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What is it happening in the Basque Country?

27. December 2004

by Iñaki Gil de San Vicente

Practically since the beginning of the XXI century, just in the middle of PP´s repression against anything linked to the Basque Country, we began to notice the Basque pro-independence left ability to recuperate itself from closures, prohibitions, banning, police raids, razzes, the arrest of dozens of its members, tortures, imprisonments, and even deaths. Since then and with a mixture of erudite ignorance and uncertainty hidden behind the chauvinism and the spoilt high-handedness of those who from Madrid observes what is happening in “the provinces”, the question of what is going on in “the north” goes from disdain to astonishment and from here to concern.

The truth is, without going back much in time, that this question had already been faced by the Jacobins of Paris, when encountered the passive and active resistance of the Northern Basques to the French nationalist expansion disguised in the democratic-bourgeoisie revolution at the end of the XVIII century. This same doubt bothered the Madrid governors when meeting the Basque opposition to the Spanish annexation attempts at the beginning of the XIX century, the same way the Spanish politicians as well as the neo-liberal journalists obsessed to end with the arm resistance, a huge majority of the Basques carried out against that century´s centralist aggression, called by the Spanish historiographers “the Carlist wars”. Later, at the end of this century, the same question troubled the militaristic Spanish nationalism, when they encountered the resistance of the Basque pro-regional charter moderates, to accept the extreme centralism of Canovas, resistance that forced both a mutual gain agreement and the trick played on the Basque people, pact that took the form of an economical agreement. Around that period, the growth of the defensive cultural nationalism in Navarre with Campion and other Basque intellectuals just before the defensive political nationalism of Sabino Arana, began to irritate the Spanish nationalists, so first imprisoned Sabino Arana and generally repressed the Basque nationalism. In such conditions the socialists of Spain were clearly pro-Spain, openly calling for the absolute legal supremacy of the Castilian over the Euskara. Through out this time, the question of what was happening in the “Basque provinces” and Navarre was constant. When Franco´s military revolt raised the issue of the oppressed nations within the II Republic, the question mention earlier arose again, specially having in mind the huge contradictions within the PNV; its initial disastrous and traitor passivity, responsible for the fall of Gipuzkoa; its null decision to mobilise all the considerable economical and military resources: its rejection to create a Basque army and mainly the contacts with Franquists and Italian Fascists that brought about the surrendering of its troops in Santoña. But the mention question was disconcerting because the typical behaviour of a bourgeoisie willing to surrender, and that had waited till the last minute in case they did not go to war, collided with the so many times proven heroism of the Basque freedom fighters, capable of resisting immolation with out almost any weapons, and even the betrayal of its leaders. In the same way surprise stroke those who in 1947 witnessed the widely if not massively supported Basque general strike against Franco, demonstrating that despite the regime´s exterminating barbarism, the anti-Franco organizations had recuperated part of its consistence. Then the PNV´s abandonment came, its political passivity and collaboration with the U.S.A.; the PSOE´s virtual disappearing, that had to wait for the II international´s money, the permissiveness of Franco´s regime and the tolerance of the U.S.A. from the beginning of the 70s in order to increase its troops with outsiders, opportunists and upstarts. In the 50s, just some isolated heroic acts of weak anarchists and communists arm struggle was left, embers of political and trade union struggle, and dejection of huge masses submitted to the grey pro-Franco repression. The communists loyal to the USSR followed Carrillo´s order to end with all radical struggles to begin preparing the conditions for its renounce since the end of the sixties.

Never the less, between the end of the 50s and the middle 60´s something began to change in a country lashed with torture, weakened by the exile of tens of thousands of people, having the essentials of its national identity prosecuted, and defenceless before the rapid changes caused by the stabilization plan of 1959. A national liberation movement emerged, that although been routed and disorganized by the Spanish police time and time again, was capable of recuperating in no time. That recuperating capacity surprised all and sundry, mainly the left wing political parties of Spain that believed and desired the quick extermination of that surprising phenomena, unthinkable from any viewpoint of the time. The 70´s were the definite separation of paths between the Basque pro-independence left and the loyal opposition to its Majesty, separation that soon would become a deadly confrontation when the PSOE created the GAL (state terrorist group) at the very beginning of the 80´s the powers that be ordered the oblivion of those Abertzales killed by the Spanish right during and after UCD. While in the middle of the 80´s many Spanish combative people fell into the sadly famous “Disenchantment”, prelude of the subsequent post-modern fashion, while others massively supported Herri Batasuna at the 1987 European elections, the conditions for the talks between ETA and the Spanish government were being prepared. Once again, the question of what was happening in the Basque Country arouse, and that is how, like some kind of cloud that appears and disappears, the same happened in the second half of the 90´s decade, when in April 1995 the Democratic alternative was forwarded. And now? What happens now?

