Basque Country: Armed struggle ends, political struggle begins

October 2, 2010
ETA's slogan '˜bietan jarrai'™ meaning '˜onward with both'™ painted on a wall.
ETA's slogan '˜bietan jarrai'™ meaning '˜onward with both'™ refers to the political and the armed struggles.

On September 5, the Basque armed group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Basque Homeland and Freedom, ETA), which has fought an armed struggle for Basque freedom for decades, released a video declaring that several months ago it had decided to stop armed actions, and announced a ceasefire.

In its statement, ETA said: “In recent times, the Basque country has been at an important crossroads. The political struggle has opened up new conditions...

“The time has come to build a democratic framework for the Basque country respecting the wishes of the majority of the Basque people...

“The Spanish state is aware that the Basque country is at a crossroads. That the Basque country can now take the road of independence. They want to create conditions in which everything is blocked, to avoid political dialogue and to drown out the aspirations of the people ... Basque activists and Basque citizens need to respond to this responsibly and urgently.

“It is time to take responsibility and take firm measures ... in the articulation of the independence project, in the process of creating democratic conditions, to respond to repression and the firm defence of civil and political liberties. Political change is possible. But there is no shortcut along the way.

“The road to freedom must be walked a step at a time, perhaps flexibly, but the effort and struggle towards this goal is necessary.”

ETA’s decision is part of a wider realignment among the Basque pro-independence left, a process that I was able to witness during my visit there earlier this year.

The mass movement of the left is trying to build maximum unity among the different forces who want Basque independence, to force the Spanish government back to the negotiating table from a position of strength.

At a rally I attended, a declaration was signed that committed participants to “exclusively peaceful and political means” to achieve change.

As one Basque activist put it to me: “We always understood we could not achieve independence and socialism through armed struggle, it was always defensive to protect our people and community from the attacks of the Spanish state.

“We always knew that mass struggle was the way to achieve our aims, and now we are entering a new phase of that struggle.”

The process of agreeing to the new peaceful mass strategy has involved thousands of activists from the youth, trade unions, women’s movement, ecological movements and more.

The pro-independence left responded warmly to the announcement, saying in a statement: “The Abertzale [pro-independence] Left considers that the public statement done by ETA is a contribution of unquestionable value to the establishment of peace and the consolidation of a democratic process.

“Therefore, we appeal to all political, trade union and social agents, to the Governments of Madrid and Paris and to the international community, to respond constructively to the desire of the majority of the Basque society.”

Predictably enough, the Spanish government has attempted to dismiss the historic announcement.

The pro-independence left has sought a negotiated way to end the political crisis in the Basque Country for years, but the Spanish government is only interested in crushing them.

Basque political parties are banned, as are pro-independence youth organisations. Newspapers are shut down, and more than 800 political prisoners are held far from their families and subjected to torture by a supposedly “democratic” government.

When released they are often subjected to harsh bail conditions that ban them from taking part in any kind of political activity on pain of return to prison.

Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero bizarrely said on September 8 he was “disappointed” by the ceasefire announcement and that “statements are worth nothing, only decisions matter”.

Presumably he has missed the fact that ETA has carried out no armed actions while the pro-independence left has been discussing and carrying out its new strategy.

Meanwhile, Zapatero’s government continues the brutal repression of anyone from the Basque Country who dares to stand up to it. His “disappointment” perhaps stems from the fact that ETA’s ceasefire will make it harder for the government to brand innocent activists who have never used a weapon in their lives as “terrorists” and lock them up in brutal conditions.

An example of the kind of mass struggles that are taking place in the Basque Country is the protest that took place in the historic Basque capital of Irunea on September 7 as part of an international day of action around the capitalist crisis.

The Basque trade union federation LAB — the biggest representative of organised workers in the Basque Country, which fights for workers’ rights, independence and socialism — organised a mass protest outside the parliament.

Afterwards, several activists occupied a branch of the Santander bank. They wanted to highlight how the attacks on Basque workers were a result of the crisis caused by the banks.

The occupation went on for two hours. Seven activists were arrested and later released.

[This article first appeared on the website of the Scottish Socialist Youth , the youth organisation associated with the Scottish Socialist Party.]

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