Mary Lou McDonald, the current president of Sinn Féin, surprised a few, just a few, with her recent comments thanking the English queen, Elizabeth, for her service. She stated that “Can I also extend to the British Queen a word of congratulations because 70 years is quite some record. That is what you call a lifetime of service.”(1)
Why someone who describes herself as a republican would want to heap praise on a monarch and refer to the reign of the monarch as service is bewildering. However, it is not that strange in the context of the Irish peace process. It is part of the long road of Sinn Féin’s accommodation to the British state that was laid out in the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin at that time abandoned any pretence of having a critique of imperialism and capitalism.
The agreement signed basically stated that the British had no selfish interest in Ireland and the conflict was a communal one. Putting it in blunt terms, two savage tribes agreed to settle their differences, the British state was not one of those savage agents in the conflict.(2)
Exactly what service has the English queen given and to whom? As a monarch she has blessed every British military adventure since her coronation in 1953, including the savagery of the British repression of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, various other colonial wars, not to mention her awarding of an OBE to Lt. Colonel Derek Wilford the man responsible for Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972. In 2019 she stood over her behaviour when she stated that the British government would “bring forward proposals to tackle vexatious claims that undermine our armed forces, and will continue to seek better ways of dealing with legacy issues that provide better outcomes for victims and survivors”.(3) The massacre of Bloody Sunday was placed in the category of vexatious claims.
Part of the service that McDonald now lauds includes this and many more such incidents. Though it is not unexpected. It can only surprise those who pay no attention to the outcomes of peace processes around the world. Yasser Arafat spent more time repressing Palestinians than he did fighting the Israelis after the Oslo Accords. In South Africa, the former mining trade union leader Cyril Ramphosa became a mining magnate, whose company was involved in the massacre of 34 striking miners at Marikana in 2012.(4) He and the ANC made their peace with white capitalists and obtained a share of the wealth, in Ramphosa’s case a very substantial amount which some estimates place around $780 million dollars. In El Salvador, the FMLN eventually gained power, but did not implement a single thing they had ever fought for and their former commander Joaquín Villalobos is now a consultant to right wing forces on how to defeat left wing movements and contributes to the right-wing think tank The Inter-American Dialogue, which includes such illustrious figures as Violetta Chamorro from Nicaragua and former head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, to name just two unsavoury characters.(5) In Colombia, the ink hadn’t even dried on the agreement and the FARC commander Timochenko declared that the Colombian armed forces would be allies of the FARC in building a new country. The murder of just over 300 members of the FARC since the signing of the peace agreement has not caused him to change his evaluation of the Colombian armed forces, in fact he has doubled down on his position.
It is in the nature of the beast. In every peace process that has happened, the former enemies of the state reconciled themselves to the regime and the system, without exception. McDonald’s declarations are just a confirmation of that and also a sign that it is a bottomless pit and there is no level of political depravity that Sinn Féin will not sink to.
Basque independentist militant Itxaso Zaldua was arrested on Tuesday in Hernani, in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa and according to media is to be charged with complicity in the killing of a senior right-wing politician in 2001. She has spent only three years at liberty in the southern Basque Country after nearly twelve in a French jail and is now back in custody pending trial. Her arrest has been denounced by both wings of the Basque pro-independence movement but from different perspectives.
As according to the bilingual GARA newspaper Zaldua was not held incommunicado, i.e without access to friends and relations, lawyer or doctor of choice, it is not likely that she will be tortured. Until a few years ago the use of a variety of types of torture during the five-day incommunicado period under the “anti-terror” (sic) laws was the rule rather than the exception. However, all detainees charged under the terrorism laws of the Spanish State are always taken to Madrid for interrogation by the Guardia Civil and then for court appearance, the distance from their homes placing an additional burden on friends, relatives and supporters (it is 450 km from Hernani). Some of those will be given temporary accommodation and support by Madrid organisations in solidarity.
TWELVE YEARS IN JAIL
Back in April 2005 Itxaso Zaldua was arrested in the Lannemezan area of the Occitan region of the French state, along with her comrade José Segurola Querejeta. They were charged with membership of ATAKA (sub-structure of the armed Basque resistance organisation ETA), of which she was accused of leading and duly convicted and jailed in the French system (which also disperses political prisoners to jails throughout the territory).
Zaldua was released in 2017 and right-wing Spanish unionist organisations including the “Association of Victims of Terrorism”, many of their members relatives of Spanish police or military, complained at the traditional honouring reception she received upon her return home from French jail. Zaldua walked hand-in-hand with her young daughter down a street with well-wishers on both sides cheering, was presented with a floral bouquet, two women danced the aurresku (honour dance) before here and another shouted the irrintzi, the high-pitched yodeling cry reputed to have been a battle-cry (see embedded video) and the Eusko Gudariak (“Basque Soldiers”, similar to the Irish “Soldiers’ Song”) was sung by all.
The “official” Basque independentist movement responded quickly to the ex-prisoner’s new arrest: the Sare organisation convened a demonstration in Hernani the same afternoon demanding Zaldua’s release and the trade union works committee of her place of employed also denounced her arrest. The official movement’s political party EH Bildu (headed by Arnaldo Otegi), issued a statement that “It is time to be emptying the jails, not filling them,” a reference to the nearly 250 Basque political prisoners still in jail.
The party’s statement called the arrest “another obstacle in the path chosen by this nation towards peace, coexistence and freedom; a path which, cost whatever it may, we are determined to follow”.
However the ‘dissident’ organisation Amnistia (Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression), which also condemned the arrest, issued a statement declaring that “There will be no peace until the reasons that are at base of the conflict are resolved and until all the militants who are punished as a consequence of said conflict are free.
Both organisations called the people to action, with EH Bildu referring to “the participation and activation of Basque society” and Amnistia in contrast stating that “the working class need to organize”.
“THEY WANT TO HUMILIATE THE BASQUE COUNTRY”
The Basque organisation ETA ended its armed struggle in 2012 as part of a unilateral bid for a peace process of the movement under the leadership of Arnaldo Otegi. However, a peace process requires the participation of at least both antagonists and the Spanish State has shown no interest in negotiation. Whatever one may say about such processes in Ireland or in South Africa, the resistance organisations in those countries ensured the freedom of their imprisoned members before they signed up to the deal. This was not so in the Basque case.
It is no doubt difficult for observers to understand why the Spanish State is now pursuing an ex-prisoner for alleged complicity in an assassination nineteen years ago when State has gained not only the ETA’s abandonment of armed struggle but even its dissolution. Nor is there any sign that Zaldua is a sympathiser of the “dissident” movement; the statements in her support from across the “official” movement and the speed of response is in stark contrast to the “officials’” response to the hunger and thirst strike of political prisoner Patxi Ruiz in May. Ruiz had denounced the “official” leadership some years ago and been expelled from the collective that leadership controls (and which precipitated the resignations of another four Basque prisoners in solidarity).
Ironically, it is the assessment of the “dissident” Amnistia which seems correct: “This arrest, like other previous ones, shows that the States (i.e French and Spanish) want to humiliate the Basque Country. By means of life sentences against a specific against a specific model of resistance, they want to intimidate the new generations that join the struggle.”
Whatever the eventual outcome of the judicial process against Zaldua in the no-jury National Court in Madrid, it is clear that the struggle against the Spanish State is far from finished in the southern Basque Country, though its armed stage seems over at least for the present.
The “official” leadership has been following an electoral path and quoting the support of external political figures such as Bertie Ahern, Gerry Adams, Kofi Anan, Tony Blair and Brian Currin of South Africa.
