SAN FERMINES 2019: RETURN OF THE OLD REGIME AND THE BATTLE OF THE FLAGS

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.

Gang-rapists, the self-styled La Manada (“the wolf-pack”) (Photo source: Internet)

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

The town square of Iruna/ Pamplona, traditional site of the launch of the San Fermines folk festival, this year showing, despite threats of the UPN Mayor, Ikurrinak and banner against the dispersal of Baque political prisoners prominently displayed.
(Photo sourced: publico.es)

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.

Source: https://www.publico.es/politica/ikurrina-acto-presencia-sanfermines-gritos-upn-fuera.html

Video posted 2013

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.

End.

THE FIRST AND LAST WORDS

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Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 5 mins)

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.

Dia dhuit

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.

Introductions (Source photo: Internet)

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.

Gloine, le do thoill (Source photo: Internet)

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”.

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.

SHAME

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.

IMPOLITE

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.

SMALL STEPS

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.

“Dia duit/ Sé do bheatha” — Passengers getting on a bus in Dublin (Photo credit: Leah Farrell, Rolling News)

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.

End.

FOOTNOTES:

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.

SOURCES AND REFERENCES:

Statistics on Irish-immersion education as of 2018: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaelscoil

2019: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/number-of-primary-school-pupils-taught-through-irish-at-record-level-1.4011570

Plans to double number of Gaelscoileanna in the state: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/plan-to-double-number-of-pupils-in-irish-speaking-schools-1.4127379

Majority second-level students support retention of compulsory Irish on curriculum (but will they use it outside school?): https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/majority-of-third-level-students-support-irish-remaining-a-compulsory-subject-1096298.html

A BASQUE SELECTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

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.

View of left of the crowd in the large square in the old town, showing a part of the monument.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

View of centre of the crowd in the large square.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

View of section of the crowd on the balcony overlooking the large square in the old town.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

Another view of the crowd, this one more to the right of the large square in the old town.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

Some political demonstrators moving through the crowd. The small flag held up is of the political prisoners’ relatives organisation Etxerat, the design showing the outline of the Basque country with two arrows indicating movement inwards from the French and Spanish states, i.e calling for the ending of the dispersal of prisoners throughout the states, far from their homes. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

View of stairs leading from the large square to the upper part of the old town.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

View of Gastheiz/ Vitoria’s football stadium
(Photo source: Internet)

End.

FURTHER INFORMATION

List extant Basque soccer clubs (each one also a link to its own history): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Football_clubs_in_the_Basque_Country

Ditto list of defunct Basque soccer clubs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Defunct_football_clubs_in_the_Basque_Country

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

Basque selection information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basque_Country_national_football_team

Article about Basque and Catalan national selections:

http://theinsideleft.com/basque-catalonia-national-football-teams-catalan-barcelona-athletic-bilbao/

Match highlights (commentary in Euskera; Basque Country in green shirts, Venezuela in maroon) https://www.ngolos.com/videos/2018-10-12-basquecountry-venezuela

Background on Basque soccer in an international context, including some of them playing for “la Roja”, the Spanish State’s “national” team: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/45834955

FOOTNOTES

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.

“GET OUT OF HERE!” MESSAGE FROM MARCHERS IN IRUNA/ PAMPLONA

Diarmuid Breatnach

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.

Posters for the march seen in a number of locations in the town
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

The marchers form up and begin (Photo: D.Breatnach)

View from almost rear of march (Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

Front banner and march turning back into the old town after passing the police twice. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

March wending its way through streets of the old town (Photo: D.Breatnach)

In the Plaza de San Francisco singing Basque song ((Photo: D.Breatnach)

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).

“ALDE HEMENDIK!  (GET OUT OF HERE!)  “Indar okupatzaileak kanpora!  (Occupying forces out!)                                          The march banner is left hanging on the security bars of the Municipal School (staff will probably remove it on their first shift after the holiday). (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

 

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.

Monument statue of St. Francis of Assisi in the square named after him. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

The Town Hall. All such municipal buidlings throughout the Spanish state are required by law to fly the Spanish State flag which must be at equal or higher elevation than all others. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

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.

Area through which the bulls run as part of the San Fermines festival. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

FOOTNOTES

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 ….

2See the ongoing “Manada” case.

“BOOKS – AND A MEETING-SPACE FOR SOCIAL AND POLITICAL GROUPS”.

Diarmuid Breatnach

Book-cases line the walls, filling up with biographies, histories, political and social theory from anarchist, marxist, feminist and Basque independentist perspective – and some classical literature. On the low central table are children’s illustrated stories and puzzles. One can see samples in the window too.

Maribel and Diarmuid outside the shop while it was being prepared for opening.

          An alternative Left bookshop has opened in the iconic town of Gernika (Guernica in Spanish and in the title of Picasso’s famous painting of the town’s

Maribel and Inigo outside the shop while it was being prepared for opening.

bombing and strafing by the Luftwaffe and Italian air force in 1937). Going by the title of Inuri Gorria (“Red Ant”), the bookshop is a medium-sized (as these things go) one-level shop situated on one of the town’s main streets, with passing one-way traffic of private and public transport. Virtually next door is one of those open-front fruit shops and further down the same street, past bars and other businesses, is the nearby Herriko Taberna (literally “Peoples’ Tavern”. That is one of the many such social centre-taverns run by the official Basque pro-independence Left1 but of which many were ordered closed by the Spanish state in recent years on unsubstantiated accusations that they were linked to the armed organisation ETA, which is now dissolved). Once the people running the ‘Herriko’ and the trend represented by the new bookshop were strongly united but no longer, due to the change in direction adopted by the leadership of the Abertzale (pro-national ndependence) Left in recent years. Of course both trends will still attend at some events, particularly demonstrations about Basque political prisoners.

The Inuri Gorria bookshop opened officially on 12th October, which is a bank holiday in the whole Spanish state; called el Dia de la Hispanidad, it celebrates the spreading of the Castillian language as a result of the conquest of much of the Americas by the Spanish Kingdom in the 15th and 16th Centuries. Not surprisingly, it is also the official day for celebrating the armed forces of the State. Also unsurprisingly, the celebrations are opposed by anti-imperialists throughout the territory of the Spanish state and in particular perhaps by those nations still seeking independence. 2 No doubt many in the Gernika area were glad to have something progressive to celebrate on that date, which they did by gathering at the opening to view the books and eat some pintxos, later repairing to a local bar which displays photos of political prisoners from the local area (as does the Herriko). On this occasion some who would still count themselves members of the “oficialistas”, though likely from an internal critical position, attended also.  There was also a Basque traditional festival in the town with many dressing in traditional clothing and taking part in cultural activities.

