European elections: irrelevant for the majority

European elections

The European elections were a victory for xenophobic populist parties, UKIP, the French Front National and the Danish People’s Party, all of which topped the polls in their respective countries, being the most obvious examples. Their demagogic opposition to a corrupt political elite proved attractive to many, although an even greater number regarded the election as irrelevant – turnout across Europe was only 43%. The results do show that where there are significant movements of working class opposition to austerity, particularly in Greece and Spain, progressive movements received substantial support.

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Justice for Pitu – murdered by Basque police

On 29 March 2014 Supporters of FRFI visited Bilbao in the Basque Country to attend a football match between Athletico Madrid and Bilbao's Athletic Club. This was a top of the table clash and an important match for Athletic but the minds of the supporters were on sadder things. The match coincided almost to the day with the second anniversary of the murder of Iñigo Cabacas (28) by the Ertzaina, the Basque riot police.

People gathered before the game outside the Kirruli, the pub of the left wing, anti-fascist supporters of Athletic, Herri Norte Taldea (HNT), to pay their respects at a recently unveiled plaque. It was at this spot two years ago that Iñigo, or "Pitu" as he was known to his friends, was hit in the head with a rubber bullet fired by the police. He had been celebrating Athletic’s Europa Cup victory over German side Schalke 04, which propelled them into the semi-finals.

A small scuffle broke out between two fans, nothing more serious than a bit of pushing according to all eye witness reports:

‘I witnessed what happened on Thursday. After the football match I agreed to meet my brother and girlfriend to have a drink at the Kirruli, as we use to, and just after arrival we saw two people, both wearing Athletic shirts, wrestling each other. People nagged at them as it was time of celebration and nothing else happened. We continued discussing the match, laughing... and some 5-10 minutes later, some four vans of Sepoys [slang for Basque police forces] [appeared], masked as a matter of course, and with the guns readied.’

Seizing on the opportunity the police, who regularly harass and assault members of the HNT group, indiscriminately opened fire into a crowd of hundred. One of the shots hit Pitu in the head. 

‘It must be said that the area where [it] all happened is a narrow street and that they were shooting at head level from some 20-30 meters. People scattered around and soon (some 5 minutes later) we heard a girl asking for an ambulance. I and my brother went there and saw a person bleeding from the head. I and someone else ran towards [the riot police] asking for an ambulance and one said "it will come".’

When fans pleaded with police to call an ambulance they were then attacked with batons.

‘Not knowing what else to do we went back to the place where the body was, together with 6-7 other people, and suddenly I noticed how I was beaten with a baton on the arm and the back (from behind, while squatting). Raging, I told them: "look what you have done, you have killed him" and one of them replied "that I must see myself" and hit me twice again and sent me away. The ambulance had not yet arrived, not a siren could be heard either. Besides, the police vans impeded the access of any vehicle.’

Pitu died of his injuries four days later. This is not uncommon in the Basque Country where severe police brutality is the Spanish state’s way of dealing with independence activists and anyone who resists Spanish rule. HNT have regularly displayed banners supporting ETA, Palestine, repatriation of Basque prisoners and the Irish Republican struggle at their matches, as well as consistently confronting fascist hooligan groups (of which there are many in the Spanish premier league).

All the above point to a police force that were gunning for an opportunity to teach HNT and other Basque nationalist Athletic fans a lesson. Much like the treatment of all political activists in the Basque Country the call of ‘justice for Pitu’ seems to be falling on deaf ears.

Popular uprisings in Bosnia & Herzegovina / FRFI 238 April/May 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 238 April/May 2014

Bosnia, which has never recovered from the war of 1992-1995, has recently been shaken by mass popular uprisings. The uprisings began in the former industrial powerhouse of Tuzla on 7 February and have since developed into a working class-led, non-sectarian mass movement of tens of thousands of people against corruption, nationalism, privatisation and unemployment. Citizens’ plenums – assemblies of direct democracy – have been established from which existing trade unions and political parties are banned. The continuing progress of the movement will depend on new organisations emerging that represent the struggle of the oppressed majority.

Bosnia has an unemployment rate of 44%, with youth unemployment at over 57%. Many officially employed workers are working for no pay. More than a fifth of Bosnians live in poverty. The economy was devastated by the destruction of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the civil wars of 1991-2001. More than 100,000 people died in Bosnia alone. The US-engineered Dayton Agreement of 1995 divided the former federal state of Bosnia along ethnic lines into the Croat-Muslim ‘Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’ and the Bosnian Serb Republic (Republika Srpska), as well as the ‘neutral’ Br?ko District. The economy was further weakened by the IMF structural adjustments.

