SPANISH POLICEMAN TORTURER ON UN COMMITTEE FOR PREVENTION OF TORTURE

From FB page of Dublin Basque Solidarity Committee

SPANISH STATE APPOINTS POLICE OFFICER CONVICTED OF TORTURE TO UNITED NATIONS COMMITTEE FOR THE PREVENTION OF TORTURE.

Convicted Guardia Civil torturer of prisoner, Jose Maria De las Cuevas Carretero, appointed by the Spanish State to the UN Committee for the Prevention of Torture.
(Photo sourced from Gara newspaper)

No-one could accuse the Spanish authorities of failing to appreciate irony.

In 1997, in one of the rare cases of the Spanish authorities charging a police officer with torture and even rarer of conviction, Captain (then a Sergeant) José María De las Cuevas Carretero, along with fellow Guardia Civil officers Manuel Sánchez Corbi and Antonio Lozano García were found guilty of torturing Basque ETA suspect Kepa Urra when they detained him in 1992. A further three police accused were found not guilty but the medical evidence on Mr. Urra’s admission to hospital six hours after his arrest made it impossible for the Bizkaya court not to find his captorsguilty. Despite the police officers’ denials, the three were found guilty of having taken Mr. Urra to a deserted spot after this arrest and there, while he was handcuffed, to have beaten him with a blunt object and dragged him along the ground. They were sentenced to four years in prison and barred for six years from public office (a common accompaniment to prison sentence in the Spanish State).

However, one year later the Spanish Supreme Tribunal reduced the prison sentence of each to one year which meant they were free to go but with the public office disqualification still in force. The following year, they were pardoned by the Spanish Minister of Justice of the incoming PP Government of Aznar and Mr.De las Cuevas Carretero carried on with his police career, rising to the rank of Captain and participating in fora of the State and internationally.

Mr. De las Cuevas Carretero, who is a qualified lawyer, has been lecturing of the treatment of prisoners and about corruption. And who could say that he is not eminently qualified to lecture on those subjects? Or to represent the Spanish State authorities on those issues?

(News and photo source: Gara, also some background Internet research)

15 YEARS PRISON THREATENED FOR BASQUE YOUTHS IN BAR ALTERCATION PROVOKED BY SPANISH POLICE

BREAKING NEWS …………… BREAKING NEWS …………… BREAKING NEWS ……………

FIFTEEN YEARS PRISON THREATENED FOR BASQUE YOUTHS IN BAR ALTERCATION PROVOKED BY SPANISH POLICE – SIX ALREADY IN JAIL

 

Monday 15 November 2016

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

Six Basque youths are in jail without bail tonight and altogether twelve face fifteen years in prison, in a case arising out of an altercation in a bar in the southern Basque Country (i.e under Spanish occupation) involving two officers of the Guardia Civil (Spanish militarised police force) in Altsasu in the province of Nafarroa (Navarra).

Protest demonstration in Altsasu tonight. The slogan says: "FREE THE DETAINED!" (Source: Basque contacts)

Protest demonstration in Altsasu tonight. The slogan says: “FREE THE DETAINED!”
(Source: Basque contacts)

Altsasu is known as a town with a particularly strong history of Basque resistance and a continuing sympathy among the population. The town also has, by no means accidentally, one of the strongest barracks of the Guardia Civil.

On the night of 15th October, the two male Guardia Civil officers, off duty and with their female partners, went into Taberna Koxka, a well-known bar and night spot frequented by the Abertzale (pro-Basque Independence) Left, where they behaved provocatively. Inevitably the policemen were challenged by some of the patrons of the bar and a scuffle broke out.

No injuries were sustained by the police although one of them claimed an injury to his ankle, a story that fell flat when it was revealed that he was already on sick leave at the time of the incident due to an injury to his ankle. In addition, the Guardia Civil report itself, though claiming the officers’ behaviour was non-provocative and peaceful, did not claim police injuries and the province’s “autonomous” police force (but very hostile to the Abertzale Left), the Policía Foral, also denied there had been any injuries.

The pro-Spanish media not only spread police lies but added to them, one surreal story alleging that the quietly relaxing police officers and their partners had been attacked by 50 Abertzale Left youth throwing martial arts punches and kicks. Tragically, such lies will find a ready audience in much of the Spanish state outside the Basque and Catalan countries.

At first the police classified the incident as a “hate crime” but the State Prosecution upgraded its classification to “terrorism”.

The eight youths were detained in police raids this morning and taken to the National Court in Madrid although, upon learning that they had been named by the Guardia Civil in a list of 12 people involved, they had already voluntarily presented themselves to testify before a judge in Irunea who, however, could not be found. Despite that earlier voluntary attendance, arisk of fleeing” was given as the primary reason for refusing them bail. Two others were released under stringent reporting to police conditions and two others, who also presented themselves voluntarily to be tried with the others, were told to return to court tomorrow.

Guardia Civil provocatively driving through an Abertzale Left demonstration. The people in costume are Zapantzarak, traditional performers particularly in Spring festivals but often participating in Abertzale Left events also. (Source: Basque contacts).

Guardia Civil provocatively driving through an Abertzale Left demonstration.
The people in costume are Zapantzarak, traditional performers particularly in Spring festivals but often participating in Abertzale Left events also.
(Source: Basque contacts).

“Terrorism”

The Prosecution has asked for the Basque youths to be tried under Article 573 of the new Penal Code, set aside for crimes of “terrorism”, the definition of which even the UN has declared to be “excessively imprecise and broad” and which “may criminalise behaviour which is not terrorist.” Conviction under Article 573 can carry a sentence of 15 years in jail.

Tonight in Altsasu, Basque youth took to the streets in peaceful but militant protest demonstration (see photo).

This incident is not without a context: in recent months the town has seen hundreds of Guardia Civil driving through the town at various times and a demonstration organised by Abertzale Left on 22nd October was penetrated by Guardia Civil vehicles (see photo). The strongest anti-repression organisation in the Basque Country, “Ospa Mugimendua”, has an active following in the town.

Guardia Civil has his photo taken mocking an event organised by the anti-repression organisation Ospa Mugimendua. (Source: Basque contacts).

