Xabat Moran, Bergoi Madernaz, Marina Sagastizabal, Aiala Zaldibar and Igarki Robles, five of the seven Basque youth sentenced to six years by the Audiencia Nacional (special Spanish Court) last Spring, have been freed this Wednesday.
Translation of press report NAIZ|from MADRID|2015/11/04|5 IRUZKINel juicio. (J. DANAE/ARGAZKI PRESS) and comment from https://www.facebook.com/dublinbasque/posts/1063431863690750
Xabat Moran, Bergoi Madernaz, Marina Sagastizabal, Igarki Robles and Aiala Zaldibar were sentenced to six years together with Ibon Esteban y Ainhoa Villaverde.
During the afternoon it emerged that the five would be freed, hours after the Supreme Court made held a public hearing in which the State Prosecutor left the possibility of reducing the sentences in the hands of the Tribunal, while the Defence asked for the accused to be cleared of all charges.
The five have left prison and began the journey home.
The exact content of the Supreme Court’s decision is not yet known and whether this will affect the situation of Ibon Esteban and Ainhoa Villaverde is not yet known.
Twenty-eight youth were accused of membership of SEGI, the Basque Abertzale Left youth group and tried in the same trial, of which the Prosecutor withdrew charges against twelve. Later, others were discharged due to lack of evidence and in the end seven were sentenced to six years.
Villaverde, Moran, Sagastizabal and Madernaz were detained by the Ertzaintza (Basque police) before their sentences were announced, while Esteban, Robles y Zaldibar became fugitives, only to reappear in the “Human Wall” in Gastheiz/ Vitoria, where they were arrested.
While friends and relatives will of course celebrate the decision, one commentator said: “The point for the Spanish state is to close down all legal political outlets in terms of campaigning around human, civil and political rights in the Basque Country. That leaves only the armed struggle, with which in recent decades ETA (Homeland and Freedom) has been clearly unsuccessful.”
A finding of guilt against these political activists needs to be seen in the context of the jailing of a number of political prisoners’ lawyers not so long ago and the currently ongoing trial of five political activists of Askapena, the organisation with responsibility for coordinating international solidarity work from and for the Basque Country.
For four years now ETA has been on the “permanent ceasefire” it announced at the time, yet Basque political activists continue to be charged with “assisting terrorism” or “glorifying” it.
Another point to bear in mind is that when the 28 youth, including those against whom the State later withdrew charge or the Court found “not guilty”, were originally arrested in October 2014, it was in a heavy military-style operation, they were taken from the Basque Country to Madrid, held incommunicado and a number were tortured. Then when bailed, they had to return to Madrid later to face trial, they and their supporters having to pay for travel and accommodation. The Spanish state does not have a record of paying compensation to those it has wrongfully accused or even imprisoned, not to speak of tortured, except on occasion under orders from the European Court of Human Justice in Strasbourg.
The “Human Wall” was a tactic developed and employed mostly by Basque Youth as a civil disobedience tactic, beginning in 2013 and lasting until 2014. Typically, the person wanted by the authorities appeared in the middle of a large crowd of supporters who linked arms. The police (in all those cases, the Ertzaintza) were obliged, in order to detain the fugitives, to spend a number of hours breaking up the “human wall” in order to obtain their objective and hand the fugitive over to the Guardia Civil, all the time being denounced by those forming part of the ‘wall’ and protesters standing by, the whole event being filmed and photographed, reaching an international audience. Variations on the “Wall” were practiced in Donosti/ San Sebastian, Gastheiz/ Vitoria, Pasaia, Navarra and Gernika. http://www.naiz.eus/eu/actualidad/noticia/20151104/queda-en-libertad-xabat-moran-uno-de-los-siete-condenados-por-la-an
In the third week of the month of December two daring ambushes took place, one in Ireland and one in Spain. Both were carried out by national liberation organisations and both were very daring, aimed at extremely high-level military and state targets who were well-protected in cities controlled by the occupying state. The ambushes were one day on the calendar apart but 64 years separated them; the date of the Dublin one was December 19th 1919 and the the other took place on December 20th 1973 in Madrid.
