We left the river valley today to take a swirling road through the hills. Most people, almost everybody, kept to the asphalt, to avoid getting lost. Only four of us decided to take an old path through the woods, which was almost completely consumed by nature. Comrade Marianne from Syntagma Square, comrade Carmela from Galicia, comrade Jesus Christ and me.
I wonder if the path will lead us to our destination. I have my doubts, but Marianne reassures me. “Just follow Jesus. He knows the way.”
And so, as Jesus steps away on his sandals through the thorn bushes, we follow along. It turned out it wasn’t the shortest route. We started off first, and we were bound to be the last. But my goodness, it was well worth it. So that is my advice, people. Don’t go with the herd, don’t take the easy road in life. You will see things you have never even dreamed of.
Euskadi, to me, seems to be the land of great stories. These hills, these woods, these little villages covered by the fog, these towns suspended between modern times and timelessnes can serve as the background for every type of tale or fairytale.
I myself grew up in a country completely devoid of every type of nationalism, fortunately, but I can understand that the people of Euskadi are strongly attached to their native land. I would be too.
Once we’ve crossed the hills and reached the rest of the group I walk along with a Basque comrade from the village of Oñati, a real working class hero. He will accompany us for today’s long leg to Beasain. Yesterday he gave a touching speech to our assembly. He asked for us to understand the deep desire of the Basque people to be able to decide about their own fate.
Now that we have all the time to talk, I ask him to explain to me a bit about the current political situation. In synthesis, this is what he told me.
Under Franco the repression of the Basque culture was complete. The local language, which is said to be the oldest of Europe, was banned. It still hurts. At the same time the Basque country has a very strong left wing tradition. ETA is an expression of this. They want an independent socialist state. In recent years the Spanish government has granted far reaching autonomy to the region and stimulated the use of Euskara. But this is seen by many as a ‘privilege’ that was granted to appease the people, and to link the local elites to the central government in Madrid. The Spanish state never explicitly gave the people the right to self determination.
For years ETA has fought a guerilla war against the regime. Their goals are shared by many Basques, though their means are not. In the eighties the government fought back in a dirty war, using paramilitary militias. Many people were killed. Many ETA members were caught and imprisoned, but hardly any of the paramilitary fighters were brought to justice.
In recent years ETA, and the political parties linked to the her, have recognised that the violent struggle is not in the interest of the Basque people. But in the meantime the Spanish state has intensified its offensive. They have adopted a law with which any political party that doesn’t explicitly adhere to certain democratic principles can be outlawed. On the base of this they have arbitrarely prevented left wing parties from participating in the elections.
One of the charismatic ETA leaders, comandante Arnaldo Otegi, has been imprisoned repeatedly, lately for ‘glorifying terrorism’, because he refused to condemn the armed struggle [for corrections see Mayu’s response below]. From a legal point of view, this is very dangerous. The man has served his term in prison for what he has done (attack on the garrison of San Sebastián, kidnapping, armed robbery). Now he is being imprisoned, not even for what he said, but for what he didn’t say.
Other ETA prisoners are said to have been tortured by the Spanish police, even people who didn’t have anything to do with the armed struggle. Many prisoners serve their term far away from home, to prevent them from having contact with their families and comrades. The final goal of the government, they say, is not the ‘war against terrorism’, but the eradication of any left wing independence movement, by linking them all to ETA.
For all these reasons the rage against the Spanish government is as strong as ever in the Basque country. The people want to be recognised as a sovereign nation. They want to be able to pronounce themselves on independence and build their own future without intervention from anyone else. They will continue to pursue this goal, with peaceful means if necessary.
The Basque country is rich. It is blessed with a favourable climate. The highland of Castilla is poor and dry. It’s typical. People are used to think that it’s the rich countries who have colonised the poor countries. But in practice it’s the other way around. It’s always the poor countries who set out to conquer the others. England is a poor country, Holland is a poor country. Their harsh northern climate doesn’t allow for much variety. That’s why they set out to conquer the richest territories of the world. Africa and all the Indies, East and West.
Now, I am neither a historian, nor an anthropologist, but I think this is a recurring event in history, going back to the dawn of civilization.
There was a time when tribes of men began settling down to dedicate themselves to agriculture. At the same time, most tribes were still hunters and gathers. I think it’s likely that the hunters imposed themselves on the farmers by force and instituted something called government.
This way they formed a parasiting elite which has perpetuated itself through time, be it aristocratically, or militarily, or ‘democratically’. The governing class has always self justified itself by saying that without them there would be chaos.
This is not true. People can self govern themselves very well. They have probably done so for most of the time that man kind has inhabited the earth. And the idea of revolution – not just the 15M revolution or the French revolution or the American revolution – but the idea of Revolution as such, is the awareness of the fact that outside government is not indispensable.
The real Revolution will be complete once we, the farmers, will knock on the door of our improductive ‘representatives’, saying: “Hey, it’s time for you to get a real job. Here’s a hoe. Start working the soil. If you have any ideas about how to run our society, you can present them at the assembly.”