PUNCH AND JUDY SHOW IN THE SPANISH PARLIAMENT

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 3 mins.)

Minister of the Interior for the PSOE-Podemos coalition, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, ex-judge of the National Court.
(Photo source: Publico.es)

Newcomers to Spanish politics witnessing the recent sound and fury in the Spanish Parliament might conclude that there was a real battle going on between a reactionary Right and a progressive Left but they’d be right only about the existence of a reactionary Right. The same newcomers might then remark that well, the opponents of the reactionary Right must at least be liberals and they’d be wrong about that too.

          Parliamentary delegates from the reactionary Right – and that is to call them much less than the reality – were sharply criticising the Spanish coalition Government. The senior partner in the coalition is the Partido Socialista Obrero which, as has on occasion been commented, is neither “socialista” nor “obrero” and while its junior partner Podemos has left-wing credentials coming from the mainly Trotskyist (and Communist Party-managed) Izquierda Unida, it has to keep up an accommodation with the PSOE.

The parties of the Right in this case were the Partido Popular, which was created to represent erstwhile supporters of the deceased fascist dictator General Franco, along with Ciudadanos, which was founded by former supporters of the PP. The fascist Vox party comes from the same stable but with less democratic pretence.

The criticisms of the Spanish coalition Government on this occasion were mostly with regard to the sacking on Monday of the chief of the Guardia Civil in Madrid, Colonel Diego Perez de los Cobos. The Guardia Civil is a paramilitary police force, which is to say it is organised along military lines and has been the main instrument of State repression during Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975) and since. It was mainly they, for example that invaded Catalonia to beat up voters during the October 2017 Referendum on independence there and shot the banned rubber bullets at demonstrators and in fact the sacked officer led that operation.

The sacking occurred allegedly because on behalf of a Madrid magistrate, the Guardia Civil carried out an investigation of a number of political demonstrations in Madrid which it alleged had violated the pandemic restrictions and even contributed to the spread of virus, even though they had predated the Lockdown. The investigation, it is also being alleged, was in order to check whether the Health Minister’s actions regarding the pandemic had been appropriate or not.

In order to bolster their investigations, the Guardia Civil had claimed that the World Health Organisation had declared a pandemic in January whereas in fact it had only done so on March 11th (the Government ordered the lockdown on the 14th). The public events the Guardia Civil were investigating with a view to prosecution were mostly democratic or left-wing, including a march to celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8th) and to denounce male violence against women (and the State’s two-level crime of rape) but also included a cavalcade organised by the fascist Vox party.

The Right generally is no friend of women’s rights but more to the point feels duty-bound to defend the Guardia Civil, acting as though they own it (which is not that far from the truth). However the PSOE has had no difficulty in sending the Guardia Civil to attack the Basques or Catalans in the past. And while in government in the 1980s, the PSOE’s Minister of the Interior along with some senior police and Guardia Civil officers were exposed running the GAL terrorist group against the Basques and had to spend some time in jail. The person widely suspected of having set the whole thing up, the Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, was not even questioned by the investigators, no doubt for fear of what might come to light.

That Fernando Grande-Marlaska is the Minister of the Interior under current attack in Parliament for allegedly being unfair to the Guardia Civil points out in full the irony of the situation. This is one of the Judges of the Spanish National Court most denounced by Basques for attacking their democratic rights and of at least turning a blind eye to their torture, while sentencing them to long terms in prison on the basis of their “confessions” and Guardia Civil “evidence”. Another of those ex-judges considered infamous by many Basques is also of the PSOE, Baltazar Garzon, beloved of many left and liberal people because he agreed to process an international crimes against humanity accusation against Pinochet and also ordered the exhumation of a mass grave of victims of fascists and military (Spain has more mass graves than any other territory except Cambodia). Neither of those two cases came to fruition, unlike the violation of the civil and human rights of thousands of Basques and the torture of hundreds under his watch.