BACKGROUND TO THE IRISH ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
The target of the Irish ambush was Field Marshal John French. No-one resident in Ireland could rank higher in the British Empire; the British Queen and state’s representative in Ireland, French had been appointed Lord Lieutenant and Supreme Commander of the British Army in Ireland in 1918. Of course, it was not the first time that the Irish resistance had set its sights so high – in 1882 in Phoenix Park in Dublin, the Republican group The Invincibles had assassinated the Chief Secretary for Ireland, at that time the Queen’s representative, along with Thomas Burke, the Permanent Undersecretary and the Queen’s most senior civil servant in Ireland.
Field Marshal John French had previously held the positions of Commander-in-Chief of the British Home Forces and, at the start of the First World War, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France. Under General Maxwell, he oversaw the suppression of the 1916 Rising and subsequent executions. Had the British government imposed conscription in Ireland in 1918, as threatened, he would have been in charge of seeing it through and had in fact pressed for the measure to be introduced. In the event, the opposition to conscription in Ireland was so widescale, including from the Irish Catholic Church, usually so loyal to the British, that an insurrection was feared if they went ahead with it.
John French was from a Norman-English family settled in Wexford in the fourteenth century with large property in Roscommon and, though his family had gone to live in England in the eighteenth century and he himself was born in Kent, French always regarded himself as “Irish”. John’s father had been a Royal Navy Commander and John himself pursued a military career, first in the Royal Navy and later in the Army. His record in the Navy was below expectations, as was his initial Army career. However, he made his name on a number of military engagements in the Second Boer War and Second Morocco Crisis and with the help of some allies who had political and military clout, was appointed Chief of the Imperial Military Staff in 1912. He resigned his position over the Curragh ‘Mutiny’ incident in 1914 but was given command of the British Expeditionary Force in France and in Belgium during the First World War. He was later forced to resign over his handling of this command, particularly in regard to his difficult relations with high-level French officers, but was given command of the defence of Britain.
In May 1918, French was appointed Lord Lieutenant and Supreme Commander of the British Army in Ireland. The political situation in Ireland was unstable as the republican (or “advanced nationalist”) opposition was gaining ground against the old nationalist opposition. The latter had been embarrassed by the British failure to implement Home Rule, which was on the statute books but not enacted, while the former varied from those demanding Home Rule immediately to those who wanted complete national independence. The formerly Irish monarchist party Sinn Féin had been coopted by the Irish Republican Brotherhood after the 1916 Rising and it became a republican/nationalist hegemonising political force while at the same time being a coalition of different political viewpoints. Outside of this, Labour also had some sway, particularly in some areas and was also opposed to the Nationalist party; Sinn Féin and Labour Councillors cooperated with one another on many occasions. In the British General Elections of December 1918, in Ireland, the newly-changed Sinn Féin nearly wiped the Nationalist party off the electoral map and decided to set up their own parliament, or Dáil, in Ireland and not to attend the British Parliament in Westminster.
The Royal Irish Constabulary, the armed colonial police force in Ireland since 1822, was the subject of a boycott campaign and physical attacks on its members.
The Irish Republican Army, reorganised after the Rising, was in training in many areas. Some of its foremost soldiers and leaders, men like Dan Breen, Sean Treacey, Sean Hogan and Séamus Robinson were of the opinion that only through a liberation war could Ireland be freed from British rule; they were therefore eager for that war to start.
There was no indication that this was the dominant opinion among the elected representatives of Sinn Féin, the TDs (Teachtaí Dála) and, indeed, many were of the opinion that the British could be pressured into a negotiated settlement, without the need for any armed struggle. One of the latter was Arthur Griffiths himself, founder of the party.
On the same day as the setting up of the Dáil and its declaration of independence from Britain, 21st January 1919, Breen, Treacey, Hogan, Robinson and five other less famous IRA volunteers ambushed a Royal Irish Constabulary escort for a consignment of gelignite in Tipperary, during which they shot dead both of the police escort and took their weapons as well as the explosives. The shooting dead of the RIC in the Soloheadbeg Ambush was a calculated act and Dan Breen later wrote:
“ …we took the action deliberately, having thought over the matter and talked it over between us. Treacy had stated to me that the only way of starting a war was to kill someone, and we wanted to start a war, so we intended to kill some of the police whom we looked upon as the foremost and most important branch of the enemy forces … The only regret that we had following the ambush was that there were only two policemen in it, instead of the six we had expected.”
