Batasuna banned

FRFI 169 October / November 2002

On 26 August the Spanish Parliament approved the banning of Batasuna, the party leading the Basque movement for self-determination. The outlawing of a democratic opposition party in this way is unprecedented in recent European history and its full consequences are not yet clear. Batasuna has 900 elected representatives on local councils and one member of the European Parliament.

The legal framework for the action is set out in a new ‘Law of Political Parties’, which was brought in on 27 June, and which is explicitly designed to render the Basque organisation illegal. Over the next few weeks the social democrats (PSOE) and neo-liberal conservatives (PP) submitted a petition to the Supreme Court targeting Batasuna for ‘not condemning acts of terrorism’ and for providing tacit support to an armed group (ETA). Batasuna appealed against the restrictive law, but Judge Baltasar Garzon upheld the government’s position, ordering the immediate closure of all party facilities and the end of all activities.

Batasuna is a left-wing Basque party, which was founded 23 years ago and which advocates the right of self-determination for the Basque people and the construction of Euskal Herria (Basque Country). Alongside its fight for national liberation. Batasuna has a socialist perspective and stands for social equality, popular cultural identity and solidarity with the international resistance against global capitalism. In international forums, such as the Assisi Anti-imperialist Camp (Italy 2002), representatives of Batasuna showed their support for the popular movements in countries such as Cuba, Palestine, Colombia and the Philippines, which are fighting for their sovereignty and opposing the capitalist onslaught.

Batasuna’s greatest achievement has been the development of a network of grassroots organisations of women, students, environmentalists and anti-fascists. It also has influence in some trade unions and local institutions. Its banning is therefore a massive threat to the whole of this grassroots movement and effectively criminalises a whole section of the Basque society, designating some 142,000 citizens (11% of the Basque electorate) as terrorists. At the end of August and beginning of September, the police forcibly closed Batasuna branches, and even shut down pubs or restaurants that it accused of financing the party. This was done, once again, on the orders of Judge Garzon. The next steps will probably be the closure of international offices, especially the one in Bayonne (France), and of the organisation’s websites.

The Basque struggle and the inter-relation between the forces involved have passed through various different stages in recent years. Despite the differences between the two situations, the peace process in Ireland inspired many in the Basque Country with hope for a possible resolution to the conflict. In 1998, the Basque nationalist and progressive forces opened a dialogue based on the Irish experience. The PSOE and PP excluded themselves, describing the forum as an ‘aqualung for terrorist interests’. The Lizarra Agreement, so-called because the meetings took place in that northern town, was seen by the signatories as a real chance for peace or national construction, and had an immediate effect: ETA declared an indefinite ceasefire. The Lizarra Agreement represented a great advance but was finally blocked and discredited in the media. A year and a half later ETA resumed the armed struggle.

Following the municipal elections in 1999, Batasuna and the PNV (bourgeois Basque nationalist party) made several pacts in order to control town councils and develop the self-government of the region. This strategy was greatly feared by the two main Spanish parties, which saw how the struggle could be transferred to a different political arena, where new and alternative institutions could then emerge. Anxious to avoid losing control, the ruling parties’ propaganda machine launched a drive to label the electoral pacts and the self-government project as antidemocratic and led by terrorists.
In 2003 there will again be municipal elections, and the banning of Batasuna will ensure that a similar project will not be possible. Nationalist groups will then lose their majority in the Basque Parliament.

Spanish governments have always been obsessed with a military solution to the Basque situation. They deny that the conflict is political and present police repression as the only solution. The ‘progressive’ government of PSOE (1982-1996) set up secret paramilitary groups to kill ETA activists. When the truth came out, some police leaders and even the
former Home Secretary were imprisoned because of their involvement in this dirty war.
The neo-liberal-conservative government of the Popular Party (1996-2002) was no better and increased the pressure on the Basque movement with the imprisonment of the whole of Batasuna’s national leadership in December 1997, the closure of the nationalist newspaper Egin in July 1998 and a range of other repressive measures.

Recent European summits, such as the one in June 2002 in Seville, included special discussions on terrorism, with the emphasis on the creation of a ‘blacklist’ (US style) of organisations whose eradication would be agreed on as a communal goal. This list is made up of liberation and popular resistance movements from around the world.

Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar has declared that once Batasuna is legally classified as terrorist in Spain, his government will propose its inclusion in a European-wide blacklist. Furthermore, any demonstration in solidarity with Batasuna or in opposition to its banning will also be illegal and will be viewed as support for terrorism.

On 7 September, thousands demonstrated ‘For Euskal Herria freedom, against fascism’, without specific mention of Batasuna. On 14 September, a march openly supporting Batasuna was halted and attacked by police. This is the Spanish government’s concept of democracy. It is incapable of looking for any solution outside of the military sphere, and is forcing a sizeable section of the Basque people into underground activity.

During 40 years of conflict 800 civilians, politicians and members of the military have been killed by the state and by ETA; 250 Basque militants or citizens are dead, thousands have been tortured, 2,500 are in exile. Anyone with a basic knowledge of the situation and an elementary democratic consciousness should realise that this is a political conflict and that it can only be resolved by recognising the people of Euskal Herria as sovereign subjects responsible for their own democratic decisions.
Juanjo Rivas

Basque prisoners tortured

Torturaren Aurkako Taldea, the Group Against Torture in the Basque Country, reported that in the year 2000, there were 77 cases of torture and mistreatment by the authorities, Basque and Spanish police forces. At the time the report was issued in 2001 there had so far that year been 84 people subjected to this suffering, 37 of whom had made legal complaints.

Following their arrests, most detainees are held incommunicado. Torture takes place during car journeys and at police stations between interrogations. The most common methods include handcuffing, blindfolding, constant blows to the head, ribs and testicles, enforced physical exercise to the point of exhaustion, suffocation with plastic bags, forced strips, sexual harassment, threats, psychological torture and even in some cases the application of electrodes to parts of the body.

Every year this situation is reported on, and raised in the courts, however most of the cases do not progress, as there is not considered to be sufficient evidence to proceed. In 2001 eight Civil Guards were found guilty of torturing militants in 1980. Their victims had been forced to wait more than 20 years to see them sitting in the dock.

Many detainees are gaoled as a result of confessions signed under duress following torture. At the same time, Article 9 of the Law of Political Parties, used to outlaw Batasuna, will be used to convict those who ‘promote or legitimise violence as methods of achieving political objectives’. The hypocrisy is blatant.
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