WE REPENT EVERYTHING!

WE REPENT EVERYTHING!

(Reading time text: 3 minutes)

Diarmuid Breatnach

Versiones en castellano y en catalan de bajo

Introduction: The Spanish State requires the Basque resistance to repent.  The State refused Basque independence and suppressed the movement for self-determination and the language, arrested and tortured its activists. In response ETA (Basque Homeland and Freedom) was created and for nearly a decade carried out no armed action until finally it killed an armed policeman when stopped at a checkpoint (the activist was also killed in the incident) and later also the police chief in charge of tortures. Years of struggle and repression added hundreds of Basque prisoners to Spanish (and French) jails, dispersed all over the state.

          The Spanish State in more recent years insisted at first that in order for the repression to end, that ETA would have to end its armed activity. ETA did so in 2010 but successively the State insisted on decommissioning of arms, then disbandment of the organisation (which ETA did in 2017 and 2018 respectively), then that its prisoners and Basque leaders apologise for their armed actions. Most of the prisoners still refuse to do that and serve out their sentences or die in jail – but some of the leadership outside have done so, including taking part in commemorations of some of the agents of the Spanish State killed by ETA. Meanwhile, the Spanish State considers it a terrorist-law crime to commemorate the fallen fighters of ETA who died in prison or were gunned down by the forces of the State.

So …. this is on behalf of those who have apologised and those who are planning to.

WE REPENT EVERYTHING, SPANISH STATE!

We repent everything … everything! We beg your forgiveness for all that we have done – we have been like bad children in the face of your goodness. Even worse – much worse!

It’s difficult to know where to start ….

Firstly, we repent having come to this land before you, with our own language that was not even Indo-European. What arrogance! What an insult to your rightful sovereignty! Not even the Moors of Al Andalus, with their lofty science and their pretentious toleration of all religions, had the arrogance to arrive before you. We beg your forgiveness.

We are sorry also for having fought for the independence and rights of the Kingdom of Navarra and for even having supplied some of your early royal families. Again, what arrogance! We beg your forgiveness once more.

We regret not having participated wholeheartedly in your rightful, restrained and proportionate Inquisition. We heartily repent leaving so many witches unburned. Please, please forgive us for that, though in truth it was unpardonable.

And throughout, still speaking that language, probably the oldest in Europe! What shameful arrogance. What lack of gratitude for the Indo-European language you offered us!

We regret – oh, how we regret! — having stood against that wonderful, righteous and Christian leader, Generalisimo Franco. We find it hard to believe now that we had the arrogance to stand with a government elected by the people against the rightful military intervention of the Four Generals and especially his exalted self, General Franco. What could we have been thinking of? How right he was to have his German allies – may they be blessed! — bomb Gernika (sorry, Guernica)!

We apologise for those priests, monks and nuns who did not embrace the Christian Crusade of the Caudillo and the Spanish hierarchy, who persisted in defending the indefensible ideas of nationhood, of giving aid to prisoners and in teaching our accursed language. Of course it was right to shoot some of them – they should all have been shot!

We feel ashamed and deeply repent that even after Franco and his troops showed us the correct way — having had to shoot thousands to do it – that we continued to speak that unChristian language and to teach it in secret in houses, even when you had lawfully forbidden it.

We humbly apologise for the industrial strikes we have carried out in protest against your wise guidance and are very sorry that we forced you to shoot or imprison us.

We can hardly continue, we are so choked with grief and yet must do so; we beg your indulgence, for in some ways, our worst is to come.

On bended knee — no, prostrate on the ground – we beg your forgiveness for having formed the organisation “Land and Freedom”. To have banded together to spread ideas of independence and socialism – independence from you! Atheistic socialism! Your police were quite right to hound us, arrest, torture us and even shoot us. But did we learn? No – instead we took up arms! Against the Power in the land!

For our newspapers that you rightly banned, for our radio stations you rightly shut down; for our activists you rightly forced to confess and jailed, for our other activists who had the temerity to flee so that you had to send assassination squads after them into another state’s administration; for the disgraceful conduct of relatives of people imprisoned who traveled hundreds of kilometres to visit them and had the temerity to campaign for an end to their dispersal; for the prisoners who continued to resist and those who had the arrogance to shame you by ending their own lives; for the refugees whom you had to pursue to Latin America, to Canada and to states of Europe; for continuing to speak that accursed language, for singing it and for even developing an art form of impromptu dialogues in it …..

For all of that, we repent, we apologise, we humbly beg your forgiveness, even though we know we are not worthy of it.

If you allow us, in your benevolence and forbearance, undeserving as we are, although we know we can never achieve it properly and will be but pale imitations, we will try – really, really try – to become like you.

End.

EH Bildu (Abertzale Left party) Mayor of Errentería, Julen Mendoza (nearest to viewer) in commemoration ceremony for four Guardia Civil killed by ETA in the area in 1982 (Source photo: Internet)

CASTELLANO

NOS ARREPENTIMOS DE TODO, ESTADO ESPANOL! 

Lo arrepentimos de todo … pero de todo! Pedimos vuestro perdón por todo lo que hemos hecho, hemos sido como niños malos ante su bondad. Aún peor, mucho peor!

Es difícil saber por dónde empezar …

En primer lugar, lamentamos haber llegado a esta tierra antes que ustedes, con nuestro propio lenguaje que ni siquiera era indoeuropeo. Qué arrogancia! Qué insulto a vuestra soberanía legítima! Ni siquiera los moros de Al-Andalus, con su gran ciencia y su pretendida tolerancia a todas las religiones, tuvieron la arrogancia de llegar antes que ustedes. Pedimos perdón.

Arrepentimos también haber luchado por la independencia y los derechos del Reino de Navarra e incluso por haber proporcionado algunas de sus familias reales. Otra vez, qué arrogancia! Pedimos vuestro perdón una vez más.

Lamentamos no haber participado de manera sincera en vuestra Inquisición legítima, moderada y proporcionada. Lamentamos profundamente dejar muchas brujas y herejes sin quemar. Por favor, perdónenos por ello, aunque, en en realidad, es imperdonable.

Y encima, hablando este idioma vasco, probablemente el más antiguo de Europa! Qué vergonzosa arrogancia. Qué falta de gratitud por la lengua indoeuropea que nos ofrecisteis!

Lamentamos – oh, como lo lamentamos! – habernos mantenido en contra de ese maravilloso, justo y cristiano líder, el Generalísimo Franco. Nos resulta difícil creer ahora que teníamos la arrogancia de apoyar a un gobierno elegido por la gente contra la legítima intervención militar de los Cuatro Generales y sobre todo su exaltado persona, el general Franco. En que podíamos haber estado pensando? ¿Que acertado estuvisteis con sus aliados alemanes – ! benditos sean! – en bombardear a Gernika (perdoname, Guernica)!

Nos disculpamos por nuestros sacerdotes, monjes y religiosas que no aceptaron la cruzada cristiana del Caudillo y la jerarquía Española, que persistieron en la defensa de las ideas indefendibles de la nacionalidad, de dar ayuda a los prisioneros y de enseñar nuestro idioma torpe. Por supuesto, era correcto disparar a algunos de ellos: todos debían de haber sido fusilados!

Nos sentimos avergonzados y profundamente arrepentidos de que, incluso después que Franco y sus tropas nos mostraran el camino correcto — habiendo tenido que disparar miles para ello — seguimos hablando de esta lengua no cristiana y la enseñamos en secreto en las casas , incluso cuando había estado ya prohibido legalmente.

