Press release, founding of Jardun (translated by D.Breatnach)
On Saturday August 15, two events were held on Mount Albertia in Legutiano.
“At 12 noon, at the top of Mount Albertia, the Eusko Lurra Foundation remembered the Gudari activists who fell in the war of ’36 fighting against fascism. This year the participation of women who fought for freedom and for the rights of workers in the war of ’36 was especially remembered, since women are have been greatly overlooked in this war.
“Later, in the surrounding of the Gaztelua oak grove, a political act was held. There, to begin the act, three veteran Ekintzales militants who maintained their militancy for decades were honoured. Later the organizations Eusko Ekintza and Jarki presented the new coordination called “JARDUN”, as an initiative for the union of forces of the pro-Independence Left.
“Today in Albertia, we bring to mind the gudaris (patriotic soldiers – Trans.) who, faced with fascism, fought for the freedom of Euskal Herria (Basque Country) in the war of ’36. Even so, we cannot, in any way, bring them to mind in a folklorist type of perspective. Passing beyond tears, we must approach today’s event from the point of view of the working people, whose only desire is to win and fight. That is why today, beyond only memory, we proclaim the legitimacy of the struggle of all those who in Albertia and in different parts of Euskal Herria have fallen fighting for this people. Precisely, the Albertia Day of 2020 has been organized along the line of that desire to continue fighting, in which its organizers want to make public a new tool that must respond to the aspirations of the Basque Working People. A tool that should function as a space for activation and organization.
“Due to fractures that have occurred for different reasons following the end of the previous cycle, the various organizations have not been able to overcome our differences and mistrust in order to agree on spaces for unity and coordination. Today, Eusko Ekintza and the revolutionary organization JARKI want to present a coordination space called JARDUN to the Basque Working People. JARDUN is not a split from anything, rather a framework that should shelter different national and local organizations, combining them in a political project and a strategy of a revolutionary independence and socialist nature. So that everyone can, from their space of struggle, organize individually or collectively.
“Today’s presentation, far from being what certain organizations are raving about, is in line with the capacity that the Basque Working People has historically shown when it comes to self-organisation in the face of the oppression it suffers. JARDUN is not a brand for the organizations that compose it to impose their ideology or their political project. It is a meeting point whose objective is to encompass and coordinate the Basque Working People, and all the organizations that work in favor of it, around broad but defined ideological principles. Its strategic objectives are clear: The construction of an Independent and Socialist state that integrates Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Lapurdi, Nafarroa Behera, Nafarroa Garaia and Zuberoa.”
(i.e the seven provinces of the Basque Country, including those on both sides of the Border between the Spanish and French states – Translator).
Albertia is the site of a battle in the Anti-Fascist war in Araba province from 30 November to 24 December 1936. The Basque Government’s forces launched an offensive on Villareal to take the town from coupist military-fascist forces and relieve the pressure on Madrid. Though the Basque forces significantly outnumbered their opponents, the latter were in defensive positions and had substantial air cover, while the Basque forces had hardly any. Eventually the siege was relieved by which time the Basques had lost 1,000.
Clearly a revolutionary movement needs to unite within itself different organisations and groups if it is to succeed. The official Abertzale Left had succeeded in this to a large degree, including under its umbrella a daily newspaper, a trade union, along with its welfare, political, cultural and social organisations. However, in taking the road of not only abandoning armed struggle but also focusing on the electoral path above all else, the official Abertzale leadership has taken some of its parts down that ruined road, causing confusion and fragmentation around it.
Is this Jardun a first step in the process of unification of the revolutionary alternative? Will it include the Amnistia and youth movements? Can it also include different elements such as anti-authoritarian self-organising groups? Will the internationalist arm of Basque national liberation, Askapena, be re-activated on a revolutionary basis? And can the mistakes of the past be overcome?
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.
Javier Ortega Smith, No.2 in the leadership of the fascist Spanish party Vox recently attacked the Basque language, he did more than reveal the hatred of the core of Spanish unionism for the diversity of national cultures currently in existence within the Spanish state – he revealed his abysmal depth of ignorance about how languages, including his own are formed. And got lambasted and ridiculed in comment even in some conservative media as also social media, especially in tweets.
Vox was on an expedition into what is for them electorally virgin territory in the run up to the elections in the Basque Country Autonomous Region this weekend, where they have no elected representation at all. Far from what might have been expected, their presence and speeches seemed calculated to arouse hostility and expose their few supporters there to embarrassment.