Nevertheless, they had begun the War of Independence, which was to last three years.
A number of times during 1919, the armed struggle advocates in the IRA carried out military operations through which they sought to provoke a response from the British that would launch the national liberation war and sweep the Dáil into going on a war footing too. Tens of RIC were killed along with a few British soldiers. The British responded by imposing martial law on particular areas and carrying out raids and arrests. The IRA however were moving towards a full war footing with the British and, in many areas, were already there.
As 1919 moved on the British outlawed Irish political and cultural organisations: the Dáil, Sinn Féin, Conradh na Gaeilge and other nationalist organisations and publications had been banned, along with the Freeman’s Journal and some other weeklies. In addition, cattle fairs and other gatherings had been forbidden and all car licences apart from those for lorries had to be applied for to the police, a requirement which had occasioned a chauffeurs’ strike. However, neither Sinn Féin nor the Dáil considered itself at war yet.
The planned ambush on Ashtown Road on 19th December 1921 was intended to change that irrevocably for the target was none other than Field Marshal John French, Lord Lieutenant and Supreme Commander of the British Army in Ireland.
THE ASHTOWN ROAD AMBUSH
According to some sources, the IRA had set out to kill French on 12 separate occasions but each time something had intervened. One of those occasions was on November 11th 1919. Expecting him to pass in minutes on Grattan Bridge on his way to a banquet at Trinity College, Seán Hogan had pulled and thrown away the pins on two grenades and was holding down the timers with his fingers. French did not show and Hogan had to walk all the way to a safe house with his fingers holding down the timers on the grenades in his pockets. Luckily they had spare pins in the house.
In December, French had gone down to his family country estate at Frenchpark, Co. Roscommon, to host a reception there and was expected back in a couple of days. His movements were being monitored and the day he would set off by train for Dublin was reported to the ambush squad. He was expected to get out at Ashtown train station, the last one before the Broadstone terminus, and go from there with military escort to the Lord Lieutenant’s Residence (nowadays the US Ambassador’s) in Phoenix Park. An IRA party of 11, including Breen, Treacey, Robinson and Hogan set out to ambush the convoy and assassinate Lord Lieutenant French. The ambush party was already in place at Kelly’s pub (now called the Halfway House) on the Ashdown road as ‘chance customers’ when word reached them that French had alighted from the train. A Royal Irish Constabulary officer who had accosted them earlier had been knocked unconscious and dumped to one side. The information received was that French would be in the second car in the convoy.
A hay cart had been placed half-way across the road. As the first car and outrider passed it, the IRA Volunteers pushed the cart the rest of the way and engaged the second car with grenades, Mills bombs, rifles and pistols. However, French was in the first car and got away unhurt and the soldiers in the third car in the convoy arrived and began firing with machine guns and rifles at the Volunteers, along with the soldiers in the second car returning fire.
Martin Savage, a Volunteer who had met Breen and Hogan by chance the previous day and begged to be allowed to participate, was fatally wounded and his body had to be left near the scene. Several RIC and British soldiers were wounded with perhaps a fatality and the convoy withdrew towards Phoenix Park. The Volunteers knew that reinforcements would be sent soon so they dispersed to safe houses. Breen had been shot in the leg but managed to get away by bicycle.
The next morning, the Irish Independent published an article which described the attackers as “assassins” and included other such terms as “criminal folly”, “outrage” and “murder.” Taking these terms as an insult to their dead comrade, on Sunday, at 9pm, between twenty and thirty Volunteers under Peadar Clancy entered the offices of the Independent and began to dismantle and smash the machinery.
REACTION OF THE DÁIL AND SOME OTHER REPUBLICANS
Many of the Dáil TDs were shocked by the assassination attempt and among Irish Republicans who severely criticised the IRA within the movement was Charlotte Despard.
This might have been expected since she was sister to Field Marshal French, except that Charlotte had developed Republican sympathies and had settled in Dublin after the War. She had a background in social welfare and socialist political activity in Britain, including active membership in the Social Democratic Federation, the Independent Labour Party and the sufragette Women’s Social and Political Union and was a fierce critic of her brother. During the Irish War of Independence, Charlotte Despard, together with Maud Gonne, formed the Women’s Prisoners’ Defence League which organised support for republican prisoners. Later, as a member of Cumann na mBan, she was to oppose the Anglo-Irish Treaty and to be imprisoned by the Free State Government during the Civil War.