Humildemente nos disculpamos por las huelgas industriales que hemos llevado a cabo en protesta contra vuestra sabia dirección y lamentamos mucho haberles obligado a dispararnos o encarcelarnos.

Apenas podemos continuar, estamos tan abrumados por el dolor y, sin embargo, debemos hacerlo; rogamos su indulgencia, porque de alguna manera, nuestro peor final ha llegado.

De rodillas – no! postrado en el suelo! – le pedimos perdón por haber formado la organización “Tierra y Libertad”. Reunirse para difundir ideas de independencia, socialismo –¡independencia de ustedes! ¡Socialismo ateo! Su policía tenía toda la razón para perseguirnos, arrestarnos y torturarnos e incluso dispararnos. Pero, ¿aprendimos? No, en cambio tomamos las armas! ¡Contra el poder de la tierra!

Para nuestros periódicos que con tanta razón prohibisteis, para nuestras estaciones de radio cerrados correctamente, para nuestros activistas a los que con razón obligasteis confesar y encarcelar, para nuestros otros activistas que tuvieron la temeridad de huir, por lo que tuvisteis que enviar escuadrones de asesinatos en la tierra de otro estado, por la vergonzosa conducta de familiares de personas encarceladas que viajaron cientos de kilómetros para visitarlos y tuvieron la temeridad de hacer campaña para poner fin a su dispersión, por los prisioneros que continuaron resistiendo y los que tenían la arrogancia para avergonzarles por poniendo fin a sus propias vidas, a los refugiados que tuvisteis que perseguir en América Latina, a Canadá y a los estados de Europa, por continuar hablando ese lenguaje maldito, por cantarlo e incluso por desarrollar una forma de arte de diálogos improvisados en él. …

Por todo eso, nos arrepentimos, nos disculpamos, pedimos humildemente vuestro perdón, aunque sabemos que no somos dignos de ello.

Si nos permiten, en vuestra benevolencia y paciencia, sin merecer lo que somos, aunque sepamos que nunca podremos lograrlo correctamente y seremos solo imitaciones pálidas, intentaremos, realmente, realmente intentaremos llegar a ser como vosotros.

Basque victim of Spanish police tortue, Joxe Arregi Izagirre, who incredibly survived until brought to hospital but died quickly afterwards, February 1981.

CATALAN

ENS PENEDIM DE TOT, ESTAT ESPANYOL!

Ens penedim de tot … pero de tot! Demanem el vostre perdó per tot el que hem fet, hem estat com a nens dolents davant la vostra bondat. Encara pitjor, molt pitjor!

És difícil saber per on començar …

En primer lloc, lamentem haver-nos arribat a aquesta terra abans que tu, amb el nostre propi llenguatge que ni tan sols era indoeuropeu. Quina arrogància! Quin insult a la vostra sobirania legítima! Ni tan sols els moros d’Al-Andalus, amb la seva gran ciència i la seva pretesa tolerància a totes les religions, van tenir l’arrogància d’arribar abans que vosaltres. Demanem perdó.

Sentim també haver lluitat per la independència i els drets del Regne de Navarra i fins i tot per haver subministrat algunes de les seves famílies reals. Una altra vegada, quina arrogància! Demanem el perdó una vegada més.

Lamentem no haver participat de manera sincera en la vostra Inquisició legítima, moderada i proporcionada. Lamentem profundament deixar que moltes bruixes i heretges sense cremar. Si us plau, perdoneu-nos per això, encara que, en veritat, no era vàlid.

I tot, parlant encara aquest idioma basc, probablement el més antic d’Europa! Quina vergonyosa arrogància. Quina falta de gratitud per la llengua indoeuropea que ens vau oferir!

Lamentem – oh, com ho lamentem! – Davant d’aquest meravellós, just i líder cristià, el Generalíssim Franco. Ens resulta difícil creure ara que teníem l’arrogància d’estar amb un govern elegit per la gent contra la legítima intervenció militar dels Quatre Generals i sobretot el seu exaltat general, el general Franco. En què podíem estar pensant? Quin dret era tenir els seus aliats alemanys, que beneïts siguin! – Bombardejar Gernika (ho sento, Guernica)!

Ens disculpem pels nostres sacerdots, monjos i religioses que no van acceptar la creuada cristiana del Caudillo i la jerarquia Espanyola, que va persistir en la defensa de les idees indefensables de la nacionalitat, de donar ajuda als presoners i d’ensenyar el nostre idioma maldestre. Per descomptat, era correcte disparar alguns d’ells: tots haurien estat disparats!

Juan Mañas Morales, Luis Montero García y Luis Manuel Cobo Mier, uninvolved Basques tortured and killed by Guardia Civil in 1981. Their bodies were then placed in a car, shot at and the car set on fire. (Source images: Internet)

Ens sentim avergonyits i profundament penedits que, fins i tot després que Franco i les seves tropes ens mostressin la manera correcta: havent hagut de disparar milers per fer-ho, continuem parlant d’aquesta llengua cristiana i ensenyem-la en secret a les cases, fins i tot quan tenies ho ha prohibit legalment.

REFERENCES

A Councillor of the official Abertzale (Basque pro-Independence) Left attends memorial of victim of ETA and lays flowers at memorial: https://www.efe.com/efe/espana/politica/eh-bildu-asiste-por-primera-vez-en-19-anos-al-homenaje-a-miguel-angel-blanco/10002-2984272

EH Bildu, party of the Abertzale Left, declares it wished to attend commemoration of victim of ETA: https://www.europapress.es/nacional/noticia-eh-bildu-afirma-ausencia-homenaje-blanco-nadie-deberia-ir-sitio-donde-no-bienvenido-20140714112609.html

A Mayor of the Abertzale Left attends commemoration of four Guardia Civil killed by ETA in Errentería (an area somtimes nicknamed “the Basque Belfast”, where resistance was strong and many Basques were killed by police, by state-sponsored murder gangs, including kidnappings and rapes): https://www.eldiario.es/norte/navarra/Ongi-Jose-Miguel-Maria-Dolores_0_814718789.html

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SAN FERMINES 2019: RETURN OF THE OLD REGIME AND THE BATTLE OF THE FLAGS

Introduction and translation by Diarmuid Breatnach

The San Fermines Festival in Iruña (Pamplona in Castillian) is renowned around much of the world for its colour and also danger with the running (corrida) of the bulls. But for many years it has been the occasion and site of sharp political struggle and there have been other dangers too.

ANTI-BASQUE NATIONALISM IN NAFARROA

          Although the city is Basque, centre of the medieval kingdom of Nafarroa (Navarre), it was run for decades by UPN (Union of Navarrese People), what some considered the Basque version of the Partido Popular, post-Franco Spanish political party founded by the Dictator’s supporters. Although in 2008 UPN broke from its fraternal relations with the PP, the party remains Spanish-unionist and conservative, strongly opposed to Basque independentism and wishing to remain separate from the rest of the Basque Country, whether the other three southern provinces or the three across the French border.

During the Spanish Republic of 1936, the ruling political interests in Nafarroa broke with the Basque nationalists and opted for supporting the military-fascist coup of Franco and the other three generals – the reactionary Nafarroan Carlists murdered 3,000 Basque nationalists, republicans, communists, anarchists and social democrats in their province alone. They also took part in fighting as part of the military-fascist forces.