Guardia Civil has his photo taken mocking an event organised by the anti-repression organisation Ospa Mugimendua.
(Source: Basque contacts).

The Guardia Civil, although established in the Spanish state in 1844, is a militarised police force (type of carabinieri) associated in the minds of most Basques, Catalans and progressive Spaniards with the Spanish Civil War and with General Franco, whom the force enthusiastically supported. The force has a long history of violent repression, torture, murder and even rape. After the “reform” of the State with the death of Franco, the force was neither abolished nor reformed. The Guardia Civil is also much loved by the Spanish Right and the “Association of Victims of Terrorism” (sic), which regularly demands increased repression against Basques and Basque political prisoners, is mostly composed of relatives of the Guardia.

end

(Sources: Naiz and contacts in Euskal Herria)

BASQUE PIRATES ON THE WAVES

Diarmuid Breatnach

One of my appointments on a recent trip to Euskal Herria, the Basque Country, was with a “free radio station”, with a dual purpose: to learn about their operation and to give them an interview about my thinking on the political phenomena known to most people as “peace processes”. The radio station in question is Zintilik and located in the Orereta area of Errenteria town, not far north from Donosti/ San Sebastian, in the souther Basque province of Gipuzkoa and my hosts were Hektor Gartzia and Julen Etxegarai. 

View of side of building which houses Zintilik. Photo D.Breatnach

View of side of building which houses Zintilik. Photo D.Breatnach

Julen and Hektor setting up for the interview Photo D.Breatnach

Julen and Hektor setting up for the interview
Photo D.Breatnach

Not long after I arrived, one of my hosts related his memory of events in the area after a local ETA fighter had been killed. The Guardia Civil had swamped the area to prevent an “homenaje” (an event honouring the dead) taking place, guns pointing at men and women; the children, of which he had been one, gathered into their grandparents’ house ….. He showed me where the police vehicle had parked at the end of the street, his sweeping hand indicating the places where the armed police had stood.

THE “FREE RADIO”

The “free radio station”, also known as “pirate radio” has been broadcasting for 32 years, which I find amazing. It began broadcasting from an “okupa”, an occupation of a private empty building, turning it into an alternative social and political centre. Under popular pressure, the local authority, under the control at the time of the PSE, i.e. (Spanish unionist social democratic party), granted them the building they currently use.

Front of Zintilik building. Photo D.Breatnach

Front of Zintilik building from the street.
Photo D.Breatnach

Originally built to house a smithy, for some reason the building never saw service in that capacity. It is in my estimation an attractive building in a traditional-enough local style, of thick stone, compact without being squat. It has an attractive back yard, no doubt intended at one time to receive the horses with hooves in need of iron shoes, fitted and nailed. The roof is tiled in what seems the usual way for the Basque Country.

Zintilik broadcasts 24 hours a day, which it is able to do using repeats.  The Zintilik collective owns its equipment and funds itself through fund-raising concerts, txosnak (stalls/ marquees) at festivals and occasional donations. They run advertisements for

Julen and Hektor again. Photo D.Breatnach

Julen and Hektor again.
Photo D.Breatnach

local community groups and announce events but accept no commercial sponsorship – nor does their wish for independence stop there. “We don’t receive any funding from the local authority or from the Basque Autonomous Government,” declares Julen, “nor do we wish to.”

Funding from such sources comes with strings attached”, adds Hektor.

Or one becomes dependent on it and unable to function without it”, further explains Julen.

Partial scenic view from the back of the building. A block of flats to right just out of shot does restrict it however. (Photo D.Breatnach}

Partial scenic view from the back of the building. A block of flats to right just out of shot does restrict it however.
(Photo D.Breatnach}

As a further illustration of self-reliance, they tell me how they climbed on to the roof of their building to repair a leak, rather than ask the municipal authorities to do it. And it was the same when branches of a nearby plane tree needed cutting to prevent them knocking against the radio aerial on windy days.

We know it’s work that the local authority owes us and that we and the rest of the community pay their salaries but we prefer not to depend on them,” they explain.

As an example of how dependency – although of a different sort – can undermine a community resource, they relate the story of building which was occupied in order to be used as a community resource. As time passed, many were using it as a social resource but less people were volunteering for the work involved in maintenance at any level. Appeals of the four or so committed people who ended up doing everything fell on the deaf ears of the clientele until one day the four locked the centre doors after the last user had left for the evening and, the next day, handed the keys over to the local authority.

The back yard to the building where we ate a meal after the interview. Photo D.Breatnach

The back yard to the building where we ate a meal after the interview.  The structure there is an outhouse.  (Photo D.Breatnach)

As you imagine, this was a great shock to the clientele,” they tell me, “but it was the result of their own lack of commitment to the project.”

I reflect that many activists will identify in one way or another with that sad experience.

RECORDING THE INTERVIEW

Julen and Hektor discuss the format and general content of the interview with me and map it out, do sound checks and then we go to it. Hektor, who knows quite a bit about the more recent Irish history and about the current situation in the Six Counties, is my interviewer, while Julen monitors from the control room and occasionally joins in with comment or question.

Interview room. Photo D.Breatnach

Interview room.
Photo D.Breatnach

For music in between sections of interview, Irish Ways and Irish Laws (John Gibbs) and Where Is Our James Connolly? (Patrick Galvin) have been chosen, both sung by Christy Moore and Joe McDonnell (Brian Warfield), by the Wolfe Tones.

They also invited me to sing Back Home in Derry, Christy Moore’s lyrics arrangement of Bobby Sands’ poem – but to the air I composed for it. I am happy to oblige – I enjoy singing but it is more than that: I want the air I composed to get a hearing. Christy Moore used Gordon Lightfoot’s air to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald for Sands’ poem and, excellent though that fit is, especially with Moore’s chorus, I think that the poem (and its author) deserves an air of its own.

Recording room. Photo D.Breatnach

Recording room.
Photo D.Breatnach

Although the main focus of the interview was the phenomenon of “peace (sic) processes”, we discussed aspects of Irish, Spanish, Palestinian and South African recent history, including the 1916 Rising in Ireland, along with the backgrounds to the songs chosen. For the most part, I left it to my interviewers to draw conclusions relating to their experience of political processes in their own country.