PUNCH AND JUDY PUPPET SHOW

          In the Punch & Judy traditional dramas, Punch carries out a murder or two but, unlike some of the children watching it perhaps, we know that the puppet performance is not describing a real event. Of course, the Right in the Spanish state DID carry out murders – they have a list of 100,000-200,000 to their ‘credit’, most actually after the fighting of the Spanish Anti-Fascist War. And an additional number to force through the Transition to nominal democracy and more afterwards by ‘unofficial’ GAL and official Guardia Civil operations, mostly against Basques.

Punch & Judy puppets
(Photo sourced: Internet)

The historic fact is that all left-wing organisations, even the social-democratic PSOE were banned during the Dictatorship. In order to stabilise the State and prevent its overthrow by the oppressed masses during the mid-1970s, it had to have the help of the Left. The Partido Comunista de España controlled a huge militant illegal trade union organisation, the Comisiones Obreras, while the PSOE controlled the smaller but substantial Unión General de Trabajadores (which it does still) – no setup would be safe unless they were brought on board. They were legalised and supported the new Constitution, even accepting the imposed monarchy and the “Pact of Amnesia”, under which all those guilty of tortures and murders under Franco walked free.

This is why there is some heat in the exchanges in the Spanish Parliament but no substance. The thinking of the Right goes something like this: “We had to legalise you and allow you into government but that doesn’t mean we have to even pretend to like you.” While the PSOE thinks: “You tortured and murdered our grandparents but we will share power with you and tolerate much of your antics. We all depend on one another. But sometimes you go too far and have to be restrained. For your own good as well as ours.”

And what does Podemos and Izquierda Unida think, while they share a government with the PSOE? And does any of this make any real difference to the situation of the mass of Spanish people or to those nations imprisoned within the state?

end.

Mariaon Rajoy, former Prime Minister and ex-leader of the right-wing PP, shakes hands with Sanchez of the PSOE in a pre-Pandemic Spanish Parliament.
(Photo sourced: Internet)

REFERENCES

https://www.publico.es/politica/caso-perez-cobos-guardia-civil-testimonios-manipulados-omitio-informacion-clave-informe-8-m.html

https://english.elpais.com/politics/2020-05-26/spanish-civil-guard-official-sacked-over-covid-19-report.html

IS THE BASQUE SLEEPING GIANT AWAKENING?

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 15 mins.)

The Basque pro-independence movement, the Abertzale Left, fought the Spanish State for over four decades. in 2012 its leadership renounced armed struggle without any reciprocal agreement with the Spanish State, declaring its faith in an imagined “Basque peace process”, sought alliances with social democratic and capitalist-nationalist parties and publicly apologised for its past actions of resistance. The movement sank into general inactivity except on the electoral front. But in recent weeks there have been signs of awakening, though under a different leadership – or is the giant merely muttering and twitching in its sleep?

Map of the Basque Country showing the provinces; the three to the north-east are inside the French state, while the other and larger four are in the Spanish state. (Image source: Internet)

THE GIANT

          How does the description “Giant” fit a resistance movement in a total population of less than three million people? A nation divided between the Spanish and French states? Part of the answer is precisely in those features, also in its history during the Spanish Civil / Anti-Fascist War and “French” Maquis and earlier. Also in its long struggle in defence of its native language Euskera, almost certainly the oldest in Europe and perhaps the first to reach it in neolithic times.

This is a movement that carried out general strikes against the Franco dictatorship, ensured that three of its provinces rejected the 1978 Constitution of the Spanish State which, in atmosphere of fear and murderous repression and with the collusion of the newly-legalised social-democratic (PSOE) and communist (CPE) political parties, was voted in by a majority in every other region of the Spanish State (population another 35 million people).

The serpent of wisdom and the axe of armed struggle, symbol of ETA.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Inspired by the examples of the Algerian independence struggle and socialist Cuba, the Abertzale Left movement rose from the defeat of the nation in the Spanish Civil/ Anti-Fascist War and the terrible repression under the fascist dictator General Franco and in 1959, formed the ETA (Land and Freedom) organisation. The youth wing of the conservative Basque Nationalist Party conceded the Left-inclination in order to join with them. Enduring arrests and torture of its supporters, it was not until 1968 that ETA took an armed action; halted at a police checkpoint and determined not to be arrested, Txabi Etxebarrieta shot a policeman dead and was in turn killed himself by pursuing police.