For many years, the first day of the San Fermines festival has been the scene of struggle between those who sought to bring the Basque national flag, the Ikurriña, into the main square, to be present during the launch of the week of festivities. And beatings and for Basque independentists have resulted, even fines and jail sentences, especially when they have been successful.

But in the elections of 2015, a coalition of political parties of Basque independentism, nationalism, and left-social democracy took power in the Navarrese regional Government and began to change matters on a number of fronts. In 2017 the Ikurrina was flown from the official balcony and the the Spanish Government Delegation in the region took a judicial case against those responsible and the same people in 2018, EH Bildu, refrained from flying it, displaying instead a bare flagpole. However, that coalition lost its majority of seats in the elections this year and the UPN came back into power, with the resumption of ‘business as usual’.

ASSAULT AND RAPE

          In recent years, another menace has come to the fore, with some men assaulting women in the press of the crowd. Most horrifying was the multiple rape of an 18-year-old woman on July 7th, during the San Fermines festival of 2016. The woman, who approached a few men to help her find her way and was apparently under the influence of intoxicants, was led into a doorway, her phone taken off her and raped in a number of ways by each, who also videoed the event and put it up on the Internet. Due to the description to the Nafarroan police by the victim and their promotion of their act on social media, the perpetrators were soon arrested. But they were tried not for the more serious crime of rape but for sexual abuse, because she appeared not to resist and therefore no violence was necessary to restrain her – a feature of Spanish law.

The group of five violators and rapists had given themselves the boastful title of La Manada (the Wolf-Pack) contained a Spanish Army soldier and a Spanish Guardia Civil policeman among its members. And they on a previous occasion filmed themselves having sex with an intoxicated woman on the flat bed of a truck and put that too out on social media.

Gang-rapists, the self-styled La Manada (“the wolf-pack”) (Photo source: Internet)

The Pack claimed that their victim was willing but found it difficult to explain that she had only met them seven minutes before the assaults or their taking of her mobile phone and some other matters and were found guilty and sentenced to nine years jail but allowed bail when they appealed. Since their appeal might find them not guilty, one might argue that they were entitled to bail while awaiting the hearing.

BASQUE AND CATALAN INDEPENDENTISM V. RAPE

          However, the youth from Alsasua (Basque town in Nafarroa), who were accused of assaulting off-duty Guardia Civil policemen who entered a Basque independentist late-night bar as a provocation in October 2016, were not only kept in jail while awaiting trial in Madrid but also four of them while awaiting an appeal hearing (against sentences of between two and 13 years jail!). And the Catalan independence grass-roots campaign leaders and elected politicians who were charged with sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds for organising a referendum on independence in October 2017, were kept in jail until their trial and are there still, now awaiting judgement. They include one who was elected an MP while in jail and another who was elected an MEP (Jordi Sanchez and Oriol Junqueras).

Many aspects of the Manada case led to an outcry over the whole Spanish state. Although the Prosecution had asked for sentences of 22 year and 10 months, they were sentenced to nine year jail. On December 5th 2018 their sentences were confirmed to those nine years, although two judges on the panel disagreed, wishing for sentences of a little over 14 years as they felt that there had been intimidation and coercion, there had been “degrading acts” and she had been left half-naked on the ground with her mobile phone taken (and memory cards removed). The five-judge panel however ordered the first court that tried them to issue another sentence for the filming and publishing of the rape as her privacy had been violated. The Defence lawyer has indicated that his clients would appeal the sentence as did also the City of Iruna (Pamplona).

THE BATTLE OF THE FLAGS

The town square of Iruna/ Pamplona, traditional site of the launch of the San Fermines folk festival, this year showing, despite threats of the UPN Mayor, Ikurrinak and banner against the dispersal of Baque political prisoners prominently displayed.
(Photo sourced: publico.es)

Translation of short article in Publico.es

          In the end, the ikurriña was present. The images of the first Sanfermines after the return of the Right to the City Council of Pamplona are already crossing the world and they do it with the ikurriña and the flag of Navarre displayed among the public. The earlier threats of Mayor Enrique Maya (UPN) had no effect, nor did the police deployment in the surrounding area.

Under an intense sun and in a crowded square, the txupinazo (firing of ceremonial rocket — Translator) of the Sanfermines – the act that marks the beginning of the festivities — took place at 12.00 o’clock. Minutes before, (many of) the attendees managed to deploy a ikurriña of great proportions, accompanied by the Flag of Navarra. A white placard also appeared in which the return of the ETA prisoners was demanded (i.e end of the dispersal of independentist prisoners all over the Spanish state — Trans).

“UPN, kanpora” (UPN, out!) was heard in the square when the Mayor was on the balcony. A few days before, Maya had issued a notice announcing that entering with fabric of large proportions was strictly forbidden, citing security reasons. However, the same Councilor said shortly after in an interview in the newspaper El Mundo that there would also be “a device” to prevent the EH Bildu councilors unfurling the Basque flag on the balcony of the town hall.

POLICE SEIZURE OF FLAGS

          One hour before the txupinazo, journalist Gara Aritz Intxusta reported by Twitter that local police had seized “150 small ikurriñas that were going to be used in a kalejira” (festival parade) that was going to be performed in the streets of the city to protest against the Mayor’s party.

Source: https://www.publico.es/politica/ikurrina-acto-presencia-sanfermines-gritos-upn-fuera.html

Video posted 2013

of daring event as the hour for the launch approached, Basque independentists in “disguise” of anglers, cast a line across from the rooftop on one side of the square to the other and then a stronger line was taken across with a giant ikurrina attached. One can see earlier, police rushing to confiscate a flag or banner and a giant political prisoners’ banner being held above many in the crowd. In 2013 the UPN Mayor deliberately delayed the launch past the traditional hour of noon so as to give secret police time to cut the line and not to have it happening with the Ikurrina hanging over the square.

End.

STRASBOURG COURT JUDGEMENT AGAINST TURKISH STATE RAISES HOPES FOR POLITICAL PRISONERS ELSEWHERE IN EUROPE

Catalan press story translated and comment by Diarmuid Breatnach

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemned Turkey for keeping a Kurdish elected Deputy in preventive detention (i.e custody without bail — Translator) without “sufficient” reasons. The seven magistrates of Strasbourg who signed the judgment made public on Tuesday urged the Turkish state to release Selahattin Demirtas, who when he was arrested was co-president of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP).

http://m.xcatalunya.cat/noticies/detail.php?id=43441&fbclid=IwAR38KE6XQZ5Q0yF6Z45_paL9FaagxvUVKxDwac8nvTQNVInrQfb6Ga9t3O0

The court also considers that the inability of the former leader to participate in parliamentary activity despite being an elected Deputy constituted an “unjustified” interference with freedom of expression and the right to be elected and occupy a seat in Parliament. The left party HDP reacted by calling on the local courts of the country to implement the decision “immediately” and not only get Demirtas out of prison but also the rest of the Deputies in jail.

In a statement, the HDP recalls that Demirtas has been a “hostage” for two years and demands that he be released “without delay.” The party sees the decision as a “precedent” for all those elected and highlights the “determination” of those who “do not abandon the struggle for democracy and peace” in their country.

VIOLATION OF THE EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

The ECHR claims that several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights were violated, such as the right of all detainees to be taken “without delay” before a judge and to be judged within a “reasonable” period or be released during the proceedings (article 5.3) and the right to free elections (Additional Protocol, article 3).