REACTION OF THE BRITISH
The British military and police, under orders from French, of course replied to the assassination attempt with intensified repression and harassment of the civilian population in an attempt to drive a wedge between them and the IRA. The ambush and attempt on the life of the Lord Lieutenant and Supreme Commander of the British Army in Ireland no doubt helped Churchill, Secretary of War and Minister of the Air, push his idea of special counter-insurgency forces to act as auxillary police in Ireland, i.e. forces of state terrorism, who were to become known as the “Black and Tans” (abbreviated to “Tans”). Recruitment began that very month in London and the first recruits were in the field in January 1920. In July, the Auxillary Division of the RIC was set up, a much more efficient terror force composed almost entirely of British ex-soldiers of former NCO and officer rank.
With the “Tans” and the “Auxies” in the field, along with the crumbling RIC and the British Army, a full guerrilla war raged in many counties and cities of Ireland from 1920 to 1921, with torture and shooting or imprisonment of prisoners by the British, along with the burning of non-combatants’ homes and cooperatives. The IRA were carrying out ambushes and assassinations of RIC and their special auxiliary forces, British soldiers and Irish spies. Ironically 1921 was the year the Dáil finally declared war on the British and also the year of the Truce, negotiations and the controversial signing of the Treaty by the Dáil’s delegation in London, in which they accepted Dominion status for a partitioned Ireland.
Dominic Behan wrote a song about the ambush. It has been sung in different versions and with some verses added and omitted. Dominic Behan’s version is on here on 30.23 mins: Wolfhound did their own version here which, on the whole, I prefer, though a little too drawn out and finishing on a climax (which traditional songs never do, anywhere in the world, apparently) .
BACKGROUND TO THE MADRID AMBUSH
Like John French, Don Luis Carrero Blanco, 1st Duke of Carrero Blanco, Spanish Grandee, was a military career man. He entered the Spanish naval academy in 1918, at the age of 14 and participated in the colonial Rif War of 1924-1926. When General Franco and the other Generals led the military uprising against the Popular Front Government in 1936, Carrero Blanco was behind the Republican line and took refuge in the Mexican and later French embassies before working his way across the front to reach the fascist side in June 1937 and serving in their navy.
After the victory of the fascist forces in April 1939 and the instalation of General Franco as Dictator, Carerro Blanco became one of his closest collaborators; he was made vice-admiral (1963) and admiral (1966); he held the post of Vice-President of the state council from 1967 to 1973 and commanded the Navy. On 8th June 1973 Franco named Carerro Blanco Prime Minister of Spain.
Carrero Blanco was very much a supporter of the Spanish military-fascist dictatorship of Franco, a monarchist (Franco had himself installed Juan Carlos de Borbón, the present monarch, as King of Spain) and close to the secretive Opus Dei organisation of Catholic technocrats. Opus Dei, although in favour of authoritarian control of society, was opposed to the fascist Falange and favoured liberalisation of some laws and the penetration of foreign capital, particularly from the US and Europe, to which the Falange were opposed.
It is said that Carrero also opposed the state entering into World War II on the Axis side, for which the Falange were pushing. In the event, neither the Spanish state nor Portugal, both under fascist dictatorships, entered the War and as a result were the only two European fascist regimes which were not overthrown by invasion of one or various of the Allied forces or by popular resistance around the end of the War.
In the 1970s the Spanish ruling class was under pressure to relax its fascist grip and bring in the trappings of capitalist democracy: legalised opposition parties, legalised trade unions, a “free” press, etc. But Spain was ruled by a coalition of various interests, including the fascist Falange, the military caste, Spanish aristocracy, arriviste capitalists, Catholic Church hierarchy …. And they faced not only demands for democracy but also for socialism, including from the rank-and-file of the Communist Party of Spain and of the social-democratic party, the PSOE. Other groups specific to regions or nations within the Spanish state also had demands for democracy and socialism. The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and ETA had been raising demands for regional autonomy or independence and a similar desire was evident in Catalonia.
