Xabier Letona https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/17857/all cached version 08/02/2019 23:14:36 en A silent cry in the crowded streets of Bilbao https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/xabier-letona/silent-cry-in-crowded-streets-of-bilbao <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Once again, thousands have marched in the city of Bilbao to protest the "policy of dispersal" against Basque prisoners and call for their repatriation.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/51140_mg_2229xxx[1].jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/51140_mg_2229xxx[1].jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="255" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tens of thousands of people gathered in Bilbao. (Photo: Dani Blanco/Argia)</span></span></span></p><p>The city of Bilbao became more crowded as the day went on. People were coming from all over the Basque Country and by noon it was impossible to walk around the city centre. The main streets surrounding the meeting points from which the demonstration was going to start at 5pm were getting packed as this time got closer. “<a title="Sare" href="http://sare.eus/" target="_blank"><em>Sare</em></a>” (meaning literally “Network” in Basque, a citizen network struggling for the rights of Basque political prisoners) was in the way of achieving the objective of the day. This article is a chronicle of that demonstration.</p><p>25 years ago the Spanish and French governments enforced the policy of dispersal against Basque political prisoners. Since then, and according to the information given by “Sare”, the family members and friends that visit the these prisoners travel 352,329 km every week, as much as circumnavigating the earth 8.8 times weekly. The policy of dispersal has an average cost of 12,257 euros per family a year and 16 people have died in traffic accidents while going to visit their dear ones. As in last years, there have been massive demonstrations in Bilbao in order to demand respect for the rights of the Basque political prisoners and the end of the policy of dispersal.</p><p>This year the demonstration had a different structure. Instead of starting from a square and going down to the City Hall, (a distance of 2 kilometres) it started from both sides and joined together in a middle point between both ends. The families of the political prisoners opened the way in their usual lined structure.</p><p>Currently there are around 460 Basque political prisoners in 73 jails in France and Spain. Within this collective, there are members of ETA, pro-independence politicians, trade union members, members of the youth movement and journalists. The Spanish government categorises the whole of them as “everything is ETA”.</p><p>Like the organizers had underlined once and again the protagonists were the citizens and the families of the political prisoners. On Saturday those political parties, trade unions, organizations and well known people that had shown their support for the demonstration were kept in a second line.</p><p>Among the protagonists there were also key figures in this issue of the dispersal policy applied against the Basque political prisoners; the&nbsp;<em>Mirentxin</em>&nbsp;vans that week after week drive the families voluntarily to prisons scattered all over France and Spain as a sign of solidarity. On Saturday they were the ones opening the roads of Bilbao too.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/_MG_3134[1].jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/_MG_3134[1].jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="283" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mirentxin drivers opened the road. (Photo: Dani Blanco/Argia)</span></span></span></p><p><span>Two kilometres of road packed with citizens. Lots of them didn´t even have the possibility to move at all and following the recommendations of the organizers they have just occupied the streets.</span></p><p>It has been achieved. Once again thousands of people demanded in silence the repatriation of the Basque political prisoners to the Basque Country. Like the main slogan stated,&nbsp;<em>Now to the Basque Country!</em>&nbsp;The demonstration was silent as demanded by the organizers, a demand well respected by the participants. Only two slogans have followed the whole demonstration in its way; “Basque prisoners to the Basque Country” and “Bring the Basque political prisoners home”.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/_MG_2989[1].jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/_MG_2989[1].jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="317" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Family memebers holding banner against dispersal policy. (Dani Blanco/Argia)</span></span></span></p><p>While many are the comparisons that can be made with&nbsp;<a href="http://www.argia.eus/albistea/larunbateko-manifestazioa-debekatzeko-eskatu-du-fiskaltzak" target="_blank">last year's demonstration where around 130.000 people marched for "human rights, resolution, peace"</a>, two are the ones that stand out among others. Last year's demonstration was firstly prohibited by the Spanish National Court and and as a consequence that the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party) ended up supporting the demonstration. Certainly last year in Bilbao, there was a stronger feeling of solidarity and a great amount of euphoria. The support shown towards the Basque political prisoners this year has been strong too but within a more relaxed environment. This year the PNV hasn't supported the demonstration outlining at the same time that last year they did so because of its prohibition.