“The Court concludes that the extension of the period of pretrial detention has been established beyond a reasonable doubt, especially during two crucial campaigns, the referendum and the presidential elections, with the ulterior purpose of stifling pluralism and limiting the freedom of a political debate”, the text sets out.

Overall, Strasbourg not only directs the Turkish state to release him but also to compensate Demirtas with 10,000 euros for non-financial damages, in addition to the 250,000 requested by the politician. “The court notes that the violation of the agreement has unquestionably caused substantial damage to the plaintiff,” said the ruling. In addition, it ordered the Turkish State to pay 15,000 euro in legal expenses.

REACTIONS TO THE JUDGEMENT

Amnesty International, an NGO for human rights where Demirtas, who is a lawyer, also collaborated, has released a communiqué in which he recalls that Turkey is one of the 49 member states of the Council of Europe and that, therefore, the decision of the ECHR It is “binding”.

The Director of Research and Strategy of AI forTurkey, Andrew Gardner, assures that the judgement with regard to the opposition leader “exposes” the Turkish judicial system and points out that “it should have great implications” in the country presided over by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “Civil society activists remain on a regular basis for long periods in pretrial detention under fabricated accusations,” he laments, highlighting the “influence” of the policy in Turkish courts. According to Gardner, in Ankara “peaceful” expressions of political dissidents are “punished” through the courts.

For his part, the ERC MEP Jordi Solé sees in the ruling a “precedent” for states that “abuse” preventive detention and “violate” political rights. In this regard, the parliamentarian believes that “it will have to be taken into account in the case of the Catalan independence leaders.”

“European justice does not allow prison to be abused as an instrument to restrict freedom and political pluralism or to violate the procedural, civil and political rights of citizens, and the Spanish state should take note,” he said in a statement.

COMMENT:

Though certainly the judgement is to be welcomed by all supporters of human and civil rights, observers and commentators would do well to exercise more caution with regard to the impact of this judgement. Certainly other political parties can quote it with regard to elected deputies detained while awaiting trial and may indeed succeed in their endeavour. But the judgement specifically mentioned an elected Deputy and electoral campaigns. Therefore there are a great number of political prisoners to whom this judgement does not necessarily apply and, in the Catalan case, one would be concerned for example about the cases of the jailed leaders of the grass-roots organisations Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart.

In addition, the judgement did not say how long would be a “justified” period to keep a prisoner in jail before bringing him to trial. This prisoner, according to his party the HDP, was kept in prison for two years but it does not automatically follow that a period of that length will always be considered “unreasonable”. Should it be so there are a great many prisoners who have waited that long for a sentence while in custody in Europe, including in Ireland and the Basque Country.

It is of course a welcome precedent of a kind, as the Catalan MEP said but whether it will have the effect he believes is something else.

What is particularly interesting in this case is the speed (for the ECHR) with which the case reached the Strasbourg Court for judgement and in which judgement was given, if indeed it all took place within a period of two years, since many cases have taken much longer. For example, Martxelo Otxamendi, Director of the Basque-language newspaper Egunkaria wrongfully banned by the Spanish State, who was tortured in 2003 during the five-day incomunicado period routinely applied to those accused of anything to do with “terrorism” (sic), took five years to exhaust his options in the courts of the Spanish State (usually a requirement before presenting the case in Strasbourg) but it took another four years before judgement was finally delivered by the ECHR in 2012 (and even then the Spanish State was only penalised for failure to investigate the allegation of torture, since the ECHR judged that the torture itself could not be proven).

End.

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A BASQUE SELECTION

Diarmuid Breatnach

October 12th: The old town was heaving, full of people, mostly but not all on the younger end of the adult spectrum, standing, sitting, mostly in groups, talking, laughing, drinking, eating …. Some kind of festival? Not really …. a football match. Ah, that explains the shirts in football team colours. There’s the red stripes on white colours of Athletic Bilbao (and this isn’t Bilbao, not even Biskaia province), there’s the blue-on-white Real Sociedad colours (and this isn’t Donosti/ San Sebastian, or even the Guipuzkoa province). But wait a minute – there’s a lot of Deportivo Alaves shirts too (also blue-and-white) …. well, this is Vitoria/ Gastheiz, capital city of the the Alava province.

But there’s some red shirts too – CA Osasuna, from Naffaroa, the fourth province of the Southern (i.e within the Spanish state) Basque Country1. Over there’s a few CD (Club Deportivo) Vitoria, and a couple of women (not surprisingly — it’s an all-female team playing in the women’s league) wearing SD (Sociedad Deportiva) Lagunak yellow shirts. They can’t all be playing today, can they?

In a way, they are.

This occasion is a friendly match between Venezuela and the Basque Country (i.e not part of any official competition as otherwise it would be forbidden by FIFA, the international regulatory body for soccer)y and it is promoted by Euskadiko Futbol Federarkundea, the Basque Football Federation. FIFA, although it recognises Scotland, Wales and ‘Northern Ireland’ as having ‘national teams’, does not recognise either the Basque Country or Catalonia as having them. Where is the logic in that? Well, since FIFA only recognised Palestine with the creation of the Palestine Authority controlled by Israel and agreed by the Western powers2, one can hardly avoid coming to the conclusion that FIFA decides its policies on what area or nation can have their own selection and participate in FIFA championships in accordance with the relevant occupying state – no matter how right or wrong that decision might be.

Many shirts being worn here are green and bear the words Euskal Selekzioa (Basque Selection), the campaign for which in football is the cutting edge of the broader campaign for Basque national teams in many other sports, including surfing. It is of course not just about sport but is also political.

The Basque-Venezuelan game was to be played in Alaves’ Mendizorrotza stadium in Vitoria-Gasteiz and my friends talked casually about attending, though no hard arrangements seemed to have been made. I didn’t press the matter.

View of left of the crowd in the large square in the old town, showing a part of the monument.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Venezuela is rated 32nd in world soccer by FIFA, which is actually quite high and only two points behind the Ireland team, currently at 30th. So the opposing team is a big deal. The whole of the Basque Country, including Nafarroa and the parts held by the French State, is only around three million and they will play only players born in the Basque Country, unlike Ireland which features players from its diaspora. Ireland has had high emigration but so has the Basque Country, particularly to Latin America, the USA and Canada. Venezuela, by the way, has a population of nearly 32 million.

View of centre of the crowd in the large square.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

In 2016, their last international, the Basque country beat Tunisia 3-1 in Bilbao and before that have beaten Peru 6-0 and Bolivia 6-1. They lost 1-0 to Wales in 2006 but beat Uruguay 2-1 in 2003.

View of section of the crowd on the balcony overlooking the large square in the old town.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The main square of the lower old town, the Casco Viejo3, was full of people, some chanting and red flares burning with an occasional firework going off. The ikurrina, the Basque flag, waving in many places, draped over balconies etc. The square is called alternatively Plaza de la Virgen Blanca or simply La Plaza Vieja. We met up with an ex-prisoner (political) who was complaining about the impressive monument in the main square which commemorates the Battle of Vitoria, fought on June 21, 1813, between the retreating French forces of Jose Bonaparte and the English forces under the Duke of Wellington. The English won the battle. I gathered the ex-prisoner’s objection was not so much that it commemorated the defeat of the French but rather that it celebrated the ‘independence’ of the Spanish monarchy, which had done the Basques no favours since the battle and much to the contrary. We drank lager here in plastic containers and street cleaners were already out sweeping up discarded and cracked containers.