Mural honouring Txabi Etxebarrieta, first ETA martyr. (Image sourced: Internet)

The first planned armed action carried out was also that year when an ETA squad shot dead Meliton Manzanas, head of the political police in the Basque Country, a notorious torturer of prisoners and a Nazi sympathiser in the past.

A woman dressed in the Basque national colours dances the aurresku, ceremonial honour dance, in commemoration of ETA martyrs. Organising or participating in such an event could easily lead to torture and a prison sentence under the “anti-terrorism” laws of the Spanish State.
(Image sourced: Internet)

A number of other actions were taken by ETA over the years, some of them spectacular but, like many armed resistance groups, some also questionable in value or even in justification from a revolutionary point of view. But in December 1973 an ETA squad in Madrid assassinated Admiral Carrero Blanco, General Franco’s nominated successor, an action which many credited with hastening the progress of the Transition of the Spanish State to nominal democracy. General Franco died without a strong agreed political replacement almost exactly two years later, in December 1975 and the Transition process ran from then until 1978.

Admiral Carrero Blanco, Franco’s intended replacement, assassinated by ETA in Madrid in December 1973.
(Image sourced: Internet)

The struggle continued after the Transition, since the new Constitution declared any breakaway from the unity of the Spanish State a crime unless a majority in the Spanish Parliament voted in favour. The military and police repression in the Basque Country was huge. In the 1980s the social-democratic (PSOE) Spanish Government was exposed as heavily implicated in a number of terrorist groups operating against Basques through kidnapping, torture, gun and bomb attacks (see GAL) and eventually the Minister of the Interior and a number of high-ranking officers were given jail sentences.

In 1983 mass demonstrations and armed actions by ETA brought about the abandonment of the Spanish State’s nuclear reactor at the picturesque coastal spot at Lemoiz, followed by a new Spanish government declaring a moratorium on all building of nuclear reactors.

1975 mass demonstration against nuclear reactor being built by the Spanish State at Lemoiz.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Another aspect of the struggle was against compulsory military service, which the Spanish State only ended in 2002. People not only evaded it but also protested publicly against it.

Many people in the Spanish state opposed being part of NATO in the 1986 referendum but the Basque Country was highly represented in the vote against, around double the vote of those in favour and along with Catalonia being the only regions with a majority voting “no”.1

Photo taken of me by my guide on my camera above the abandoned nuclear site at scenic Lemoiz, possiblt 2016. Not many people can claim to have halted a nuclear reactor building program.

The ideology of the movement which found expression in ETA was national liberationist and socialist and this was reflected to a greater or lesser degree in all its parts, whether military or civilian. The Abertzale Left during the period organised itself into one political party after another after each in turn was banned by the Spanish State and forbidden to field candidates in elections.

Women industrial workers in Basque anti-fascist armaments factory, Spanish Civil/ Anti-Fascist War, 1936. (Image sourced: Internet)

But the movement had a huge social following too, in youth movements, punk and heavy metal bands, social-cultural centres, pirate radio stations and promoters of Euskera as a spoken language (all leaders of the Abertzale Left were required to be able to speak the language and all public meetings were addressed in Euskera and Spanish or even Euskera alone). There was even a popular Abertzale style of haircut and dress. The Abertzale Left also had a sizeable trade union, LAB which, along with ELA, a union founded by the Basque Nationalist party, recruited the majority of unionised Basque workers2. Feminist, LBGT, linguistic, eco-friendly, anti-animal cruelty sectors all contained many people broadly in support of the Abertzale Left or at least of its stated objectives.

The movement also had newspapers, radio stations and internet sites and many of these were closed down by the Spanish State, alleging that they were “collaborating with terrorism”. Currently the Spanish State is moving towards the closure of the movement’s social-cultural centres, the Herriko Tabernak (People’s Taverns). This arises from a judgement by the National Court in 2011, a judgement corresponding to an infamous statement by Baltazar Garcón, at the time a prominent Judge of that Court, that “Everything is ETA”. The closures are to be carried out now although ETA ceased armed activity permanently in 2012 and disbanded itself a little later.