Closeup of evening of day of traditional Basque festival in Gernika.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Evening of day of traditional Basque festival in Gernika. The banner may have been attached by the ‘official’ independence movement leadership.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

“The material I have here is of an alternative Left and feminist political kind”, said the owner, Maribel Egizabal, when I dropped in again some days later. “I have children’s books and games, of an educational kind about values, sections on feminism and about women, alternative philosophy, social movements, ethnic minorities and racism, city life, ecology, the history and culture of the Basque Country.”

One of the books she stocks is a local history of the nearby Busturia area dealing with the effects of the Anti-Fascist War (1936-1939), a substantial piece of work which she herself had a major part in researching and writing3, produced by one of the groups in which she is active, Laia, a local history group. The history of that period and of the executions and repression that followed the victory of the fascist troops is very much a sharp issue today and not only in the Basque Country but throughout the Spanish state.

Monument in Gernika to George Steer, English journalist and author who broke the Gernika bombing story for the London Times (and put the blame where it was earned).  (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The material in Inuri Gorria is mostly in the Euskera and Castillian (Spanish) languages but there are also some 2nd-hand books in French and English and Maribel hopes to add additional material in those languages. “With regard to political philosophy, I stock material in anarchist, marxist, feminist and independentist traditions. I don’t want to just sell books”, she told me “but to also provide a meeting-space for discussion and learning by social and political movements of the people.”

Maribel is a straight-talking woman with a long history in the feminist, Basque independentist and socialist movements, in different organisations, including the Basque internationalist solidarity organisation of Askapena, also Askagintza, an organisation working with people with drug addiction issues as well as the local history group alluded to above. “Inuri Gorria will be interested in material dealing with struggles around the world as well as in the Basque Country,” she tells me, “including of course struggles of other nations within this state such as Catalunya and of movements and organisations within the Spanish Left.”

The shop being prepared on the day I first called.  (Photo: D.Breatnach)

When I dropped by a third time, the day before my return to Dublin, Maribel was buoyant at the interest in the shop and its material being shown, especially by younger people.

“They are particularly interested in political theory,” she told me enthusiastically. It has long been remarked that the Abertzale Left movement was lacking in political education of its youthful following. No doubt the repression and banning of a succession of the movement’s youth organisations played a part in this but that does not explain the lack of educational materials, study and discussion groups, lecture series etc.4

View of front window display after shop up and running.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Gernika is worth a visit on its own and is connected by public train and bus services to Bilbao (also a longer-distance bus service to Bilbao and other areas). The town centre is attractive and hosts the Peace Museum (low charge and well-worth a visit) documenting life before the Anti-Fascist War, during it, including the town’s infamous bombing (which the Fascists tried to blame on the ‘Reds’5) and the ensuing occupation by fascist Spanish, colonial Moroccan and Italian fascist troops. Higher up, the ‘Gernika Tree’ and some of its offspring stand near the Gernika Assemby House (Gernikako Gazteen Etxebizitza/ Casa de Juntas de Gernika), built in 1826 to succeed several other buildings nearby. It was there the lords of Bizkaia (whose original member, according to Basque legend, was a Gael) from medieval times assembled to discuss issues and that the monarchs of the Spanish Kingdom affirmed the Basque rights or Fueros until abrogated in 1876. Entry is free and guided tours are offered by arrangement (but as generally the case with many buildings in the southern Basque Country, it will close between 2pm and 4pm.)

The Inurri Gorria bookshop will normally open 10am-12noon and 4.30-8pm on weekdays and 10-12noon on Saturdays, remaining closed on Sundays but of course may be in use on other occasions by some of the organisations and movements Maribel alluded to.

Contact details:

Inurri Goria,

Juan Kalzada 14,

48300 Gernika,

Basque Country,

The Spanish State.

FB page: https://www.facebook.com/maribel.egizabal.5

Tel: 9443 46988

end.

FOOTNOTES

1Their currrent political parties are Sortu (and the pro-independence social-democratic coalition EH Bildu).

2Ironically, migrants of Latin American origin may be seen celebrating the day also: it is the one day in Spanish calendar that they may feel specifically includes them.

3Busturia 1937-1977 – represión y resistencia de un pueblo (‘repression and resistance of a people’), Maribel Egizabal & Unai Serrano, Busturia (2018), IBSN 978-84-697-8677-2.

4The Abertzale Left is not the only movement one can accuse of such neglect of the political education of youth, one finds the same generally in the Irish Republican movement (both in the Provisionals and in the various splits since).

5Calling all the opponents of the military coup “Rojos” (‘Reds’) was a propaganda policy of the coupist military leaders and fascists (and copied elsewhere, as sometimes in The irish Independent); in fact their opposing broad movement included democratic anti-fascists and constitutionalists, trade unionists, Basque and Catalan nationalists and Republicans as well as Communists and Anarchists. It seems clear that without the intervention of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, aided by the “Non-Interventionist” policy of France and the UK, the popular forces would have defeated the military and fascist insurrection.

DRUMMING SOLIDARITY FOR BASQUE POLITICAL PRISONERS

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

On July 7th (the San Fermin feast day) 1985 two Basque political prisoners escaped from the Spanish prison of Martutene during a concert. The escape was received joyfully in the Basque Country and in other places and celebrated also in song composed by the Basque ska-punk band Kortatu (1984-1988). The song is called Sarri, Sarri, a nickname made from Sarrionandia, the paternal surname of one of the escapees, who was serving 22 years form membership of ETA, the Basque left-independentist armed organisation.

 

 

 

The song is performed annually (see video) in the Orereta/ Errenteria area to the accompaniment of massed drummers, a denborrada or tamborrada(“a drumming”), in the province of Gipuzkoa, near the French State border and not very far from Donosti/ San Sebastian and was done as a gesture of solidarity with the Basque political prisoners. In its report on the first quarter of 2018, Etxerat, the association of political prisoners’ families and friends, recognised 287 prisoners but over the years a number of Basque prisoners have left the collective but are still serving time, a few doing so since the changes in policy of ETA and of the Abertzale Left leadership. Of the 287 recognised by Etxerat,twenty-two were terminally or seriously ill and should have been paroled under Spanish and French laws, only three were serving sentences in the Basque Country and four seriously-ill on parole, 280 being dispersed in jails throughout the French and Spanish states. Relatives and friends able for the long journeys have to travel distances of between 100 to 1,100 kilometers from the Basque Country and many traffic accidents, some fatal, have occurred on those journeys.