Gaining the prize for generating hostility was Javier Ortega Smith, No.2 of the Vox party, speaking in Vitoria/ Gastheiz in Alava, one of the three provinces of the “Basque Autonomous Region”. Calling the second party in electoral strength in the region “terrorists” would cause little surprise, since EH Bildu is descended from Herri Batasuna, which was once associated with the armed group ETA and considered by some to be terrorists (by others, freedom fighters). But to say of the party of main electoral strength, the Basque Nationalist Party, that they are only “four cats”, equivalent in English to “three men and a dog”, this in a region where Vox has failed to get even one delegate elected …. well!
But Ortega Smith really put his hoof in it when he blundered into linguistics. “Asturian (language) is invented and Euskera (Basque language) also,” he declared, going on to declare that Batua, the standarised form of the Basque language, was formed “from dialects” of communities “who would not even have understood one another.”
Asturias, to the north-west of the Spanish state, with a population of around 1.02 million, is in some cultural expressions a Celtic nation but their language is of the Romance group, like Castillian (Spanish), with contributions from the Iberian-Celtic of the Astures tribe and later Germanic languages of the conquering Visi-Goths and Suevi. Euskera, the Basque language, is of uncertain origin but certainly ancient and currently spoken over the seven provinces of the Basque nation, three under French and four under Spanish control (total population a little over 2.17 million). All languages in the Spanish Kingdom other than Castillian have come under suppression at one time or another and most widely and rigorously under the four decades of the Franco dictatorship, a period nostalgically recalled by fascists and by even many conservatives in the Spanish state. What language has rights where and at what level is a battleground of struggle with the central State and a preoccupation for Spanish unionists.
Anyone who understands even the basics of how languages and their vocabularies are formed and developed would not have dared make such a statement as did Ortega Smith.
One would not even need to know that English, belonging to the Germanic group and currently a dominant world language, has a vocabulary which is 60% from French, with heavy sprinklings of words of Greek and Latin origin. Latin, which was a ‘world language’ before English, French or Spanish, started life as a Romance language in small province of Italy called Latium. Latin influenced heavily the development of Castilian, which includes many words of Arabic origin as well as from other languages and yes, even from Euskera! Nearly all European languages are thought to have developed from an Asian ancestor something like Sanskrit, so that they are grouped together as ‘Indo-European’. And what language was spoken in Europe before the advent of those Asian-influenced tongues? None other than Euskera, probably the original language of the early early Neolithic settlers!
Still, who needs knowledge when prejudice is king!
Some of the social media comments are sarcastically amusing, reproduced here in translation:
“Asturian is invented and Euskera also. Unlike Spanish which already existed in the time of the dinosaurs” or
“unlike Spanish, which came out of the Big Bang” or
“unlike all the other languages, that only use words growing on trees” or
“Unlike Castillian (Spanish) which arrived in Noah’s Ark with all the words”.
“Do you know how to say Ortega Smith in the Valencian tongue? ‘IGNORANT’”
“Well now, Ortega Smith, the vocabulary of all the languages of the world are invented, like your patriotism.”
“Ortega Smith is sure that the Basque Language has been taken from The Lord of the Rings.”
The Vox party was formed in 2013 from an extremely right-wing political core that has contributed in turn to the creation of the Partido Popular, from former supporters of Franco and Ciudadanos before going on to the creation of Vox. It has campaigned for the abolition of the statutes of autonomy for regions, for the right of parents to withdraw their children from liberal sex and gender education, spoken against a focus on male violence against women. The party climbed in popularity in recent years, in particular in the more economically depressed regions and now has 52 deputies in the Spanish Parliament and four MEPs.
Still intent on their version of making friends and influencing people, on Wednesday in Oñati in Gipuzkoa province, where Vox carried out a ceremony to honour the militarised Spanish police force, the Guardia Civil, spokeswoman for the fascist party Macarena Olona screamed at protesters that “Oñate is in Spain, you crockful of ETA!Oñate is in Spain!” In this township of 11,000 people Vox received, in the last general election, a total of 21 votes.
Throughout their visits to the Basque Country, Vox representatives were surrounded by Basque police and left quickly after their rallies.
The results of opinion polls prior to the the elections for the government of Euskadi predict a majority for the Basque Nationalist Party. The predictions have EH Bildu, the party of the official Abertzale Left leadership, coming second with third place going to the social-democratic PSE, the Basque version of the PSOE, currently governing the Spanish State in coalition with Podemos Izquierda (whose Basque version will come a very poor fourth).