In the Euskadi regional government elections on Sunday in the southern Basque Country, the “official” party led by Otegi, EH Bildu, as expected came in second. The PNV, the Basque Nationalist Party, came in first and the PSE, Basque version of the Spanish unionist PSOE, in third place. Despite periodic approaches by the EH Bildu leadership, the PNV will govern the three provinces either in coalition with the PSE or in “confidence and supply” agreement with the party.
Even if EH Bildu in years to come were able to reach first place in Euskadi regional elections, what of the other region, Nafarroa? And the three northern provinces of the Basque Country, under French rule? And, even with an eventual majority in all seven provinces, if the Spanish State were still to deny independence, as it does with an independentist majority in Catalonia, what then?
Over to the Amnistia movement, which advocates street power: “If we are to achieve peace, it will come from the full implementation of total amnesty, with the unconditional release of prisoners, refugees and political deportees, with the expulsion of the occupation forces and with the overcoming of the reasons that pushed so many people to fight. That will be the only guarantee to end arrests like today and other similar repressive actions.”
That seems a realistic enough assessment. But as to how to achieve their objectives against the opposition of the Spanish and French states, neither section of the Basque independentist movement seems to have an answer.
Looking back along the road we’ve travelled, I can see we have come a long way to get where we are today. I’ve traveled a long way. I was very young then, when I started. We all were. In particular, I remember, Carl and Eva and I, we were in secondary school, fifteen years of age.
We discussed the situation often and pretty quickly became revolutionaries. We knew people in the Party – well, we called it the Old Party after awhile, you’ll see why soon. Yes and they wanted to recruit us. If enough of us joined them, voted for them, they would be able to change things, they told us. And they had some credibility because some of them had fought in the old days, when things were even worse. Some had lost relatives killed and some had gone to jail.
But we were not taken in, we weren’t fooled. It wasn’t just that theirs looked a really slow way to change things; we didn’t believe it would ever succeed. And we thought they knew that, deep inside and were just prepared to settle for things much as they were. Make the best of it (which for some of them meant shady deals and lining their pockets).
And we were never going to do that.
We weren’t in the armed group, the three of us but we supported them. The armed group were our heroes, the sharp end of our resistance. Over time they would weaken our oppressors and in the end we’d get the freedom we wanted. And these young men and women, they really fought. They paid for their resistance too; plenty of them were killed and if caught, they were tortured and sent to jail for really long sentences.
We delighted in their successes, marched in their funerals, supported them in their struggles in the jails and, later, honoured them when eventually they were released. We did the best we could ourselves against the oppression and general injustice but without actually taking up the gun: put up posters, painted graffiti slogans on wall, held protest marches and pickets, gave out leaflets, held public meetings. Of course, the oppressors went after us and we were out there, in plain sight, more or less.
Our oppressors had made some laws under which they could declare just about anything we did illegal. Unless we sat at home and did nothing. Or joined the Old Party. They called that group of laws the Anti-Terrorist Legislation.
ARREST AND TORTURE
One night while were out postering in memory of a couple of our martyrs, on the anniversary of their being killed by the police, we got caught. They gave us a bit of a beating and took us to the police station, telling us on the way what they were going to do to us.
Under the ATL they could keep us in a police station for five days without access to any of our friends and relatives or even a lawyer. I’m sorry to say they broke me in the first 24 hours. You might think that was a pretty short period – it didn’t seem like it at the time. Being held in a dark windowless cell, hooded, being threatened with all kinds of horrible things you know they can do, listening to the screams of other people having some of those things done to them, having a plastic bag put over your head until you can’t breathe anymore and you feel sure you’re going to die, your lungs straining ….. It’s amazing how long 24 hours can seem. And even if you lasted that 24 hours, you knew there were another 96 hours to go after that.
Yes, I signed a “confession”, what they told me to say. According to the confession, we were honouring the martyrs because they wanted to overthrow the State, which is why we were putting up posters about them. We wanted more people to join the fighters to help recruitment. Not really about honouring their memory at all. “Glorifying and Supporting Terrorism” was what I was going to be charged with which, if convicted, would get me three years in jail. And the others: my “confession” was not only about me but about Eva and Carl too.
After I signed the “confession” they left me more or less alone but somewhere I could hear shouting and screaming. I thought it might be Eva and Carl, hoped it wasn’t. And I still had to wear a hood whenever any of the guards came in the cell or their doctor examined me. Well, they told me he was a doctor. I told him I felt ok – I knew the guards were listening and I’d get repeat treatment if I said anything against them. And it wouldn’t do any good anyway.
By the third day, or what I thought might the third day, I didn’t hear what sounded like a female screaming any more but could still hear shouting. And sometimes someone crying.
I know it was the fifth day when they brought us to court, put us all in the same cell, waiting for our trial to start. Eva and Carl looked pretty rough and I suppose I did a bit too. Eva burst into tears and told us she had signed a confession against us after the second day. We put our arms around her and held her while she cried. I admitted I had signed too, assuming we all had. I didn’t say I had only held out for about 24 hours, though.
Well, women detainees, they get it especially hard. As well as the rest of it, they are kept naked or semi-naked and, if on their monthly periods, refused tampons or cloths. They are fondled in their private parts, threatened with rape, humiliated and sometimes have something pushed inside them ….. The police don’t do things like that to male detainees ….. well, occasionally, if they know one is gay ….
The shock was that Carl had not signed a confession – he hadn’t broken. So how come they had brought him to trial early on the fifth day with the rest of us? Well, they must have decided he wasn’t going to break; apparently most people break by the fourth day, which is why the limit is set at five. And anyway they had our statements implicating him.
We swore we would retract our statements during the trial, declare they had been obtained under torture. That would invalidate the statements, surely?
We were tried together in a special Anti-Terrorist Legislation court. One judge, no jury. No public. We had lawyers our family and friends had got for us but they were only given five minutes with us before the trial. The Prosecutor produced the statements against us all, those of the police who arrested us and my “confession” and Eva’s. Lied through their teeth that we had made them voluntarily. They produced a statement too for Carl but his lawyer objected it didn’t have his signature, so the police couldn’t show that they hadn’t made it all up.
When we gave our evidence, Carl denied he had made any statement whatsoever and we retracted ours, talked about the torture we had suffered. Eva was magnificent, denouncing them through her tears and shaking. The Prosecutor brought the police back to testify who of course denied not only the torture but any kind of coercion. Some of them even appeared shocked at the allegations. And the doctor – his voice sounded familiar so he probably had been the man who had “examined” me — said I had made no complaint (true) and had seemed calm and rested (not possible).
The courtroom is a funny place. Things the whole world knows are not true appear reasonable while the preposterous can seem logical. Not only had they not tortured us, the police witnesses said, but they had never heard of it being done. So why had we made such detailed statements and then retracted them, accusing them of torture. Well, they were mystified about that. Except …. some had heard that this was a propaganda tactic popular among our group, to smear the police. But why then had we given them a statement at all …. well, at least two of us? Skilled interviewing, was the reply. Trained interrogators, going over the suspect’s stories again and again, exposing every contradiction.
The only thing skilled about them was in making sure they stopped short of killing us and generally left no bruises, especially on our faces. Oh yeah, and the acting in court – that was very skilled.
The case against us, with our repudiation of the statements, should have got us at most a few months or maybe even a fine for postering agitational material on public property. Eva and I got three years each, while Carl got nearly four. I suppose the fact they hadn’t broken him pissed them off and they made out he was our leader so the judge gave him extra.