ETA (Euskadi1 Ta Askatasuna = Basque Nation and Freedom) was formed in the late 1960s and for almost a decade did not engage in armed activity, though its members and supporters were hounded, tortured and jailed by the Spanish State, after which it turned to armed actions. The organisation called a “permanent truce” some years ago and recently dissolved itself in what seems to have been a bid by the pro-independence left’s political leadership to enter some kind of peace process with the Spanish State, in which the latter is clearly uninterested or perhaps as a move to ease the conditions and possibly sentences of Basque political prisoners.

Amnistia Ta Askatasuna (“Amnesty & Freedom”), an organisation campaigning for prisoners which does not recognise the official movement’s leadership exists, and though small, is active in many parts of the nation.

 

THE ESCAPEES

Iñaki “Pitti” Pikabea continued active in ETA and was sadly recaptured in 1987; he was paroled in 2000. Joseba Sarrionandia Uribelarrea kept low and avoided the authorities, although publishing writings and earning awards, until he surfaced in Cuba, where he lives to this day, as a writer and also a lecturer at the University of Havana.

Joseba Sarrionandia through the ages (images sourced: Internet)

Among Sarrionandai’s many writings (articles, poems, novels), on 3rd October 2011, the Basque Government and Spanish State were embarrassed to learn that Sarrionada had received a prestigious literary awarded, the Euskadi Prize for Essay in Basque for his work Moroak gara behelaino artean? (Are we Moors in the fog?) on the miseries of colonialism.2

End.

 

LINKS:

Joseba Sarrionandia Uribelarrea: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseba_Sarrionandia

Etxerat report January-March 2018: http://www.etxerat.eus/index.php/es/informes/mensual

Amnistia Ta Askatasuna: https://www.facebook.com/amnistiataaskatasuna/ and http://amnistiaaskatasuna.blogspot.com/

Video of this year’s Denborrada: https://www.facebook.com/KatiuskakArgazkiEstudioa/videos/1879014595499250/?t=6

 

FOOTNOTES

1“Euskadi” nowadays normally means three of the southern (i.e under Spanish rule) Basque provinces combined in the “Basque Autonomous (sic) Region” and therefore excludes the other southern province, Nafarroa and the three northern provinces (i.e under French rule); “Euskal Herria” (the H is silent), i.e “the land where the people speak Basque” is the widely-accepted name for the Basque nation now.

2From Wikipedia (see Links): “On 3rd October 2011, Sarrionandia was awarded the Euskadi Prize for Essay in Basque for his work Moroak gara behelaino artean? (Are we Moors in the fog?) on the miseries of colonialism; however, the Basque Government withheld the prize sum of 18,000 euros until the author’s status was resolved. On the same day, judges and lawyers interviewed by media confirmed that Sarrionandia could not be prosecuted by Spanish law, as more than 20 years had passed since his original prison sentence and his escape. While terrorist acts have no time limit, the provision applies only if there was at least one victim. After a month and a half, the Spanish High Court confirmed to the Basque government that Sarrionandia was ‘clean’, with no criminal or civil liability. The prize amount was handed over to his family”.

‘PEACE’ PROCESS LESSON FROM THE PALESTINIANS

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

                        The ongoing slaughter by Israeli soldiers of Palestinians demonstrating at the border of the Israeli State for the right to return to their homeland has rightly received media attention and, after a motion condemning Israel in the UN Security Council was blocked by the USA, the General Assembly passed another by a huge majority. The shootings demonstrate the total disregard of the Zionist authorities for Palestinian life and also the degree to which, by refusing to condemn and by supplying finance and equipment, the USA and major European states stand in support of Israel and are therefore complicit in its murderous actions. But the whole history of the right of return of Palestinians raises another issue of international importance and provides a historical and political lesson applicable widely, far beyond Palestine or even the Middle East.

A Palestinian woman brandishes a key, symbol of the house her family left behind when forced out of Palestine. Ironically Sephardic Jewish families were forced out of medieval Spain and some still keep a key to their ancestral home.
(Photo from Internet)

Negotiations, Agreements and ….?

Back in 1993, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation was in secret negotiation with Israel in Oslo, with Norway in the ‘honest broker’ role (but a later Norwegian Foreign Office investigation concluded that the Norwegian participants had acted as “Israel’s errand boys” – see link). Later it was to be the USA playing the ‘facilitator’ role — yes, bizarre, given the USA’s major economic and strategic interests in the Middle East and its role in supporting Israel. But then, perhaps the PLO figured they’d best have both their enemies there at the same time, both tied to whatever agreement was hammered out.

What had brought the parties to the negotiation table was the First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. This uprising had begun on 9th December 1987 and had been characterised by repeated street fighting, barricades, refusal to work for the Israelis and strikes and boycotts, along with refusal to pay taxes. The Israeli state had replied with arrests and shootings, killing over 1,600 Palestinians as against 277 Israelis killed. Between 23,600–29,900 Palestinian children required medical treatment from Israeli Occupation Force beatings in the first two years (Wikipedia).

Palestinian youth throwing stones at Israeli military during First Intifada (Photo: Internet)

 

Palestinian women confront Israeli soldiers during First Intifada (Photo: Internet)

After signing the Oslo Accords in Washington, Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the PLO and Yitzak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, were photographed there shaking hands with US President Bill Clinton looking on approvingly, arms almost around them, like a big friendly uncle making peace between nephews. Yizhak Rabin, Shimon Perez and Arafat were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 (a prize already devalued ever since it had been awarded to notorious warmonger Kissinger).

Rabin, Clinton and Arafat, Washington, after signing of the Oslo Accords.
(Photo: Internet)

Much was made of the Oslo meeting and the Accords (including later meetings and agreements) in the international media with talk of coming peace in Palestine and a resolution to the conflict etc signposted and not too far ahead. These prediction proved false and hopes were dashed.