If something characterises the current Basque situation is the increasing but not definite confluence of trade unions, social, political, cultural, sportive …… forces, that is, like many streams coming together to form a river that deepens and widens every day, a river that grows as it reaches the sea. So going back to the social and historic reality, the Basque country is living the emergency, emerging to the official and politic-institutional surface, new internal and external characteristics came out from strong dynamics that always existed while the Basque country changed in the last years.

On the one hand, the socio-economical, political and cultural transformations since the deliberate destruction of the whole infrastructure of the metal industry, with its “Iron culture” that through out a century was the basis where the social synthesis and Basque reference stood, carried out by the Spanish state in the south of the Basque Country since the 80s, this industrial destruction and desertification, apart from other adjacent changes, forced the re-adaptation of the old types of fights and the apparition of new ones. Therefore, since the beginning of the 90s, and even before in permanent demands of the Basque country such as self-determination, and the necessity of independence, a collective expansive consciousness was being gradually created around the urgent solution of pressing problems such as Euskara and culture, economy, working class´ living conditions, the environment, the political prisoners, education, …… Urgent solution that, only seemed feasible if it was the people who actively boosted it, taking the initiative and overrunning and overcoming the autonomic institution´s passivity and the actions against the collective´s and individual´s rights continuously carried out by the Spanish state.

On the other hand, while these torrent pressed hard on the daily spheres, neighbourhoods, towns, industries, universities …… the Basque pro-independent left and the Spanish state made similar moves and adapted themselves, while the autonomists and regionalists followed in another level, but it was mainly the pro-independence left who responded to the increasing repressive brutality. So the underground expansive force shook the political superstructures, specially the state, who answered with generalized oppressive offensives, which objective was no other than to destroy the emerging movement from its roots, the national, socio-historical, linguistic and cultural basis of the Basque Country and not only, and as until then had happened, to attack just the core of the Basque pro-independence left and its areas of influence and legitimacy. We must say that it was the PSOE who designed the essentials of this generalised attack from the end of the 80´s on, who put it in practice from the beginning of the 90´s, backed up its implementation and hardening it at the hands of the PP during its eight year rule, and still insists on its validity during this months back in the central government.

Lastly, through out this time the Basque pro-independence left has been and still is the decisive socio-political force, the only one that at the end of the 70´s wisely warned of the failure the so called “transition” would be; forwarded a first democratic resolution proposal, the tactical alternative, KAS; it stood by it through hardening and more restrictive times; denounced the Basque government´s as well as Navarre government´s collaboration with the Spanish state and its repression: learned how to move forward and force the Spanish government to enter the political negotiations in Argelia at the end of the 80´s and new how to ovoid the sting the Spanish government thought of at the last minute; manage to reorganize itself after the mid 90´s first new socialist repressive strategy, and even forward the second proposal for the resolution of the Spanish conflict in the south of the Basque country, the Democratic Alternative as another stage of the long Basque liberation process: managed to pursue its essence before and after Lizarra-Garazi and ETA´s cease-fire; with many sacrifices, personal costs, and hundreds of arrests succeeded on internally and externally reorganizing it during the second repressing wave, in the second half of the 90´s and beginning of the XXI century, till another democratic resolution proposal has been drown after a critical and self-critical valuation of the reasons why Lizarra-Garazy failed, but also its undeniable successes and valid contributions. This third proposal has been thoroughly debated by the Abertzale militancy who knows of its strength and the necessities of its country, and then forwarded in a amazing public demo before more than 15.000 people organized the 14th of November in Donostia.

As you see, the Basque socialist pro-independence left has maintained a clear substantive continuity of essential defining constants these past three decades, since the end of the 70´s of the XX century until the end of 2004. Constants that have been enriching and adapting themselves, self-critically overcoming the old and the inevitable errors, to critically integrating the new, so that, today we can proudly say that we have been able to overcome, one by one, all the stubborn Spanish state´s attacks, who we must mention, had since the times of Franco and at the present time still has the practical help of the French state. Very synthesised, four are the secrets that explain this dialectic maintenance and change in the Basque revolutionary left: one, that halve always explicitly and publicly argued its objectives, strategies and tactics, always again maintaining a coherent sincerity and fidelity, attributes that have permitted it to be the only socio political force whose affirmations truthfulness is never questioned, attributes recognised even by its worse enemy the Spanish extreme right. This, so painfully won coherence, is what guaranties with out a doubt the fulfilment of that assured in the official declarations, something that no other party can now a days demonstrate, after thirty years of swaps, secrecies, failures and despicable betrayals.