But most of the Spanish ruling class feared the breakup of the Spanish state and also feared socialism. Many opposed even social-democracy, from those who feared being held to account for their crimes against humanity during the Civil War to those afraid of a moral ‘loosening’ and loss of social control by the Church. But they were also increasingly aware that the military-fascist lid could not be kept on the pot forever – the pressure was building up and something would have to give. However, as Franco went into his old age and illness the Spanish ruling class also feared what would happen after his death. He had been such a central figure of authority, his face even on coinage and stamps, and a unifying force either through fear or loyalty. Although Carrero Blanco was not favourable towards the Falange they trusted him to keep the state going essentially the way it was and so Franco nominating the Admiral as his successor calmed a lot of fears.
Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, ETA, had been formed in the Basque Country in 1959 from socialist and Basque patriotic youth. A youth section of the Basque Nationalist Party, tired of the timidity and lack of action of the parent organisation, had been part of its forming and had accepted the socialist orientation of others graduating from the group EKIN. The young ETA organisation was subjected to the repression usual in the Spanish state after the Civil War and particularly harsh wherever the breakup of the State was threatened – and this was particularly so in the Basque Country. ETA’s supporters were watched and arrests and torture were a constant danger.
In the late 1960s some ETA members began to carry arms. On 7th June 1968, ETA member Txabi Etxebarrieta faced a routine road check by the Guardia Civil. Txabi was armed and determined not to be arrested and tortured — he shot a Guardia Civil member dead and fled on foot; he was chased and himself shot dead. The next ETA armed action that year was however a planned operation. Chief of secret police Melitón Manzanas had a long record of torture inflicted on detainees and of hunting Jews escaping Occupied Europe over the French border and returning them to the Nazis. ETA killed him and from then on ETA was on a guerilla war footing.
In the summer of 1973, a group of Basques pretending to be sculptors rented a flat in Madrid to carry out Operación Ogro (Operation Ogre). Over five months they dug a tunnel under the street outside and filled it with 80 kgs of explosives which had been stolen from a government depot.
On December 20th, 1973, Carrero Blanco was being driven from attending mass to his home in Madrid and accompanied by his bodyguard. As it travelled down the road, a bomb exploded in a tunnel under it with such force that the vehicle was blown right over the roofs of nearby buildings and landed on a balcony on the other side. Both driver and bodyguard were killed immediately and Carrero Blanco died shortly after. One epitaph of macabre humour was that Carerro Blanco had lived a very complete life: he had been born on earth, had lived at sea and died in the air.
In an interview explaining their rationale for Operación Ogro, the ETA operation group said:
“The execution in itself had an order and some clear objectives. From the beginning of 1951 Carrero Blanco practically occupied the government headquarters in the regime. Carrero Blanco symbolized better than anyone else the figure of “pure Francoism” and without totally linking himself to any of the Francoist tendencies, he covertly attempted to push Opus Dei into power. A man without scruples conscientiously mounted his own State within the State: he created a network of informers within the Ministries, in the Army, in the Falange, and also in Opus Dei. His police managed to put themselves into all the Francoist apparatus. Thus he made himself the key element of the system and a fundamental piece of the oligarchy’s political game. On the other hand, he came to be irreplaceable for his experience and capacity to manoeuvre and because nobody managed as he did to maintain the internal equilibrium of Francoism.”
—Julen Agirre, Operation Ogro: The Execution of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco (1975)
There was little criticism of the assassination from the Spanish opposition in exile or underground in the Spanish state. The Spanish ruling class of course condemned the action but it was thrown into disarray. In the confusion, the “modernising” and “liberalising” elements were able to take the initiative.
Less than three months after Carrero Blanco’s assassination his successor, the new prime minister Carlos Arias Navarro, in his first speech to the Cortes (Parliament) on 12 February 1974, promised liberalizing reforms including the right to form political associations. He faced opposition from hardliners within the regime but the transition had begun (how much of a “transition” is another issue).
The assassination of Carrero Blanco was an action taken by ETA perhaps primarily for the Basque struggle for independence and socialism but it had a deep effect across the whole Spanish state. It hastened the “Transition” and turned out to be a Christmas present to the Spanish social democratic and reformist opposition. Later years were to witness how badly they were to repay the Basque resistance.