FESTIVALS AND STORMS

Upstairs in the broadcasting/ recording and interview rooms, all is in good order: equipment and facilities. After the interview, I note that downstairs, in the main space, things are a in a bit of a mess, for which Julen apologises (he has never seen the state of my flat).

Some of the community groups we support store their placards and banners here,” he says. “Besides, we’ve just finished our local festival and everyone relaxes, dumps their equipment and goes on holiday.” Throughout the Summer and early Autumn, each village, town, city and even area will have its own week-long festival for which the community groups and campaigns will organise and participate.

Down in Donostia (San Sebastian), to where Hektor and Julen accompanied me after we ate the food they had prepared, the city was in the midst of its own festival and was heaving with people – tourists from everywhere, it seemed, as well as Basques.

With that picturesque bay and its island in our background, they got a passing young woman to take our photo, the three of us – the conversation with her was in Euskara only. I held up the placards I had prepared for the photo in turn, one in Irish and another in English, supporting the Moore Street quarter in Dublin.

R-L: Julen, Diarmuid, Hektor. Donosti bay in the background with island partly visible. Storm building in the sky.

R-L: Julen, Diarmuid, Hektor. Donosti bay in the background with island partly visible. Storm building in the sky.

Save M St Quarter Donosti backgroundDark clouds were gathering overhead and on the horizon the sky was a baleful orange. A storm or at least a downpour was being promised and, as we turned back towards the bus station, the first drops began to fall. In the humid heat, the light rain was welcome for awhile but for part of my solitary journey back to Bilbo, it formed a silvery curtain in the coach’s headlights and streamed down the windows.

I remembered being told that one can frequently witness a violent storm in the Donosti bay while not so far away in Bilbao, as a result of local conditions, all is calm. As for winter storms in Donosti, the waves hitting and surging over the seafront and piers have to be seen to be believed; occasionally the sea reaches inland, floods cellars and converts parked cars into boats or semi-submarines.

The rain eased off and stopped about half-way through my journey and when I got into San Mames station in Bilbo, the streets were not even wet.

end

Clenched Fists 3 Tzintilik Irratia 2016

ON THE BASQUE LANGUAGE TRAIN

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

On the platform at Mundaka there are only a few to catch the 9.18 a.m. train to Bilbao. Mundaka is a popular coastal resort town in Bizkaia province, southern Basque Country.  “Egun on” (“good day”), I greet those on the platform in Euskara in passing, the Basque language, and they reply the same.

Bizkaia Train & Notice on Track

Train on the Atxuri (Bilbao)-Bermeo line. Note the warning sign to bottom left of image, in Euskera first and Castillian second. (Photo sourced on Internet).

A young couple with two little boys come on to the only platform (for both directions) and I think I hear the woman speaking to the boys in Euskara. But soon, I make out some Castillian (Spanish) words; however it is not unusual to hear some Castillian words and even phrases scattered through Euskara conversation, in the southern Basque Country, at any rate. But no, I can tell now that the conversation between mother and child is definitely all in Castillian – I must have been mistaken earlier, when I thought they were speaking in Euskara.

Mountains over Mundaka rooftop

A view from a Mundaka building a number of stories up. The port is out of sight to the left, the station behind. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Casa de los Ingleses

“Casa de Los Ingleses”, a beautiful if rather gothic-looking old house, residence of an English family with business interests locally many years ago. I passed it on the short walk from the town to the station. Behind it there were plots being worked for vegetables, all due to disappear beneath a new car park construction. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Servants House

The residence of the servants of the Casa de Los Ingleses, a lovely building in its own right.  Its demolition is planned to make way for a new construction (see design in next photo) — my guide encouraged me to write a letter of protest to the municipality.  (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The construction planned to replace the "servants' house" after the latter has been demolished. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The construction planned to replace the “servants’ house” after the latter has been demolished. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

“Miao, miao” says the smallest boy, pointing at some feral cats dozing near the platform. “Bai, katua” replies the mother and a flood of Euskara follows, both boys and mother and occasionally father too conversing in Euskara. And so they continue until the southbound train arrives and everyone gets on, except one man, presumably waiting for a northbound train to Bermeo.

On our journey southwards, soon passing alongside salt marshlands, I note that the names of the stations are in Euskara only: Itsasbegi-Busturia, Axpe-Busturia (in the broad estuary of the Urdebai river), San Kristobal Busturia, Forua, Instituto Gernika, Gernika….

The Wikitravel entry for Gernika translates it to the Castillian “Guernica” and opens with this: Basque town which was the site of the first airborne bombing attack on a civilian town during the Spanish civil war. The bombing, by the Condor Legion of Germany’s Luftwaffe in 1937, inspired Picasso to paint the landmark cubist work Guernica, now on display at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid.”

Well, yes, but one might add for clarity that it was done as part of Franco’s fascist offensive and that the fascist press later blamed it on Asturian Anarchist “fire-bombers”. And one might update it by commenting that the Basques have asked for Picasso’s painting to be located in Gernika itself, a request which the Spanish state authorities, the political descendants of the fascist victors of that war, have refused.

Train tracks Axpe Busturia

Train tracks from Axpe Busturia, the estuary to the left and salt marshes on both sides.  (Source: Internet).

Onwards again, the next stop is Lurgorri-Gernika. At the next after that, Zugast station, a middle-aged man gets on with Berria, the all-Euskara newspaper, under his arm. This periodical, being in many ways the replacement of another newspaper, Egunkaria, has a noteworthy connection with history.

Founded in 1990, Egunkaria was the first all-Euskera daily newspaper in the world; it had a left-nationalist editorial line and a journalistic outlook, which led it to report ETA statements alongside those from Spanish unionist political parties and from the State. The Basque language was no longer illegal or banned since the transición, post-General Franco, when the fascist Spanish oligarchy brought the leaderships of the social democratic party and the Communist Party on board, along with their respective trade union leaders — and called it “Democracy”.

But on 20th February 2003, the Spanish State’s militarised police, the Guardia Civil, raided the newspaper’s premises, seized records, machines and closed down the periodical. They also raided the homes or arrested at the building a total of ten people associated with the newspaper, at least four of which were tortured subsequently. For one of those, the manager, a gay man, the torture included sexual violation.