But anyone examining the situation cooly would not have been surprised. Leaving aside other issues such as whether a two-state solution was justifiable, or viable even then, or whether the legitimacy of Israel should ever have been agreed to, the right of return of Palestinian exiles had been set aside by the PLO in the final Oslo agreement, a postponement, along with a number of other big issues, such as illegal settlements, to be discussed later. The Palestinian diaspora is today estimated at 9.6 million people (see link).

Since the omissions were of issues fundamental to any solution even within the parameters of the dubious two-state solution, it would have been obvious to anyone who had their eyes open that the Oslo Accords were no solution nor even a step towards a solution. So why were they agreed by the PLO?

A belief in the Accords as a stepping-stone would not have been sustainable on its own (except for wishful-thinking liberals) and the partial withdrawal of Israeli armed forces insufficient, given that Israel controlled all borders (except the Gaza one with Egypt, in which that state colluded with Israel). In addition, the Israeli troops had the capacity to return whenever they wished (and did so many times).

The motivation has to have been status or money.

The PLO, although containing a number of Palestinian organisations at that time (but not Islamic Jihad or Hamas), was dominated by Al Fatah, a secular Palestinian national liberation organisation. Fatah had the prestige of long existence and of having withstood the Israeli armed assault at Karameh in Jordan in 1968 during which, at a huge cost, it had forced the Zionist army to retreat. The following year Fatah had reportedly racked up 2,432 guerrilla attacks on Israel too — for a population with the Zionist jackboot on its neck, that counted for a lot.

Concluding an agreement with the Israelis, who previously said they would not talk to the Palestinian resistance, might have seemed like a status-raising event to Fatah. And setting up the Palestinian Authority, which of course they would run, would definitely give them status in the eyes of many outside and even inside Palestine.

But running the PA, which would be in receipt of funds and in charge of their distribution, also managing employment, would also provide myriad opportunities for corruption and nepotism, unless the organisation were to be rigorously monitored either externally or internally. That monitoring did not happen and corruption among Fatah was rife. Only the people on the ground seemed to mind, the ones who wanted strong opposition to the Israeli occupation and whatever development could be brought about in the infrastructure and communities, along with the longer-term aims of a Palestinian state and the return of refugees and exiles. And who weren’t part of the corruption.

Failure of Agreements and Insurrection

In 2000, after the failure of the Camp David talks in the US and many failures in the Accords in the nine years of their existence, no-one seriously believed in the Oslo Accords any more and the Second Intifada began. An intifada had provided the reason to negotiate for the Israelis, however insincerely intended and now another intifada brought the negotiation period formally to a close.

As observed earlier, Fatah was the organisation to which the majority of Palestinians (certainly within Palestine) had given their support and it was a secular party (although for the first time the PLA declared the “state religion” to be Islam in 2003, where previously there had been no mention of religion whatsoever). We can assume that most Palestinians were happy to be represented by a secular organisation and perhaps even preferred it.

But in the 2005 municipal, most Palestinians voted for Hamas, a fundamentalist Moslem organisation, for the first time pushing Fatah into second place. And in the Presidential and Parliamentary elections of 2006, again. What brought about that change? Was it a sudden devotional conversion? No, it was that Al Fatah had become corrupt, was not seen to be fighting Zionism hard enough (some would have said was becoming collaborationist) and had given up on the right of refugees and exiles to return. Hamas, though not officially represented in the PLO, was running social programs, its activists seemed disciplined and it was resolutely opposing Israeli Zionism politically and militarily. And it insisted on the right of refugees and exiles to return.

Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections with a 3% lead over the incumbents. Unwilling to accept the popular will, Fatah staged an armed uprising against Hamas which, in the Gaza strip, Hamas decisively won (what the Wikipedia entry on Hamas calls a “takeover”!). For some reason, although Hamas was undoubtedly the winner electorally, they let Fatah hang on to power in the West Bank. And the US-led demonisation and isolation of Hamas in Gaza by the West began, along with a series of Israeli armed attacks from that year until 2014, including full-scale missile and air bombardments and infantry incursions, killing thousands of Palestinians including civilians, women and children and destroying much infrastructure.

Since then, the Gaza population is being squeezed with electricity supply reduced to four hours a day and hardly any fuel to run generators or transport allowed in past Egyptian and Israeli gates, its water supply contaminated by damaged sewage treatment plant, the inshore sea likewise contaminated and Palestinians fishing further out attacked by Israeli gunboats, factories bombed out ….

The message seems to be: “Get rid of Hamas, get back with Fatah and we’ll stop exterminating you.” But a delayed extermination is all it would be, as evidenced from the deeper penetration of Zionist colonist enclaves on to Palestinian land, the Zionist-only roads, the ongoing takeover of Jerusalem, the Israeli Wall, the continual theft of water and the harassment by settlers and Israeli Army of any populations of Palestinians living near to Israeli colonists.

The Processes outside of Palestine

Taking a trip back in time to 1993, we saw the Oslo Accords being hailed as a great step forward by the majority of commentators across the West. These coincided with the new interim constitution as a result of the negotiations in South Africa — so that then two major areas of conflict were being hailed as definitely on the way to a solution, to come sooner rather than later. “Peace process” became a buzz-word, firstly among the participants and some of the commentators, then in the agreed discourse of the rest of the media and politicians.

In Ireland, as the Provisionals’ leadership and the British looked at one another across the dance floor, the former wondered what they could get from the same kind of process but crucially, how to sell it to their rank and file. At the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheiseanna (annual congresses of the party), the ANC and Al Fatah (wearing their PLO hat) fraternal delegates were welcomed by hype from the SF leadership and enthusiastic reception from the floor of the hall. The ANC and Fatah of course talked up their parts of the Processes and no-one seemed to examine critically what either the South African blacks or the Palestinians were likely to get out of them.

Ramaphosa, Mandela & Zuma at Jo’burg Conference 2012. Zuma is now deposed from ANC for corruption and Ramaphosa is millionaire President of South Africa and ex-leader of the National Union of Mineworkers. (Photo: from Internet, by Walter Dhiadhia)

And the Pal-African partnership continued to attend congresses, to send fraternal messages to areas of ongoing anti-imperialist resistance, to sing their siren song with a Western chorus backing. The Provisionals joined the actors and took to the stage as they neared and finally accepted the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. But with the Palestinian conflict showing no sign of resolution (unless one considers a kind of genocide of Palestinians) or even a respite — and in particular after the 2006 elections victory by Hamas — the Palestinians were no longer quoted as a good example of the “peace process”. Various actors, including South Africans and Irish, went on to try to sell the “Process” to areas of stubborn anti-imperialist resistance: the southern Basque Country, Turkish Kurdistan, Columbia, Phillipines, Sri Lanka ….. But the Palestinians (or rather Fatah) had been dropped off the billing and bowed quietly out of the Traveling Peace Process Show. They had not even an illusion to portray any more.