</p><p>At the end of the event Saroi Jauregi and the singer Fermin Muguruza had taken the roll of presenters. The improvisers Maialen Lujanbio, Igor Elortza and Amets Arzallus sang some poems. And the singers “The Aire systers”, Rafa Rueda and Agus Barandiaran sang along with other thousands of people the popular song “<em>Your mother is waiting, so is your father...</em>”</p><p>Maite Mangado and Hegoa Arakama, family members of Basque political prisoners, demanded that the rights of the Basque political prisoners as well as those of their family members have to be respected. “Those rights must be respected now! Not tomorrow or the day after! It has to be now because among other reasons this attitude also helps the peace process.” They have both outlined that the policy of dispersal is a policy of revenge and that with the support of the society “the wall representing the policy of dispersal will be brought to an end. We call you to walk together towards that end, step by step.” Finally they invited people to join “Sare”, the network working for the rights of Basque political prisoners.</p><p>The light has become another protagonist of this demonstration. At the end of it thousands of lights have been lit in the hands of the participants obtaining thus a <a href="http://www.argia.eus/fitxategiak/ckfinder/images/_MG_3474hhxx(1).jpg">strong picture</a>.</p><p>The singer Fermin Muguruza and Saroi Jauregi brought the event to an end by stating that “in order to create together a future in which all human rights will be respected, now is the time to ensure that the rights of the Basque political prisoners and their families are respected. All together we will achieve it!”</p><p>People have started moving on, some went towards the bars, others to take the buses...and lots of them probably still remember the last words of the poem sung by the improviser Amets Arzalluz: “It is not easy year after year/to bring more people here/and we hope that next year/ you will come to celebrate (we brought them home)”.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/DispertsioarenMapa[1].jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/DispertsioarenMapa[1].jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="476" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/xabier-letona/scotland-big-push-for-basque-sovereignty-supporters">Scotland: a big push for Basque sovereignty supporters</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> <div class="field-item even"> France </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Spain France Through the bars Xabier Letona Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Tue, 13 Jan 2015 17:43:45 +0000 Xabier Letona 89561 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Scotland: a big push for Basque sovereignty supporters https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/xabier-letona/scotland-big-push-for-basque-sovereignty-supporters <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Despite the referendum result, Basque nationalists still see Scotland as an inspiration for their own national struggle for self-determination.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/994420.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/548777/994420.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Basques march to protest to the Spanish government's policy on Basque prisoners. Demotix/Javi Julio. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In the early hours of September 19, when news broke that the pro-independence vote had lost the referendum in Scotland, Basque nationalists were deeply saddened. But when hours and days went on, a sense of happiness about the whole process began to emerge.</p> <p>Basque Nationalism has fond memories of the referendum in Quebec in 1995. Nowadays that is both far away in time and distance. Scotland, however, is much closer to the Basque Country and its September referendum took place while the echoes of the armed struggle are fading further and further away. </p><p>This along with the referendum announced by the Autonomous Catalonian government is having an effect on the political panorama in the Basque Country even though the proposed referendum has been temporarily suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court.</p> <p>All these elements are having a great impact in Basque society, and especially within the pro-sovereignty movement. It strengthens the belief that Basque society has the right to decide its own future. On June 8, 140.000 people joined the two main Basque cities – Durango and Iruñea/Pamplona – with a 120 km-long human-chain. It was the biggest mobilization in the last 40 years.</p> <p>During the transition from dictatorship to democracy in Spain, two autonomy statutes were set up in the Basque Country. On the one hand, three provinces were put together to create the Basque Autonomous Community; and on the other, the province of Navarre, considered by Basque nationalists to be the cradle of the Basque nation, became a separate &nbsp;autonomous community, something which has remained an open wound in Basque society ever since.</p> <h2><span>Armed conflict and territoriality</span></h2> <p>It was not only the territory which was split in two. Basque nationalism was also was divided. On the one hand, the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party) accepted the path of autonomy. On the other, the left-wing nationalist movement did not. The separatist armed group ETA was in this second group, and it continued with the armed struggle it had begun during the Franco regime. Its main political claims were Basque Country's self-determination and territorial unity. ETA rejected the armed struggle in 2011 without achieving any of these claims.