Another view of the crowd, this one more to the right of the large square in the old town.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The captain of the Basque team, Aritz Aduriz, is the Spainish team’s oldest goalscorer, which might seem an irony but if he wants to play international world football, he has to play for a team recognised by FIFA. His home team is Athletic Bilbao, and his team-mates Inaki Williams and Inigo Martinez were also lined up to play, as was Real Sociedad’s Asier Illarramendi. And all of those have in the past played for the Spanish ‘national’ team.

Some political demonstrators moving through the crowd. The small flag held up is of the political prisoners’ relatives organisation Etxerat, the design showing the outline of the Basque country with two arrows indicating movement inwards from the French and Spanish states, i.e calling for the ending of the dispersal of prisoners throughout the states, far from their homes. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Walking through the upper old town, we mingled and stopped here and there for a small serving of lager serving (zurito) or wine (txupito). The ex-prisoner got talking about language, philosophy, politics, religion, ancient civilization. I lasted longer than the others in discussion and debate with him4 but his intensity was wearing me down a little in the end. He apologised for that but then had another appointment and took off. By this time we had eaten and were relaxing in the high part of the Casco, on a slope down from the level of the fortress. Attending the game seemed somehow to have disappeared off the agenda and a little later we headed down through areas mostly quiet now to the parked car and drove off.

View of stairs leading from the large square to the upper part of the old town.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

A crowd of 53,000 however attended the stadium to watch the game and who knows how many others saw it televised. It had been a friendly match in official status and in fact, with one yellow card earned, no reds and no injuries. The goals scored by the Venezuelans might have been the most elegant but Euskal Herria, the Basque Country, were the victors, the score of 4-2 in their favour, with Aduriz having been one of the scorers.

View of Gastheiz/ Vitoria’s football stadium
(Photo source: Internet)

End.

FURTHER INFORMATION

List extant Basque soccer clubs (each one also a link to its own history): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Football_clubs_in_the_Basque_Country

Ditto list of defunct Basque soccer clubs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Defunct_football_clubs_in_the_Basque_Country

CA Osasuna, not listed in Wikipedia as a Basque club, presumably due to divisions fostered between Nafarroa and the other three southern Basque Country provinces: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CA_Osasuna

Basque selection information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basque_Country_national_football_team

Article about Basque and Catalan national selections:

http://theinsideleft.com/basque-catalonia-national-football-teams-catalan-barcelona-athletic-bilbao/

Match highlights (commentary in Euskera; Basque Country in green shirts, Venezuela in maroon) https://www.ngolos.com/videos/2018-10-12-basquecountry-venezuela

Background on Basque soccer in an international context, including some of them playing for “la Roja”, the Spanish State’s “national” team: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/45834955

FOOTNOTES

1There are divisions fostered between Nafarroa (Navarra/ Navarre) and the other three southern Basque provinces of Bizkaia, Guipuzkoa and Alava. Nafarroa has its own ‘autonomous’ regional government in the post-Franco arrangement, while the other three are jointly in the other ‘autonomous’ region of Euskadi. Iruña/ Pamplona, capital city of Naffaroa, was the seat of the medieval kingdom of Nafarroa (Navarra), the royal family of which once laid claim to the monarchies of both the French and Spanish kingdoms (the latter being a source of three wars, the Carlist Wars). During the emergency caused by the military coup-insurrection of Generals Franco, Mola and others against the democratically-elected Republican Government of the Spanish state, the Catholic ultra-conservative Carlists seceded Nafarroa and massacred three thousand dissidents (Republicans, Basque Nationalists, Leftists) and fought on the fascist side.

After the “Civil War”, the Partido Popular (extremely right-wing main Spanish party) controlled Nafarroa but was recently ousted by Nafarroa Bai, a coalition of pro-independence Basque parties. The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) has been the main power in the other three southern Basque provinces.

At one time Euskera was the main language of the whole of the current Basque Country (southern and northern, i.e in the French state), was banned under Franco and is now the majority first and second-level educational medium in Euskadi, where it is given at least nominal equal status in civic administration with Castillian/ Spanish. This is not the case in Nafarroa, which has three different linguistic-rights zones: Castillian, Castillian-Euskera and Euskera. ñ

2Palestine has yet to qualify for the World Cup in soccer. With Israeli restrictions on travel in and out of the territory for Palestinians, along with internal restrictions and repression, the odds are stacked against them ever qualifying, unless they field a team raised exclusively from their huge diaspora, including the refugee population.

3All the southern Basque main cities and many towns have these and their name is always the same, even though it is in Castillian. Typically they have narrow streets winding through four-to-eight-storey houses in which shop windows mix with bars and apartment entrances, often with balconies overhead. They are usually the most lively areas of the city with many places serving coffee, beer, wine and pintxos (good Basque ready-prepared food) and sometimes restaurants, often in the rear or upstairs room of a tavern.

4In Castillian, which I sometimes feel guilty about – I only know a few words in Euskera. Sometimes I encourage the company to speak “euskeraz”, i.e in Basque, leaving me out for a while.

“GET OUT OF HERE!” MESSAGE FROM MARCHERS IN IRUNA/ PAMPLONA

Diarmuid Breatnach

Marchers in Iruňa (Spanish: Pamplona) called “Alde Hemendik!” for the Spanish occupation forces to get out of their country and also called the Nafarroan police “murderers”, in addition to calling for the liberation of Basque political prisoners.

Posters for the march seen in a number of locations in the town
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The marchers were obliged to seek permission from the authorities for the demonstration and route as otherwise, from past experience, a police attack would have been certain. Even when approved, marchers in the past had to pass by ranks of police in full riot gear, which earned the latter the nickname “Romanos”, from their superficial resemblance to Roman Legionaires. Of course the police are given many other names too. On this occasion, the police presence was not as intimidatory as is normally the case.

The event took place on October12th which is national Spanish holiday, the Día de la Hispanidad, in which the State celebrates the spread of the Castillian language through conquest of the Canaries, Americas and part of North Africa. Naturally enough, forces that are opposed to the character of the Spanish State or to its presence in their country tend to hold counter-demonstrations on that day.

The marchers form up and begin (Photo: D.Breatnach)
View from almost rear of march (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Although I did see one poster of the ‘official’ Basque Abertzale (pro-Independence) Left in the town I saw no other sign of them except banners on their local HQ (at least that’s what I was told it was). There seemed to be no intention of their holding a demonstration on that day.

The size of the march was perhaps somewhat less than had been hoped for but it made a good show going through the old town. Curiously, the march seemed much reduced by the time it reached the end square.

Front banner and march turning back into the old town after passing the police twice. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The marchers set the tone from the start with their banner and slogans and did not hesitate to call out “Policia asesina!” (‘police murderers’ in Castillian) as they approached and passed the police. Later people within the march began to lead chants also, some in Castillian and many in Catalan. The march did not pass by the nearby local HQ of the ‘official’ leadership of the Basque Abertzale Left. A marcher told me the were not permitted to do so but I was unsure whether that was an assumption taken for granted or whether they had been refused. However, the march leaders took people on a winding route through the old town, passing by residences, bars, businesses and many tourists.

March wending its way through streets of the old town (Photo: D.Breatnach)
In the Plaza de San Francisco singing Basque song ((Photo: D.Breatnach)

Concluding in the Plaza de San Francisco (St. Francis [of Assisi1] square) opposite the Municipal School, to the security bars of which the banner was secured, no speech was given but the marchers sang “Eusko Gudariak” (‘Basque Soldiers’), a Basque song of resistance (and anthem) with clenched fists, at the end of which a woman let out a long irrintzi.