Massive protest demonstrations ensued from an outraged Basque population. The arrested were released on bail.

On 15 April 2010, seven years later, the defendants were finally acquitted on all charges relating to ‘terrorist’ connections and the judges added that there had been no justification for the closure of the newspaper in the first place.

By then, Egunkaria was beyond recovery and anyway Berria had stepped in to occupy the niche (apparently with the blessing of the Egunkaria team). The case against the State for compensation for the loss of the newspaper and also for torture remains open, sixteen years later. The Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg found the Spanish state guilty of not investigating the manager’s complaint of being tortured and ordered compensation paid. It did not, however, as it usually does not, find the state guilty of the torture itself. Of course, torture is difficult to prove, particularly when the state in question keeps political detainees for five days incommunicado, without access even to independent medical practitioners, while its police goes about getting their “confessions”

On the train journey now, the next stop has the delightful-sounding name of Muxika. This causes some amusement to a teenage boy in a nearby seat, accompanied by an older woman – they have been talking in Castillian only since they got on. I wonder are they aware that in June 2013 José Mujica, President of Uruguay until last year, visited the townland that gave rise to his surname. Mujica was presented with a key to the town by the Mayor, who is of the Basque Abertzale Left party Bildu.

The train pulls out of Muxika, then on to Zugastieta-Muxika station as we continue running southward through thick woodlands, occasional industrial parks and small allotments where an occasional middle-aged man tends to his large tomatoes, the small elongated sweet peppers of the region, courgettes, climbing beans …..

Onwards to Morebieta Geralekua before the line takes a sharp twist north-eastwards to more woodlands, rivers, streams and mountains at Lemoa, Bedia, Usansolo, Zuhatsu Galdakoa. Now the built-up areas of Ariz Basauri followed by the contrast of the picturesque Etxebarri before a southward curve to Bolueta and then eastward, to run along the Nervion river to Atxuri station in Bilbo (Bilbao), journey’s end.

All of the stations along this route were named in the Basque language – not one had a Castillian version showing (although there will be plenty of that in streets and squares in Bilbao). The public announcements on this train, as on their counterparts in the Irish 26 Counties, are bilingual but with this difference – on the Basque train, they are always in Euskara first, Castillian second. Likewise with the signage. One is never under any doubt about which language is being given primacy there, nor indeed here, where the English version comes first and, when in text, is in a more dominant type or more contrasting colour.

The Irish language is being derailed even as, to mix metaphors, it is being given lip service. Further down the tracks, unless some urgent repair work is undertaken, lies the final stop – the cemetery of our national language.

end

MY BASQUE FAMILY AND MUSHROOMS

Diarmuid Breatnach

Maribel Eginoa Cisneros died on the 13th of this August in the Santutxu district of Bilbao. She was many things – a democratic Basque patriot, dancer, choir singer, herbalist, mycologist, carer, wife, mother ….

I and two of my siblings travelled to attend the funeral. For me it was a farewell to a warm, intelligent and cultured person who, along with her husband, two of her daughters and a son-in-law, had been very welcoming to me. More than that or because of that, I thought of them as “my Basque family”.

Somewhere I have a Basque family related through blood and marriage but I don’t know them. Different loyalties and some German blood during the Spanish Civil War took my mother out of the Basque Country; the ties were cut and left behind. My mother became a woman in Madrid, where she met my father soon after.

Although they never met, it was because of my mother that I had first met Maribel. My mother, Lucila Helmann Menchaca (the Basques spell it Mentxaka), was born in Algorta, in the Getxo district, not far from Bilbao and spent her early childhood there. How her parents met is another story but Luci grew up bilingual in Castillian (Spanish) and German, with a Basque mother who hardly knew any Euskera (Basque) and a German father. All of Luci’s children, the five boys and one girl, knew of their mother’s childhood in the Basque Country and as we grew older, a desire grew with it to see where she had been born; each of us individually making the pilgrimage.

ONGI ETORRI – BASQUE WELCOME

I was a total stranger and low on funds on my first visit to the Basque Country. I had one contact, a woman I had met only a couple of times when she worked as an au pair in Dublin; she promised to help me get based and I arranged to phone her when I arrived. But the flight was delayed and then could not land at Bilbao airport – too much cloud, the pilot said – and we would land instead at Zaragossa, over 154 miles (248 Km) away. There the passengers had to wait for a coach and eventually arrived in Bilbao in the early hours of the morning. Of course, I had not booked an hotel, so the driver of the last taxi available tried a few without success and then brought me to the Nervión, a four-star hotel over its namesake river, dark and unlovely with a nightly rate that hit me in the gut.

Maribel and Ziortza on a visit to the Cantabrian coast

Maribel and Ziortza on a visit to the Cantabrian coast (Photo from Maribel’s family)

Next morning I phoned my contact, Ziortza and she came to the Nervión and waited while I checked out. I expected to be brought to a cheap hotel or hostel but was instead brought to her family’s home and there, for the first time, I met Ziortza’s parents, Maribel Eginoa and Josemari Echeverria (women don’t change their surnames now when they marry there). I was welcomed, fed and shown to what was to be my room during my stay. It was Ziortza’s, who moved in with her parents – the other two sisters lived in their own apartments with their partners and children. I was fed wonderfully every day too.

I was stunned by the depth of the hospitality from people I did not know, a trait I have encountered again and again among many Basques I have met. Nor was that all. Ziortza took me on her days off on excursions to some different places and towns and her sister Gurrutze and husband Gorka took me on a tour along the Bay of Biscay before turning uphill to iconic Gernika (Spanish spelling “Guernica”). Ziortza also gave me instructions on how to get to Algorta by local train, where my hand-drawn map could take me to where my mother had lived, a trip I preferred to make alone.

The next occasion I returned to Bilbao, this time to begin to know the southern Basque Country, I stayed in their apartment again, in the same room, but this time without discommoding them, since Ziortza had moved out to her own place.

