The Basque 8

Basque8_large

Sofia, April 20

Dear people,

If this had happened in Iran, China, Russia or Nigeria we would have the liberal press jumping on it. We would have human rights organizations starting campaigns of solidarity. Politicians would complacently point out how much more ‘civilized’ our western democracy is.

Alas, it’s happening in the Basque Country, right here in western Europe. Eight left wing activists have been sentenced to six years in prison for being members of the revolutionary pro-independence movement Segi. According to the Spanish authorities Segi is a terrorist organization, related to ETA. Which makes everyone who can be linked to the organization in any way a legitimate target for political persecution. Even if they are only distributing flyers. Spain is no better than Russia or China.

None of these people have ever set off a bomb. None of them have ever engaged in violent struggle. And yet, they are treated as terrorists.

I remember a long talk I had with a Basque comrade when we were marching to Brussels. According to him, the objective of the Spanish authorities is to stamp out left wing opposition in the Basque country by linking every radical party to ETA. This is what they are doing, with tacit consent of the right wing Basque nationalists.

The day before yesterday, in San Sebastian / Donostia, hundreds of people succesfully rallied around the Basque 8 to prevent them from being arrested. Yesterday, the ‘Ertzaintza’ – the mercenary Basque police at the service of the Spanish state – returned in massive numbers. It took them hours to tear down the human wall, before they could finally take the eight into custody.

Today, hundreds of people laid siege to the prison were the eight are held.

The Basque Eight are not terrorists. They are political prisoners. They should be released immediately.

At the moment, this story is running wild on the social media (#Basque8), but most information is still limited to the Basque language, which is not right. The Basques on the scene should swallow their pride and report on this in Spanish and English as well.

Their struggle is our struggle. We need to know. Injustice concerns us all.

 

Check out more info in English here

(Police action against human wall in San Sebastian, April 19)

 

Check also (in Basque):

http://irutxulo.hitza.info/2013/04/20/ekaitz-iberok-martuteneko-espetxetik-agurtu-du-herri-harresia/

http://paperekoa.berria.info/agenda/2013-04-20/034/002/albistegien_inapetentzia.htm

In English:

http://sonsofmalcolm.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/our-basque-country-revolutionary-family.html

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Encountering the Pilgrims

Irún, August 16.

Day 22 of the March on Brussels. From San Sebastián, 23 km.

Dear people,

In the internal assembly people have decided that the hour of departure should be seven thirty. And at that time every morning, many of us are ready to go. But not everyone.

So should we wait for the others and go as a group, or shall we leave them behind to go on their own? It often leads to discussion. And just as often, people just start walking.

Departure from Donostia

Everyone has his or her own rhythm. It’s of no use to try to impose a military marching spirit. Different groups depart at different times, and also on the march it’s not unlikely for them to stretch out into small concentrations of only a handful of people. Add to that that there are different routes to the same place, and the march on Brussels can soon become something of a ‘see you later’ kind of walk.

Today people split between the old national road and the Compostela route. I went on the latter. More difficult, more beautiful. Even before it started, the route split once more when we arrived at a big commercial port just outside of Donostia. Some walk all the way around it, others smuggle a bit by taking an old fishermen’s ferry. I do too, so when the time comes I can say that the march also crossed the sea to come to Brussels.

Crossing the sea

After a steep climb up the coastal hills the remaining group disperses. In the end I’m alone. But it isn’t that bad. The blackberries are beginning to ripen. If you’re lucky you can steal a couple of apples from an orchard. Also the figs look good this season, even though they’re not edible until late august. And only in september they reach their explosive maturity. The road will be long, and I do hope we’ll encounter some more fig trees in France.

In the late morning the traffic on the route increases. Marchers going the other way, from Spain and from the northern countries, fully backpacked. They’re lunatics like us, only they go to Compostela, we go to Brussels.

 I don’t know where I am or how much I have already walked, but assuming that these people come from the place where we’re headed, and assuming as well that they departed approximately at the same time, I must be more or less half way.

"Mijn eigen eenzame weg" / My own lonely road.

It’s true. The pilgrim traffic diminishes while I walk on. And then, from between the trees I see a scorch of the town. Irún, and the Atlantic coast. In the distance there lies France.