Prison was bad but it was a relief after the police station. They moved us around jails a few times over the years, we didn’t often see one another and our families and friends had to travel long distances to visit us. When they were permitted to or we hadn’t been moved the day before the visit. We learned later, though no-one told us at the time, that Carl’s aunt had a serious accident on the motorway. Long distances, tiring, unaccustomed to motorway driving, bad luck …. With a couple of operations and time, she was able to walk again but the family had to invent excuses why she couldn’t visit him, especially because they had always been close.
Most of the prison warders were hostile but some were sadists, constantly trying to provoke me, finding ways to frustrate whatever little pleasure or diversion I was permitted. Sometimes it was “too wet” to go in the exercise yard for my permitted two hours daily. Sometimes the library was “closed for stocktaking” or “due to staff shortages.” All prisoner mail is opened before being given to or sent by the prisoner but sometimes I got a letter that looked like it had been spat on. Or it smelled bad. Often, it would be two weeks later than the date stamp. Some letters were returned to the sender, I learned later, marked “UNSUITABLE”. I had one returned to me, although I was always careful what I wrote, this one marked “BREACHING PRISON SECURITY” — I had made some remarks about the prison food.
Some of the social prisoners were ok whenever I was in contact with them, some were hostile, seemed fascist. Sometimes a warder would make comments about me in the hearing of those kinds of prisoners. Anytime out of my cell I felt I had to be alert, with 180 degrees vision.
I did physical exercises in my cell to keep my body healthy and studied for the sake of my mind. Law was the subject I studied most, so I could represent activists in court and file motions and so on but I also studied politics and economics.
When I got out, I enrolled in a law studies course. I wrote to Carl – I hadn’t been allowed to previously. From his letters, he seemed ok but you never know for sure, do you? Not when you know the letters have to pass the prison censor and the prisoner has to keep up a strong front also. I met Eva too, she was released same time as I but a long distance away; she was subdued, a kind of frightened look in her eyes. Not surprising but she still kept in the movement, though we each took a step back from the more illegal street work, where we could be isolated – like postering. I qualified to practice law at a basic level.
THE POLITICAL PARTY
We began to discuss founding a political party and standing in elections. The armed struggle would go on, we thought, but over time we could push the Old Party back, take a lot of their votes. After all, what were they doing (except some of their leaders and contacts lining their pockets)? We could really expose them with our policies.
So we formed a political party, a New Party, for which we had to agree to respect the Constitution. We were doing well but, just before the elections, our party was disqualified by the State. “Connections with terrorism” was the reason given. We were furious and so were our supporters. And we formed another party. The State disqualified that one and, for good measure, banned it. Now one could go to jail for being a member.
This kind of thing went on over years, different versions of the New Party and more people going to jail and we rarely got a chance to stand in elections, much less to build up momentum.
We tried forming a coalition with some more moderate elements, even some we had called “collaborationist” in the old days but the State said we would have to denounce the armed struggle to be a legal constitutional party. We couldn’t do that because we’d be turning our back on not only our martyrs but on hundreds of activists in jail. And our own people wouldn’t stand for it. By this time I had risen to General Secretary of our underground Party.
After long discussions with the leaders of the armed wing, eventually we all agreed to announce an end to the armed struggle and to hope for the legalisation of our Party and early release of prisoners. It was a hard decision but not as hard as one might think because we were all pretty worn down and our military wing hadn’t been doing all that well for some time. The State had penetrated both sides of our movement with agents and people turned informer — hundreds were in jail or awaiting trial.
What was harder was getting our supporters to agree but by managing a few meetings, ensuring we had people with a militant reputation to speak in favour of the plan, ensuring people for the idea got more time to talk than those who didn’t and a few other things, we got it through. Besides, a lot of them believed us when we whispered that it was all a game to fool our oppressors.
Eventually, after we declared our total opposition to any armed struggle and total commitment to the electoral process, we got legalised and now we are chipping away at the Old Party, though it looks like it may take a long time to supplant them.
But some of the young people, and some older ones like Carl, are saying we have compromised too much, that the road we’ve chosen is too long and anyway is never going to get us justice. These people do things we’d rather they didn’t, that we’ve dropped, like illegal postering and spraying slogans, holding illegal commemorations for martyrs, protest marches, getting into trouble with the police ….. Making us look bad.
And what’s more, unbelievable as it might seem, they’re calling us “The Old Party”!!!
The Basque pro-independence movement, the Abertzale Left, fought the Spanish State for over four decades. in 2012 its leadership renounced armed struggle without any reciprocal agreement with the Spanish State, declaring its faith in an imagined “Basque peace process”, sought alliances with social democratic and capitalist-nationalist parties and publicly apologised for its past actions of resistance. The movement sank into general inactivity except on the electoral front. But in recent weeks there have been signs of awakening, though under a different leadership – or is the giant merely muttering and twitching in its sleep?
How does the description “Giant” fit a resistance movement in a total population of less than three million people? A nation divided between the Spanish and French states? Part of the answer is precisely in those features, also in its history during the Spanish Civil / Anti-Fascist War and “French” Maquis and earlier. Also in its long struggle in defence of its native language Euskera, almost certainly the oldest in Europe and perhaps the first to reach it in neolithic times.
This is a movement that carried out general strikes against the Franco dictatorship, ensured that three of its provinces rejected the 1978 Constitution of the Spanish State which, in atmosphere of fear and murderous repression and with the collusion of the newly-legalised social-democratic (PSOE) and communist (CPE) political parties, was voted in by a majority in every other region of the Spanish State (population another 35 million people).
Inspired by the examples of the Algerian independence struggle and socialist Cuba, the Abertzale Left movement rose from the defeat of the nation in the Spanish Civil/ Anti-Fascist War and the terrible repression under the fascist dictator General Franco and in 1959, formed the ETA (Land and Freedom) organisation. The youth wing of the conservative Basque Nationalist Party conceded the Left-inclination in order to join with them. Enduring arrests and torture of its supporters, it was not until 1968 that ETA took an armed action; halted at a police checkpoint and determined not to be arrested, Txabi Etxebarrieta shot a policeman dead and was in turn killed himself by pursuing police.
The first planned armed action carried out was also that year when an ETA squad shot dead Meliton Manzanas, head of the political police in the Basque Country, a notorious torturer of prisoners and a Nazi sympathiser in the past.
A number of other actions were taken by ETA over the years, some of them spectacular but, like many armed resistance groups, some also questionable in value or even in justification from a revolutionary point of view. But in December 1973 an ETA squad in Madrid assassinated Admiral Carrero Blanco, General Franco’s nominated successor, an action which many credited with hastening the progress of the Transition of the Spanish State to nominal democracy. General Franco died without a strong agreed political replacement almost exactly two years later, in December 1975 and the Transition process ran from then until 1978.
The struggle continued after the Transition, since the new Constitution declared any breakaway from the unity of the Spanish State a crime unless a majority in the Spanish Parliament voted in favour. The military and police repression in the Basque Country was huge. In the 1980s the social-democratic (PSOE) Spanish Government was exposed as heavily implicated in a number of terrorist groups operating against Basques through kidnapping, torture, gun and bomb attacks (see GAL) and eventually the Minister of the Interior and a number of high-ranking officers were given jail sentences.
In 1983 mass demonstrations and armed actions by ETA brought about the abandonment of the Spanish State’s nuclear reactor at the picturesque coastal spot at Lemoiz, followed by a new Spanish government declaring a moratorium on all building of nuclear reactors.
Another aspect of the struggle was against compulsory military service, which the Spanish State only ended in 2002. People not only evaded it but also protested publicly against it.