The elections on Sunday, although they usually described as for “the government of the Basque Country” are nothing of the sort. The are for the government of what is termed “the Basque Autonomous Region”, which covers only the Basque provinces of Bizkaia, Alava and Guipuzkoa – the fourth province within the Spanish state, Nafarroa (Navarra), has its own autonomous regional government. The remaining three provinces of Euskal Herria, the true Basque Country, are over the border in the territory controlled by the French State. And the Spanish State allows the Basque regions autonomy only to a point, as with all the “autonomous regions”, ultimately answerable to the Spanish State.
The PNV, Basque Nationalist Party, many of whose ancestors fought Franco in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War, have long accommodated themselves to this situation and given up the dream of Basque independence and the party has hardly any representation even in Nafarroa, to say nothing of the three northern provinces, across the Border. Since their fiefdom was granted autonomy after the death of Franco, they have dominated it electorally and used that domination to the commercial and financial advantage, both legal and illegal, of the Euskadi capitalist class (Irish readers will readily see a parallel with the Fianna Fáil party).
EH Bildu is the official party of the Abertzale Left, political descendants of the Herri Batasuna party, substantially changed and the main internal opposition to the PNV, at least on the electoral front. Herri Batasuna evolved as the political expression of ETA, the left-wing movement for Basque independance that in the 1960s developed an armed wing against the armed might of the Spanish State. Under the leadership of Arnaldo Otegi and others, ETA gave up armed struggle in 2012 and the EH Bildu and Sortu parties developed a theory of a “Basque Peace Process” which had no substance, since the Spanish State’s only interest was in surrender and never even ceased repression or released its around 900 Basque political prisoners (now around 700 as prisoners served their sentences – or died).
Batasuna and its iterations over the years in the face of bannings by the Spanish State have at many times sought alliance on a nationalist basis with the PNV (the Irish parallel holds here again, as with periodic overtures of the leadership of the Provisional Sinn Féin party to the Fianna Fáil party), which on the whole have been rejected by the leadership of the PNV. The Basque Nationalist Party has preferred to rule in coalition with the PSE and even to allow the Spanish-unionist party to rule Euskadi on its own. Therefore the call from some Basque nationalist quarters for a PNV-EH Bildu coalition is very unlikely to bear fruit.
At least as unlikely is the raising by the electronic media Publico of the possibility in Euskadi of a “Government of the Left”, on the basis of the poll results. The left-wing Publico itself conceded it an unlikely eventuality, based on a coalition of EH Bildu/ PSE/ Unidas Podemos (the Basque version of Podemos Izquierda). Whatever one may say of the “Left” credentials of EH Bildu and of Unidas Podemos, one can hardly credit the PSOE or its Basque version with any. No doubt there are genuine people of the Left in that social-democratic party, as there are within the Irish and British Labour Parties too – but that does not affect the character of the parties in government, which have always been servants of capitalism and, in the cases of the UK and Spanish state, of their imperialist ruling classes.
On the poll results therefore it is certain that the PNV will be in government, whether in coalition with the PSE or with its tactical support. EH Bildu looks no nearer to achieving its dream of governing even Euskadi, not to mention all four southern provinces of the Basque Country.
MEANWHILE, ON THE STREETS
The Amnistia movement meanwhile has shown little interest in the elections, apart from chiding EH Bildu for its focus on elections and neglect of resistance anywhere else, including the jails. The Basque struggles for independence and against repression have paid a price in huge numbers of political prisoners and, though down to around 700 now from its height of 900, the Basque nation probably has the highest percentage of political prisoners of anywhere in the world. After all, the total population of the Basque Country is under 1.5 million and such a high concentration of political prisoners means that there is hardly a Basque who does not know a relation or friend of a prisoner, if not indeed the prisoner him or herself.
When Arnaldo Otegi and others led the majority of the Abertzale Left to the institutional road, they kept referring to the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland and the release of political prisoners. However, the Provisionals ensured that the release of political prisoners of their allegiance was delivered before finally decommissioning their weapons. The Otegi initiative went in reverse and their prisoners are still in jail. For some years now the leadership has been telling the prisoners that basically they are on their own and must negotiate with the prison authorities their reduction from Grade 1 down to Grades 2 and 3 and eventual release on parole. And telling the families that they have no hope of an amnesty so to stop asking for it and instead demand an end to the dispersal of political prisoners all over the jails of the Spanish (and French states), hundreds of kilometres from their families. There is no sign of even that basic human right being granted.