IRUŇA AND NAFFAROA

Iruňa is the capital of the ‘autonomous’ southern Basque province of Nafarroa/ Navarra (and according to some, to be the capital of an independent Basque Country though by no means agreed by all). The Basque Kingdom of the Middle Ages was called the Kingdom of Nafarroa (Navarra in Castillian, Navarre in French). The present-day province is located at the north end of the Spanish state, on the border with the French state, much of that border area in the Pyrenees mountain range. The province has the other southern Basque ‘autonomous’ region of Euskadi (three provinces) to its west and the Aragon region to its east (with Basque provinces on the other side of the French Border too).

“ALDE HEMENDIK!  (GET OUT OF HERE!)  “Indar okupatzaileak kanpora!  (Occupying forces out!)                                          The march banner is left hanging on the security bars of the Municipal School (staff will probably remove it on their first shift after the holiday). (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

 

Until recently, the majority political party there was the mainstream Spanish unionist party, the Partido Popular, now outnumbered and ousted by a coalition of pro-independence Basque parties.

The legal linguistic provision of Nafarroa is unique in the Basque Country as its territory is divided into three distinct linguistic regions: all Castillian-speaking; Castillian and Euskera bilingual; Euskera-speaking. Access to services, education and facilities through Euskera depends on in which area one lives or works, which might seem fair until one remembers that official services through Castillian are available always, no matter the region – it is the official language of the Spanish state. Euskera speakers also complain that in the bilingual region they are not getting the provision which they need and to which their numbers entitle them.

Monument statue of St. Francis of Assisi in the square named after him. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Nafarroa was the only part of the Basque Country which can be said to have experienced what is called “the Spanish Civil War” (i.e an internal war) since the right-wing Carlists there slaughtered the 3,000 or so active Republicans, Communists and Anarchists — or just anti-fascists — before any of Franco’s troops or the Falange arrived there. As a result, the province was treated more lightly by the Franco dictatorship than the other three southern Basque provinces. This did not prevent repression of the Basque language in Nafarroa nor the armed attack on the more progressive Carlist movement of the 1980s during the “Transition” after Franco’s death.

The Town Hall. All such municipal buidlings throughout the Spanish state are required by law to fly the Spanish State flag which must be at equal or higher elevation than all others. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Many political and physical battles have been fought by pro-independence Basques since the 1930s, even around bringing a giant Basque flag into the main square for the ceremony to begin the San Fermines festival in Iruna/ Pamplona and at this festival too, many women have been molested and one gang-raped in 20162. The shocking nine-years jail sentence over a barroom brawl with Guardia Civil was imposed some months ago on youth from Altsasu, a town in Nafarroa.

Area through which the bulls run as part of the San Fermines festival. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

FOOTNOTES

1St. Francis Xavier (1506-1562), born in Nafarroa, is the more common St. Francis to find referred to in the Spanish state and many Basques are called Xavier. St. Francis of Assisi (1881/2-1226) was Italian. There’s a story that an airman is falling out of the sky, his parachute having failed and he calls desperately for St. Francis to help him. A giant hand appears under him and as he comes to rest on it, a voice booms from the sky: “Which St. Francis did you mean, my son?” “Of Assisi”, gasps the airman. “I was named after him. Thank you!” “Alas,” the voice replies, “I am St. Francis Xavier.” And the hand is removed ….

2See the ongoing “Manada” case.

“BOOKS – AND A MEETING-SPACE FOR SOCIAL AND POLITICAL GROUPS”.

Diarmuid Breatnach

Book-cases line the walls, filling up with biographies, histories, political and social theory from anarchist, marxist, feminist and Basque independentist perspective – and some classical literature. On the low central table are children’s illustrated stories and puzzles. One can see samples in the window too.

Maribel and Diarmuid outside the shop while it was being prepared for opening.

          An alternative Left bookshop has opened in the iconic town of Gernika (Guernica in Spanish and in the title of Picasso’s famous painting of the town’s

Maribel and Inigo outside the shop while it was being prepared for opening.

bombing and strafing by the Luftwaffe and Italian air force in 1937). Going by the title of Inuri Gorria (“Red Ant”), the bookshop is a medium-sized (as these things go) one-level shop situated on one of the town’s main streets, with passing one-way traffic of private and public transport. Virtually next door is one of those open-front fruit shops and further down the same street, past bars and other businesses, is the nearby Herriko Taberna (literally “Peoples’ Tavern”. That is one of the many such social centre-taverns run by the official Basque pro-independence Left1 but of which many were ordered closed by the Spanish state in recent years on unsubstantiated accusations that they were linked to the armed organisation ETA, which is now dissolved). Once the people running the ‘Herriko’ and the trend represented by the new bookshop were strongly united but no longer, due to the change in direction adopted by the leadership of the Abertzale (pro-national ndependence) Left in recent years. Of course both trends will still attend at some events, particularly demonstrations about Basque political prisoners.

The Inuri Gorria bookshop opened officially on 12th October, which is a bank holiday in the whole Spanish state; called el Dia de la Hispanidad, it celebrates the spreading of the Castillian language as a result of the conquest of much of the Americas by the Spanish Kingdom in the 15th and 16th Centuries. Not surprisingly, it is also the official day for celebrating the armed forces of the State. Also unsurprisingly, the celebrations are opposed by anti-imperialists throughout the territory of the Spanish state and in particular perhaps by those nations still seeking independence. 2 No doubt many in the Gernika area were glad to have something progressive to celebrate on that date, which they did by gathering at the opening to view the books and eat some pintxos, later repairing to a local bar which displays photos of political prisoners from the local area (as does the Herriko). On this occasion some who would still count themselves members of the “oficialistas”, though likely from an internal critical position, attended also.  There was also a Basque traditional festival in the town with many dressing in traditional clothing and taking part in cultural activities.

Closeup of evening of day of traditional Basque festival in Gernika.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
Evening of day of traditional Basque festival in Gernika. The banner may have been attached by the ‘official’ independence movement leadership.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

“The material I have here is of an alternative Left and feminist political kind”, said the owner, Maribel Egizabal, when I dropped in again some days later. “I have children’s books and games, of an educational kind about values, sections on feminism and about women, alternative philosophy, social movements, ethnic minorities and racism, city life, ecology, the history and culture of the Basque Country.”

One of the books she stocks is a local history of the nearby Busturia area dealing with the effects of the Anti-Fascist War (1936-1939), a substantial piece of work which she herself had a major part in researching and writing3, produced by one of the groups in which she is active, Laia, a local history group. The history of that period and of the executions and repression that followed the victory of the fascist troops is very much a sharp issue today and not only in the Basque Country but throughout the Spanish state.

Monument in Gernika to George Steer, English journalist and author who broke the Gernika bombing story for the London Times (and put the blame where it was earned).  (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The material in Inuri Gorria is mostly in the Euskera and Castillian (Spanish) languages but there are also some 2nd-hand books in French and English and Maribel hopes to add additional material in those languages. “With regard to political philosophy, I stock material in anarchist, marxist, feminist and independentist traditions. I don’t want to just sell books”, she told me “but to also provide a meeting-space for discussion and learning by social and political movements of the people.”

