Basque Country: Armed struggle ends, mass struggle continues

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Basque trade unionists protest against the capitalist crisis.

By Jack Ferguson

September 8, 2010 -- Scottish Socialist Youth -- On September 5, 2010, the Basque armed group Euskadi Ta Azkatasuna (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 which 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 demanding Basque independence, in order to force the Spanish government back the negotiating table from a position of strength. At a major rally I attended while I was there to mark this process, a declaration was signed that committed the participants to “exclusively peaceful and political means” to achieving 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 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 for years been seeking a negotiated way to end the political in the Basque Country, but the Spanish government is only interested in crushing them. Basque political parties are banned, as is the youth organisation, 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 incredibly harsh bail conditions that ban people 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 he was “disappointed” by the ceasefire announcement, adding 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 implementing its new strategy. Meanwhile his own government continues the brutal repression of anyone from the Basque Country who dares to stand up to them. 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 demonstration that took place in the historic Basque capital of Iruñea on September 7, 2010, as part of an international day of action around the capitalist crisis. The Basque trade union federation LAB, which is the biggest representative of organised workers in the Basque Country and fights for workers’ rights, independence and socialism, organised a mass demonstration outside the parliament. Then several activists went on to occupy a branch of the Santander bank. They wanted to highlight how the attacks facing Basque workers (much the same as the ones we face in Scotland at the hands of the ConDem government) were a result of the crisis caused by the banks. Check out the videos of the action here.

The occupation went on for two hours, and led to seven activists being arrested, who were later released.

[This article first appeared at the website of the Scottish Socialist Youth, the youth organisation associated with the Scottish Socialist Party. It is posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission.]