 

THE UNEXPECTED ONE

Maribel and Josémaria were fairly comfortable and retired when I met them but they had some hard times behind them. Josémari’s father had been a Basque nationalist and fought against Franco, a fact that did not escape the victorious Franco authorities. When it came to time for the Spanish military service obligatory for males (much resisted in the Basque Country and now

Only a few months before her death (hard to believe) -- Maribel Eginoa

Only a few months before her death (hard to believe) — Maribel Eginoa (photo Maribel’s family)

abolished throughout the State), they sent Josémari to one of the worst places to which they could send the son of a Basque nationalist – Madrid. His superior officers took pleasure in reminding him of his father and of what they thought of Basque nationalists (or even Basques in general). For the couple, it was a difficult separation but they married as soon as he was finished with the Spanish Army. Maribel was 21 years of age.

Pyrenean landscape in Iparralde ("the northern country"), the part of the Basque Country ruled by France.

Pyrenean landscape in Iparralde (“the northern country”, the part of the Basque Country ruled by France). (photo from Internet)

In their early years together they often travelled to Iparralde (“the northern country”), the Basque part under French rule, with a Basque dance group called Dindirri. The French state has no tolerance for notions of Basque independence but does not harry the movement as does the Spanish state in Hegoalde (“the southern country”). Maribel was fluent in French as well as in Castillian.

Born ten years after the most recent of another four siblings, Maribel was the result of an unexpected pregnancy. “It was destiny,” commented one of her daughters. “The unexpected one would be the one to take care of everyone in the future.” One of Maribel’s siblings had died after a few days, another at the age of 19 due to surgical negligence, another had cerebral palsy. Maribel’s sister herself had an intellectually challenged boy and, when she emigrated with her husband and daughter, left him in Maribel’s care. As Maribel’s mother grew old and infirm, she took care of her too. Her brother with cerebral palsy, although in a home for his specialist care, spent weeks at a time in the family home. And another relative came to stay with them too, for awhile. Maribel looked after everyone.

Of course, her husband Josémari helped, as did her daughters. And they all accepted that this was how things were. And to add to that, the couple visited friends and neighbours in hospital.

LANGUAGE AND POLITICS

When I met Maribel and Josémari, I heard them speak to their daughters in Euskera — the Basque native language. But they themselves had not been raised speaking it – they went to classes to learn the language and raised their children with it. Speaking or learning Euskera was illegal under Franco except for some dispensation to Basque Catholic clergy. It was the latter who founded the first illicit “ikastolak”1 to teach Euskera and later these were set up by lay people too. The ikastola, teaching all subjects except language through Euskera, is now the school type attended by the majority in the southern Basque Country and is mainstream in the Euskadi or CAV administrative area, encompassing the provinces of Bizkaia, Alava and Guipuzkoa.

Most of "my Basque family: Front R-L: Aimar and Markel, Gurrutze's sons; Back R-L: Gurrutze, Maider, Josemari, Maddi & Ziortza.

Most of “my Basque family: Front R-L: Aimar and Markel, Gurrutze’s sons; Back R-L: Gurrutze, Maider, Josemari, Maddi & Ziortza. (Photo from Maribel’s family)

Under Spanish state repression the old Basque Nationalist Party was decimated and although still in existence, its youth wing became impatient with what they perceived as the timidity of their elders.  The PNV youth found a similar impatience among leftish Basque youth who had picked up on the vibrations of the youth and student movement of the 1960s. These youth brought to the table the narratives of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles, mixed with socialist ideas of the Cuban and Algerian revolutions. Thus was Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (Homeland and Freedom) born — doubly illegal, as they espoused Basque self-determination and socialism. And so they were spied upon by the Guardia Civil, harassed, arrested, tortured, jailed … after nine years of which ETA took up arms.

Of the Spanish state’s main political parties today, the ultra-right Partido Popular and the social democratic PSOE, the first receives very little electoral support in the CAV administrative area and the second always less than the total of Basque parties. Maribel and Josémari, like most of patriotic Basque society, were presented with the choice of supporting the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party) or the Abertzale Left, the broad political movement of which ETA was a part. The PNV was known for jobbery and corruption and collusion with the Spanish state so of course Maribel and Josemari raised their family in loose allegiance to the Abertzale Left, attending many marches of the movement, public meetings, pickets and now and then hearing gunshots and explosions, hearing of people they knew going into clandestinity and others arrested, tortured and jailed. Everyone knew someone who became a political prisoner (and that is still largely the case) — a neighbour, work colleague, a past pupil. One of Maribel’s daughters saw most of her quadrilla – a small circle of Basque school friends who typically stay close throughout life – go to jail; part of her life is now organised around making visits to jails throughout the Spanish and French states, thanks to the cruel dispersal policy.

At the funeral service in the packed Iglesia del Karmelo in the Bilbao district of Santutxu, I remembered Maribel’s warm personality and hospitality. In fact it was around that hospitality that I unwittingly caused a rift between us. By the last time I returned to stay with them, I had become active in Basque solidarity work in Ireland. Beset with communication difficulties with the organisations in Euskal Herria (the Basque Country) and desperate for regular sources of accurate information, I was essentially based at their home while seeking out and establishing contacts every day. Maribel, as a considerate Basque hostess, wanted to know in advance whether I was going to be available for meals and I sometimes forgot to tell her when I was not. I also didn’t get into the Basque rhythm of lunch, supper and main meal. In my focus on finding needed contacts I just didn’t appreciate the distress I was causing and that it might have appeared, as one daughter told me, that I was treating her parent’s apartment as an hotel. In subsequent annual visits to Bilbao, staying with others, I tried to make amends but though we remained friendly, it was never as before. Some rips you can darn but the fabric is never what it was.

Iglesia del Karmelo, in Santutxu, Bilbao (photo from Internet)

Iglesia del Karmelo, in Santutxu, Bilbao

In Maribel’s funeral service, the daughters led the singing of the “Agur Jaunak”2; I had the words printed out but didn’t recognise the air at first so by the time I caught on, was unable to find the place to join in. The first time I heard it, sung in performance by Maribel and Josemaria in their choir in another church, the song brought tears to my eyes. The couple belonged to two choirs and had even performed abroad; for many years choirs had been a big thing in the Basque Country but are not so popular now. The Agur Jaunak is a moving piece of music and the final words of farewell, now laden with additional meaning, brought forth my tears at the funeral too (and in fact bring some to my eyes now even recalling it).