Maribel is a straight-talking woman with a long history in the feminist, Basque independentist and socialist movements, in different organisations, including the Basque internationalist solidarity organisation of Askapena, also Askagintza, an organisation working with people with drug addiction issues as well as the local history group alluded to above. “Inuri Gorria will be interested in material dealing with struggles around the world as well as in the Basque Country,” she tells me, “including of course struggles of other nations within this state such as Catalunya and of movements and organisations within the Spanish Left.”

The shop being prepared on the day I first called.  (Photo: D.Breatnach)

When I dropped by a third time, the day before my return to Dublin, Maribel was buoyant at the interest in the shop and its material being shown, especially by younger people.

“They are particularly interested in political theory,” she told me enthusiastically. It has long been remarked that the Abertzale Left movement was lacking in political education of its youthful following. No doubt the repression and banning of a succession of the movement’s youth organisations played a part in this but that does not explain the lack of educational materials, study and discussion groups, lecture series etc.4

View of front window display after shop up and running.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Gernika is worth a visit on its own and is connected by public train and bus services to Bilbao (also a longer-distance bus service to Bilbao and other areas). The town centre is attractive and hosts the Peace Museum (low charge and well-worth a visit) documenting life before the Anti-Fascist War, during it, including the town’s infamous bombing (which the Fascists tried to blame on the ‘Reds’5) and the ensuing occupation by fascist Spanish, colonial Moroccan and Italian fascist troops. Higher up, the ‘Gernika Tree’ and some of its offspring stand near the Gernika Assemby House (Gernikako Gazteen Etxebizitza/ Casa de Juntas de Gernika), built in 1826 to succeed several other buildings nearby. It was there the lords of Bizkaia (whose original member, according to Basque legend, was a Gael) from medieval times assembled to discuss issues and that the monarchs of the Spanish Kingdom affirmed the Basque rights or Fueros until abrogated in 1876. Entry is free and guided tours are offered by arrangement (but as generally the case with many buildings in the southern Basque Country, it will close between 2pm and 4pm.)

The Inurri Gorria bookshop will normally open 10am-12noon and 4.30-8pm on weekdays and 10-12noon on Saturdays, remaining closed on Sundays but of course may be in use on other occasions by some of the organisations and movements Maribel alluded to.

Contact details:

Inurri Goria,

Juan Kalzada 14,

48300 Gernika,

Basque Country,

The Spanish State.

FB page: https://www.facebook.com/maribel.egizabal.5

Tel: 9443 46988

end.

FOOTNOTES

1Their currrent political parties are Sortu (and the pro-independence social-democratic coalition EH Bildu).

2Ironically, migrants of Latin American origin may be seen celebrating the day also: it is the one day in Spanish calendar that they may feel specifically includes them.

3Busturia 1937-1977 – represión y resistencia de un pueblo (‘repression and resistance of a people’), Maribel Egizabal & Unai Serrano, Busturia (2018), IBSN 978-84-697-8677-2.

4The Abertzale Left is not the only movement one can accuse of such neglect of the political education of youth, one finds the same generally in the Irish Republican movement (both in the Provisionals and in the various splits since).

5Calling all the opponents of the military coup “Rojos” (‘Reds’) was a propaganda policy of the coupist military leaders and fascists (and copied elsewhere, as sometimes in The irish Independent); in fact their opposing broad movement included democratic anti-fascists and constitutionalists, trade unionists, Basque and Catalan nationalists and Republicans as well as Communists and Anarchists. It seems clear that without the intervention of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, aided by the “Non-Interventionist” policy of France and the UK, the popular forces would have defeated the military and fascist insurrection.

A BASQUE COUNTRY REGION – BIODIVERSITY AND CULTURE

Diarmuid Breatnach

          People visit the Basque Country for different reasons — among the touristic reasons are cuisine, folk culture and beach-type tourism including surfing. For some there may be business reasons and possibly on the other end of the spectrum from them there is the political aspect – interest in and solidarity with their struggle for independence and to a lesser extent perhaps, socialism. Eco-tourism and archaeological interest are probably not high on the list for most people but I’d suggest it would be worthwhile to include sites dealing with such aspects in any itinerary.

Many Basques would tell you that their country has a long way to go in environmentally-friendly practices – or at least in those less harmful to the environment; if true, it serves to illustrate just how far behind the desirable are the practices common in Ireland. Everywhere in Basque village or town, one sees the recycling containers in their five different colours for paper, plastic, metal, glass and organic waste. One frequent complaint is about timber-production forestation practices and though much of the Basque country is green with trees, many of those trees are conifers or, even worse, Basques will say, eucalypts in mono-cultural acres. The latter are indeed widespread and are said to suck the moisture out of the soil so that after they are felled, little else can grow there.

Environmentally-friendly timber production is less intensive and more diverse in species, less harmful to biodiversity of plant and animal life and more protective of the soil from erosion, flooding and desiccation. But to business — and therefore mainstream political interests — it is slower in turnover of profit. The perils of this concentration on early profit gain have been underlined this year with the infestation of the main crop pines, the “Monterey pine” (Pinus radiata) by the ‘Mycosphaerella dearnessii’ fungi and ‘Mycosphaerella pini’, said to have originated in Central America, which turns the foliage (needles) brown, eventually leading to the destruction of the tree.

Pines infected by fungi in the southern Basque Country (Photo: El Correo)

That all said, at grassroots (forgive the unintended pun) and often municipal level, there is great interest and support for biodiversity in the Basque Country and discussion around the subject is much more socially widespread than one would find in Ireland or in most of Britain (though perhaps not in some other parts of Europe). There are many national parks and reserves of great beauty and even city Basques tend to have a culture of collecting edible fungi in the woods in the autumn and of hill-walking or mountain-climbing at various times of the year. And small farms can be found dotted throughout the countryside.

Education about the environment for adults, children and even tourists is taken seriously and, apart from schools, centres promoting environmental care can be found in many areas. One such site of interest is the bio-diversity and heritage centre of Madariaga, the Ekoetxea, in the Axpe de Busturia area between the towns of Bermeo and Gernika These are interesting towns in themselves of the coast of Bizkaia (Biscay) province and Gernika was of course made famous by its bombing by the Nazi Luftwaffe, in the service of the fascist generals (Franco et al) in 1937, during what probably most people call the the Spanish Civil War and others, the Iberian Anti-Fascist War. Bus and train services connects both towns and pass through Busturia, both services having a stop or station in Axpe. The bus and train services run at mostly half-hourly intervals, the train all the way to Bilbao, on a single track for much of the line, up and down trains alternating.

I dropped in to a charming tavern in Axpe named after the Basque flower, Eguzkilore: literally “Sun Flower”. This is not the “sunflower” which Van Gogh famously painted, so named because it turns to follow the sun through its journey across the sky; the Basque flower (Carlina acaulis) is a member of the thistle family and is thought to resemble an idealised image of the sun. Dried specimens are often found hanging over the front door of Basque houses as a good-luck symbol, quite probably a remnant of pagan sun-worship (like the Irish “St. Bridget’s Cross” and indeed the traditional Basque symbol of the lauburru is very like that Irish symbol too and interestingly, the Basque tradition related to me was that it was borrowed from the Iberian Celts).

Dried Eguzkilore attached to the outside of a Basque house near the front door (Image sourced: Internet).