Kurds demonstrating against Turkish dictatorship in Germany fly flags bearing image of Abdullah Ocalan. Some years ago he said he supports a peace process in Turkey but he needs to be freed from prison to lead it
(Photo: the Times in Israel).

However, the show must, as we are often reminded, go on. It failed to deliver in Kurdistan and the Basque Country, not because the leaders of the resistance movements were not amenable but because of the unwillingness to adapt of the Turkish and Spanish regimes respectively. However, the Basque armed organisation ETA threw in the towel a couple of years ago anyway, abandoning their fighters in the jails to seek their own individual ways out through begging forgiveness of the occupiers of their land and oppressors of their people. The Turkish and Syrian Kurds were drawn into partnership with the imperialist allies dominated by the US, in their war against ISIS but also for the overthrow of the Assad regime, though deep Kurdish contradictions continue with the Turkish regime, to which it looks like the US Coalition will abandon them and they may seek an accommodation of sorts with Assad.

The Colombian FARC and MIR swallowed the Processed bait and gave up the armed struggle for a promise of a political one but those of their leaders who are resolute are being hunted by the regime, the quasi-liberated areas terrorised by the Army and assassination squads, the resistance fragmenting and disorientated. The Tamil Tigers didn’t entertain the Peace Process Show but the Sri Lankan Army were able to surround their liberated areas and bombard them to defeat, murdering their leaders and raping, murdering and repressing their followers.

The Phillipines and India? The resistance groups in both these areas are led by a Maoist-type leadership and we wait to see.

And in Ireland, after two decades since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the colonial occupier has the leadership of Sinn Féin, the former resistance, in joint colonial government, the party’s southern arm seeking admittance to the Irish comprador capitalist club, the remaining anti-imperialist resistance fragmented and the country not one step nearer to unity and independence.

The Palestinian lesson for the world

All the issues which led to these conflicts and which the processes of pacification did not address – were never intended to address – will return again, to be struggled over anew, under new leaderships. In Palestine now, that is what has been happening. The Right of Return for exiles and refugees, put to one side by Fatah in the Oslo Accords nearly three decades ago, is being demanded again on the Israeli border, the protesters (along with the ‘collateral damage’ of journalists and paramedics) being bombarded by tear gas and shot down by Israeli snipers. The Palestinians, whose leadership nearly three decades ago were chosen by US imperialism to be among the first to accept the new round of historical pacification processes and to become complicit in being its missionaries, are teaching us the fallacy of the facile promises they were made at the time.

There is another irony here: while refusing the right of return to Palestinians who were themselves exiled or are children and grandchildren of exiles, i.e within living memory, the State of Israel offers “the right of return” (sic) to people who have never been there and cannot even prove that their ancestors were, providing only they can prove their Jewishness. And a further irony: Sephardic Jews, who were expelled by the Christian kingdoms in Spain and Portugal in the Middle Ages, were being offered a “right of return” by the Spanish Government in 2014 (see link).

Over time, the people in the other areas of anti-imperialist resistance around the world will regroup, gather strength and return to the resistance. The imperialists almost certainly know this. But they have bought themselves three decades of damage to their opposition and, since they need the people as producers and consumers, cannot eliminate the deep wells of resistance. And capitalism is not about enduring solutions – they work away at undermining the resistance on a temporary basis and as for the future, like Micawber in Dickens’ David Copperfield, believe that “something (else) will turn up”.

End.

LINKS (NB: I have deliberately chosen most background references regarding Palestine from Wikipedia, which is known to be heavily monitored by Zionist interests and also has inputs from friends of the Palestinians and therefore cannot be said to be completely favourable to either side):

Palestinian exiles and the right of return: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_diaspora

Account of the Oslo Accords: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oslo_Accords

The Oslo Accords negotiations and their legacy: https://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/palestineremix/the-price-of-oslo.html#/14

The Palestine Liberation Organisation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestine_Liberation_Organization

The right of return to Palestine of Palestinians: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_right_of_return#UN_General_Assembly_Resolution_194

The right of return to Spain of Sephardic Jews: https://theconversation.com/spain-moves-to-right-a-522-year-wrong-but-still-overlooks-some-23526

POLITICAL PRISONERS’ SOLIDARITY BRINGS UP TO 100,000 ON TO BILBAO’S STREETS

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

The annual January march in solidarity with political prisoners, taking place in continuous rain on Saturday 13th January, packed the streets of the Basque city of Bilbao (Bilbo) with estimates of numbers in attendance varying from 95,000 (GARA) to 100,000 (DEIA).

Numbers on this march are always high (especially taking the total population of the Basque Country of less than three million into account) but may have been boosted somewhat this year by a) the ongoing resistance to Spanish state repression in Catalunya and b) news that the French state is at last moving away from its policy of dispersing its political prisoners far from their home country.

Saturday’s march was organised by Sare, a broad front set up a few years ago and was supported by EH Bildu (political party of the Abertzale Left) along with the Basque majority trade unions ELA and LAB. The political parties PP, PSE and Podemos-Euskadi did not support it, although the latter’s General Secretary Lander Martínez attended in a personal capacity. The Basque Nationalist Party PNV did not support it either (although members may well have done).

Also in attendance were Joan Tardà of the Catalan party ERC; Xabier Sánchez, brother of the jailed President of ANC, Jordi Sánchez; and the writer Kirmen Uribe.

Arnaldo Otegi for the EH Bildu party said the Spanish State should learn from the action of the French one; LAB’s General Secretary Garbiñe Aranburu declared that this year needs to be decisive in the Spanish state with regard to political prisoners and called for new alliances to achieve this. Adolfo Muñoz, Gen. Sec. of the largest trade union in the southern Basque Country, ELA, credited civil society with having achieved the change in French State policy, achieving the transfer of Basque political prisoners to jails near their homes, without waiting for the Spanish state to do likewise.