When I got back to Dublin I decided to write an article dedicated to Maribel. And to the Basque love of mushrooms. Maribel and her husband were both mycologists (students of fungi) and she was a great cook too. At the time the urge to write struck me, it was autumn, the optimum time for fungi, when the weather is still fairly warm in much of Europe, but also damp.

 

MOUNTAIN PEOPLE AND MUSHROOMS

The Basques imagine themselves in many forms but the most enduring is probably as a mountain people. Not all the country is mountainy, of course – it has lowlands along most of its coastline (yes, they sometimes see themselves as mariners too) and even some highlands are plateau rather than mountain. But. Mountain people, nevertheless. My mother told us that Basque patriots when they died were often cremated and their ashes carried up the mountains inside the ikurrina, the Basque national flag. On reaching the top, the flag would be shook out, consigning the ashes to the winds. The Basque irrintzi cry, like yodelling, is typical of methods that use the voice to communicate from mountain to mountain. Climbing is a popular sport and so is hill walking, often also done as a form of youth political and social activity.

Mundaka coastline in Bizkaia province on south-eastern coast -- with mountains visible behind

Mundaka coastline in Bizkaia province on south-eastern coast — with mountains visible behind (photo Wikipedia)

Even among Basques living on the coast or other lowlands, it is hard to meet a native who has not been to the mountains and high valleys and many go there regularly, sometimes in organised groups. One of the reasons they go, apart from reinforcing their cultural affinity, is to pick edible fungi. I am told that there are 100 edible species known in the Basque Country and that “between 40 and 50 varieties are eaten regularly”.3

As opposed to other regional administrations, a fee does not have to be paid in the CAV administration (three of the southern Basque provinces) to collect these mushrooms, although breaching rules can cost between 30 and 250 euros in fines. The regulations specify a collection limit of two kilograms per person per day and one is obliged to use a knife to remove and a wicker basket to store.

Sadly, illegal commercial operations have cashed in on the love of mushrooms in the Spanish state and gangs have been discovered recruiting poorly-paid migrants or unemployed natives to collect without a licence in administrations where such is a requirement, breaching conservation rules and running the risk of arrest. These gangs are less likely to succeed in the southern Basque Country, a society highly organised on a voluntary and local basis and in general quite conscious of the importance of conservation.

Display of edible fungi from the New Forest, England, showing the conservation-friendly collecting basked and knife

Display of edible fungi from the New Forest, England, showing the conservation-friendly collecting basked and knife (photo from Internet)

Further northwards, 25 km. from Iruňa (Pamplona), is the Harana (valley) Ultzama, a natural reserve, over half of it thick woodland. It is in Nafarroa (Navarre), the fourth southern Basque province.

A mycological park over 6,000 hectares has been marked out, a great luxury for mushroom-lovers. …. The park’s information point, in the municipality of Alkotz, indicates the routes where these mushroom can be found as well as information about the species and how to identify those that have been collected throughout the day.” The collection permit costs €5 per day and is available from the information office or on their website.4

The Basques go in family groups or groups of friends, knowing the edible types (or accompanied by at least one who knows) and they bring baskets, not plastic bags. The idea is that the spores of picked mushrooms will drop through the weave as they walk and so seed growths of new mushrooms further away from where the parent fungi were picked. It is actually illegal to go picking with plastic bags and though there are not many of them, the forest police will arrest people who break that law. In a nation overburdened with police forces, that force is the only one that seems free from popular resentment.

The best mushroom sites are kept secret by those who know and the location of those sites is sometimes handed down through generations. In a peninsula renowned for its types of food and preparation styles, Basque cuisine lays claim to the highest accolade. Yet it uses hardly any spices or herbs. Sea food is high on the cuisine list of course but so is the ongo, the mushroom.

On a Sunday in October 2010, I was present in Bilbao when Maribel and Josemari’s mycological group had an exhibition in a local square, where they also cooked and sold fungi. Josemari and Mirabel worked all day in the hot sun and then had their own feast with their group afterwards, though by then I imagine many would not have had a great appetite.

I was staggered by the number of different species of fungi native to Euskal Herria and their variety of shapes and colours — I was told by the couple, and can well believe it, that their association had exhibited just over 300 species in that exhibition, between edible, inedible and poisonous. This figure was down on the previous year, when they had exhibited 500! Apparently there are over 700 species known to the country.

I tried to imagine how many Irish people would attend such an exhibition in Dublin, even on a sunny day such as we had there — perhaps 20, if the organisers were lucky. The square in that Santutxu district of Bilbao was full, as were the surrounding bar/cafés. There were all ages present, from babies at their mothers’ breasts to elderly people making their way slowly through the crowds. The food was all centred around cooked edible fungi: shish kebabs of mushroom, peppers, onions; burgers made of minced mushrooms and a little flour; little mushrooms with ali-oli on top, served on small pieces cut off long bread rolls; big pieces of brown mushroom almost the size of the palm of one’s hand.

Street in the Casco Viejo medieval part of Bilbao, showing decorations for the Bilbo festival in August

Street in the Casco Viejo medieval part of Bilbao, showing decorations for the Bilbo festival in August (photo D.Breatnach)

The people queued for the food and those selling it couldn’t keep up with demand. And the people also, including children, queued to see the fungi being exhibited. Unlike the Irish, who doubtless also have varieties of edible native fungi in their land but have largely shown an interest in only the common white cultivated kind and, among certain groups of mostly young people, the ‘magic’ variety, the Basques love their fungi.

I ate some there in that square and again, with other food also, down in the Casco Viejo (the medieval part of Bilbo city), where some new friends took me de poteo (from bar to bar) and wouldn´t let me buy even one round. Many bars serve pintxos, small cold snacks, some plain enough and others more involved – normally one eats and drinks and pays the total before leaving. But some of those bars have a room upstairs or to the side where meals are served and one had an excellent restaurant where we ate well and, of course, my friends wouldn’t let me pay my share of that either. True, I had organised some solidarity work for one of their family in prison but all the same ….. When it comes to hospitality, in my opinion the Basques deserve the fame even better than the Irish, who have been justly known for that quality too.