So here we are, at the border. It took us a week to cross Euskadi, and it has been an enormous pleasure. I really like this country, and I was happy to meet various Basque comrades of mine yesterday in Donostia. Earlier in Vitoria I had already met two veterans of the Northern Column. Here on the boulevard I meet three more from Bilbao, and a comrade from San Sebastián who had come to Sol for the National Assembly in early June. I don’t remember all of their names. Not everybody remembers mine. They’re my Basque brothers, and for them I’m ‘el Holandés Vagante’, the Flying Dutchman from Puerta del Sol.


The Other Side of the Mirror

Donostia, August 15.

Day 21 of the March on Brussels. From Tolosa, 25 km.

Tolosa. Brushing teeth in the morning.

Dear people,

I’ve been waiting for this for days. And I could smell it, finally, long before we arrived in Donostia/San Sebastián.

The ocean.

Today’s leg was a lot longer than it was. Once again we formed group with Jesus Christ and Marianne. Comrade Leonardo joined us as well, to look for the road less travelled by. We don’t find it, we get lost in the orchards up in the hills.

 

When we descend back into the valley, we know there’s one sure way to reach the sea. Follow the river. And so we walk, without stopping, through village after village, along the stream and a small railroad track going down to the coast.

"The struggle is the way"

Detail of a mural

Logo of a social center

Church in red. Found on a bridge.

Slowly things start to change. The first thing is the light. It has a specific kind of brightness up ahead. The next thing is a faint odour of salt. And if that weren’t enough, it’s the playful hot wind slapping you in the face. We still have to walk quite a bit, but there can be no doubt, we’re nearing the sea.

The road out of the hills, and into town

In the outskirts of San Sebastián we’re welcomed by comrades from the Acampada Donostia who will accompany us into town. Loudly we burst onto the magnificent boulevard, where the city embraces a natural bay, with a Christ statue up above. The gate to the ocean is guarded by a small island. Behind it, a desert of water.

Entering San Sebastián

While the people on the beach curiously look up to see us parading by, I wonder. About the sea, and the coast as a thin border between two different worlds. The towns on the seaside have a double face. We, landlubbers coming down from the hills, only see one of them. The other one is reserved for the sailors.

"Perroflautas" on the boulevard

Among many things the Basque country is famous for its navigators. Especially in the old days. Nearby Donostia lies the small fishermen’s village where captain Sebastián Elcano was born. He commanded the first expedition that circumnavigated the globe. In the history books this feat is attributed to Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan. But Magellan never made it home. He was killed fighting the natives of the islands that were later to be called the Philippines.

Elcano took over the command and terminated the trip. It was a tremendous adventure. As a result of implacable weather, mutiny, hunger, warfare and sickness only 19 of the initial 265 sailors reached Spain in september 1522, on board only one of the five ships that had departed from Seville, more than three years before.

I look at the sea and I wonder what it would be like to experience the world as a sailor, and to see these cities from the other side of the mirror.

Scene from an Assembly at the beach


Yesterday’s Lunch

Tolosa, August 14.
Day 20 of the March on Brussels. From Beasain, 18 km.

Dear people,

Something wasn’t quite right with yesterday’s lunch. It woke me up early this morning, and I was reminded by it all through the day. I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t finished my plate, but most people have developed a strong stomach after weeks of marching.

Fortunately today was a short leg. Even though for me, it shouldn’t have been any longer than it was. The worst thing was the arrival. In the square they had prepared a long table, covered by numerous appetizers from salt to sweet and everything in between. Nuts, fruit, biscuits, tortilla and whip cream pastries. It was awful. I wanted it all, but I had to be reasonable. “Don’t eat this”, a comrade says, “it only makes it worse. And don’t eat this either. Here, have a banana.”

He’s right, so it sit down, and like a good boy, I eat my banana.

The Basque letter 'A'. It has a roof.

Watching the signs and listening around, I have noticed a discrepancy in the Basque country. Indications are exclusively or primarily in Basque, but most of the locals I hear speak Spanish. The Basque language isn’t spoken by everyone. Especially in the three major cities, the population consists of many immigrants from other parts of Spain, attracted by the economic wealth of the region. Furthermore, the Basque language is a collection of various dialects, which have only recently been standardised. For many people this makes it feel a bit cold and artificial.

Language is a very peculiar phenomenon in Spain. It enters  in the reign of political correctness. You shouldn’t speak about ‘Spanish’. The language is called ‘Castilian’, also to distinguish it from the other four official languages of the country. Catalan, Euskara, Galician and Valencian.