Many people in the Spanish state opposed being part of NATO in the 1986 referendum but the Basque Country was highly represented in the vote against, around double the vote of those in favour and along with Catalonia being the only regions with a majority voting “no”.1
The ideology of the movement which found expression in ETA was national liberationist and socialist and this was reflected to a greater or lesser degree in all its parts, whether military or civilian. The Abertzale Left during the period organised itself into one political party after another after each in turn was banned by the Spanish State and forbidden to field candidates in elections.
But the movement had a huge social following too, in youth movements, punk and heavy metal bands, social-cultural centres, pirate radio stations and promoters of Euskera as a spoken language (all leaders of the Abertzale Left were required to be able to speak the language and all public meetings were addressed in Euskera and Spanish or even Euskera alone). There was even a popular Abertzale style of haircut and dress. The Abertzale Left also had a sizeable trade union, LAB which, along with ELA, a union founded by the Basque Nationalist party, recruited the majority of unionised Basque workers2. Feminist, LBGT, linguistic, eco-friendly, anti-animal cruelty sectors all contained many people broadly in support of the Abertzale Left or at least of its stated objectives.
The movement also had newspapers, radio stations and internet sites and many of these were closed down by the Spanish State, alleging that they were “collaborating with terrorism”. Currently the Spanish State is moving towards the closure of the movement’s social-cultural centres, the Herriko Tabernak (People’s Taverns). This arises from a judgement by the National Court in 2011, a judgement corresponding to an infamous statement by Baltazar Garcón, at the time a prominent Judge of that Court, that “Everything is ETA”. The closures are to be carried out now although ETA ceased armed activity permanently in 2012 and disbanded itself a little later.
Repression by the Spanish State has included executions and clandestine assassinations and led to relatively huge numbers of Basque political prisoners, not all by any means military fighters and conviction with “confessions” extracted through torture during the five-day incommunicado period ensured a problem-free conveyor belt for the Spanish State. That conveyor belt delivered its victims to jails dispersed all over the Spanish state, nearly every one hundreds of kilometres and sometimes over a thousand from the prisoners’ homes. The financial, physical and mental strains on friends and relatives, including elderly and children having to travel such distances to visit their loved ones are hard to imagine, often facing abuse or harassment on the way or at their destination, apart from serious accidents on motorways (including fatalities). Many pickets and demonstrations are held in the Basque Country throughout the year and each January a monster march clogs the streets of Bilbao.
The issue of the prisoners has always been a big one for the Abertzale Left and despite dispersal the prisoners built an organisation within the jails, responding to their situation in a disciplined manner.
During the first decade of this century it was clear that ETA was not doing well and the Abertzale Left in general was facing many more years of struggle against an unyielding state with repression everywhere and hundreds of political prisoners in jails.
The leadership was attracted to the much-advertised pacification/ peace processes of South Africa, Palestine and Ireland. By any estimation the Palestine process soon collapsed and its rejection by most of Palestinian society was clearly indicated first by the Intifada and secondly by the electoral gains of Hamas, pushing Al-Fatah into second place. To undiscerning eyes the Irish and South African3 processes seemed to be doing well and both the ANC and Sinn Féin lent strong support to the Abertzale Left’s imagined “peace process”. Despite that support and that of such prominent imperialist figures as Tony Blair and Kofi Annan, the Spanish ruling class was not interested in playing and eventually the Abertzale Left’s leadership was left with nowhere to go. However, they persisted in trying to build alliances with the majority Basque National Party and with smaller nationalist-social-democratic groups; they succeeded with the second sector but failed with the first and seem condemned to second-party status electorally in a Spanish colony, a nation divided by the French-Spanish border.
However, in their search for acceptance by the above-mentioned sectors, the Abertzale Left not only renounced armed struggle but apologised for past actions, ended street confrontations and called on the prisoners to negotiate their progress individually through prison system grades to eventual parole. Some of Abertzale Left public representatives even attended events commemorating Guardia Civil and Ertzaintza (Basque police) killed by ETA in the past.
When the struggle for independence broke out again recently in Catalonia with the 2017 Referendum and the Spanish State responded with a violent Guardia Civil invasion and jailing of politicians and social activists, the Abertzale Left leadership noticeably declined to open up a second front of struggle.
There were early but sporadic signs that not all movement was happy with the Abertzale Left’s new path. Askapena, an organisation set up within the Abertzale Left to work on internationalist solidarity, which at one time could list affiliated groups in Ireland, Germany, Italy4, Paris, Brittany, Barcelona, Madrid, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and a number of Latin American countries, broke quietly with with the Abertzale Left over its change of policies5. Notably also, when four members of Askapena were accused of “assisting terrorism” in 2010, they refused to apologise for their work and fought the case, being eventually cleared of all charges in 2016.6
In addition, many Basques were critical of the process, feeling that even if they were prepared to go down the new road, it had been handled badly by the leadership.
A leading Marxist theoretician of the movement, Inaki Gil, resigned from the national leadership years ago, though not from the movement; however he may well be persona non-grata in it now due to a published interview in which he criticised the decision of the 47 on trial in September last year to apologise for past actions of the Basque liberation movement, even after 50,000 had marched through Bilbao streets in their support two days earlier.
When Arnaldo Otegi — generally seen as the architect of the new road for the Abertzale Left7 – was arrested with others in 2009 and, while on pre-trial detention began a hunger strike only to end it soon afterwards, it did not reflect well on him. While he beat a charge of “glorifying terrorism”, he was convicted in 2011 for allegedly reorganising Batasuna, banned political party of the Abertzale Left and sentenced to ten years, reduced on appeal to six and walked free in 2016. In the meantime a Free Otegi campaign (2015) attracted some notable foreign support (including Desmond Tutu) but was criticised in the Basque liberation movement for highlighting the case of one political prisoner above many others8 (including those who were serving much longer sentences).
Some years ago a new Basque political prisoner solidarity organisation came into being, calling itself ATA (Amnistia Eta Askatasuna – Amnesty and Freedom9). They enjoyed a good showing at their first demonstration but came under public attack not only by the Abertzale Left leadership but by a number of ETA members on trial in France. They were accused of using the prisoners as a stalking horse when what they really wanted was to attack the new line of the movement’s leadership. Censorship and condemnation in the Abertzale Left’s daily newspaper GARA followed.
Although their public support waned for awhile, in 2018 a youth group of the Abertzale Left was expelled after they had publicly denounced their annual conference managers for refusing to put their position paper forward for discussion; this youth organisation now collaborates with ATA. Last year, a new Basque revolutionary group called Jarki was formed and drew a sizable crowd to their commemoration of the annual Gudari Eguna (Basque Soldier Day)10.
However the issue of development remained in doubt and no-one could predict with confidence that the movement would be rebuilt along revolutionary lines under a new leadership.
The week before last, Basque political prisoner Patxi Ruiz embarked upon a hunger and thirst strike and although he abandoned the thirst component after 11 days he continues on the hunger strike. He took this action in protest against harassment and beatings by the prison administration and jailers and highlighted the fact that prisoners
were being refused virus-protection clothing or testing and that the jailers were not being tested either. He also wanted visits from his family to be permitted and prisoners allowed to attend funerals of family members (he had been refused permission to attend his father’s funeral). More recently he has demanded that prisoners be relocated to jails near their homes, a long-standing demand of the movement and which is entirely in accordance with model rules for prisons in the EU and the UN. Despite the official leadership of the Abertzale Left firstly ignoring the situation and then condemning his supporters, Ruiz’s struggle galvanised the mostly dormant Abertzale movement.
