want a bag?” “Níl, go raibh maith agat”, with a shake of the head. Leaving the bus or the taxi, you could say: “Go raibh maith agat, slán”. Sometimes, you will hear a reply in Irish and it will probably lift your heart a little. And the world around you will hear a little too …. and wonder.
None of that on its own, of course, will save the Irish language. But I think it will help. And now, on the crest of a small wave, might be a good time to do it: when the number and percentage of students attending all-Irish language schools is at an all-time high; when a survey of third-level students, whatever their feelings about how it was taught, show a majority supporting the retention of Irish as a compulsory subject on the curriculum. However, studies in the 1980s revealed a pattern of fall-off in Irish competency outside the Gaeltachts as the years went by; they need an environment encouraging the regular use of the language – use it or lose it.
The pro-independence political parties in the southern Basque Country make their public speeches either totally in Euskera or bilingually, in Euskera and Castillian. It is the same with the majority Basque trade unions. Also with the feminist and environmental movements, those against repression, against animal abuse, etc. In their public discourse, all organisations and parties in Catalunya that are not specifically Spanish-unionist (and even some of those), use Catalan first in public and Castillian secondly, if at all.
None of Ireland’s political parties (mainstream or oppositional), trade unions or campaigns (other than those specifically for the language) does anything much to promote the Irish language and some are hostile to it. That means it is up to us as individuals – everything we do for it can help at least a little.
So, as the Basques say, the first and last words in the language.
Do ye likewise; go out and multiply.
1Catalan is spoken elsewhere than in Catalunya, for example in the Paisos Catalans (“Catalan Countries”) such as Valencia and the Balearic Islands, where it is not as strong as it is currently in Catalunya, also in part of Sardinia.
October 12th: The old town was heaving, full of people, mostly but not all on the younger end of the adult spectrum, standing, sitting, mostly in groups, talking, laughing, drinking, eating …. Some kind of festival? Not really …. a football match. Ah, that explains the shirts in football team colours. There’s the red stripes on white colours of Athletic Bilbao (and this isn’t Bilbao, not even Biskaia province), there’s the blue-on-white Real Sociedad colours (and this isn’t Donosti/ San Sebastian, or even the Guipuzkoa province). But wait a minute – there’s a lot of Deportivo Alaves shirts too (also blue-and-white) …. well, this is Vitoria/ Gastheiz, capital city of the the Alava province.
But there’s some red shirts too – CA Osasuna, from Naffaroa, the fourth province of the Southern (i.e within the Spanish state) Basque Country1. Over there’s a few CD (Club Deportivo) Vitoria, and a couple of women (not surprisingly — it’s an all-female team playing in the women’s league) wearing SD (Sociedad Deportiva) Lagunak yellow shirts. They can’t all be playing today, can they?
In a way, they are.
This occasion is a friendly match between Venezuela and the Basque Country (i.e not part of any official competition as otherwise it would be forbidden by FIFA, the international regulatory body for soccer)y and it is promoted by Euskadiko Futbol Federarkundea,the Basque Football Federation. FIFA, although it recognises Scotland, Wales and ‘Northern Ireland’ as having ‘national teams’, does not recognise either the Basque Country or Catalonia as having them. Where is the logic in that? Well, since FIFA only recognised Palestine with the creation of the Palestine Authority controlled by Israel and agreed by the Western powers2, one can hardly avoid coming to the conclusion that FIFA decides its policies on what area or nation can have their own selection and participate in FIFA championships in accordance with the relevant occupying state – no matter how right or wrong that decision might be.
Many shirts being worn here are green and bear the words Euskal Selekzioa (Basque Selection), the campaign for which in football is the cutting edge of the broader campaign for Basque national teams in many other sports, including surfing. It is of course not just about sport but is also political.
The Basque-Venezuelan game was to be played in Alaves’ Mendizorrotza stadium in Vitoria-Gasteiz and my friends talked casually about attending, though no hard arrangements seemed to have been made. I didn’t press the matter.
Venezuela is rated 32nd in world soccer by FIFA, which is actually quite high and only two points behind the Ireland team, currently at 30th. So the opposing team is a big deal. The whole of the Basque Country, including Nafarroa and the parts held by the French State, is only around three million and they will play only players born in the Basque Country, unlike Ireland which features players from its diaspora. Ireland has had high emigration but so has the Basque Country, particularly to Latin America, the USA and Canada. Venezuela, by the way, has a population of nearly 32 million.
In 2016, their last international, the Basque country beat Tunisia 3-1 in Bilbao and before that have beaten Peru 6-0 and Bolivia 6-1. They lost 1-0 to Wales in 2006 but beat Uruguay 2-1 in 2003.