Street art in Ordizia

In our movement as well, political correctness is very important. With regard to language as a whole, and with regard to its use. From the very beginning of the revolution people have been asked to use an ‘inclusive’ language. This means that in speach you address both genders.

Alegia

In English this problem doesn’t exist. ‘We’ is we, and ‘you’ is you. In Spanish, like in other latin languages, these forms can be both male of female. ‘Vosotros’ (‘you’ plural) refers to a group of people which includes at least one male. ‘Vosotras’ refers to a group consisting exclusively of females. The same goes for bisexual nouns.

Grammatically it would suffice to address an assembly by saying ‘Good evening compañeros.’ But the preferable way is to be explicit: ‘Compañeras y compañeros’. In written comunicados this could be a bit weighty, so the problem of inclusiveness is solved by an ‘x’ or a ‘@’: ‘Queridxs compañer@s

In Tolosa

When I arrived in Sol I was surprised to find a Commission called ‘Feminism’. I didn’t know feminism still existed. But in the end it was completely logical, because in Spain feminism hadn’t really existed before like elsewhere. Up until the death of Franco in 1975, the social position of women was comparable to that of women in many Arab countries today. They were educated to serve their husband, to raise children, to be beautiful and to shut up.

Today, machismo is still very common among the older generation. As is violence against women. The feminist side of the revolution is aimed at changing the machist mentality and urging women to speak up.

Many women in Spain, who weren’t able to participate in the sexual revolution of the sixties because of the dictatorship, have been waiting for this for many years. For them, our movement is the Spanish ‘68. And they love us.


The Path of the Righteous

Beasain, August 13.
Day 19 of the March on Brussels. From Oñati, 33 km.

Morning walk

Dear people,

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.”

"Jesus 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.

Convincing the lost souls to come back

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.

Back on the road again. Photo: Marianne

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.

Jesus dividing the bread in front of the supermarket

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.

Passing the factories of Mondragón

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.

The last few miles

Arrival at Zamárraga

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.”

Arrival at Beasain


Cooperative Corporation

Oñati, August 12.

Day 18 of the March on Brussels. From Leintz Gatzaga, 24 km.

Dear people,

Last night, behind the massive wooden doors of the only tavern in Leintz, we miraculously found a shred of internet, so our Communication team immediately occupied the long tables and filled them with cups of coffee and laptops.

Sporadic information is beginning to arrive, saying we are not alone. There are marches to Brussels under way from various places. Last monday a dozen people left Barcelona. There is said to be a march under way from Valencia as well. They call it ‘the Mediterranean Column’, for it will follow the coast up to Marseilles before turning inland to take the route Napoléon going north. There are also rumours about marches from England and from Italy. Even in Germany they say a march is being planned. I imagine the French High Command is already in a state of alert.

The road out of Leintz

The news from Barcelona is not encouraging. Their march doesn’t have support vehicles, and that makes the walk, the camping, and the food preparation a lot harder. One of our comrades has a car, and together with a veteran from the Northern Column, he doesn’t hesitate. While most people are preparing to go to sleep, they say a quick goodbye, and they are off into the night. To the Barcelona column. “Over there we’re needed more than here.”

The march today was protected by the clouds. We continue our walk down from the highlands, passing in between the hills of Euskadi along a river valley. It’s the natural transit route to the coast, so this is where the roads pass. Along them, all types of industry have sprouted. From mining to manufacturing to transportation. It’s not an enchanting sight, but later I hear there’s an interesting story behind all this industrial activity.

Entering Arrasate/Mondragón

The center of gravity of this zone is the town of Arrasate/Mondragón. It’s the home of the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation. All the factories and all other means of production we’ve encountered here are in the hands of the workers. The Mondragón Corporation is active in retail, banking and industrial production of everything from car parts to bikes, to office furniture and elevators. It even has its own university. All decisions regarding the fate of the corporation and the remuneration of its members are taken democratically. Each of the workers/owners has one vote, be it the manager, or the blue collar at the assembly line.

Crossing the market. The sign says 'Defend Mother Earth'

The Mondragón Corporation is highly competitive internationally. They do business all over the globe and they make a steady profit, maybe because money is treated as a means and not as an end. It goes to show that we could maintain all the consumerist culture we want, and still be a society based on human values.