Every day has seen small actions across the Basque Country, including protest pickets on bridges, beaches, town squares etc; solidarity fasts; slogans painted … Large solidarity marches have been held in Irunea/ Pamplona (Nafarroa province), Donosti/ San Sebastian (Guipuzkoa), Baiona (Bayonne), Bilbao and Durango (Bizkaia). ATA’s web page is full of developing news and the facebook page, which had fallen into silence, is active again. Last Sunday in Pamplona/ Irunea, police attacked demonstrators with batons and fired rubber bullets at close quarters.Patxi Ruiz solidarity demonstration 24 May 2020 attacked by police with batons and rubber bullets
Some of the Basque prisoners who are part of the “official list” have begun taking solidarity action, refusing food or to leave their cells for periods in Almería, Brevia-Ávila, Castelló I, Córdoba, Huelva, Murcia (where Patxi is), Puerto III, Rennes, Sevilla II, Topas-Salamanca …. refusal to leave one’s cell also means forgoing family phone calls. Patxi had been expelled from the Abertzale prisoners’ collective in 2017 for speaking out against the new line of the official leadership which another four prisoners have repudiated also11.
However the mass of Basque political prisoners have so far remained quiet, “concentrating on moving through their grades while Patxi lies dying”, in a quotation from an ATA commentary which blamed this new lack of unity on the fragmentation engendered by the official leadership.
A group of ex-prisoners has now also called for solidarity with Ruiz.
“COULD NOT SINK LOWER”
According to a public statement by ATA denouncing political parties Sortu and EH Bildu, the official Abertzale leadership made no comment until Patxi Ruiz was into his fifth day of hunger and thirst strike and then it was to mention him only in passing, while denouncing the spray-painting of political parties’ buildings by protesters and the burning of an ATM. On the 10th day the official leadership again released a statement, saying they were trying to organise one of their elected politicians to visit the prisoner but condemning the mobilisations across the Basque Country and accusing them of endangering Patxi Ruiz’s life. “They could not sink lower”, commented ATA, who also pointed out how late the official leadership had come to comment and that without the public-space protests, neither the media nor the official leadership would have taken any notice whatsoever.
What the future holds for Patxi Ruiz in the short-term is hard to predict, already weakened by ten days of thirst strike and now into his 16th day of hunger strike. What the near and medium-term future holds for the Basque movement is also an open question, depending to some extent on how ATA is able to capitalise on this upsurge and build an organisation or a network of coherence and unity, at least in action.
The official Abertzale leadership will do what they can to destroy any such movement but they have already yielded the streets, one of the main arenas of the movement in the past. Both groups are mutually exclusive and the advance of one in the wider Basque movement can only be at the expense of the other.
The Spanish State too will be watching developments and no doubt considering its own options of repression, although not so easily done as before, without even an ETA existence to justify their response to the public.
Meanwhile the Catalan independence struggle simmers on and if both should link up in mutual solidarity …..
2The main unions in the Spanish state, Unión General de Trabajadores and Comisiones Obreras were founded respectively by the PSOE and the CPE. Both are Spanish unionist and have the majority of unionised workers in every region of the Spanish state except the southern Basque Country and Galicia.
3While the people in South Africa have the vote and the ANC political party has done well out of the deal, going almost straight into Government, the mass of people struggle on low level income, high level violent crime, unemployment and badly-delivered services, while an ANC clique wallow in riches gained through corruption. Sinn Féin went first into the British colony’s government and now has the most elected parliamentary delegates from the February 2020 General Election in the Irish State; however over two decades after the Good Friday agreement the country is no nearer unification or nation-wide independence and is run by neo-liberal capitalist classes selling out the natural resources and services of the nation.
4Germany and Italy had a number of these; in Ireland the cities of Belfast, Dublin and Cork each had one.
5This organisation effectively ceased to exist due to the new line of the Abertzale Left. Although a number of foreign committee delegates did not disagree with the new line (some certainly did) nevertheless it began to fade away from then on.
6In marked contrast to the apology in September last year for previous actions of the movement by 47 members of a number of Abertzale Left organisations, including those against repression and in solidarity with prisoners, before they had even been tried by the court. This shameful action was taken two days after 50,000 had taken to the streets to support them and left deep hurt, bewilderment and shame throughout the movement. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/16/mass-trial-of-basque-activists-in-spain-ends-with-plea-deal
7He had come into the political leadership with Joseba Permach of the Abertzale Left in 1997 after 23 members of the Batasuna leadership were jailed for seven years by the Spanish State. He was elected General Secretary of the political party Sortu in 2013.
8The Abertzale Left had never previously endorsed any campaign focusing on individual prisoners except in the case of terminally and seriously-ill prisoners, of which at one time there were as many as 15 who, even under Spain’s own prison regulations, should have been paroled home or to hospital.
9Though now it gives the translation as “Amnesty and Against Repression”. An Amnistia organisation had existed earlier but dissolved or reformed after banning by the Spanish State and one of the accusations of the Abertzale Left is that dissidents misappropriated the name.
On 15 February Ferriter’s column in the Irish Times expressed the opinion that comparison of Sinn Féin with Fianna Fáil in the 1930s only takes us so far. After looking at less of the overall history of the main Irish parties than I had in my article of 11 February in Rebel Breeze but adding some pieces I had not, what was his conclusion that differed so widely from mine? Well, that the military past was too new with SF!
But, actually, not true of Provisional SF with regard to FF, which came into government in 1932, less than two decades after the end of the Civil War and only six years after its split from Sinn Féin. De Valera, President of Fianna Fáil, had been a leader of the Republican side in the Civil War, from which side came the majority of Fianna Fáil’s supporters. By the time PSF gets into Government, it will be LONGER than two decades since Provisional IRA gave up its armed struggle!
On 11 February I posted an article of mine on Rebel Breeze and from there on to Facebook, making the point that, despite hostile media and politician claims to the contrary, Sinn Féin is very like the main Irish political parties – and that that is not a good thing. I traced the main elements of the parties’ history, how they had changed their positions and I elaborated the point that the main difference in their trajectories is that SF’s arrival on the neo-colonial capitalist political field was just more recent.
It is worth noting (a point I had omitted in my piece) that nearly the entire Fianna Fáil government Cabinet in 1932 was composed of Civil War IRA men and that most of the remainder had been in Free State prison during that war.
It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but I can easily avoid being pleased by Ferriter substantially following my line of historical analysis. This is the man who, during the 2016 High Court hearing about the Government and property speculator plans for Moore Street, wrote a nasty attack on the demonstrators who had occupied the buildings and subsequently blockaded them against demolition. If he had been hoping to influence the High Court’s decision he failed – and spectacularly, because the judgement was that not only the buildings but the whole quarter is a 1916 historical monument.
Frank McDonald had also written an opinion piece during the trial against conservation and the demonstrators in the same newspaper (what WAS the Irish Times up to?) but after the judgement, he had the grace to apologise (sort of: he wrote that he had been in error).
When ETA, the armed Basque Left pro-Independence group) abandoned armed resistance and decommissioned its weapons, many wondered at the absence of public dissent among its ranks. A dissident trend did appear in the Basque pro-independence movement but it took longer than it had in Ireland; it is in existence now and growing.
In using the term “dissident”, a description not always accepted by those to whom it is applied, I mean those who disagree with the direction taken by the leadership of the organisation and who have therefore separated themselves from the organisation. It becomes a problematic term when it is implied that the “dissidents” have diverged from the original path – on the contrary, those who have left the organisation would say, it is the leadership which has left the path and it is those being called “dissidents” who remain on the “true path”.