The main square of the lower old town, the Casco Viejo3, was full of people, some chanting and red flares burning with an occasional firework going off. The ikurrina, the Basque flag, waving in many places, draped over balconies etc. The square is called alternatively Plaza de la Virgen Blanca or simply La Plaza Vieja. We met up with an ex-prisoner (political) who was complaining about the impressive monument in the main square which commemorates the Battle of Vitoria, fought on June 21, 1813, between the retreating French forces of Jose Bonaparte and the English forces under the Duke of Wellington. The English won the battle. I gathered the ex-prisoner’s objection was not so much that it commemorated the defeat of the French but rather that it celebrated the ‘independence’ of the Spanish monarchy, which had done the Basques no favours since the battle and much to the contrary. We drank lager here in plastic containers and street cleaners were already out sweeping up discarded and cracked containers.
The captain of the Basque team, Aritz Aduriz, is the Spainish team’s oldest goalscorer, which might seem an irony but if he wants to play international world football, he has to play for a team recognised by FIFA. His home team is Athletic Bilbao, and his team-mates Inaki Williams and Inigo Martinez were also lined up to play, as was Real Sociedad’s Asier Illarramendi. And all of those have in the past played for the Spanish ‘national’ team.
Walking through the upper old town, we mingled and stopped here and there for a small serving of lager serving (zurito) or wine (txupito). The ex-prisoner got talking about language, philosophy, politics, religion, ancient civilization. I lasted longer than the others in discussion and debate with him4 but his intensity was wearing me down a little in the end. He apologised for that but then had another appointment and took off. By this time we had eaten and were relaxing in the high part of the Casco, on a slope down from the level of the fortress. Attending the game seemed somehow to have disappeared off the agenda and a little later we headed down through areas mostly quiet now to the parked car and drove off.
A crowd of 53,000 however attended the stadium to watch the game and who knows how many others saw it televised. It had been a friendly match in official status and in fact, with one yellow card earned, no reds and no injuries. The goals scored by the Venezuelans might have been the most elegant but Euskal Herria, the Basque Country, were the victors, the score of 4-2 in their favour, with Aduriz having been one of the scorers.
CA Osasuna, not listed in Wikipedia as a Basque club, presumably due to divisions fostered between Nafarroa and the other three southern Basque Country provinces: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CA_Osasuna
1There are divisions fostered between Nafarroa (Navarra/ Navarre) and the other three southern Basque provinces of Bizkaia, Guipuzkoa and Alava. Nafarroa has its own ‘autonomous’ regional government in the post-Franco arrangement, while the other three are jointly in the other ‘autonomous’ region of Euskadi. Iruña/ Pamplona, capital city of Naffaroa, was the seat of the medieval kingdom of Nafarroa (Navarra), the royal family of which once laid claim to the monarchies of both the French and Spanish kingdoms (the latter being a source of three wars, the Carlist Wars). During the emergency caused by the military coup-insurrection of Generals Franco, Mola and others against the democratically-elected Republican Government of the Spanish state, the Catholic ultra-conservative Carlists seceded Nafarroa and massacred three thousand dissidents (Republicans, Basque Nationalists, Leftists) and fought on the fascist side.
After the “Civil War”, the Partido Popular (extremely right-wing main Spanish party) controlled Nafarroa but was recently ousted by Nafarroa Bai, a coalition of pro-independence Basque parties. The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) has been the main power in the other three southern Basque provinces.
At one time Euskera was the main language of the whole of the current Basque Country (southern and northern, i.e in the French state), was banned under Franco and is now the majority first and second-level educational medium in Euskadi, where it is given at least nominal equal status in civic administration with Castillian/ Spanish. This is not the case in Nafarroa, which has three different linguistic-rights zones: Castillian, Castillian-Euskera and Euskera. ñ
2Palestine has yet to qualify for the World Cup in soccer. With Israeli restrictions on travel in and out of the territory for Palestinians, along with internal restrictions and repression, the odds are stacked against them ever qualifying, unless they field a team raised exclusively from their huge diaspora, including the refugee population.
3All the southern Basque main cities and many towns have these and their name is always the same, even though it is in Castillian. Typically they have narrow streets winding through four-to-eight-storey houses in which shop windows mix with bars and apartment entrances, often with balconies overhead. They are usually the most lively areas of the city with many places serving coffee, beer, wine and pintxos (good Basque ready-prepared food) and sometimes restaurants, often in the rear or upstairs room of a tavern.
4In Castillian, which I sometimes feel guilty about – I only know a few words in Euskera. Sometimes I encourage the company to speak “euskeraz”, i.e in Basque, leaving me out for a while.
Marchers in Iruňa (Spanish: Pamplona) called “Alde Hemendik!” for the Spanish occupation forces to get out of their country and also called the Nafarroan police “murderers”, in addition to calling for the liberation of Basque political prisoners.