Another one, in each one of the successive stages of adaptive changes through out the remain of the process, certain determined characteristics of the self-organization of our country and of its working class have always been considered decisive and vital. The immense majority, if not all, of these decades conquests have been carried out by the popular self-organization in multiple forms and ways, depending on the particular problems to be resolved. Very few, really few, have received the limited economical and/or institutional help of the Basque government and even less at the hands of Navarre´s government. Worse even, when that help has been given with the dark or clear intention to deviate, neutralise and divide those struggles. Most, not to say all, of the institutions imposed by the so called transition have with all their means pressured, from the Boycott in city halls to parliamentary censorship through bureaucratic scorn not forgetting the repression an torture carried out by the Ertzaintza (Basque police force) in order to defeat the social and popular self-organizations. The examples are so crushing and the exceptions so few and mean in their refusal to confess that they are not worth mentioned.

Also, the enriching adaptations introduced by the Basque pro-independence left through out these thirty years have as well very actively and movilisingly responded to the negative changes, to the restriction of rights, to the current capitalism´s upward trend to reduce with authoritarianism and to control and repress politically –has anyone talked about justice?…—the most elemental collective rights, with out no individual rights exist, or the classes, or the oppressed nations, or the women sex-economical exploitation. This capitalist tendency of the world can not be denied, that in important parts such as the U.S.A., for example, it reaches neo-fascism, that was also carried out by the PP and is still active with the PSOE against vital rights like the “law of parties”. etc…… This process is more pressing even, in nationally oppressed paces like the Basque Country because specific components such as attacks against its Identity, language, culture and history are added. Not to mention when women play an important part of the revolutionary and progressive struggle, when this happens, the authoritarian tendency reinforces itself with the bravado of the most sexist, violent and murderer chauvinism. Another Basque constant characteristic, is to decisively boost, on the one hand, the re-conquest of the lost, closed, imprisoned, spaces and in the other hand to try to create new spaces, areas, liberation collective and individual new practices, crating future and new feasible expectations. Not all ways has been possible, and not only because of the omnipresence but not omnipotent repression, but also because our own errors and deficiencies, but we keep trying.

We can neither forget the qualitative jump made towards the creation of a definitive national practice as one single territory, and not just like a historical linguistic-cultural reference. This means, that for the first time in its history the Basque Country its adapting itself to action and thinking structure that works nationally, as a unique territory, as the Unitarian synthesis of seven provinces nationally homogenous and submitted to the domination of two foreign countries, The Spanish and French states. Truth is, that in some other times of our history, in critical moments (mainly invasions, defensive wars, and periods of special repression) we encountered very strong solidarity and mutual help from those territories, that help in very critical moments indeed maintaining on the spark of national identity; not until now had this crucial and irreversible step been given. More over, is reinforced by another simultaneous one, that recognizes and respects the each plurality of human collectives that form our country in its seven territories, including the new immigrants. Up until now and against what the state propaganda might say, no political force apart from the Basque pro-independence left has given such a democratic step towards the recognition of the richness of the collectives that form our Country.

This quadruple characteristic of permanence on the essential and creative adaptation to the new, has been lately mirrored in the formation of the National Debate Forum, in which around 200 people representing of many and vary organizations, associations, and forces of all kinds, have been debating for months the structural problems that affect the Basque Country, reaching to the conclusion that two simultaneous paths of self-determination and national construction must be followed. The first one has a double sense, on the one hand is the National Development Assembly, that has to draw a strategic national construction plan, in order to create concrete plans to tackle vital issues such as language and culture, the socio-economical and work wise necessities, the gender oppression, the sportive policies, the popular education, etc ……And on the other hand, the Crisis Commission destined to respond national and jointly, and not in a partial and sectarian manner, to any punctual external attack . And the second objective is the National Resolution Board in order to reach a consensus on the political process to be able to carry out a open consultation in our society as the only way to democratically overcome both the historical conflict and violent consequences, that will be publicly forwarded in the Aberri Eguna 2005.

To finish up, what is happening in the Basque Country is that the powerful and widening river formed out of the confluence of many collective and individual efforts, its creating synergy, an exampling pedagogy that encourages other subjects to sum up, so that seam nearer the river mouth into the sea of the elemental democratic rights that persecuted and rejected for so long.

Euskal Herria (2004/XI/22)
Basque Country (22/XI/2004)