In the Basque pro-independence movement, as in the Irish Republican movement, the “dissidents” are in a minority but that should not be taken to mean that those who have remained within the “official” movement are in complete agreement with the leadership nor happy with the state of affairs within the movement. Indeed, within the Izquierda Abertzale (Basque Left pro-Independence movement), many are very unhappy indeed. Some do not agree with alliances with social democrats or attempted with the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party), others with complete disarmament, some with disarmament without concessions in return, yet others with particular decisions at various junctures (such as pleading guilty to “terrorism” when the work they had been doing was nothing of the sort, as happened recently in the mass trial of prisoner solidarity activists arrested back in 2013). Or with “apologising to the victims” as the Spanish State has been pressing on prisoners and detainees (the Spanish State of course apologises for nothing, neither the fascist-military uprising of Franco and company, nor the Dictatorship of almost four decades, nor executions, nor recent torture).
There were splits enough in the Irish Republican movement even soon after the Civil War but they also came thick and fast in the early 1970s, out of which grew the Provisionals (Sinn Féin and PIRA) and the IRSP and INLA, leaving Official Sinn Féin and OIRA as a rapidly-diminishing and eventually disintegrating remainder. Another split came about as a result of the electoral path of Provisional SF in 1986, out of which came Republican Sinn Féin. But it was the Good Friday Agreement and its effects which caused the most splits and desertions from the ranks of the Provisionals, leading to the creation of a number of organisations over time: éirigi, 32 County Sovereignty Movement, 1916 Societies, Saoradh and others.
POLITICAL PRISONERS, IRELAND & BASQUE COUNTRY
Most unfortunately, the number of Republican organisations led also to a number of political prisoner support groups and currently there are three main ones: Cabhair (RSF), Cogus (mainly 32 CSM) and Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association (mainly Saoradh).
In the Basque movement, the Izquierda Abertzale, although there were the abiding split has come over the issue of the Republican prisoners. The traditional line of the IA has always been that the prisoners, whether captured ETA volunteers or political activist victims of repression, are political prisoners. It follows that they should be released in any settlement of the Basque national question. But in the meantime, if prisoners, they should be kept in prisons near their homes so that they can be visited without too much difficulty by relatives and friends. That is not only a humane principle but is underwritten by EU and UN policy recommendations on the treatment of prisoners. The Spanish State, however, keeps its political prisoners dispersed throughout its territory, hundreds and even a thousand kilometres away from the family and friends of the prisoners (as does the French State). This is not only an additional punishment on the prisoners, one which was not a specified part of their sentence but also – and perhaps principally – on their relatives, children, partners and friends.
The organisation Amnistia (Gestoras pro Amnistia) was created in 1970 within the movement to agitate for a total amnesty for the prisoners. As is usual with the Spanish State, in 2002 it banned this organisation also as one “assisting terrorism”, threatened its activists with prison and the organisation ceased to exist publicly, their trial beginning in 2008. The State’s outlook was fully expressed in the infamous statement of the former judge and overseer of torture but so beloved of liberals, Baltazar Garzon: “Everything is ETA”.
The organisation of relatives of prisoners on the movement’s “official” list, Etxerat (Homeward) continued to exist and to organise visits, share information and agitate about the prisoners’ treatment but it is not a political organisation as such, which is difficult to combine with welfare work.
To carry out the specifically political work around the prisoners, the organisation Herrira (to the Homeland) was created some years ago. The Spanish State reacted in the usual manner and arrested a number of its activists – for “assisting terrorism”, of course. After that, it was noted that the official line had changed – while not specifically abandoning the call for amnesty, now only the call for and end to dispersalwasheard (along with of course the repatriation of seriously or terminally-ill political prisoners).
LEADERSHIP CHANGE IN LINE AND DISSIDENCE
The change in line, the dropping of the demand for amnesty, led to the creation of a new Amnestia, but with the addition of Ta Askatasuna (and Freedom), this time in the hands of “dissidents”. The “oficialistas”, the current leadership of the main body of the pro-independence movement, Otegi, EH Bildu etc, say this is pure opportunism on the part of the dissidents, who are expressing their disagreement with the abandonment of armed struggle and dissolution of ETA by seizing on the issue of amnesty for political prisoners. They could be right, of course, at least in part. But unlike the leadership of SF and PIRA, the Basque “oficialistas” got no deal whatsoever for their prisoners.
Recently, a significant part of their youth section Ernai left the “oficialistas” and maintains a working relationship with the new ATA. Their issue was that they had prepared a position paper for discussion at the annual congress and the “oficialistas” had refused to permit it to be discussed, since it was critical of current leadership positions.
Another group, Jarki, is revolutionary, socialist, for independence, internationalist and in defence of the language and has been organising.
Apart from those three trends, there also exist anti-authoritarian, ecological etc trends that owe no allegiance to the official leadership of the movement. These are national in the sense that they are spread across the Basque Country and also in that they speak and write in Euskera (Basque language); they are also for social justice, feminist, anti-racist and anti-sexuality discrimination.
It remains to be seen to what degree these various trends will coalesce and whether the “official” movement will continue to see defections from its ranks.
The Irish Republican organisation Saoradh staged a large demonstration of its support on Dublin’s O’Connell Street on Saturday afternoon (20th April). Republican marching bands and hundreds of supporters followed the traditional ‘colour party’ flags and lines of men and some women dressed in green-brown military-style clothing, black berets and dark sunglasses.
Beginning at the Garden of Remembrance, the procession, carrying large portraits of the executed martyrs of the 1916 Rising, wound its way down the main street past thousands of viewers, many of those taking photos and filming, down to the wall of Trinity College and the Bank of Ireland building, then back up Westmoreland street and up the west side of O’Connell Street to the GPO building, the site of the HQ of the Rising in 1916, for speeches as the ceremony of the commemoration.
The parade assembled at Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance and remained there for some time without the reason being clear, until the arrival of the participants dressed in green-brown military-style clothing, black berets and dark sunglasses, which many in the waiting crowd applauded. Presumably these were meant to represent the IRA but from the physical appearance of many it was clear that their active duty days, if they had them, were behind them. Presumably too, any organisation that did have an armed section would be reluctant to offer them up to the State for arrest on a parade and their all appearing at the last minute like that was also perhaps to reduce the opportunity for Garda harassment.
However, the uniformed Garda presence was in low numbers and although the Special Branch had officers there, they did not appear to be harassing Republicans for their names and addresses, as is their usual wont.
The route of the parade had been prepared placards bearing the words “The Unfinished Revolution” and “Saoradh” with tricolour flags attached at intervals to traffic sign and street light posts, including also at least one Palestinian flag. As the colour party and people in uniform lined up with banners and a band behind them and set off down towards the city centre, people joined in behind the band, with another band bringing up the rear.
TRAGEDY AND CONDEMNATION
The crowd appeared to contain many different elements, mostly men but quite a few women, some parents with small children and some teenagers, young men and older. Included among the attendance were a number of independent Republicans and socialists and a number expressed their decision to attend as having been influenced by the tragedy of the previous Thursday and the media campaign against ‘dissident’ Republicans, along with the apprehension that the Gardaí might take advantage of that to block or harass the paraders.
A scheduled Easter commemoration by a committee including apparently members of Saoradh to be held in Derry on Easter Monday had been cancelled as a result of a tragic incident. The armed British colonial police force in the Six Counties, the PSNI, had been carrying out house searches in the Galiagh and Creggan areas of Derry, allegedly for arms, to which youth had responded with stones and petrol bombs. During that incident, a gun was fired from the direction of the youth towards the colonial police but struck Lyra McKee, a young female reporter standing near them instead. Tragically the wound was fatal.