The Eguzkilore tavern is owned by a friendly young couple, a Catalan woman and Basque man: he of course speaks Euskera and Castillian (Spanish) fluently, whereas she is fluent in Catalan, Castillian and English, speaks Euskera well and smatterings of other languages. Although I know from experience that their cuisine is excellent, I ordered only a simple kafe esnea there and after finishing it and a chat, set off up the road to the Madariaga Ekoetxea (“eco-house”), an easy walk of perhaps fifteen minutes. Turning left at the roundabout at the crest of the hill the centre was easily visible by the clock-bell tower and the taller viewing tower.

This latter was a defensive construction quite similar to the keeps constructed in Britain and Ireland by the Norman invaders, livestock quartered below and people living on floors above; one of the staff told me that it had been inhabited until the 1930s. Now the floors have been ripped out except for the top one, accessible by a short journey in a lift and once there one can view around something like 160 degrees: steep hills close by beyond the road, land sloping away towards Gernika and distant mountains on another side, beach of the estuary and some marshlands on another.

A view of estuary and marshlands from the Tower observatory — it was a rainy day and the photograph is taken through glass
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
Closeup view of estuary and marshlands from the Tower observatory — it was a rainy day and the photograph is taken through glass
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
A view of river/ inlet mouth and headland eastward from the Tower observatory — it was a rainy day and the photograph is taken through glass (Photo: D.Breatnach).
The view southward from the Tower observatory is not so appetising but shows the steepness of the hills there. From those wooded slopes owls hooting may be heard night after night.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Tower was in fact the last part of the centre which I experienced. It was a showery Sunday in mid-October and the centre was fairly quiet, less that ten vehicles in the car park and nobody but a receptionist immediately available upon entering the building. I used my limited Euskera in addressing her, which is my practice in the Basque Country, and which is usually – but not always – appreciated. The native language has become “politicised” here (as some say it has also in the case of Irish in Ireland), which is another way of saying that it was banned under the Franco dictatorship, that people of a Spanish unionist turn of mind often resent it and native speakers, learners and independentists want to encourage its spread and use in everyday life. Of course in a cultural type of centre in the Basque Country I would not expect any negative response and I was answered politely in Euskera with a quick conversion to Castillian when my limited store of Euskera ran out.

WATER AND BIODIVERSITY

I had seen a small charge advertised outside but there was none on that day or perhaps that time of year to see two standard exhibitions, one on water and the other on biodiversity. The one on water informs visitors that water is a circulatory system: 1) most of it falls from the air in rain or humidity, some of it on to land and some on to lakes or on to the sea; 2) some of that which falls on land is taken up by soil and vegetation and excess runs off into streams, rivers and lakes; 3) some also soaks through permeable or semi-permeable strata of soil and rock and forms underwater reservoirs and lakes. 4) The excess runs out in underground rivers and streams, emerging eventually to empty into seas and lakes, where 5) the sun heats up the top layers again, creating clouds, many of which precipitate on to land, renewing the circle.

Photo panel of rock and limestone deposit formations in a Basque cave.

The diagrams, photos and videos demonstrated this process well and attractively and there were samples of varieties of sandstone and limestone to examine at close quarters. For me, the photos of underground caves formed by the water wearing away the limestone and the various and sometimes fantastic formations caused by chemical-rich water dripping for millenia were the most impressive along with the few examples of invertebrates adapted to life without light and mammals using natural caves were the most interesting, while others might have found the supplying of water to the public of greater interest (and certainly this is an important issue in many countries and not least so in Ireland).

Photo panel of troglodyte spider eating something.
Sleeping bat hanging from stalactite in cave.

 

One of the fantastic shapes created by decades or even centuries of chemically-laden drips. (Photo: D.Breatnach)
Photo panel of cave chambers with humans present for scale.

The section dedicated to bio-diversity is divided into different parts, including a room with video screens showing different types of humans (ethnic, gender, possibly sexuality, culture, age) and others dealing with plant, fungi and animal life. Passing through a type of broad corridor with explanations of what is a definition of biodiversity in many languages, one enters a brightly-lit room seemingly constructed entirely of panels, each one of an animal: birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, insects and other invertebrates. Not only the walls but floor and ceiling appear constructed of the panels, a vibrant bright room somewhat evoking the effect of stained glass with light shining through, a church celebrating the diversity of animal life, perhaps.

A kind of foyer before the rest of the exhibition (Photo: D.Breatnach)
The room “made of” panels of bio-diverse life, like stained glass: ceiling and two walls.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
Floor in the illuminated panels room.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Walking onwards, one finds a hall filled with large cubes, standing haphazardly upon one another, each carrying the image of an animal or plant. The names of the species are given in Euskera, Castillian and Latin. I find myself at times wishing to see the names in English and then chiding myself for the unreasonableness of this wish. There are images of plants to be seen too, some of plants which we are informed are native to the country and one found only there.

The “Life Cube Hall” (as I think of it).
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

ATTRACTIONS IN THE WIDER AREA

A slim informational folded leaflet is available in a number of languages, one version being in English and French, not only about this centre but about a network of them managed by the “Basque Government” (i.e the Government of three of the southern Basque provinces, Biskaia, Gipuzkoa and Alava). These are visited every year by 100,000 people, the booklet informs us, 25,000 of which are schoolchildren; the ekoetxea which I visited receives 2,000 schoolchildren out of a total of 45,000 visitors annually.

Dragonfly and Water-Scorpion panel. The first lives in the water as infant, hunting prey , before its metamorphosis to flying hunter. The second lives always in the water, usually in the higher reaches, also hunting. Its “tail” does not sting people but its proboscis can, though not seriously.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
A view of the ‘Cube Life Room’ between cubes. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Another, more substantial booklet available in English which shows signs of translation probably from Castillian gives more information on the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, the wider area in which the Madariaga Ekoetxea is located. This booklet advertises nature trails for hiking or biking, restaurants for Basque cuisine, a cave occupied by prehistoric humans, the Gernika Tree and General Assembly building and museum, markets and folk festivals, cider and wine-houses, painted forest, hermitages, bird-watching and sea activities including surfing and whale and dolphin-watching. Strangely (or not), in its caption about Gernika, it has nothing to say about the bombing of the town in 1937 nor, in its references to human habitation and culture of the wider area, nothing either to say about the Spanish Civil (i.e Anti-Fascist) war or about the occupation of the area by the fascist troops and the repression that followed, nor about the suppression of their language under Franco.  

An information panel tells visitors that there are 3,335 different mammal, bird, fish, reptile, amphibian, fungi and plant species etc. in the the Urdaibai reserve and that 85 are in danger of extinction or are of special interest.  Some panels showing examples of these would be welcome as would more about the wildlife native to the area (like what species are the owls one can hear hooting at intervals through the night from the forested hill above Axpe, for example).

End

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Eguzkilore plant: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlina_acaulis

Ekoetxea Urdaibai: info@urdaibai@ekoetxea.eus 0034 946 870 402

Madariaga Ekoetxea: http://www.ingurumena.ejgv.euskadi.eus/informacion/madariaga-tower-basque-biodiversity-centre/r49-madaria/en/

The Monterey Pine and fungal infection: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinus_radiata

The Pine infection in the Basque Country (article in Castillian): 

https://www.diariovasco.com/gipuzkoa/pinos-gipuzkoa-heridos-20180607001828-ntvo.html

 

Extant and Extinct mollusc shells.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Different species’ seeds containers.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
European Mink cube.
The centuries-old clock tower; the clock is on the other side but the bell rings out the hour. Also visible are the solar panels.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)
The Madariaga Tower (Photo: D.Breatnach)
The estuary and trees (Photo: D.Breatnach)