Basque Country: Left set for gains after ETA ceasefire

October 28, 2011
Basque independence rally. Bilbao, October 22.

Amid the worldwide media coverage of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s death, a historic development in another conflict went largely unnoticed.

After more than 40 years of a military campaign against the Spanish state, the Basque armed group ETA announced a permanent end to its use of violence in the struggle for an independent and socialist Basque state.

This follows previous announcements from the group, declaring a desire to pursue independence for the Basque Country through peaceful measures.

Naturally the Spanish prime minister has called ETA’s declaration a victory over terror and a rebuke to radical Basque nationalists.

In reality, the use of shootings and bombings by a group the size of ETA is unable to bring independence to the Basque country, and skews the coverage of the conflict as one between the Spanish state and a small armed organisation.

This totally ignores the strength of the Basque radical pro-independence movement. The position of the Basque independence left is an untold success story of the socialist movement in Europe.

In almost every town and city, the left pro-independence movement — known as the Abertzale or patriotic left — controls youth centres, pubs and social clubs. These community facilities are considered such a threat to the Spanish state that one of them was recently demolished, despite public opposition.

The Basque left can also wield a significant section of the popular vote in the Basque country — almost certainly larger than anywhere else for the socialist left in Europe.

In the recent municipal elections in the Spanish State, the Basque left party Bildu took 25% of the vote — the largest ever vote received by the pro-independence left, which historically takes between 10% and 20%.

This makes Bildu the opposition party in the Basque country — to the moderate pro-independence PNV party, which took 30% of the vote.

The vote shows there is a solid majority in favour of Basque independence.

The vote for the pro-independence left was even more impressive because the Spanish state had tried to ban Bildu from standing. It claimed it was a front for ETA and Batasuna, a radical Basque party the Spanish state previously banned that took between 15% and 20%.

This ban was ridiculous considering Bildu declared it did not support ETA attacks to bring about independence. Also, ETA itself had declared its intention to end its campaign.

Despite ETA’s repeated attempts to engage with the Spanish state in a peace process, both of Spain’s major parties refused to enter into any meaningful negotiation to end the conflict.

The ongoing political repression in the Basque Country is not reported in most of the world’s media. Political parties such as Batasuna have been banned, Basque newspapers shut down, prisoners tortured, youth organisations prohibited and Basque politicians jailed for insulting the monarchy.

This repression hasn’t all come from the right wing of Spanish politics either — it was the “Socialist” Workers Party that set up death squads to assassinate and torture ETA members and Basque radical politicians, with the authorisation and support of government ministers.

The Spanish state refuses to enter a peace process because it knows what the result inevitably will be — almost every single election since the overthrow of Franco in Spain in the 1970s has produced a majority nationalist administration in the Basque autonomous region.

Spain has refused any discussion of independence for the Basque Country. The Spanish parliament vetoed even unofficial referendums on the Basque Country’s future, fearing the inevitable yes vote for independence.

The modern Spanish state never really decisively broke with its fascist past. There were no trials or truth and reconciliation commissions for those who tortured and murdered leftists, trade unionists and Basque and Catalan nationalists under Franco.

Instead, an agreement was struck between the conservative and centre-left parties not to pursue justice for these people, and to enshrine in the Spanish constitution the illegality of any form of independence for nations that are currently part of the Spanish state.

The so-called democratic post-Franco constitution made it illegal for the Basque Country to become independent without the approval of the central Spanish government.

It was for this reason that the majority of Basque voters abstained or voted against accepting this new constitution — and why despite the overthrow of Franco, ETA continued an armed campaign.

Now it’s become clear the Basque independence movement has stronger weapons in its arsenal than bombs or bullets, weapons the Spanish state cannot easily quash.

With the support of a third of the population, and dozens of community facilities across the Basque Country, the pro-independence left is ready to wage a war of the people against the Spanish state.

Scottish Socialist Youth was proud to have hosted a group of Basque Abertzale youth at our camp last year. One of the motivations they had in coming to Scotland was to observe the possible referendum on independence here.

Unfortunately, we never got a chance to vote for independence last year because the unionist parties blocked it. However, the recent Scottish Nationalist Party landslide election win means there will be a definite referendum in the next four years.

This isn’t just important for Scotland — it’s a message to the Spanish state and the Basque people as well.

If Scots are allowed to vote in a free vote on our future — without being tortured, shot by death squads and having our political parties banned, our newspapers closed down and community centres demolished — why shouldn’t the Basque Country have that choice as well?

[Reprinted from ]

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