Some of the company had been the previous day in the town of Hernani, where a rally convened to call for Basque Country independence had been banned by the Spanish state. Despite the judicial order, thousands of young people had participated in the rally and had been planning to attend the rock concert afterwards. The Basque Region Police had attacked the peaceful demonstration with plastic bullets and then baton-charged the young people. Many were injured by the plastic bullets, by batons, and by being trampled in the narrow streets when people tried to flee the charging police. It was an object lesson in the drawbacks to regional autonomy or “home rule”. However, the resistance had been so strong that the police eventually had to retreat and allow the rock concert to proceed without further interference. But that too is another story.

AGUR — SLÁN

But five years later, outside the church after Maribel’s funeral, I waited with my two brothers on the margins of the crowd. I saw some youth among the mourners, including Goth and punk types, presumably friends of Maribel and Josemari’s daughters. Most in attendance were of older generations, however. It was noticeable how prominent the women were – garrulous and assertive. There were of course representatives of various branches of the movement, who knew the couple personally.

Small section of the funeral crowd outside the church (photo D. Breatnach)

Small section of the funeral crowd outside the church with Gorka in the foreground in white shirt (photo D. Breatnach)

Inside the church I had already conveyed my condolences to Josemari, who had seemed amazed, amidst his grief, that I had travelled from Ireland for the funeral. I was surprised, in turn, that he would have expected any less; for me, there was no question – I’d have borrowed the money to go if necessary. His son-in-law burst into tears when I hugged him and that was it for me, my composure crumbled and we cried in one another’s arms. Now I waited for the crowd to thin so I could hug the daughters, the two who live in Bilbao and Maider, who lives in Gastheiz (Vitoria).
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I stayed in a friend’s house a couple more days, renewing contacts and making a few new ones, meeting some old friends and then it was back to Dublin once more. Agur to Euskal Herria and agur to Maribel Eginoa – a loss to her family, to her nation, to me and to humanity.

End.

Footnotes

1  “ikastola” = school or college; plural “ikastolak”

2  Agur translates as “goodbye” but can also be a greeting. The Agur Jaunak’s lyrics are short and simple; the song is performed usually a capella, in giving honour to a person or persons and traditionally everyone stands when it is sung. The provenance of the air is a matter under discussion but it is only the Basques who are known to have lyrics to it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNMaMNMpYEk is one of the best versions I could find on the Internet although there is a somewhat cheesy bit by one of the performers in it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7Z8E-xhYTU is vocally another lovely interpretation sung unusually high although I dislike the crescendo at the end which is not the traditional way of singing it, which is to end on a low note.

3  http://www.micologica-barakaldo.org/Micologica_Barakaldo/index.html

SIX BASQUE YOUTH EARLIER SENTENCED TO SIX YEARS IN MADRID ARE FREED

Xabat Moran, Bergoi Madernaz, Marina Sagastizabal, Aiala Zaldibar and Igarki Robles, five of the seven Basque youth sentenced to six years by the Audiencia Nacional (special Spanish Court) last Spring, have been freed this Wednesday.

Translation of press report NAIZ|from MADRID|2015/11/04|5 IRUZKINel juicio. (J. DANAE/ARGAZKI PRESS) and comment from https://www.facebook.com/dublinbasque/posts/1063431863690750

Xabat Moran, Bergoi Madernaz, Marina Sagastizabal, Igarki Robles and Aiala Zaldibar were sentenced to six years together with Ibon Esteban y Ainhoa Villaverde.

During the afternoon it emerged that the five would be freed, hours after the Supreme Court made held a public hearing in which the State Prosecutor left the possibility of reducing the sentences in the hands of the Tribunal, while the Defence asked for the accused to be cleared of all charges.

2014-09-22, Madril. Segiko militante izatearen akusaziopean 28 euskal gazteren aurkako epaiketa Madrilgo Entzutegi Nazionalean. Epaituriko 5 gazte ez dira aurkeztu epaitegira eta herri harresia antolatu dute. Argazkian, gazteak epaitegiko atean. 22-9-2014, Madrid. Juicio en la Audiencia Nacional a 28 jÛvenes acusados de pertenecer a Segi, 5 de ellos no se han presentado en el juzgado y han organizado un muro popular. En la imagen, los jÛvenes en la puerta del juzgado.

Most of the 28 youth accused of membership of SEGI outside the Court on the first day of their Madrid trial

The five have left prison and began the journey home.

The exact content of the Supreme Court’s decision is not yet known and whether this will affect the situation of Ibon Esteban and Ainhoa Villaverde is not yet known.

Twenty-eight youth were accused of membership of SEGI, the Basque Abertzale Left youth group and tried in the same trial, of which the Prosecutor withdrew charges against twelve. Later, others were discharged due to lack of evidence and in the end seven were sentenced to six years.

Villaverde, Moran, Sagastizabal and Madernaz were detained by the Ertzaintza (Basque police) before their sentences were announced, while Esteban, Robles y Zaldibar became fugitives, only to reappear in the “Human Wall” in Gastheiz/ Vitoria, where they were arrested.
End item.

Comment:
While friends and relatives will of course celebrate the decision, one commentator said: “The point for the Spanish state is to close down all legal political outlets in terms of campaigning around human, civil and political rights in the Basque Country. That leaves only the armed struggle, with which in recent decades ETA (Homeland and Freedom) has been clearly unsuccessful.”

A finding of guilt against these political activists needs to be seen in the context of the jailing of a number of political prisoners’ lawyers not so long ago and the currently ongoing trial of five political activists of Askapena, the organisation with responsibility for coordinating international solidarity work from and for the Basque Country.

For four years now ETA has been on the “permanent ceasefire” it announced at the time, yet Basque political activists continue to be charged with “assisting terrorism” or “glorifying” it.

Human wall Navarra Oct 2013

“Human wall” in Navarra (Nafarroa), October 2013

Another point to bear in mind is that when the 28 youth, including those against whom the State later withdrew charge or the Court found “not guilty”, were originally arrested in October 2014, it was in a heavy military-style operation, they were taken from the Basque Country to Madrid, held incommunicado and a number were tortured. Then when bailed, they had to return to Madrid later to face trial, they and their supporters having to pay for travel and accommodation. The Spanish state does not have a record of paying compensation to those it has wrongfully accused or even imprisoned, not to speak of tortured, except on occasion under orders from the European Court of Human Justice in Strasbourg.