One of the Basque political prisoners, Patxi Ruiz, publicly denounced the new path of the movement and, after attempts to silence him were unsuccessful, he was expelled from the Basque Political Prisoners’ Collective. His treatment caused another four to break with the Otegi leadership too. Amnistia supported them and criticised the leadership of the movement which, in turn, accused them of using the prisoners for their own ends, since they did not agree with the new direction.
Persecution by the prison authorities including beatings by guards and refusal to allow him to attend his father’s funeral drove Ruiz last month to a hunger-and-thirst strike. After 8 days he abandoned the thirst strike but continued refusing food, ceasing that protest too after 31 days. His support movement led by Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression (to give Amnestia’s full title in English) brought Basque political prisoner solidarity back on to the streets, from which it had largely disappeared apart from the ritual demonstration each January and weekly pickets by families and friends, diminishing in attendance.
Solidarity actions were taken in the jails too, not only by the other four “dissidents” but by some of those still in the Collective and by a number of political prisoners from other struggles, GRAPO and PCE(r).
In a number of statements, Amnistia acknowledged that some of their support in street actions has come from progressive sectors not traditionally from within their own ranks. There is a substantial autonomous movement in the Basque country consisting of youth occupations of empty buildings, anarchists, feminists, LGBT campaigners, animal rights campaigners, environmental activists …..
On Saturday 4th July, in spite of a ban by the Spanish State’s Delegation in the city and a heavy police presence at an expected starting location, Amnistia led a fairly large demonstration through streets of Irunea/ Pamplona, capital city of Nafarroa, calling for complete amnesty for the prisoners and that “the struggle does not cease”.
Today, the 11th, they led a march to the Murcia jail (where Patxi Ruiz is held currently). In a brief report on the event and their reasons for undertaking it, they commented even more briefly on the elections due tomorrow:
“There will be elections tomorrow in a part of Euskal Herria (the Basque Country) but none of the political parties will propose any alternative to bring to an end the capitalism that tramples on and murders the working class or to destroy the imperialism that occupies peoples and makes them disappear but will instead debate different ways to manage the same system and the same misery.
“None of them will demand amnesty for those who endure repression for fighting for these goals. The strength and pressure exerted by the people on the street will be the key to reversing the situation. With the popular struggle amnesty, independence and socialism.”
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”!!!
Two separate political prisoner solidarity pickets took place Saturday 13th in Dublin City centre, one on O’Connell Bridge and the other at the Instituto Cervantes, the cultural arm of the Spanish Embassy, on the one-way traffic system at Lincoln Place, linking Nassau Street and Westland Row.
The first, at 2pm on the pedestrian reservation on O’Connell Bridge, was the fourth weekly one organised by a broad coalition in solidarity with Patxi Ruiz, who had ended his hunger strike in a Spanish jail on its 31st day earlier in the week. The second picket, outside the Instituto Cervantes at 3pm, was organised by the Irish Republican group Saoradh, not only in solidarity with Basque prisoners but with all political prisoners, although Patxi’s struggle had given the original impulse for a picket at this time. In addition, Irish Republican prisoners in Port Laoise had on Friday embarked on a 72-hour solidarity fast.
Patxi Ruiz is one of around 200 Basque political prisoners serving sentences in the Spanish and French states, almost invariably, in jails far from their homes, their families and friends, if not too sick, elderly or too young, having to travel long distances to visit them. Ending the dispersal policy was one of Ruiz’s demands, the end of beatings by warders another. He also called for the automatic right to attend funerals of close family (he had been denied permission to attend his father’s funeral) and the resumption of family visits. It is not known whether any of those demands have been conceded but thought unlikely.
Although Ruiz is one of five prisoners who have publicly rejected the new path of their movement’s official leadership announced in 2012, his struggle was supported during the hunger-strike by protest mobilisations across the Basque Country, involving pickets, solidarity fasts and sit-ins, protest marches and car-cavalcades. After ten days the official leadership criticised his following through statements by the political parties Sortu and EH Bildu (the latter may be seen as a successor to Herri Batasuna). More recently, the leader of EH Bildu Arnaldo Otegi, generally seen as the main architect of the shift in 2012, publicly attacked the hunger-striker and his support movement, including the Amnistia group, accusing them of directing the whole thing against his party. Amnistia, whose full name translates as “Movement for Amnesty and Against Repression”, replied that they had more important things to focus on than damaging that party’s electoral chances, such as conditions in the prisons, the liberation of their nation and of the working class.