Saoradh had issued a statement after the event expressing regret for the death and extending condolences to Lyra McKee’s family and friends but also putting the incident in the context of regular harassing raids by the PSNI on houses in ‘nationalist’ areas and the always likely result of resistance (see Links for full statement).
Possibly in reference to that tragedy, a very tall long-haired man stepped in front of a section of marchers with his hands in the air. Stewards quickly blocked him peacefully and diverted participants around him.
Past the objector and into O’Connell Street, both the east side pavement and the pedestrian middle reservation were thronged with people watching, photographing and filming. The parade passed on to O’Connell Bridge, into D’Olier Street, turned right towards the Bank of Ireland building and back up Westmoreland Street to the General Post Office, location of the HQ of the Rising in 1916, outside of which the 1916 Proclamation had been read on 24th April by Patrick Pearse with James Connolly by his side.
At the GPO, Saoradh party chairman Brian Kenna welcomed the participants.
THE SPEECHES AND CEREMONY
At the GPO, Saoradh party chairman Brian Kenna welcomed the participants. Republican Easter Rising commemorations tend to follow an established pattern, no matter which organisation is involved: the reading of the Proclamation; messages of solidarity from Republican prisoners; a speech by a representative of the organisation; the lowering of the flags to a drum roll and their raising again, in honour of the fallen; the singing of Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish National Anthem. In the past, a statement from the IRA was also read but in recent years this have not been customary, for a number of reasons.
The usual components of the ceremony were present on Saturday outside the GPO with a few variations: a poem by a supporter read out, “James Connolly, the Irish Rebel” sung by another and “Róisín Dubh” played on the uileann pipes. The James Connolly song, with some powerful imagery and an attractive slow air, gives no indication whatsoever of the man’s revolutionary socialism and seems to incorporate him into the IRA, instead of the Irish Citizen Army which he co-founded or even of the Irish Volunteers, with which he joined forces only weeks before the Rising.
The RFB (Republican Flute Band) marching bands were from Scotland: The Wolfe Tone RFB Craigneuk and theCoatbridge Unitedmen RFB. One of the bands played “Take It Down From the Mast, Irish Traitors”, the lyrics of which deny the Tricolour to the Free Staters who waged the Civil War against the Republicans, the legitimate bearers of the flag. A participant remarked that the song was sung first against Free Staters, later against Fianna Fáil, later still against the “Stickies” and more recently against Sinn Féin.
In his speech on behalf of Saoradh, Dee Fennel from Belfastbegan by sending solidarity messages to Republican prisoners in Irish jails and to the relatives of all those who had fallen in the struggle against British imperialim. He said that the objectives set out in the 1916 Proclamation had not been achieved and referred to those participants in the struggle who had left it along the way, some to collude in upholding the two failed states of the divided nation.
Referring to his own activism, Fennel recollected how four years previously he had spoken at an Easter commemoration as an independent Republican, i.e not a member of any political party. He had spoken of the need for Republican activists to engage more with one another and also in the struggles of communities, women and trade unions. Fennel said that as a result of a discussion among Republicans, some had formed Saoradh, building on “maturity and commitment” while others “retreated to their flags” and went on to list the wide areas of struggle in which he said Saoradh activists could be found.
Fennel also referred to the activity of the IRA and said that while British imperialism remains in possession of a part of Ireland and prevents the exercise of sovereignty of the nation, there will be some form of armed resistance and that this is borne out by history.
Referring to the harassment and persecution to which Fennel said Saoradh activists were being subjected, including “tens of thousands of stop-and-searches, hundreds of house raids”, he linked that to the PSNI raids in the Creggan area of Derry earlier that week and the tragic accidental killing of Lyra McKee when “a Volunteer fired shots at PSNI forces”. Going on to say that the IRA do make mistakes from time to time, and referring to two women killed by the Provisional IRA in error years before, Fennel said that the IRA should admit and apologise for their mistakes (NB: The New IRA did later issue an apology and express condolences), though he also said that no words could compensate for the feeling of loss.
In reference to Brexit, Fennel said that the discussion is being focused on what kind of Border is to be imposed, while Republicans object to any kind of Border whatsoever. He stated that as socialists they also object to “the increasingly neo-liberal EU” and concluded with a call for solidarity with Irish Republican prisoners “in Maghaberry, Portlaoise and Mountjoy” who “are in captivity for no other reason thantheir commitment to Republicanism and a 32-county, secular socialist Republic.”
TRADITION OF THE PAST AND CLAIM ON TOMORROW
Republican organisations tend to commemorate the Easter Rising not only as a historic event but also to highlight that for which the Rising was fought has yet to be achieved. But they also do so to show that they are here, present, working for those objectives and often, to promote their organisation, to attract support.
The display involved in this Easter commemoration was impressive (despite a media claim that the numbers were only “around two hundred”), particularly in view of the inevitable bad press following the death in Derry and the system politicians’ statements on what a social media poster dubbed “The Opportunist Condemnatory Bandwagon”. It also seemed to show an organisation not much harmed overall in Ireland by a recent split over an alleged lack of internal democracy.
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.
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).
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).
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 fuelto 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.
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.
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”.
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):
This is what the South African Peace Process was about, apart from black people getting the vote: white capitalists continue, a few black capitalists climb up on the back of their people, corruption rife in politics and sellout of national resources intensifies.
Cyril Ramaphosa is the current President of South Africa and of the African National Congress and formerly of the National Union of Mineworkers. He is at least a millionaire with a seat on several company boards including that of Lonmin, the workers of which were on strike at Marikana in 2012 and were massacred by South African police.
The following is a statement by General Secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (700,000 members but most workers in the country are not unionised). From Politics.Web (link to original posting below).
SAFTU condemns NUM leaders’ summersault
The South African Federation of Trade Unions condemns the sudden and opportunist summersault by the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), over the Independent Power Producer (IPP) agreement which was signed into law yesterday.
“The NUM views the signing of the IPP today by the communist turned capitalist Minister Jeff Radebe as an insult to the working class and the poor”. “The ANC led government is privatizing Eskom through the back door to satisfy their Davos handlers and white monopoly capital.”
They then make an even bigger about-turn when they say that “Workers of this country will not continue to vote and support an organization which is taking away jobs from the poor. We cannot perpetually campaign and vote for the so-called ‘New Dawn’ as narrated by Cyril Ramaphosa… The NUM demand that President Cyril Ramaphosa must stop this nonsensical IPPs and must reverse the decision. We are tired of supporting the organization which is indicating left but turning right.”
Unlike the NUM, SAFTU, and in particular its affiliate NUMSA, have been consistently opposing the IPP Agreement. NUMSA challenged it in court and argued strongly that while it does not oppose renewable energy or an energy mix, the IPP agreement will automatically result in the closure of five Eskom power stations in Mpumalanga, resulting in at least 30,000 jobs being lost.
They argued that this agreement was a move towards the privatization of the whole electricity generation sector and other state-owned enterprises. As NUMSA said: “These deals are being concluded for the benefit of crony capitalists with ties to the leadership of the governing ANC. They want to loot the state owned enterprise just like the Gupta’s were accused of doing.”
SAFTU saw the move as further evidence for its view, put forward long before Cyril Ramaphosa’s election, that an ANC government led by him would continue to pursue neoliberal policies in the interests of big business which would include handing over publicly owned enterprises like Eskom to capitalist sharks.