The banner at the head of the march stated Elkarrekin aurrera egiteko prest gaude” (We are ready to advance together; human rights, resolution, peace) while, according to media report, throughout the march the following slogans were heard: “Euskal presoak etxera!” (Basque prisoners to home!) and “Presoak kalera, amnistía osoa!” (Prisoners to be free, total amnesty!).

At the end of the march, Sare’s manifesto calling for an end to the dispersal was read out by ETB (Basque TV channel) presenter Kike Amonarriz and Beatriz Talegón, ex-leader of the youth wing of the Spanish social-democratic unionist party the PSOE.

COMMENT:

The great attendance in pouring rain is encouraging and once again the Basques show their high level of concern for their political prisoners, bringing at least 3% of their population out on a solidarity demonstration.

The reported (and audible on the video) slogans of “Euskal presoak etxera” (Basque prisoners to home) and “Presoak kalera, amnistía osoa” (Prisoners to be free, total amnesty) being shouted are interesting, given that the Abertzale Left leadership and organisations such as Sare have dropped such demands in recent years, concentrating instead on calling for an end to the dispersal policy and for the release of seriously-ill prisoners. The slogans mentioned above have been raised by the Amnistia Ta Askatasuna (ATA) organisation, whose supporters are highly critical of the changes in policy of the Abertzale Left leadership for some years now but presumably made their presence felt on the demonstration.

Despite the permanent ceasefire declaration of ETA a number of years ago and changes in the policies of the Abertzale Left leadership, the Spanish state has not given an inch, which leaves the leadership with no gains to show, not even the end of the dispersal policy. This policy, contravening human rights and the EU’s own conventions, sees prisoners located as far from the Basque Country as southern Spain, a drive of around nine hours there and the same back, on motorways that have already claimed the lives of a number of prisoners’ friends and relatives and injured an average of one a month.

LINKS:

Video clip: http://euskalpmdeushd-vh.akamaihd.net

http://www.deia.com/2018/01/13/politica/euskadi/en-bilbao-la-manifestacion-para-reclamar-el-fin-de-la-dispersion-de-los-presos-de-eta

https://www.google.ie/search?q=fotos+manifa+Bilbao+sobre+presos+politicos+Enero+2018&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-ab&gfe_rd=cr&dcr=0&ei=dx9fWqqmI6uaX8qih5gM&gws_rd=cr

 

 

 

 

 

TALKS AND VISIT to the SOUTHERN BASQUE COUNTRY in OCTOBER 2017

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

This Autumn I made myself available to give talks in the southern Basque Country (i.e. in the Spanish state) on the situation of Irish political prisoners and a series was arranged for mid-October for nearly two weeks.

As well as having private conversations, I gave a total of five public talks to audiences ranging in size from ten to over forty. The composition of the audiences varied from youths to older middle-aged; in some places the latter predominated and in some, the former.

All the meetings I spoke at were arranged by an organisation called Amnistia Ta Askatasuna which calls for total amnesty for Basque political prisoners. This was also a demand of the whole movement and of the leadership of the Abertzale Left until fairly recently and the Gestoras pro-Amnistia organisation had been created under the Abertzale Left umbrella but then banned by the Spanish State. But the Abertzale Left’s leadership have now dropped this demand from public discourse, saying the conditions are not ripe for it and concentrating instead on the end of the dispersal. (More about this and the Basque prisoner situation later).

DB 3 Talks Poster Oct2017
Poster on a wall advertising three talks in the southern Basque Country before the remaining two were confirmed. October 2017. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

I had not intended to confine my talks to those organised by ATA but it was they who organised the talks on dates that were offered, with the exception of one from an independent source that unfortunately clashed with one I had already accepted elsewhere.

Amnistia Posters what wall
ATA posters share with other advertising on a wall in the southern Basque Country, October 2017 (Photo: D.Breatnach)

THE TALKS

The types of venues for the talks were community cultural centres (two), occupied buildings (two) and one local (a space for which the users’ association paid rent and used for their activities). Geographically, the talks were held in Gernika and two in Bilbao (Bizkaia province), Etxarri (Nafarroa) and Ibarra (Guipuzkoa province). There were none in Alava province (although earlier this year I gave interviews to Hala Bedi pirate radio there, in Gastheiz/ Vitoria). On this occasion also I gave a video interview to a rapper who also makes videos for Hala Bedi, though he is located in Bizkaia.

From conversations and discussion it became clear that all the older people in the audiences were veterans of the Basque struggle over decades and a number were ex-prisoners. Some had relatives in jail. The youths had come to political activity or thinking in recent years.

DB Charla Ibarra 24 Oct2017
Talk in cultural centre in Ibarra, Guipuzkoa, southern Basque Country, October 2017. (Photo: ATA)

For the content of the talks I briefly reviewed the more distant history of political prisoners in Ireland, moving on then to the Good Friday Agreement and the release of

Torn poster DB talk Ibarra 24 Oct2017.
Torn poster advertising the talk in Ibarra, Guipuzkoa province, southern Basque Country, October 2017. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

most Irish Republican prisoners in the Six Counties under its terms. The re-arrest and jailing without charge of a number of these ex-prisoners was part of the talk, in which the specific examples given were of Marian Price, Martin Corey and Tony Taylor. I also dealt with the procedure of arrest on ridiculous charges and refusal of bail, or granting it under undemocratic and restrictive conditions, for which I used Stephen Murney as an example.  These were all members of different organisations or none.  Conviction on charges which the evidence does not support is also a category I mentioned, giving the Craigavon Two as an example there. Arrest on possession of arms charges is also a feature on both sides of the Border.

With regard to the 26 Counties, i.e the Irish state, I discussed the Special Court, Membership-of-an-illegal-organisation charges and charges of obtaining arms or having assisted terrorism. I mentioned the planned second Special Court in particular in the context of the State’s failure to convict most of the Jobstown protesters on charges that included “false imprisonment” (i.e kidnapping).

While noting that splits had occurred before in the Republican movement – the Provisionals themselves having emerged from such a split in 1970 – I noted that since the GFA, splits had multiplied and listed a number of the resulting organisations, including those that had existed already at that time.

Listing the number of Irish political prisoners (at the latest count then 79) and reminding the audience that the Irish had extended solidarity to Basque political prisoners, I asked the Basques for solidarity towards our political prisoners too. And I did so not only as a moral issue of internationalist solidarity but also in recognition that internationalist solidarity is one of the first casualties (i.e aspects to drop or weaken) by those who are seeking to surrender the struggle or even to become collaborators.