Patxi Ruiz’s struggle found support internationally: a monster petition in Argentina, a rally in Italy, a mass picket in Barcelona and a number of public expressions of solidarity in Ireland. An ad-hoc coalition of four groups composed of Anti-Internment Group of Ireland, Dublin Basque Solidarity Committee and Anti-Imperialist Flying Column, all in Dublin, along with Derry Anarchists mobilised to support the prisoner’s hunger and thirst strike. A hunger strike can be sustained by a healthy individual for a number of weeks without irreparable harm, however going without fluids is not only painful but hastens collapse of a number of bodily organs. Fortunately Patxi Ruiz decided to end the thirst part of his strike on the 18th of May.
“The method political prisoners choose to protest is their choice, not ours,” one of the organisers said in Dublin on Saturday; “our role is to support them and publicise their situation. We don’t have access to the mass media, so if we need to highlight something, what we have is our social media along with whoever shares our posts — and our presence on the street.”
Their first picket was on O’Connell Street in front of the GPO on May 23, the second by the Jim Larkin monument in the same street on the 30th and the last two on O’Connell Bridge in June, while in Derry people gathered at the Free Derry Corner monument every Saturday. Each week photos were taken, some sent to the Basque Country and some published on social media, with an update on the situation.
SECRET POLICE HARASSMENT IN DUBLIN
One of the secret policemen who was harassing the protesters on Saturday. (Photo credit: Clive Sulish)
During a number of those pickets, participants were approached by plainclothes Gardaí, of the political surveillance section colloquially known as “the Special Branch” and required to give their names and addresses. Although the Special Powers Act does give the Gardaí quite extensive powers to question and even detain suspects, they are supposed to have a reasonable suspicion that the suspects are committing – or about to commit — a crime. It is hard to imagine in this case that such reasonable suspicion existed in the minds of these Gardaí and much easier to believe that the purpose is a cross between intimidation and amassing files on people who are carrying out a peaceful protest and breaking no law. Meanwhile a vocal group of far-Right people demonstrating against pandemic restrictions have been staging protests in front of the GPO, reportedly without any interference by the Special Branch. A number of participants commented that the Irish Council for Civil Liberty should be doing something about this abuse of Garda powers.
The secret political police were again very much in evidence at the second political prisoner solidarity picket on Saturday. Organised by the Irish Republican organisation Saoradh, it began at 3pm and soon collected a half-dozen of these gentlemen who proceeded to demand names and addresses from all present. Unable or unwilling to state which crime they suspected the picketers were committing or about to commit ensured that in the case of a couple of strong-willed individuals who understood the provisions of the quoted Act, the ‘Branch officer was unsuccessful. In a couple of other cases their inability to question in the Irish language left them also without success when confronted with some who were fluent and insisted upon their Constitutional right to have the whole exchange conducted “i nGaeilge”. Some of those problems the ‘Branch had encountered before with the picketers in O’Connell Street and on O’Connell Bridge.
Neither Gardaí nor protesters remarked upon the irony of the presence of Oriel House less than 100 metres away on the corner of Westland Row. The building, which operated as a police station during the Irish Civil War, was notorious for the torture inflicted on detainees within, as well as being used as an operations base for kidnapping and murder by the Free State Army and Gardaí.
IRISH REPUBLICAN PRISONERS IN PORTLAOISE ON 72-HOUR FAST
The protesters, who included some from the earlier protest on O’Connell Street, were spread following the curve of the pavement outside the Instituto, which was closed. A number of Basque flags were in evidence, along with a Palestinian one and a number of Irish ones too. Banners and placards completed the display.
Some time into the protest, the picketers gathered to hear a statement read out on behalf of the Irish Republican prisoners in Portlaoise prison, Co.Laois, Ireland. The statement had been published on social media earlier in the week as part of an announcement of a 72-hour fast of Republican prisoners en Portlaoise, commencing on Friday and expressed solidarity with Patxi Ruiz and other political prisoners arising from the struggles of the Basques, Catalans, Palestinians, Kurds and socialists in Turkey.
