By Russell Pickering and Nikki Ulasowski
BILBAO — In the wake of the Spanish government's offensive against the Basque independence movement, particularly focused on ETA (the armed Basque resistance movement) and the political organisation Herri Batasuna, Green Left Weekly spoke to Herri Batasuna national executive member Karlos Rodriguez.
Question: Can you describe the methods being used by the Spanish state to counter the independence movement?
Since the death of General Franco, three different parties in government have maintained the same position of repression, of the "police way" to answer the problem.
The Popular Party government attacks the independence movement — not only ETA but nowadays especially Herri Batasuna and the rest of the independence movement, like the trade unions and other social movements.
Since the kidnapping and killing by ETA of Miguel Blanco, the Spanish state has tried to isolate and attack Herri Batasuna. We say continually that it is impossible to deal with political problems by the "police way", and it is difficult to stop a very broad movement like the independence movement in the Basque country through isolation.
The only solution is negotiation between all the parties involved.
The government is trying to take away our responsibilities in local government and other administrations, blocking any propositions by Herri Batasuna in administration, through any parliament. They are trying to pressure people not to shop at places owned by people associated with Herri Batasuna or to be involved in any commercial activities with them.
The Popular Party is trying to change the judges and the law towards more repression, against young people and against the other social movements in the Basque country. They are trying to come to an agreement with the other political parties and want to present these new laws in September-October.
For example, they are trying to apply punishments under the current laws to people from 16 years of age. They want to create special judges to try young people who take part in struggles on the street. They are trying to make a law that will sentence people found guilty of taking part in an illegal demonstration to one to three years in jail.
They are trying to make it illegal to publicly defend ETA or any action in support of Basque federation. This will carry a sentence of six to eight years.
Question: How are the other political forces in the Basque country responding?
During this last year especially the PNV, the Basque Nationalist Party, and Eusko Alkartasuna [EA], the second nationalist party, are helping the Spanish government strategy. But they now find themselves in a difficult situation, because if they help the Spanish government, they weaken their support base.
They are linked with the Spanish government because of economic reasons and secondly because of responsibilities in the administration of regional autonomy. They see that it is impossible to isolate people. So, for instance, the leader of EA, has said that it is not possible to isolate Herri Batasuna or the independence movement and has asked the Spanish government to make dialogue possible.
They find it difficult to operate with this double policy, and for instance have said they do not agree with the legal changes that the Popular Party wants to make because you cannot defend this from a democratic point of view.
Question: What role have the mainstream media played in the independence debate?
The Spanish media are not only against the independence movement but also against the nationalist movement. In the Basque country they are attacking everything that is not Spanish.
The media have said many times that they are not only against Herri Batasuna because of the violence of ETA, but because it is an independence movement. They don't agree with the wish of the majority of the Basque country for independence or other kinds of relations with Spain.
It is quite difficult to follow the reality of the Basque situation from Spain because the media in Spain control this reality. For example, in the big demonstrations in Spain last July, most of the people were on the street because of what the Spanish media said about the situation.
Question: Has support for the independence movement grown?
The level of support can be shown on two different levels: elections and popular demonstrations.
In the Basque country there are two parliaments, one in the Basque province and another regional parliament in Nafarroa, in which we have a total of 17 representatives, which is 15-20% of positions in these bodies.
We have approximately 700 representatives in local administrations in nearly all of the villages and towns of the Basque country. We are the third political force in the Basque country.
We also have two representatives in the Madrid parliament but we choose not to go there.
In the European elections, twice we have had one member in the European Parliament — this shows the support for the movement throughout the whole of Spain.
Nowadays more and more people in the Basque country are asking for a solution, and more and more think that the solution can be reached through talking, not with repression.
A youth organisation, Jarrai [which is not linked with Herri Batasuna] is organising events and activities, which is really difficult to do. However, they are getting good results. This is a very interesting and important movement.
Question: What are the next steps forward in the campaign and for Herri Batasuna?
When there is a political struggle or problem, it is only possible to have a solution with political policies. We think that the most important task is to get change from the Popular Party, to stop the repression and give a chance for peace through negotiations.
The Spanish government says that it is possible to finish with ETA and Herri Batasuna. We say that this is not possible. We are asking the Spanish government to talk with people, especially ETA.
People from ETA have always said that they are ready to finish with violence and to move towards a new situation. ETA is very open to all the proposals from the Spanish government, and we think that it can be quite easy for the Spanish government.
We also think that the situation of violence can be changed in a few weeks if the Spanish government changes the situation of the political prisoners, who are in a very bad way.
The most important thing is that we are just asking for recognition of the right to self-determination. For us this is not a political question; it is a democratic question.