Diarmuid Breatnach (translation of material from Naiz and writing of article)
Julia Lanas Zamakola, 94 years of age, went shopping as usual in Gernika on Monday 15th December 2014 but ended up in hospital after the Ertzaintza, the Basque Police, raided the market to arrest a Basque political activist.
Jone Amezaga, a young female activist of the Basque pro-Independence Left movement, had been sentenced to 18 months’ jail for allegedly hanging a banner which the State Prosecutor said “glorified terrorism”. Jone denied doing it and said the Ertzaintza, the Basque police, had framed her and declined to present herself to the authorities.
Many things are considered by the Spanish state to be “glorifying terrorism”, including putting up photographs of Basque political prisoners in a public place, bar, café or social centre.
Elderly pensioner Julia Lanas said she had been pushed to the ground by the police during the raid. “My wrist was broken. It was an invasion, of terror. …. The Ertzaintza does not belong to the Basque (Autonomous) Government, they are nothing less than managers for imperial Spain.” “It reminded me of the Civil War,” she said and went on to say that she had survived the dictatorship (Franco’s) and the war and had relatives imprisoned and tortured.
Julia Lanas was given first aid by people in the crowd and then taken by ambulance to the Gernika hospital but they had to leave there because it was full. “There was a lot of solidarity” said Julia Lanas, referring to the crowd in support of Jone Amezaga and to the help she herself received. The 94 year-old woman was treated by the paramedics who then took her home and her son took her to hospital in Bilbao the following day. “The injury was from a telescopic baton,” she said.
After a sustained tussle between uniformed and plain-clothes police and Jone Amezgaga, the Basque activist was taken prisoner by the Ertzaintza, some of whom used their batons on the crowd. Having secured their prisoner, the uniformed Ertzaintza then retreated backwards through the market, followed by the hostile crowd, until they gained the entrance, near to their vehicles and there stopped and faced their opposition.
Jone and her supporters had been expecting the police raid. In 2008 the Abertzale Left, the mass collective of organisations of the Basque pro-Independence Left, announced that they would henceforth use only peaceful methods in pursuit of their goal of self-determination, and the armed organization ETA subsequently declared their “permanent ceasefire”. The Spanish state’s response was to continue its repression of the movement.
The youth section of the Abertzale Left sought to find an appropriate method of resistance and developed the “human wall”. Some of the youth movement activists who had been sentenced by the State, instead of surrendering to the authorities or going “on the run”, presented themselves in public places, surrounded by supporters. The police – always the Basque police except in Nafarroa but sometimes backed by the Guardia Civil – then were obliged to spend a long time pulling people out of the “human wall” before reaching their quarry.
The first of these “human wall” resistance acts was at Donostia/ San Sebastian in April in 2013 when 500 mostly youth surrounded the six youths convicted of membership of SEGI, the Abertzale Left youth organization. SEGI is classed as a “terrorist organization” by the Spanish state and by the EU despite not a single conviction, even in Spanish courts, of an act of violence by the youth organization. The Donosti human wall was followed by another a month later on the bridge at the port of Ondarroa, when hundreds sat, arms linked, between Urtza Alkorta and the Ertzaintza. In October 2013 in Iruňa/ Pamplona, the Policía Nacional of the Spanish state had to dismantle another human wall of resistance to get at Luis Goňi, another youth convicted of SEGI membership. Last year there were two, one in Loiola (Azpeitia) for five youths and the one in Gernika. These “human walls” have now been constructed in three of the four southern Basque provinces (see video links below): Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Nafarroa – only Álava has yet to have one. Jone Amezaga’s arrest was the fifth occasion of the use of the “human wall” in the Basque Country and the second in the province of Bizkaia.
Amezaga, who refutes the charge and the police “evidence’ of “glorification of terrorism”, has been refused permission to remain at liberty while her appeal is being considered. Also it has been the custom of the Spanish state, in cases where the sentence is less than two years, for the convicted not to be taken to jail. The state declined to apply this custom in Amezaga’s case.