The Portlaoise prisoners’ statement went on to point out that they too are political prisoners as are those in Maghaberry and to denounce the strip-searching and sectarian abuse in the latter, along with the antiquated conditions in Portlaoise, as well as the special courts that are used to jail them on both sides of the Border. It also criticised people who campaign about faraway struggles without seeing those at home, along with some ex-prisoners who had signed a recent appeal in solidarity with Patxi Ruiz but who, according to the statement, did nothing about the current Irish political prisoners. (The End Internment Facebook page of the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland lists around 70 Irish Republican prisoners, mostly in Portlaoise or in Maghaberry).
A statement from the Saoradh group was read out too which, though shorter, covered much of the same ground. Both statements were applauded by those present and the protesters dispersed soon afterwards.
Newcomers to Spanish politics witnessing the recent sound and fury in the Spanish Parliament might conclude that there was a real battle going on between a reactionary Right and a progressive Left but they’d be right only about the existence of a reactionary Right. The same newcomers might then remark that well, the opponents of the reactionary Right must at least be liberals and they’d be wrong about that too.
Parliamentary delegates from the reactionary Right – and that is to call them much less than the reality – were sharply criticising the Spanish coalition Government. The senior partner in the coalition is the Partido Socialista Obrero which, as has on occasion been commented, is neither “socialista” nor “obrero” and while its junior partner Podemos has left-wing credentials coming from the mainly Trotskyist (and Communist Party-managed) Izquierda Unida, it has to keep up an accommodation with the PSOE.
The parties of the Right in this case were the Partido Popular, which was created to represent erstwhile supporters of the deceased fascist dictator General Franco, along with Ciudadanos, which was founded by former supporters of the PP. The fascist Vox party comes from the same stable but with less democratic pretence.
The criticisms of the Spanish coalition Government on this occasion were mostly with regard to the sacking on Monday of the chief of the Guardia Civil in Madrid, Colonel Diego Perez de los Cobos. The Guardia Civil is a paramilitary police force, which is to say it is organised along military lines and has been the main instrument of State repression during Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975) and since. It was mainly they, for example that invaded Catalonia to beat up voters during the October 2017 Referendum on independence there and shot the banned rubber bullets at demonstrators and in fact the sacked officer led that operation.
The sacking occurred allegedly because on behalf of a Madrid magistrate, the Guardia Civil carried out an investigation of a number of political demonstrations in Madrid which it alleged had violated the pandemic restrictions and even contributed to the spread of virus, even though they had predated the Lockdown. The investigation, it is also being alleged, was in order to check whether the Health Minister’s actions regarding the pandemic had been appropriate or not.
In order to bolster their investigations, the Guardia Civil had claimed that the World Health Organisation had declared a pandemic in January whereas in fact it had only done so on March 11th (the Government ordered the lockdown on the 14th). The public events the Guardia Civil were investigating with a view to prosecution were mostly democratic or left-wing, including a march to celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8th) and to denounce male violence against women (and the State’s two-level crime of rape) but also included a cavalcade organised by the fascist Vox party.
The Right generally is no friend of women’s rights but more to the point feels duty-bound to defend the Guardia Civil, acting as though they own it (which is not that far from the truth). However the PSOE has had no difficulty in sending the Guardia Civil to attack the Basques or Catalans in the past. And while in government in the 1980s, the PSOE’s Minister of the Interior along with some senior police and Guardia Civil officers were exposed running the GAL terrorist group against the Basques and had to spend some time in jail. The person widely suspected of having set the whole thing up, the Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, was not even questioned by the investigators, no doubt for fear of what might come to light.
That Fernando Grande-Marlaska is the Minister of the Interior under current attack in Parliament for allegedly being unfair to the Guardia Civil points out in full the irony of the situation. This is one of the Judges of the Spanish National Court most denounced by Basques for attacking their democratic rights and of at least turning a blind eye to their torture, while sentencing them to long terms in prison on the basis of their “confessions” and Guardia Civil “evidence”. Another of those ex-judges considered infamous by many Basques is also of the PSOE, Baltazar Garzon, beloved of many left and liberal people because he agreed to process an international crimes against humanity accusation against Pinochet and also ordered the exhumation of a mass grave of victims of fascists and military (Spain has more mass graves than any other territory except Cambodia). Neither of those two cases came to fruition, unlike the violation of the civil and human rights of thousands of Basques and the torture of hundreds under his watch.