</p> <p>Today, the left pro-sovereignty movement is trying to push forward a peace process to focus on the effects of the armed conflict, but the Spanish ruling right-wing party PP has not joined in these efforts and prefers to let the situation go to waste, hoping that the whole Basque nationalist movement, including the PNV, will go with it. </p><p>Nowadays, around 400 ETA members and dozens of political prisoners are dispersed among various Spanish prisons, most of them hundreds of kilometres from their homes. An attempt to come to terms with both the thousands of victims – among them around 800 people killed by ETA – and the hundreds of prisoners who remain in Spanish jails, remains an ongoing issue.</p> <p>The Spanish government wants to stymie the new approach of the Basque pro-sovereignty movement. And it might be said, with regards to the peace process, it is achieving the goal. At least for now. </p> <p>But the same thing can’t be said about the pro-sovereignty movement, which became strongly galvanised after ETA gave up its armed struggle. For example, the pro-independence left party formed the coalition EH Bildu with other Basque pro-sovereign parties, and in 2012 it became the main force in some elections, challenging the dominance of the centre-right nationalist party PNV.</p> <p>But even within the PNV, the pro-sovereign trend has taken big steps in the last 15 years. For example, the PNV has claimed that the Statute of Autonomy created after the Franco-era is no longer valid. In addition, in the last decade the president of the PNV, Juan Jose Ibarretxe proposed to Madrid the idea of a Basque autonomous country freely joined with Spain. The regional residents had the right to decide their own future. In 2005, the Spanish Congress killed the chance of a referendum on the matter taking place. </p> <p>For many reasons, it was a big defeat for Basque nationalism, but at the same time, it strongly increased awareness of the right to self-determination. From then on, that right would be based on the idea that Basque society has to decide its own future democratically, as in Quebec, Scotland and Catalonia.</p> <p>But the Basque pro-sovereign movement still has two main problems to solve. Firstly, wounds opened during the armed struggle have to be closed in order to strengthen reconciliation and to solve the political conflict in a democratic way. Secondly, the problem of territoriality has to be resolved. </p> <p>The Basque Country is divided into three administrative territories: two of them in Spain, and the third in France, without any autonomy. So who can vote in a hypothetical Basque referendum? Moreover, Basque nationalists are only a majority in one of the three territories (64% of representation in Parliament). How do we move forward in obtaining the right to decide, and how do we do it in a united way when in only one of the three administrative territories &nbsp;–where 70% of population live – is there a clear democratic mandate?</p> <p>Within the confines of Basque nationalism, it hasn’t really been discussed or even thought about, but in the last number of years , doors have been opened, and certainly in the near future this subject will be talked about and discussed with much more normality. For now, independence seems very far off in Basque society, for many reasons. The Spanish wall is there, as can be seen in the Catalonian process. Still, the Spanish government exhibits anti-democratic behaviour in prohibiting - in Basque Lands or in Catalonia - a non-binding inquiry where citizens can say what their opinion is.</p> <h2>Spain: a federal state?</h2> <p>Spain can offer a carrot to Basque or Catalan nationalists and put a brake on the growing pro-sovereign process, as happened in 1978, by offering a higher level of self-government, but closing the door on the right to decide. That is, allow the vote, but only on one thing: more self-government, yes or no? And in these cases people usually answer yes. In many cases the states try to split independence sentiments this way. </p> <p>The pro-sovereignty movement have realised that it is easier to reach the people with the right to decide than with the right to self-determination, that wide sectors can join the idea of separating from Spain, especially if this country is ruled by the right wing, destroying the welfare state and deepening the neoliberal model. </p> <p>Unlike in Scotland and Catalonia, the bonds between sovereignty and a better standard of living are not yet properly established in the Basque Country, but the doors have been opened. The coming months may lead to important changes: in May 2015, provincial and municipal elections will be held, and at the end of 2015, general elections in Spain. The unionist right-wing may lose power in Navarre, and the PP will almost surely lose the absolute majority in Spain. The Catalan independence process will continue to move forward and the Basque pro-sovereign movement will continue flying the Scottish and Catalan flags, trying to pave the road to sovereignty.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/pello-zubiria/human-chain-demanding-basque-right-to-decide-gathers-150000">Human chain demanding the Basque right to decide gathers 150,000</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Spain Xabier Letona Joining the dots on independence movements in Europe Tue, 07 Oct 2014 21:23:17 +0000 Xabier Letona 86615 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Xabier Letona https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/xabier-letona <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Xabier Letona </div> </div> </div> <p>Xabier Letona is a Basque journalist and ex-director of Argia.</p> Xabier Letona Tue, 07 Oct 2014 21:09:40 +0000 Xabier Letona 86616 at https://www.opendemocracy.net