Talk in cultural centre in Etxarri, Nafarroa province, southern Basque Country, October 2017.
(Photo: ATA)

QUESTIONS

I timed the talks to give sufficient space for – and encouraged — questions and comments, even critical ones.

It was interesting that the same questions tended to come up again and again:

  • Did the different Republican organisations cooperate with one another inside and outside the jails?

  • What were the conditions in the prisons like for the prisoners?

  • How are political prisoners in ill-health being treated?

  • Is there a dispersal issue with regard to political prisoners?

  • Did the population support the prisoners?

  • What were the conditions for their release under the Good Friday Agreement?

  • Did INLA prisoners sign the GFA release agreement?

  • Are there armed actions continuing in Ireland?

  • Are the youth involved in solidarity actions and campaigns?

  • What was the attitude of Sinn Féin towards the political prisoners?

  • Are prisoners “on the run” still in danger of arrest and imprisonment?

In one meeting, one of the smaller audiences and containing only youth, I was asked about the role of women in the national liberation struggle in Ireland today.

Talk in the occupied former Astra factory building, Gernika, Bizkaia province, southern Basque Country, October 2017.
(Photo: ATA)

Some of the questions asked reflect the situation of the Basque political prisoners and also of the censored and inaccurate information about Ireland that reaches them, including through the Abertzale Left‘s (the “official” umbrella organisation) daily newspaper, GARA. At a number of times in the past spokespersons of the Abertzale Left’s organisations had claimed that there were no longer Irish political prisoners, a claim repeated in GARA. More recently, the tendency is to ignore their existence or to represent them as very few, without a program other than return to armed struggle and without a support base (i.e Sinn Féin’s line).

The new direction of the Abertzale Left’s leadership, which included a “permanent truce” and disarmament of their armed organisation ETA (formally declared in January 2011) was said at the time to have been agreed by the Basque political prisoners in their organisation EPPK. There have been persistent claims by friends and relatives of some prisoners and by some prisoners released in the last couple of years that they had not even been consulted.

A number of people to whom I spoke claimed that the prisoners’ collective no longer really exists, with prisoners left to act individually; some others said this was true to an extent but not completely. Certainly one feels a general air of disillusionment and uncertainty – and also of anger. And it is true that a small number of prisoners have formally denounced the leadership and left the collective.

Grafitti in Ondarroa, Bizkaia province, southern Basque Country, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

From figures collected in 2003, up to 30,000 Basque activists out of a total population of less than three million) had been arrested, 8,170 were accused of being members of ETA and roughly half of those convicted and imprisoned. The prisoners’ relatives and friends’ organisation Etxerat (also under the Abertzale Left’s umbrella) in its July-September report of this year (2017) recognises 315 Basque political prisoners, of which 310 are dispersed through 61 prisons, with only two in 2 prisons in the Basque Country.

In 39 prisons in the Spanish state, 239 Basque political prisoners are being kept and 68 in twenty prisons of the French state. There are 212 (68.85%) Basque political prisoners in prisons at distances of between 600 and 1,100 km of the Basque Country; from a distance of 400 to 590 km from their country there are 67 (21.75 %) and between 100 and 390 km of home another 29 (9.40 %).

The strain on relatives and friends is considerable, road accidents are frequent on their journeys to visit prisoners and a number have been killed.

Twenty-one prisoners (21) are diagnosed as being seriously or terminally ill and according to the states’ own penal codes should have been released on parole to home or hospital but instead of reducing the number of sick prisoners the total is climbing (almost doubled in recent years).  I accompanied ATA comrades to the port town of Ondarroa to participate in a demonstration organised by a broad platform calling for the release of terminally-ill Basque political prisoner Ibon Iparragirre.

Section of rally after demonstration in Ondarroa, Bizkaia, in solidarity with local seriously-ill prisoner Ibon Iparragirre, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Stage of the rally after demonstration in Ondarroa, Bizkaia, in solidarity with local seriously-ill prisoner Ibon Iparragirre, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Spanish state has rejected all the “peace process” (sic) overtures of the Abertzale Left leadership and says that ETA should just disappear and prisoners wishing to be pardoned and released must repent their previous actions, apologise to their “victims” and give information on their previous activities and comrades. It also says that all still at liberty and wanted for past illegal activities will continue to be pursued.

COMMENTS AND CONTRIBUTIONS

These too tended to be of a kind to come up again and again throughout the tour:

  • The situation in Ireland with regard to the liberation movement and prisoners is like that in the Basque Country or that which the latter will face as time goes on

  • The prisoners’ cause is being deserted by the Abertzale Left leadership

  • Their media and leadership had lied to the movement about the situation in Ireland

  • The leadership is only interested in penetrating the institutions and is neglecting the politics of the street

  • Otaegi and Adams are alike and McGuinness was a traitor when he asked people to inform on paramilitaries

The Abertzale Left did not of course comment on the talks – why would they? However, in Ibarra, I saw posters for the meeting torn down in areas where other political ones remained and according to my hosts, this was the work of the “oficialistas(i.e followers of the leadership’s line) in the town. It was notable too that with a few exceptions, a number of people within the Abertzale Left but whom I know to be very critical of the change of direction, did not attend the talks held in their areas. Since some had previously attended a meeting at which I spoke a year ago and engaged in discussion critical of the Abertzale leadership, I took it that these either disapproved of the ATA organisers or did not wish, for whatever reason, to be seen attending a meeting held by the organisation.

At all the talks I was received with friendliness and courtesy and after some I had a meal in company in a txoko (Basque building — or part of one — owned or rented by a gastronomic association) or the home of my hosts for the evening. Although I invited criticisms with genuine interest in hearing them, none were voiced publicly, whether of the content of my talk or of the Irish people generally — although there were some questions as to why the people “in the south” had not supported more widely the “struggle in the north”. I explained that what they call “the north” is one-fifth or the country and also divided in its population; in addition the Republican movement had left the social and economic concerns of the people in the other four-fifths largely unaddressed and in fact had opposed some social reforms in earlier times. People in the 26 Counties had given a lot of support but without mobilising them on their own concerns and specific conditions this was likely to be a minority activity and to decline over time.