PUNCH AND JUDY PUPPET SHOW
In the Punch & Judy traditional dramas, Punch carries out a murder or two but, unlike some of the children watching it perhaps, we know that the puppet performance is not describing a real event. Of course, the Right in the Spanish state DID carry out murders – they have a list of 100,000-200,000 to their ‘credit’, most actually after the fighting of the Spanish Anti-Fascist War. And an additional number to force through the Transition to nominal democracy and more afterwards by ‘unofficial’ GAL and official Guardia Civil operations, mostly against Basques.
The historic fact is that all left-wing organisations, even the social-democratic PSOE were banned during the Dictatorship. In order to stabilise the State and prevent its overthrow by the oppressed masses during the mid-1970s, it had to have the help of the Left. The Partido Comunista de España controlled a huge militant illegal trade union organisation, the Comisiones Obreras, while the PSOE controlled the smaller but substantial Unión General de Trabajadores (which it does still) – no setup would be safe unless they were brought on board. They were legalised and supported the new Constitution, even accepting the imposed monarchy and the “Pact of Amnesia”, under which all those guilty of tortures and murders under Franco walked free.
This is why there is some heat in the exchanges in the Spanish Parliament but no substance. The thinking of the Right goes something like this: “We had to legalise you and allow you into government but that doesn’t mean we have to even pretend to like you.” While the PSOE thinks: “You tortured and murdered our grandparents but we will share power with you and tolerate much of your antics. We all depend on one another. But sometimes you go too far and have to be restrained. For your own good as well as ours.”
And what does Podemos and Izquierda Unida think, while they share a government with the PSOE? And does any of this make any real difference to the situation of the mass of Spanish people or to those nations imprisoned within the state?
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.
The Herriko Tabernak (People’s Taverns) are a feature of Basque Society, in particular in the Southern Basque Country, i.e the part under Spanish control. Founded by members of the Abertzale (pro-Independence) Left, run by supporters and frequented by sympathisers, they have been a place to have a drink and some pintxos, have a coffee and chat with friends, hold social events and large group meals, as well as occasional meetings. The Spanish State is now seizing their funds.
In 2016 the Audencia Nacional, the Spanish National Court, handed down a judgement that the funds of these taverns are forfeit, in what the Abertzale Left party Sortu called “the greatest political and economic plunder since the Civil War”. This is a reference to the wide-scale misappropriation of funds, machinery and land of the losers of that war by the victors, General Franco and his supporters. The wealth of many individuals and families in the Spanish State today can be traced back to that theft.
While a number of these taverns were closed down in the past, most kept going, supported by their loyal clientele and local communities. Although the punitive judgement of the Audiencia against the Herrikos was in 2016, its origin dates back further to the reign of one of the Audencia’s ex-judges, Baltazar Garzon, who infamously claimed that every aspect of Basque independent expression was linked to the armed organisation ETA. Baltazar, loved by liberals, claimed that “everything is ETA”, under which dictum homes were raided, activists tortured and jailed on their “confessions”, political organisations banned, social and cultural centres closed, along with newspapers, radio stations and social media.
EXPROPRIATION TAKES PLACE DURING A MILITARISED LOCKDOWN
This expropriation is taking place, as commented the left-wing media Izquierda Diario, in the midst of an emergency pandemic lockdown in which more than 7,000 sanctions in little over a month have been applied by the military and police who are in charge of and patrol the streets. (Unlike Ireland and many other countries, people in the Spanish State are not permitted to take exercise outside their homes, whether maintaining social distances or not).
“While the judicial apparatus cannot process the massive claims of illegal dismissals, unpaid wages, unpaid ERTEs” (temporary compensation for loss of earnings due to the pandemic) commented the Diario, “or thousands of resources for fines during these days for the restrictions of the pandemic, yes there is time to seize the money of more than 100 taverns.”
While it is true that in many areas there are privately-owned bars sympathetic to the movement and that also in many areas dissenters from the line of the Abertzale Left official leadership decline to use the Herrikos, nevertheless the disappearance of the latter must entail serious damage to the social and cultural base of the broad Basque independence movement.
The 5th of March is the anniversary of the naval Battle of Cape Machichaco (cabo matxitxakoko borroka, in Euskera/ Basque), which took place on 5 March 1937 off Bermeo (Bizkaia province, Basque Country), during the Spanish Anti-Fascist War, between the Spanish Military-Fascist heavy cruiser Canarias and four Basque Navy trawlers escorting a Republican convoy. The trawlers were protecting the transport ship Galdames, which was sailing to Bilbao with 173 passengers.