The marchers were obliged to seek permission from the authorities for the demonstration and route as otherwise, from past experience, a police attack would have been certain. Even when approved, marchers in the past had to pass by ranks of police in full riot gear, which earned the latter the nickname “Romanos”, from their superficial resemblance to Roman Legionaires. Of course the police are given many other names too. On this occasion, the police presence was not as intimidatory as is normally the case.
The event took place on October12th which is national Spanish holiday, the Día de la Hispanidad, in which the State celebrates the spread of the Castillian language through conquest of the Canaries, Americas and part of North Africa. Naturally enough, forces that are opposed to the character of the Spanish State or to its presence in their country tend to hold counter-demonstrations on that day.
Although I did see one poster of the ‘official’ Basque Abertzale (pro-Independence) Left in the town I saw no other sign of them except banners on their local HQ (at least that’s what I was told it was). There seemed to be no intention of their holding a demonstration on that day.
The size of the march was perhaps somewhat less than had been hoped for but it made a good show going through the old town. Curiously, the march seemed much reduced by the time it reached the end square.
The marchers set the tone from the start with their banner and slogans and did not hesitate to call out “Policia asesina!” (‘police murderers’ in Castillian) as they approached and passed the police. Later people within the march began to lead chants also, some in Castillian and many in Catalan. The march did not pass by the nearby local HQ of the ‘official’ leadership of the Basque Abertzale Left. A marcher told me the were not permitted to do so but I was unsure whether that was an assumption taken for granted or whether they had been refused. However, the march leaders took people on a winding route through the old town, passing by residences, bars, businesses and many tourists.
Concluding in the Plaza de San Francisco (St. Francis [of Assisi1] square) opposite the Municipal School, to the security bars of which the banner was secured, no speech was given but the marchers sang “Eusko Gudariak” (‘Basque Soldiers’), a Basque song of resistance (and anthem) with clenched fists, at the end of which a woman let out a long irrintzi.
IRUŇA AND NAFFAROA
Iruňa is the capital of the ‘autonomous’ southern Basque province of Nafarroa/ Navarra (and according to some, to be the capital of an independent Basque Country though by no means agreed by all). The Basque Kingdom of the Middle Ages was called the Kingdom of Nafarroa (Navarra in Castillian, Navarre in French). The present-day province is located at the north end of the Spanish state, on the border with the French state, much of that border area in the Pyrenees mountain range. The province has the other southern Basque ‘autonomous’ region of Euskadi (three provinces) to its west and the Aragon region to its east (with Basque provinces on the other side of the French Border too).
Until recently, the majority political party there was the mainstream Spanish unionist party, the Partido Popular, now outnumbered and ousted by a coalition of pro-independence Basque parties.
The legal linguistic provision of Nafarroa is unique in the Basque Country as its territory is divided into three distinct linguistic regions: all Castillian-speaking; Castillian and Euskera bilingual; Euskera-speaking. Access to services, education and facilities through Euskera depends on in which area one lives or works, which might seem fair until one remembers that official services through Castillian are available always, no matter the region – it is the official language of the Spanish state. Euskera speakers also complain that in the bilingual region they are not getting the provision which they need and to which their numbers entitle them.
Nafarroa was the only part of the Basque Country which can be said to have experienced what is called “the Spanish Civil War” (i.e an internal war) since the right-wing Carlists there slaughtered the 3,000 or so active Republicans, Communists and Anarchists — or just anti-fascists — before any of Franco’s troops or the Falange arrived there. As a result, the province was treated more lightly by the Franco dictatorship than the other three southern Basque provinces. This did not prevent repression of the Basque language in Nafarroa nor the armed attack on the more progressive Carlist movement of the 1980s during the “Transition” after Franco’s death.
Many political and physical battles have been fought by pro-independence Basques since the 1930s, even around bringing a giant Basque flag into the main square for the ceremony to begin the San Fermines festival in Iruna/ Pamplona and at this festival too, many women have been molested and one gang-raped in 20162. The shocking nine-years jail sentence over a barroom brawl with Guardia Civil was imposed some months ago on youth from Altsasu, a town in Nafarroa.
1St. Francis Xavier (1506-1562), born in Nafarroa, is the more common St. Francis to find referred to in the Spanish state and many Basques are called Xavier. St. Francis of Assisi (1881/2-1226) was Italian. There’s a story that an airman is falling out of the sky, his parachute having failed and he calls desperately for St. Francis to help him. A giant hand appears under him and as he comes to rest on it, a voice booms from the sky: “Which St. Francis did you mean, my son?” “Of Assisi”, gasps the airman. “I was named after him. Thank you!” “Alas,” the voice replies, “I am St. Francis Xavier.” And the hand is removed ….