Bosnia and Croatia had been each other’s main trading partners since the destruction of Yugoslavia, but Croatia’s entry into the EU seriously undermined this. At the time, Croatia took more than 17% of Bosnia’s exports and supplied more than 17% of its imports. Bosnia is no longer permitted to sell food to Croatia. This problem has been compounded by an increasing dependence on imported goods and services caused by mass privatisation by the local oligarchy. Neighbouring Serbia is currently engaged in EU accession talks.

Tuzla

Tuzla, Bosnia’s third-largest city and most populous canton, has been at the heart of the uprisings. Tuzla is known for its history of labour militancy. In 1984, 10,000 miners at the Kreka colliery near Tuzla, gave one day’s pay a month to support the British miners’ strike of 1984-1985. It is now home to about one fifth of Bosnia’s unemployed.

Demonstrations began in Tuzla in early February over unpaid wages to workers of companies which filed for bankruptcy soon after privatisation. Police used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets, but the protesters defended themselves. A group of younger protesters eventually stormed the main government building and set it alight. Some special police unit commanders ordered their officers to remove their helmets, lower their shields and support the protest. The Dayton-appointed High Representative for Bosnia, an Austrian named Valentin Inzko, responded by threatening to send Austrian and other EU troops to Bosnia.

In eight of the ten cantons of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, protesters have formed representative plenums. On 7 February the Prime Minister of Tuzla Canton (Sead ?auševi?, SDP*) and the whole of the Zenica-Doboj Canton government resigned, followed by the Prime Minister of Sarajevo Canton (Suad Zeljkovi?, SDA**) the next day.

The first Tuzla representative plenum declaration of 7 February set out a basic political programme for the uprising. It opposed any ‘criminalisation, politicisation or manipulation of the protests’, and called for the establishment of a government ‘of professional, non-partisan and uncorrupted members which so far, have not had any mandate at any level of government’. It called for the salaries of the new government to be brought in line with other workers, and for its work to be overseen by ‘all interested citizens’, as well as the renationalisation of all privatised factories. It remains to be seen whether these plenums can act as an arena for the most radical sections of Bosnian society to organise, or if they will be narrowed and controlled by the very same interests which so decisively discredited the trade unions and existing political parties.

The resistance of the people of Tuzla quickly spread to the other cantonal capitals of the Federation, such as Sarajevo and Mostar, with some of the major cities of Republika Srpska also organising protests and citizens’ plenums. Solidarity demonstrations have taken place in major cities of the other former Yugoslavian republics, such as Belgrade, Zagreb and Podgorica. On 18 February several hundred former state workers in the former Yugoslavian republic of Macedonia chanted ‘Bosnia’ as they demonstrated in front of the Union of Trade Unions of Macedonia building in Skopje in response to recent weak reforms.

The ruling class and the mainstream political parties in the Federation are trying to misrepresent the protests as a Bosniak ethnic rebellion against their Croat neighbours. In the heavily-centralised Republika Srpska, President Milorad Dodik has attempted to portray the developments in the Federation as an attempt to destabilise Republika Srpska, in an effort to prevent the local populations from also rising up. Local fascists have been mobilised in the process.

We should take inspiration from the resistance of the Bosnian working class. We must give them our solidarity as they attempt to navigate between libertarianism and reformism to replace the barbarism and corruption of the recent past with a fairer, socialist future. Similar conditions to those in Bosnia exist across the Balkans and eastern Europe. The ruling classes of Europe will be watching Bosnia anxiously.

Andrew George

* SDP BiH: Social Democratic Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

** SDA: Party of Democratic Action, a Bosniak conservative political party.

For videos from the plenums with English subtitles, visit:http://bhprotestfiles.wordpress.com

Youth battle police on streets of Stockholm

By 24 May, masked youth had been battling Swedish police and burning cars and buildings for five consecutive nights in the suburbs of Stockholm. The uprising, which started in Husby, an overwhelmingly immigrant area of the city, was triggered by an incident earlier in May, when police fatally shot a 69-year-old man, said to be wielding a knife, and the subsequent refusal to hold a public inquiry into the killing. But underlying the anger and violence, which has seen masked youths torch cars, several police stations and a school, is a racist reality which explodes the popular myth of Sweden as a tolerant society with a model welfare state. Areas like Husby have high unemployment rates and many young people leave school with below-average results.

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Editorial / FRFI 222 Aug / Sep 2011

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 222 August / September 2011

As we go to press, a last-minute agreement between France and Germany has averted the potential collapse of the euro despite a partial Greek default. No one has any illusions that this is anything other than a stop-gap measure, and that the sovereign debt crisis of other European countries continue to worsen – Italy, Spain and Portugal in particular. As part of what is turning into a perfect storm of the world’s financial system, the dispute in the US over government debt threatens the survival of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.

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