CATALUNYA: SOUTHERN BASQUE ATTITUDE TO THE STRUGGLE THERE

Inevitably, the struggle in Catalunya came into the discourse at some point – after all, I had arrived in Euskal Herria just under two weeks after the Referendum.

The Catalan national flags, the esteladas (both versions) were in evidence across the Basque Country as were some solidarity banners and posters. The two solidarity demonstrations I witnessed (and in which I participated but for a while – each having been called for the same evening as my talk locally) in Nafarroa and in Bizkaia appeared to have been called by the “official” movement and were fairly small and quiet. The largest, of over fifty people, did not even have a flag, placard or banner, which was puzzling.

Large image on the wall of the youth local in Errekalde, Bilbao, where they hosted one of the talks, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

It was reported to me that some time back, the Abertzale Left had been close to the militant CUP (Catalan left-wing and independist popular movement) but now were moving closer to the Eskerra Republicana, often perceived as being less militant and closer to the Catalan bourgeoisie. Among the critics of the Abertzale Left leadership and others there seemed to be a doubt that the Catalan leadership was serious; however, both the “officials” and the “dissidents” had sent people to help the Catalans in their referendum.

After the Spanish police violence on October 1st there was a feeling that the Catalans were enduring what the Basques had endured for decades so why the great shock now? When two leaders of the Catalan movement were arrested and jailed without bail and called “political prisoners”, of course the Basques pointed to their own hundreds of political prisoners (and also to two Catalans who were ETA prisoners). The failure to declare a Republic on the promised day seemed to bear out those with a more cynical view but actions since then and the application of the repressive Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution are bound to raise feelings of respect and solidarity across the Basque national liberation movement, whether “official” or “dissident”.

IN CONCLUSION

It is clear that there is interest in the Irish situation and of that of the prisoners in at least some sections of the broad Basque national liberation movement. It is also clear that there is a substantial discomfort with the direction of the Abertzale Left’s leadership since 2011 (and for some since even earlier). Frustration is also evident as is a great concern for the political prisoners and a worry that they are being left without leadership, to come to their own arrangements with the Spanish state or to endure many more years in jail or die there (as Kepa De Hoyo did in August and as Ibon Iparragirre faces now).

This level of concern, disquiet and even distrust is not currently reflected in great numbers attending pickets or demonstrations organised by ATA, as numbers attending the talks showed in some areas but as the talks also showed, there is a network of support for ATA across the southern Basque Country. It was clear that a greater lead-up would have resulted in talks being hosted in further areas, including the province of Alava which was not included on this occasion. The general composition of the movement represented by ATA is healthy in its spread across generations, comprised of veterans (including ex-prisoners) and youth new to the struggle.

The pedestrian bridge at Ondarroa, scene of one of the “human walls” organised some years ago by Basque youth in resistance to the arrests of activists. Supporters placed the activist whom police were seeking in the middle and then packed the bridge with supporters, causing the police hours of work to carry out the arrest. I was told that the official leadership had ordered the cessation of these events. October 2017. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

From a personal point of view it was an interesting if somewhat hectic and stressful period but also one that increased my understanding of the reality.

From a political perspective I hope it helped build some links for solidarity between the struggles in each of the two nations and an awareness that pacification processes are not an alternative but only another face of repression. For the struggles in which so many have sacrificed so much to succeed, we need to raise our awareness of these processes. In these processes political prisoners, often seen by their populations as heroes and people to be cherished, are used by the repressive power as hostages and often too as bargaining counters, the temptation always there for some of those in struggle to use them in kind.

FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS!

LINKS:

Amnistia FB page (Euskera and Castillian (Spanish)): https://www.facebook.com/amnistiataaskatasuna/

Amnistia Blogsite (Euskera and Castillian): http://www.etxerat.eus/index.php/eu/

Etxerat Website (Euskera, Castillian and French): http://www.etxerat.eus/index.php/eu/

From Axpe de Busturia train station, Bizkaia, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Morning view of misty mountains from a host’s house in Etxarri, Nafarroa province, October 2017.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Bermeo Harbour and some Town
Bermeo Harbour and some of the town from heights above, October 2017. Near the big building at 9 o’clock on the photo was the location of a Franco prison for Resistance women — I was told that Basque nuns locally brought food to the jail for them every day. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Part of the Bay of Bizkaia (Biscay), October 2017, from the site of a Basque Gudari artillery battery during the Anti-Fascist War.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

SPANISH POLICEMAN TORTURER ON UN COMMITTEE FOR PREVENTION OF TORTURE

From FB page of Dublin Basque Solidarity Committee

SPANISH STATE APPOINTS POLICE OFFICER CONVICTED OF TORTURE TO UNITED NATIONS COMMITTEE FOR THE PREVENTION OF TORTURE.

Convicted Guardia Civil torturer of prisoner, Jose Maria De las Cuevas Carretero, appointed by the Spanish State to the UN Committee for the Prevention of Torture.
(Photo sourced from Gara newspaper)

No-one could accuse the Spanish authorities of failing to appreciate irony.

In 1997, in one of the rare cases of the Spanish authorities charging a police officer with torture and even rarer of conviction, Captain (then a Sergeant) José María De las Cuevas Carretero, along with fellow Guardia Civil officers Manuel Sánchez Corbi and Antonio Lozano García were found guilty of torturing Basque ETA suspect Kepa Urra when they detained him in 1992. A further three police accused were found not guilty but the medical evidence on Mr. Urra’s admission to hospital six hours after his arrest made it impossible for the Bizkaya court not to find his captorsguilty. Despite the police officers’ denials, the three were found guilty of having taken Mr. Urra to a deserted spot after this arrest and there, while he was handcuffed, to have beaten him with a blunt object and dragged him along the ground. They were sentenced to four years in prison and barred for six years from public office (a common accompaniment to prison sentence in the Spanish State).

However, one year later the Spanish Supreme Tribunal reduced the prison sentence of each to one year which meant they were free to go but with the public office disqualification still in force. The following year, they were pardoned by the Spanish Minister of Justice of the incoming PP Government of Aznar and Mr.De las Cuevas Carretero carried on with his police career, rising to the rank of Captain and participating in fora of the State and internationally.

Mr. De las Cuevas Carretero, who is a qualified lawyer, has been lecturing of the treatment of prisoners and about corruption. And who could say that he is not eminently qualified to lecture on those subjects? Or to represent the Spanish State authorities on those issues?

(News and photo source: Gara, also some background Internet research)