But until yesterday, the NUM was one of Ramaphosa’s biggest supporters. They championed his ascendancy and, given his narrow victory at the ANC national conference, may have swung enough votes to ensure his success. There was not a word then about a leader who was “indicating left but turning right” and being handled by Davos white-monopoly capitalists|
So how can they have just suddenly discovered what SAFTU has been saying for months and NUMSA for years about the ANC government’s sell-out to the interests of white monopoly capital
When NUMSA’s 2013 Special Congress withdrew its support for the ANC, the NUM were the spitting blood in condemning the very position which they themselves have now suddenly adopted. They were the most enthusiastic campaigners for NUMSA’s expulsion from COSATU and the dismissal of Zwelinzima Vavi for taking a similar political stance.
They cannot explain how they were able to support the ANC government throughout the years when it was presiding over the very same neoliberal policies like GEAR and the National Development Plan which they now denounce.
They have said nothing about Ramaphosa’s role in private business, particularly as a director of Lonmin, one of their members’ biggest and worst employers, and how he became a multi-billionaire and joined the ruling class whose interests he is now promoting.
They have also not mentioned the role of COSATU, whose leaders were also loyal supporters of Ramaphosa’s campaign. They have said nothing at all about the IPP deal, which presumably means they support it.
The NUM leadership are clearly coming under pressure from their own members, who have been enraged by the IPP deal. Many have already left to joint NUMSA, AMCU and other unions, and more would have followed if the NUM had said nothing about this. But the leaders have merely reacted with demagogic, opportunist and feigned anger, in a desperate bid to regain some credibility with their members.
SAFTU appeals to NUM rank-and-file members not to be fooled by this sudden switch by their leaders. Rather they should join SAFTU-affiliated unions which are serious about opposing Ramaphosa’s neoliberal policies, and have been consistently fighting for the socialist alternative and for independent, democratic, militant and worker-controlled unions.
In particular we urge all NUM members to join the general strike and day of mass protests on 25 April against the poverty national minimum wage, which was endorsed by COSATU, FEDUSA ad NACTU, against amendments to labour laws which will make it almost impossible for you to exercise your constitutional right to strike, and against the “white monopoly capital” which your leaders have suddenly discovered!
Statement issued by Zwelinzima Vavi, SAFTU General Secretary, 6 April 2018
Translation by D.Breatnach of Castillian (Spanish) language article by José Antonio Gutiérrez D (a Latin American activist based in Ireland) first published in Anarkismo, original at this link: http://anarkismo.net/article/30977) La versión originál en castellano se puede encontrar por el enlace previo.
Friday, May 4, saw the swelling of the growing list of victims in the popular movement in times of “peace”1. In the outskirts of his home, in the El Triunfo neighborhood, in La Guadalosa, in the vicinity of Cartagena de Chairá, Jorge Vega Galvis received seven pistol shots from a group of hooded men, who left him there for dead. By a miracle, he survived to arrive at the local health centre, from which he was sent to hospital in Florencia, the area capital, because of the severity of his injuries. Today, four days after this atrocious crime, he is still unconscious and battling for his life.
Jorge is originally from the administrative region of Cesar, from a small town near Poponte in Chiriguaná, where he was born into a humble peasant family, experiencing work from an early age and all kinds of deprivation. So that they would not be eaten alive by the mosquitoes and the midges in the bush, while he was working, he told me once that they had to smear their bodies with petrol and lemon juice, while they worked under the scorching sun. With social ideas instilled in him by his mother, he also knew the meaning of the word solidarity from an early age and while almost a child, he was already participating in the mobilizations for peasant rights.
With the infestation of the Cesar area by paramilitary gangs under the command of Jorge 40 of the AUC,2 Jorge had to leave at the end of the ’90s and head towards Caqueta lands. Little is left of his coastal accent now since he made his home in Cartagena de Chairá, where he makes a living, looking for what is to be had. He works as a taxi driver, sometimes as an electrician, and sometimes on farms. His home is in the midst of a humble shanty town settlement. But in different areas he has stood out as a social leader, promoting the Peasant Workers’ Association of Caguán (ASTRACAMCAG, connected to Fensuagro), being President of the Cartagena de Chairá section; the El Triunfo and Villa Clar neighbourhood, community organizations, and also as a worker attached to the union of motorcycle taxi drivers of the CUT in Cartagena de Chairá. He has also held leadership positions in both the Patriotic March and the Alternative Democratic Pole.
The attack against him is a blow at the heart of the popular processes in Chairá and Bajo Caguán. It is an attack that seeks to continue the disruption of popular processes brought about through the militarization of the region. It is part of the social-murder 3 that is being carried out throughout the territory and which claims the lives of hundreds of social and agrarian leaders. We had already requested, in 2014, that the threats and harassment against Jorge be investigated4. Again in 2016, there were reports of threats received from paramilitaries.
The intimidation directed at Jorge by the troops has been almost continuous. In September 2017, we were suspiciously detained at a military checkpoint in Cartagena de Chairá, in the La Hacienda sector, while returning from visiting trials of peasants. Jorge asked them, “Hey, are not we in a peace process? And you’re doing this …”, to which a soldier, who did not want to identify himself and who covered the insignia of his battalion with a cloth, answered simply,”Of course, that’s why we can do this”5. This attitude, Jorge explained to me, was normal. That night we had to sleep in the house of a peasant in the sector, because the army did not authorize our passage through until six in the morning of the following day, by which we were able to reach the crossing of the Caguán River and reach Cartagena. However, that night we alerted human rights organizations through Fensuagro because we had a well-founded fear that in the darkness of the night, there could be an “attack”.
This time, there was no intimidation: the threats have turned into terrible facts, before the unconcerned gaze, if not complicity, of the civil and military authorities.
It is not enough to ask that Jorge’s life be guaranteed by the authorities. We demand that they stop the bleeding of popular leaders that is happening, if not with their complicity, at least with their connivance and thanks to their calculated lack of action. In addition, it should be noted that with the so-brave militarization of Cartagena de Chairá, the activities of civic and popular organizations take place under constant fear. Guaranteeing the life of Jorge and the other social leaders in the Bajo y Medio Caguán, would lead to ensuring the full return to civil life in the municipality and that the army stops operating what is really a military occupation, in which they act with dictatorial powers.
Enough of this ‘counterinsurgency’ campaign, this militarization and let the parks of Cartagena be free of rifles. Those of us who have had the good fortune of knowing Jorge personally, know how much he has fought for peace with social justice; what a paradox it is now that during the “peace”, they have pulled the trigger to silence him. Certainly, we know that this is not the peace for which Jorge risked his skin. For now Jorge, from your friends and colleagues, we send you a big hug, all our energy and we assure you that we will not leave you alone for a second. We send you strength to keep fighting, mate. Do not leave us.
José Antonio Gutiérrez D.
May 8, 2018
Postscript by D. Breatnach: My information is that Jorge Vega Galvis survived the attack and continues to recover. We wish him a speedy recovery and send our solidarity greetings.
1DB: The “Peace Process” was about reaching a deal between PresidentJuan Manuel Santosand the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army(FARC–EP) to bring an end to the Colombian conflict. Negotiations, mainly taking place in Havana, Cuba, began in September 2012. A final agreement to end the conflict was announced on August 24, 2016 but a referendum to ratify it was unsuccessful, with a slight majority voting against. Afterward, Congress ratified a revised deal agreed between the Colombian government and the FARC. Critics from the Left and from some human rights groups complain that the standing down of the guerrilla forces is allowing the State’s repressive forces and the paramilitary assassination squads to operate with impunity in areas where they would not have dared to previously (or at least would have been punished by the people’s forces).
2 DB: Paramilitary drug-trafficking gang with close relationship to the the Colombian Armed Forces (also supported by local big landowners) which attacked FARC and ELN and their civilian supporters. (For more about “Jorge 40” see link above about Rodrigo Tovar Pupo).