Scenes from a mid morning break

Marching separately, today we’re almost ninety people including the support crew. There’s a middle aged woman from Peru walking the march with her Spanish husband. She fills me in on another interesting side of Basque and Spanish history.

After the discovery of America, Seville replaced Bilbao as Spain’s most important harbour. Many of the Conquistadores were Basques. They exchanged the hills of Euskadi for the mountains of the Andes, where they played their part in violently subdueing the native civilizations. Ironically, they behaved exactly like the Castillian warlords did when they conquered the Iberian peninsula from the Moors. Many Basques went on to form the white upper class of Chile and Peru. They founded immense estates and they exploited local farmers for the greater glory of god and the king of Spain, but mostly for themselves.

We arrive in Oñati. This is the very heart of the Basque country. Here the signs and texts, which used to be bilingual, are almost exclusively in Basque, even on the ambulances and fire trucks. A recurring symbol, exposed from many balconies – and from town halls – is a banner with a map of Euskadi, and the demand for the ETA prisoners to sit out their sentence in their native land.

Entering Oñati

The 15M movement has not rooted in these villages. People see it as something that comes from Spain, so they distrust it. What we do is we enter the towns singing slogans in Basque. Also the announcements of our evening assembly are presented in the local language. We invite people to speak Euskara and have it translated in our meetings, but we try to explain that the 15M is not about nationalism of any kind. It’s about the citizens, about normal people getting together to talk about their local problems in order to find a solution that suits them all.

'Proposals'


The Old Railroad

Leintz Gatzaga, August 11.

Day 17 of the March on Brussels. From Vitoria/Gasteiz, 28 km.

Dear people,

We have a tight schedule. Just like on the Northern Column the idea is to get up at six and to be on the march at seven, so that we can cover as much distance as possible before the sun starts to become a real nuisance. But in practice it doesn’t work that way. Usually at seven most people start to wake up, and it’s not uncommon to be on the march only around eight thirty.

Today we did better. We departed just thirty minutes behind schedule. And still we managed to waste another hour to get out of Vitoria, because on almost every street corner people stopped to hold an assembly about which direction to take. It’s exasperating. A local map would be of great help. When we finally reach the outskirts a message arrives from the vanguard. They don’t know either. “Just take the motorway. At least you don’t get lost.” Another assembly. I don’t partecipate. They can decide whatever they want, but I, as a free individual, have decided not to walk along the motorway today.

We’re about seven persons who take an alternative route. We know the direction, more or less, we know the name of the village where we are headed, and the rest we can ask. So we walk off, into the mist.

At the old railroad

The fog covering the meadows feels nice and cool. It seems as though not only the visibility is dimmed by it, but also the sounds of nature. The only thing you can hear, apart from social-political discussions, is the call of the crows. Together with the wind playing through the foliage of the poplars it makes me think of Holland. After a couple of kilometres the road bisects. We stop. Fortunately one of us has a bike. While we sit, the bike goes down one of the roads on reconnaissance. When he reappears out of the fog we can also start to distinguish the rest of the group joining us. In the end they too decided that the motorway was neither the most pleasant route, nor the safest route to follow.

Waiting for news from the reconnaisance bike

Reconnaissance bicycle returning from the fog

Instead we follow the old Basque-Navarra railroad. The tracks are gone, but a green path through the woods remains. Once in a while we are treated to the romantic sight of an abandoned station.

Arrival at the station

Late in the morning the fog finally clears and the sun reveals to us the Basque Country in all its glory. It’s marvellous. Thick green forests cover the hills and the valleys, dotted only by isolated houses and old villages. There is a lake untouched by human exploitation in the distance. This is what I wanted to see. This is the country that I wanted to cross on foot.

Descent on Leintz

Finally we descend on our destination for today, the tiny mountain village of Leintz Gatzaga. You will find no Spanish flags here, not even on the municipality in front of which we camp. The village is inhabited by a handful of mainly elderly people. They sympathise with us, and compared to the people in the cities, they offer us loads of food.

Places like this, however stupendous they are, are at risk of extinction. A comrade of ours has a map of dozens of phantom villages in the Pyrennees, ready to be squatted. It will be a very important aspect of the revolution to allow these places to be repopulated by people who are prepared to work the land and create vital, sustainable communities. They could be completely self-sufficient, without the need of outside government, but connected to the rest of the world through the great medium of internet.