The “Human Wall” was a tactic developed and employed mostly by Basque Youth as a civil disobedience tactic, beginning in 2013 and lasting until 2014. Typically, the person wanted by the authorities appeared in the middle of a large crowd of supporters who linked arms. The police (in all those cases, the Ertzaintza) were obliged, in order to detain the fugitives, to spend a number of hours breaking up the “human wall” in order to obtain their objective and hand the fugitive over to the Guardia Civil, all the time being denounced by those forming part of the ‘wall’ and protesters standing by, the whole event being filmed and photographed, reaching an international audience. Variations on the “Wall” were practiced in Donosti/ San Sebastian, Gastheiz/ Vitoria, Pasaia, Navarra and Gernika.
http://www.naiz.eus/eu/actualidad/noticia/20151104/queda-en-libertad-xabat-moran-uno-de-los-siete-condenados-por-la-an

 

 

NO CHANGE IN THE STATES’ POSITIONS ON DISPERSAL OF BASQUE POLITICAL PRISONERS

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

The French Government deny rumours of a relaxation in their policy of dispersal. The Spanish Government confirms it is business as before for Basque political prisoners.

On 3rd September French diplomatic sources refuted interpretations in some media that it had changed its position with regard to Basque political prisoners. The media interpretations had been built upon a statement by the Abertzale (Basque Patriotic) Left party Sortu, that it had met on July 8th with the French Minister of Justice. The diplomatic sources downplayed the significance of the meeting and denied bringing Basque political prisoners closer to the Basque Country. Etxerat, the organisation for relatives and friends of the prisoners, confirmed that there had been no move to moderate the dispersal.

The day previous to the release of information from French diplomatic sources, on Wednesday, French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira had met with her Spanish counterpart, Rafael Catala. The following day, Taubira said her Government’s approach is to analyse requests for transfer based on the length of the sentence and relocation near their family. Meanwhile, the Spanish Minister of Justice and the Interior reiterated his Government’s position that any individual prisoners’ transfer to a jail in the Basque Country required the prisoners to renounce their organisation and to accept responsibility for the damage caused by their action.

The French approach contrasts with the requirements of the Spanish Government, although Catalá reiterated yesterday that both states were acting in a “coordinated” manner and that the French Government “has not moved its policy by one iota .”

According to Etxerat on Thursday, of the nearly 100 Basque political prisoners in French prisons, only two are in Mont de Marsans prison (152 kilometers from the Basque city of Donosti), while six prisoners are in Lannemezen (231 kilometers). The rest are serving out their sentences at a greater distance from home, the vast majority at more than 600 kilometers. Although the support organisation viewed the French Minister’s statement positively, it was also at pains to disabuse people of any belief in a change in the French dispersal of prisoners and stated that any prisoners brought nearer were merely as a result of movement to which the relatives and friends have become accustomed, “bringing them close” before “bringing them far away again.”

Map of the dispersal of Basque political prisoners across both states and Etxerat picket

Map of the dispersal of Basque political prisoners across both states and Etxerat flag in a poster calling for a protest and solidarity demonstration some years ago

The organisation of relatives and friends of Basque political prisoners stated that neither they nor any prisoners’ relatives participated in any meeting with the French Ministry of Justice – any meeting was with several members of Sortu only.

Spokespersons for the party of the Patriotic Left, Sortu, indicated that at their July meeting the French Ministry had been represented by Alain Christnach, Taubira’s Chief of Staff. Meanwhile the French, through diplomatic sources, asked observers not to “over-interpret” this meeting and indicated that participation in the meeting does not mean accepting Sortu’s proposals.

Another issue discussed by the Spanish and French Ministers was the possible transfer of prisoners under the law of mutual recognition of penal sentences in the EU, in force since January. This legislation provides the possibility for prisoners serving sentences in any EU Member state to be transferred to a Spanish prison; however, most Basque prisoners are unlikely to avail of this provision due to harder treatment in the Spanish prison system and the fact that dispersal throughout the state continues.

In a different aspect of the same legislation, the MEP of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), Izaskun Bilbao, asked the European Commission whether it will take Spain before the European Court of Justice for failure to take account of sentences served in French prisons by Basque political prisoners. This is because of the fact that the Spanish state often waits until a prisoner has served his sentence in France before extraditing him on a Spanish charge to face a further sentence in Spanish prisons.

Policy of dispersal of political prisoners — an abuse of human rights

There are many issues raised with regard to Basque political prisoners but the most universal one is the simple fact of dispersal. Relatives and friends face journeys of hundreds or even thousands of kilometers to visit their loved ones and the same distance back again. Many of these journeys are impossible without overnight stays. The expense drains financial resources while the long journeys themselves drain energy and, for elderly or unwell relatives, are an impossibility. An average of one serious accident a month occurs on these journeys for Basque political prisoners’ visitors and twelve have died in crashes over the years. Nor is it unknown for the relatives to be harassed by police on their journey or attacked by Spanish civilian fascists. As Etxerat has stated in its monthly reports and in a number of other statements: “The sentence was supposed to be on the prisoner but in actual fact was served on us as well, although we have been accused of nothing.”

It is a well-established principle of human rights that prisoners should, as far as possible, serve their sentences in a prison close to their families and relatives. This is in recognition of the rights of families as well as the desirability of easing the reintegration of prisoners as much as possible into society. The principle is covered in a number of United Nations policy paragraphs and also within the EU’s model rules for prisoners adopted in 2006 (https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?id=955747).

Since both the French and Spanish states’ policy of dispersal appears to be in clear violation of the prisoners’ and relatives’ human rights and indeed of the EU’s own model rules for prisoners, some observers find it somewhat perplexing that the relatives’ organisation does not take a case against the states to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Granted, Strasbourg’s controversial decision on the Spanish State’s banning of the Herri Batasuna political party did not go in the Basques’ favour and the Court, albeit instructing the Spanish state to pay compensation to Basques for not investigating their claims of torture, continues to show a reluctance to find the Spanish State  guilty of actual torture. But the dispersal of prisoners is an observable and undeniable fact and, furthermore, one which has been confirmed in public statements by Government ministers of both states.

 

End item

(Main source on the various statements: Deia, 4th September 2015)