(The following account of the battle is from Wikipedia; the section titles and comment are mine)
On 4 March, four armed trawlers of the Basque Auxiliary Navy section of the Spanish Republican Navy, Bizcaia, Gipuzkoa, Donostia and Nabarra departed from Bayonne, France. Their intention was to defend Galdames‘s mail, passengers, machinery, weapons, supplies and 500 tons of nickel coins property of the Basque government.
Canarias sailed from Ferrol with Salvador Moreno as the captain, with orders to stop the transport ship. Galdames, which was steaming up with the lights and the radio switched off, and was unknowingly left behind by Bizcaya and Gipuzkoa.
FOUR CONVERTED TRAWLERS AGAINST A BATTLE CRUISER
Next morning, while all the trawlers were watching for Canarias, Galdames rejoined them. Bizcaya‘s captain was Alejo Bilbao, Nabarra‘s Enrique Moreno Plaza from Murcia, and Gipuzkoa‘s Manuel Galdós. The trawlers had the intention of luring Canarias close to the Biscay coast to have the assistance of the coastal batteries.[
The first trawler to spot Canarias was Gipuzkoa, 30 kilometers (19 mi) north of Bilbao. The Basque trawler was hit on the bridge and the forward gun. Return fire from Gipuzkoa killed one Canarias seaman and wounded another. The armed trawler, with five fatalities and 20 injured aboard, managed to approach the coast, where the shore batteries forced Canarias to retreat.
Nabarra and Donostia tried to prevent Canarias from finding Galdames and engaged the cruiser.
Donostia withdrew from the battle after being fired on by Canarias, but Nabarra faced the enemy for almost two hours. She was eventually hit in the boiler and came to a stop; 20 men abandoned the sinking trawler, while other 29 were lost with the ship, including her captain, Enrique Moreno Plaza.
The transport Galdames, which was hit by a salvo from Canarias and lost four passengers, was eventually captured by the military-fascist cruiser.
Gipuzkoa arrived at Portugalete seriously damaged and Bizcaia headed for Bermeo, where she assisted the Estonian merchantman Yorbrook with a load including ammunition and 42 Japanese Type 31 75 mm mountain guns, previously captured by Canarias and released.
Donostia sought shelter in a French port.
The 20 survivors from Nabarra were rescued by the military-fascists and taken aboard Canarias. Instead of the expected hostility and mistreatment, they were given medical assistance, and both the cruiser commander, future Francoist Admiral Salvador Moreno and Captain Manuel Calderón interceded with Franco when the Basque seamen were sentenced to death in retaliation for the shooting of two crewmembers of the armed trawler Virgen del Carmen, captured by Republican sympathizers and diverted to Bilbao in December 1936. The survivors were eventually acquitted and released in 1938.
In contrast, one of the passengers aboard Galdames, Christian Democrat politician Manuel Carrasco Formiguera, from Catalonia, was imprisoned and executed on 9 April 1938.
COURAGE, COWARDICE AND CRUELTY
The story is one of incredible bravery of a number of converted trawlers and their Basque crews, in particular that of the Nabarra and her Captain from Murcia. One account I read related that her Captain consulted his crew and they agreed to fight to the death or the sinking of their ship. Their valour and stubbornness (two qualities which commentators often associate with the Basques) was of such magnitude as to impress even their military-fascist opponents, to the extent of their interceding with Franco to save their lives.
It is also the story of the cowardice of at least the captain of the Donostia.
And of the bestiality of the military-fascists in the execution of a member of the Catalan Governmentreturning to his country with his family, guilty of no crime but to serve his the administration of his elected republican government (one of hundreds of thousands of such crimes of the miiltary-fascists coupists and their victorious regime).
VISIT TO CAPE MATXITXAKO
I visited the land part of the location on a number of occasions in recent years. Access by public transport is by a bus every hour but I was driven by friends.
On a windy promontory on private land I saw one of the shore artillery battery sites (which has had nothing done to conserve it) and, close enough, the monument to the battle. Not far from there is a local bar-restaurant which is popular and a short trip by car, the iconic hermitage of Gastelugatxe. Many tourists visit the area but I wonder how many get to hear of the story.
Thinking of the determination and courage of those crews, not even trained for war, in converted trawlers, facing a trained naval crew of a huge battle cruiser, I am not ashamed to say my eyes fill and my lip trembles.