Basque Country: ETA declares permanent ceasefire, Basque left set for gains

By Andy Bowden

October 21, 2011 -- Scottish Socialist Youth -- Amid the worldwide media coverage of 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 Basque independence through peaceful measures.

Naturally the Spanish PM has spoke of ETA’s declaration as 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, and acts in the interests of the Spanish state by making the dispute about a conflict against terrorism that the Basques cannot win by military means.

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 recieved by the pro-independence left, which historically takes between 10% and 20%. This makes Bildu the opposition party in the Basque country, to the pro-independence moderate PNV party, which took 30% of the vote. This combined vote shows there is a solid majority in favour of independence for the Basque country.

The vote for the pro-independence left was even more impressive giving the Spanish State had tried to ban Bildu from standing -- claiming that 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 that Bildu declared it did not support ETA attacks to bring about independence, and that 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 the right-wing Popular Party and the New Labouresque Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) refused to enter into any meaningful negotiation to end the conflict. Unreported from the majority of the world’s media is the ongoing political repression in the Basque Country -- in which political parties like Batasuna were banned, Basque newspapers were shut down, prisoners are tortured, youth organisations prohibited and radical 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 politicans, 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 has produced a majority nationalist administration in the Basque autonomous region. Spain has refused any discussion on Independence for the Basque Country -- with the Spanish parliament vetoing 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 and voted against accepting this new constitution -- and why despite the overthrow of Franco, ETA continued an armed campaign.

Basque political prisoners are dispersed. This poster demands their return.

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.

SSY 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 in 2010 because the unionist parties blocked it. However as you’ve probably noticed, the recent Scottisn Nationalist Party landslide 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 blocked by theBritish government, tortured, shot by death squads, having our political parties banned, our newspapers closed down, community centres demolished -- why shouldn’t the Basque Country have that choice as well?


Friday October 21st, 2011

The declaration by ETA of the cessation of armed activity is certainly good news that helps open up a new stage in the fight for the legitimate national rights of the Basque country.

With this decision, ETA responds unambiguously, whatever the media and others say, to the clamour for the end of the violence that has long been spreading both in Basque and in Spanish society, as was highlighted at the recent International Conference held in Aiete.

Beyond the media confrontation that now occurs as to the interpretation of the various factors that have contributed to this decision, what is important is that it starts a new period in which the central discussion should revolve around a dialogue-based and non-violent solution to the Basque conflict. A conflict with a long history that wasn’t resolved democratically in the mythologized Spanish political transition and that must now be dealt with without excuses and with the political will of all the parties to reach an agreement that allows the recognition of the right of the Basque people to decide their future.

In this process we consider it necessary to also respond favourably to demands like the return of Basque prisoners to Basque country, the repeal of the “Parot doctrine” or the application of prison benefits without restrictions, as well as the legalization of Sortu, today pending resolution by the Constitutional Court. Also, the discretion and arbitrariness that have been tried by that emergency court, the Audencia Nacional, means that large numbers of people have been falsely accused of belonging to ETA, by virtue of being linked to different organizations of the abertzale left; this should be revised to take into account even acquittals such as those of Egunkaria and Udalbiltza. This reconsideration of an “anti-terrorist” policy that has violated the most basic legal guarantees should lead to generous action by the State like the absolution of people such as Otegi and Díez Usabiaga, who have played a key role in pressure on ETA to abandon violence and yet are today imprisoned.

This new political phase also opens a new opportunity for the establishment of new links between the Basque radical left, in all its components, and that which is being reconstructing at the scale of the Spanish state in their common struggle to offer a radical democratic project, a multinational and anti-capitalist front against exclusionary Spanish nationalism and a system in deep crisis. Greater convergence in action through social mobilization and institutional action in its service will help to generate new hopes for breaking with the transition not only in the Basque country but also in the Spanish state as a whole.