ETA: The Only Leftist Opposition In Euskadi

By Manuel Roa

True to the saying that lies need only be repeated often enough for them to be taken as truths, the public has been bombarded with statements about the Basque conflict following the death of conservative local politician Miguel Blanco. A virtual armada of self-proclaimed specialists have come out of the woodwork to tell us that "ETA is terrorizing the entire population in the Basque country" or that "they are now no different than mafioso groups".

Anyone who has followed the conflict is Euskadi for a long period of time can only shake their heads in frustration at such statements. Ever since the agreement signed between right-wing Basque parties and the central government in Madrid in 1979/80, this cycle has periodically repeated itself. For example in 1984, when ETA shot to death a former comrade, the movement was dismissed as totally isolated; the same in 1987 following the bombing of the Hipercor department store in Barcelona, and again in 1995 following the kidnapping of industrialist Aldaia. In order to perpetuate these myths, no distortion is too much: a human chain of 200 anti-ETA demonstrators gets shown for more than 5 minutes on the TV news, while a demo by 40,000 people calling for amnesty for political prisoners is completely ignored.

In the commentaries of the past few days, only one point has been correct: The shooting of Blanco has introduced a new phase of escalation. The conflict now encompasses the Basque society itself.

For years, ETA mainly carried out attacks against Spanish security forces, who are seen as occupation troops, and French capitalist institutions. But in 1993/94, new targets were defined: the Basque autonomous police force, politicians, and journalists. A further sharpening in the Blanco attack is the fact that, for the first time, a Mr. Nobody with no real role in domestic politics was executed.

In doing so, ETA provoked the largest counter-demonstrations in Spanish history. Whereas before the streets of Euskadi traditionally belonged to the left, now - sometimes with the aid of police - central state post-fascists from the PP [Popular Party] and the no less reactionary supporters of the PSOE [Spanish Socialist Workers Party] have mobilized. In nearly all cities, they attacked bars where leftists gather and offices of the left. In the old sections of the city of Donosti, youths had to defend themselves with Molotov cocktails against lynch mobs.

Although it's impossible to speak of ETA as being isolated - in the past three years, there has been an unprecedented wave of street-based militancy, the left-radical trade union LAB made decisive gains during the last round of union voting, and despite massive arrests a new generation of underground militants is initiated every year - it is correct to say that the Basque left has never before been so openly confronted with "civil society" as it is today. When we exclude the option that Blanco's execution was a "mistaken action", there remains only one possible explanation for it: The death of Blanco was meant to convey the message that "This affects us all".

For more than three years, 600 Basque political prisoners have been waging a struggle inside prisons all across the Iberian peninsula. Their main demand is regroupment in prisons nearer to Euskadi, in order to make relatives' visits easier. Such a measure would be a first step towards a political solution to the conflict, and for this reason the demand has been supported by the Basque country's autonomous government and regional parliament. Although this demand has been pressed for three years, there has been no change. Every year, one or two prisoners die as a result of their prison conditions, many are more than 1,000 kilometers from their homes. The collective of Basque political prisoners - a force which cannot be ignored when one considers that there are around 3 million Basques and that statistically one family in ten has a family member either in prison or sought by the police - has stated it will increase its resistance as of September 1997. This could lead to the beginning of an unlimited hunger strike.

The latest action by ETA seems to follow this logic: Repression by the central government has destroyed x number of families, so Blanco is also just a random victim; "If we must cry, then so must they."

It's more than doubtful that such an approach will lead to a political solution. All parties have distanced themselves from the Basque left. On the other hand, Floren Aoiz, one of the leaders of HB [Herri Batasuna, the political wing of ETA], has stated correctly that the Basque left finds itself "completely isolated" once every few years, but eventually calls for talks are made to it again.

The situation is such because no one can ignore the Basque left. It cannot be destroyed by repression, for the following reasons.

First of all, the Basque left is the only major force in the Spanish state which is a continuation of the anti-Franco resistance. Whereas all other political forces, from Basque conservatives to the PSOE and the Communists (who have abandoned their calls not to enter NATO and the EU, for the abolition of the monarchy, the dismantling of the Francoist military apparatus, and self-determination for all communities within the Spanish state), the Basque left has remained true to its radical opposition to Francoist modernization.

Secondly, the Basque left is a social movement. This isn't necessarily reflected in ETA's actions, because even when the organization 'Independentiza eta Sozialismoa' (Independence and Socialism) intervenes, their attacks are mainly aimed at achieving self-determination. But with the mass organizations, from which ETA recruits, things are different: The LAB union represents the most militant workers' opposition movement in the Spanish state; Jarrai is a radical, Marxist youth organization; there are also squatting struggles, the ecology movement, internationalist committees, etc. The existence of ETA is just as much an expression as it is the foundation of a social movement which is unique in Western Europe.

Therefore, people should resist joining in the choir of denunciations stemming from the mainstream media. The Basque left, despite its calls for national independence and a whole series of questionable attacks, is still a project of social change open to all migrants (and anyone who doubts this need only read the texts of KAS, HB, Jarrai, or LAB). A project determined to push on against the Spanish central state which is - I am sorry, but this truth must be said - in the continuity of fascism (comparable to Adenauer's Germany in the 1950s). Spain is a state which built up the GAL death squads, which systematically tortures prisoners, and where police attacks on African migrants are daily occurrences.

(Translated by Arm The Spirit from "Jungle World" #31, July 31, 1997)

Arm The Spirit
Mon, 6 Oct 1997

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