That Monday morning of the 15th December in Gernika, the town containing the ancient meeting place of the Basque chiefs and victim of the infamous bombing by Franco’s German bombers during the Civil War, the stalls were set out for the weekly market as usual. However, a number of events of a political nature also took place and the town was draped in the orange colours of LIBRE (“free” in Spanish), an organization created in 2013 to expose and resist Spanish state repression. Around noon, Jone made her appearance, no doubt marked by undercover police and soon afterwards the police raid took place.
It was plain-clothed police who led the assault, a number of individuals, some seen in the video dressed in black-and-white tops and one in a green top. There is no evidence of their identifying themselves by display of their police cards, for example, but it is clear that Jone’s supporters are in no doubt as to who they are. The Ertzaintza, masked and helmeted, in their red-and-black uniforms soon join the fray and eventually Jone is taken into custody. The crowd chants partly in Castillian and partly in Basque: “Jone libre!” (Free Jone!); “Guard dogs of the System!” “Hired killers!” “Abuse of power!”
While awaiting her appeal hearing, a wait which can take many months, Jone may be kept in any of the many prisons across the Spanish state (or across the French state, for those arrested there) throughout which political prisoners, most of which are Basque, are dispersed. She may also be transferred without warning to yet another jail. All this places an enormous strain on the visiting relatives and friends of such individuals — a financial, organizational, emotional and physical strain. And of course there are those who through infirmity are unable for journeys of thousands of kilometres. A number of serious traffic accidents occur on those journeys every year and to date twelve Basque prisoners’ relatives and friends thave lost their lives in those accidents..
Campaigners fighting for the release of individuals or of small groups of prisoners do not usually make the case that the release of those specific prisoners will affect the macro issues which led to their activism and encarceration. This has occurred on a number of occasions, however, those of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, the Kurdish PKK leader Ocalan and Basque movement leader Arnaldo Otegi being cases in point.
However, when the numbers of prisoners is large, their release is often connected by the campaigners to the objective of resolution of the conflict.
The line often taken is that “the prisoners are (or should be) a part of the resolution of the conflict” or that “release of prisoners is necessary to create goodwill” or “to win support for the resolution process”. These lines emerged here in Ireland, in Palestine, South Africa and in the Basque Country; they form part of a popular misconception, all the more dangerous because of its widespread acceptance and seductiveness.
At first glance this kind of line seems reasonable. Of course the political activists and the prisoners’ relatives, not to mention the prisoners themselves, want to see the prisoners home and out of the clutches of the enemy. The prisoners should never have been put in jail in the first place. And all the time they have been in the jail has been hard on them and especially on their relatives and friends. An end to the conflict is desirable and so is the release of the prisoners.
But let us examine the proposition more carefully. What is it that the conflict was about? In the case of the recent 30 years’ war with Britain, it was about Britain’s occupation of a part of Ireland, the partition of the country and the whole range of repressive measures the colonial power took to continue that occupation. In the case of the Basque pro-Independence movement, it was also about the partition of their country, occupation and repressive measures (particularly by the Spanish state). But what was the fundamental cause? In each case, occupation by a foreign state.
OK, so if Britain and the Spanish state ended their occupations, that would end the conflicts, would it not? It would end the anti-colonial conflicts – there would be no British or Spanish state forces for Irish or Basque national liberation forces to be fighting; no British or Spanish colonial administration to be issuing instructions and implementing repressive measures. Other struggles may arise but that is a different issue.
So, if Britain and the Spanish state pull out, leave, those struggles are over. What do prisoners have to do with it? They are obviously in that case not part of the solution, which is British or Spanish state withdrawal – though their release should be one of the many results of that withdrawal. Prisoners may well be part of rebuilding a post-conflict nation but that is a different issue. They are not part of “the solution”.
PART OF THE PACIFICATION
As pointed out earlier, here in Ireland it was said that “the prisoners are part of the solution” – and most of the Republican movement, some revolutionary socialists and some social democrats agreed with that. And British imperialism and most of Irish capitalism agreed too. But what happened? Only those Republican prisoners who agreed with the abandoning of armed struggle and signed to that effect were released. And they were released ‘under licence’, i.e. an undertaking to “behave” in future. And as the years went by, a number of those ex-prisoners who continued to be active —mostly politically — against the occupation, or against aspects of it like colonial policing, had their licences withdrawn and were locked up. Some who had avoided being prisoners because they were “on the run”, or had escaped – many of those, as part of the Good Friday Agreement, had been given guarantees of safety from future arrest but this too, it soon became apparent, could be revoked.
