This article was published at Green Left:
Basque Country: Spanish chauvinists oust nationalists
In the regional elections held on March 1 in the south-west Basque region (Bascongadas), the Spanish state banned left-wing Basque nationalist parties from taking part.
Combined with an alliance between rival Spanish chauvinist parties, the result was that for the first time since limited autonomy was granted to the region in 1979, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) has lost control of the Parliament of the Basque Autonomous Community.
The Basque Country (Euskal Herria) straddles the Spanish and French borders. The majority of the 3 million Basques live within the Spanish state.
The Basque people have waged a long struggle for self-determination from Spanish rule.
The Bascongadas regional elections (comprising the Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and Araba regions) disenfranchised about 15-20 % of citizens by banning political parties Spanish authorities claimed were linked to either the armed nationalist group ETA, or Batasuna — the pro-independence political party outlawed in 2003.
The PNV won the highest number of votes, but failed to win an outright majority in the 75-seat parliament. The two main Spanish parties, the local section of the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (the PSE) and the right-wing Popular Party (PP), who between them took 38 seats, struck a deal on April 1 to form a coalition government on the basis of opposition to Basque self determination.
In the lead-up to the poll, the Spanish judiciary increased its repression of the pro-independence movement. The Supreme Court banned two more parties — Democracy 3 Million and Askatasuna (Freedom) — from standing candidates.
The left-nationalists, who generally poll 15-20%, were entirely excluded. They have no representatives in the new parliament.
The left-nationalists responded by printing and distributing illegal ballots, with which more than 100,000 people voted. Including these ballots, a majority of voters (around 640,000) backed pro-self determination parties. The PSE and PP won 482,000 votes combined.
The pro-Spanish parties, bitter rivals in Madrid, agreed to make PSE leader Patxi Lopez regional government president in return for the PP taking the presidency of the Basque parliament.
The coalition has already indicated it intends to increase repression against the pro-independence movement. Plans include bolstering the security forces, and attacks on the Basque language and cultural rights.
In a particularly vindictive move, Lopez has announced plans to cut government travel aid to the families of hundreds of Basque political prisoners that helps them visit relatives in jails throughout Spain and France.
On March 23, top Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, who is on a personal crusade against Basque nationalism, filed “terrorism”' charges against 44 pro-independence activists.
The activists are alleged to be members of banned parties, including Batasuna, the Communist Party of the Basque Lands (PCTV) and Basque Nationalist Action (ANV).
Among those charged is Mondragon Mayor Maria Inocencia Galparsoro.
In a December 16 report, the UN human rights special rapporteur Martin Scheinin said he was “troubled” by Spain’s Law of Political Parties, which provides the legislative basis to ban political organisations. He said it defined “terrorism” so vaguely that it “might be interpreted to include any political party which through peaceful political means seeks similar political objectives” as those pursued by armed organisations.
This reveals that it is not the tactics, but the political goals of the pro-independence parties that Spain seeks to repress.
Scheinin said the law against “glorifying terrorism” should “include the requirements of an intent to incite the commission of a terrorist offence, as well as the existence of an actual risk that such an offence will be committed as a consequence”.
The Spanish authorities are using this law to try to extradite former ETA prisoner Inaki de Juana Chaos, who served 21 years in Spanish jails, from Belfast, where he moved after his release last August.
A Spanish court is basing its extradition efforts on the flimsiest grounds. Its evidence is one media report that, at an August rally in Donostia, which de Juana Chaos did not even attend, someone said, “Kick the ball forward”. This is alleged to be a call to commit terrorist acts, although there is no evidence the statement was made by de Juana Chaos or that it was an incitement to terrorism.
In March, a Belfast judge ruled against de Juana Chaos, accepting the advice of the Spanish authorities that the phrase constituted “praising terrorism”. De Juana Chaos is appealing the ruling.
On April 21, 32-year-old Basque activist Arturo Villanueva Arteaga, who has lived in west Belfast running a tourism business for the past four years, was arrested under a European warrant issued by the Spanish authorities.
Spain is seeking his extradition on unspecified terror charges reportedly relating to proscribed left-wing nationalist youth organisation Segi. The extradition hearing is set for May 13.
The UN report also criticised the interpretation of kale borroka, or street fighting between young people and the security forces, as “urban terrorism”. This definition subjects those who take part in street fighting to anti-terror laws, including incommunicado detention.
The report slammed the fact that all the political cases are judged by National Bench, descended from fascist dictator General Franco’s Public Order Tribunal. The Supreme Court has only a limited ability to review the bench’s judgements.
The UN report criticised human rights abuses. These include the denial of the rights of “terror suspects”, who may be dheld incommunicado for up to 13 days without charge.
The UN report noted the frequent allegations of torture by those detained incommunicado, as well as the failure of the Spanish authorities to investigate these claims properly.
The Basque human rights NGO, Group Against Torture (TAT), has listed testimonies of torture from 62 people in 2008, most of whom had been held incommunicado. The allegations include beatings, sexual assault, plastic bag asphyxiation, food and sleep deprivation, use of stress positions, and threats to rape or kill detainees or their family members.
Another alleged common abuse was being forced to sing the Spanish national anthem or fascist anthems.
There are now 765 Basque political prisoners, the highest number since the Franco dictatorship fell in 1975. They are spread out in more than 80 prisons in Spain and France — on average about 600km from the Basque Country.
The return of prisoners to the Basque Country has long been a central demand of the Basque people.
Spanish chauvinists now also control the central institution that Basque nationalists have historically used to exercise a degree of autonomy — the Basque Autonomous Community parliament.
The opportunist alliance of the social democratic PSE with the right-wing, neo-Francoist PP brings into sharp relief the fact that self-determination remains the defining issue facing the Basque Country.
The conservative nationalist PNV must also realise that the Spanish state’s strategy of fostering division and trying to isolate the radical nationalists also hurts the PNV. It has lost the limited power it had, demonstrating its dependence on the left-nationalists.
In power, the PNV failed seriously to oppose the persecution of the left. Such collaboration with Madrid's anti-democratic policies, out of narrow self-interest, has backfired.
A new nationalist united front, with a strategy of extra-parliamentary mass mobilisation, will be vital to defend the political, cultural and economic rights of Basque people against attacks from the chauvinist coalition.
Left-nationalists have begun holding meetings to discuss the way forward. Basque nationalist trade unions have called a general strike for May 21.
International support for a serious, inclusive peace process — in which the Spanish and French states acknowledge the Basque people’s democratic and national rights — is now more important than ever.
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