In other words, the prisoners’ issue became part of imperialism’s ‘peace’ or, to put it more bluntly but accurately, part of imperialism’s pacification. The issue also became part of the selling of the deal within the movement, on one occasion prisoners being released early, just in time to make a grand entrance at a Republican party’s annual congress.
The release of prisoners can be presented by those in the movement supporting pacification as evidence of the “gains” of the process. Those who argue for the continuation of the struggle then find themselves arguing not only against those who pushed the pacification process within the movement but also against some released prisoners and their relatives and friends.
THEY ARE NOT LEAVING
And prisoners continued to be hostages for the “good behaviour” of the movement. If British imperialism had left, there would have been no cause for the anti-colonial struggle to continue – so why would there be any need for any kind of release ‘under licence’ or any other kind of conditional release? Besides, the British would not be running the prisons in the Six Counties any longer. But the British are not leaving, which is why they need the guarantees of good behaviour.
Suppose the British were serious about leaving, sat down with the resistance movement’s negotiators and most details had been sorted out, including their leaving date in a few weeks’ time say, what would be the point for the British in trying to hang on to the prisoners? Can anyone seriously believe that they would take them with them as they left? If perhaps they had some in jails in Britain and were trying to be bloody-minded and hanging on to them there, well of course we’d want our negotiators to put as much pressure on the British as they could to release those as well. It would be in the interests of British imperialism to release them but the reality is that the anti-colonial war would be over, whatever ultimately happened to those prisoners.
In South Africa and Palestine, the prisoners’ issue became part of the imperialist pacification process too. It did not suit the imperialists to have numbers of fighters released who would be free to take up arms against them again. So in South Africa, they were incorporated into the “security forces” of the corrupt new ANC state, forces the corruption and brutality of which were soon experienced by any who argued with them or opposed the policies or corruption of the ANC, NUM and COSATU leadership – including the two-score striking miners the “security forces” murdered over a couple of days at Marikana in 2012.
In Palestine, the prisoners also became part of the “security forces” of Al Fatah after the shameful agreements at Madrid (1991) and Oslo (1993). The level of corruption of the Al Fatah regime and their “security forces” became so high that in order to oust them, in 2006 the largely secular Palestinian society voted for a religious party, the opposition Hamas. And then the “Palestinian security forces” took up arms against Hamas in order to deny them the fruits of their electoral victory. Unfortunately for them, Hamas had arms too and used them.
In both those countries, the occupiers had no intention of leaving and so it was necessary for them, as well as using the prisoners as bargaining chips, to tie them in to a “solution”. In fact, many of the prisoners became “enforcers” of the “solution” on to the people in their areas, i.e pacifiers in imperialism’s pacification process.
Teased out and examined in this way, we can see not only that the prisoners are NOT “part of the solution” but that accepting that they are plays right into the hands of the imperialists as well as facilitating their agents and followers within our movement, within our country.
Political prisoners, as a rule, are an important part of the struggle and need our solidarity. But for anti-imperialists, prisoners are not “part of the solution”, to be used as hostages for a deal with imperialism, even less as enforcers of a deal, forcing it upon the colonised people.
Our call, as anti-imperialists, without conditions or deals, is for the prisoners to be released and, while they remain in prison, to be treated humanely. We also call for them to be recognised as political prisoners. With regard to the solution to the conflict, there is only one: Get out of our country!
The organisation representing relatives and friends of Basque political prisoners is Etxerat http://www.etxerat.info/. A separate organisation concentrating on campaigning, Herrira, has suffered a number of arrests and closure of offices by the Spanish state in 2013 and is under threat of outright banning.
Regrettably, I cannot give a similar link for Irish Republican prisoners, because of the existence of a number of organisations catering for different groups of prisoners and often with tensions between them. One day perhaps a united non-aligned campaign will emerge, along the lines of the H-Block campaign of the past, or the Irish Political Status Campaign that arose in London after the Good Friday Agreement. There is also a non-aligned Irish Anti-Internment Committee (of which I am a part), campaiging for an end to long periods of incarceration imposed on political “dissidents” through removal of licence, refusal of bail or imposition of oppressive bail conditions.