Annual January prisoners’ solidarity march, Bilbao, 2016. (Image sourced: Internet)

Repression by the Spanish State has included executions and clandestine assassinations and led to relatively huge numbers of Basque political prisoners, not all by any means military fighters and conviction with “confessions” extracted through torture during the five-day incommunicado period ensured a problem-free conveyor belt for the Spanish State. That conveyor belt delivered its victims to jails dispersed all over the Spanish state, nearly every one hundreds of kilometres and sometimes over a thousand from the prisoners’ homes. The financial, physical and mental strains on friends and relatives, including elderly and children having to travel such distances to visit their loved ones are hard to imagine, often facing abuse or harassment on the way or at their destination, apart from serious accidents on motorways (including fatalities). Many pickets and demonstrations are held in the Basque Country throughout the year and each January a monster march clogs the streets of Bilbao.

The issue of the prisoners has always been a big one for the Abertzale Left and despite dispersal the prisoners built an organisation within the jails, responding to their situation in a disciplined manner.

SLEEPING

          During the first decade of this century it was clear that ETA was not doing well and the Abertzale Left in general was facing many more years of struggle against an unyielding state with repression everywhere and hundreds of political prisoners in jails.

The leadership was attracted to the much-advertised pacification/ peace processes of South Africa, Palestine and Ireland. By any estimation the Palestine process soon collapsed and its rejection by most of Palestinian society was clearly indicated first by the Intifada and secondly by the electoral gains of Hamas, pushing Al-Fatah into second place. To undiscerning eyes the Irish and South African3 processes seemed to be doing well and both the ANC and Sinn Féin lent strong support to the Abertzale Left’s imagined “peace process”. Despite that support and that of such prominent imperialist figures as Tony Blair and Kofi Annan, the Spanish ruling class was not interested in playing and eventually the Abertzale Left’s leadership was left with nowhere to go. However, they persisted in trying to build alliances with the majority Basque National Party and with smaller nationalist-social-democratic groups; they succeeded with the second sector but failed with the first and seem condemned to second-party status electorally in a Spanish colony, a nation divided by the French-Spanish border.

However, in their search for acceptance by the above-mentioned sectors, the Abertzale Left not only renounced armed struggle but apologised for past actions, ended street confrontations and called on the prisoners to negotiate their progress individually through prison system grades to eventual parole. Some of Abertzale Left public representatives even attended events commemorating Guardia Civil and Ertzaintza (Basque police) killed by ETA in the past.

EH Bildu Mayor of Errenteria participates in commemoration of a Guardia Civil killed by ETA.
(Image sourced: Internet)

When the struggle for independence broke out again recently in Catalonia with the 2017 Referendum and the Spanish State responded with a violent Guardia Civil invasion and jailing of politicians and social activists, the Abertzale Left leadership noticeably declined to open up a second front of struggle.

STIRRING

          There were early but sporadic signs that not all movement was happy with the Abertzale Left’s new path. Askapena, an organisation set up within the Abertzale Left to work on internationalist solidarity, which at one time could list affiliated groups in Ireland, Germany, Italy4, Paris, Brittany, Barcelona, Madrid, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and a number of Latin American countries, broke quietly with with the Abertzale Left over its change of policies5. Notably also, when four members of Askapena were accused of “assisting terrorism” in 2010, they refused to apologise for their work and fought the case, being eventually cleared of all charges in 2016.6

In addition, many Basques were critical of the process, feeling that even if they were prepared to go down the new road, it had been handled badly by the leadership.

A leading Marxist theoretician of the movement, Inaki Gil, resigned from the national leadership years ago, though not from the movement; however he may well be persona non-grata in it now due to a published interview in which he criticised the decision of the 47 on trial in September last year to apologise for past actions of the Basque liberation movement, even after 50,000 had marched through Bilbao streets in their support two days earlier.

When Arnaldo Otegi — generally seen as the architect of the new road for the Abertzale Left7 – was arrested with others in 2009 and, while on pre-trial detention began a hunger strike only to end it soon afterwards, it did not reflect well on him. While he beat a charge of “glorifying terrorism”, he was convicted in 2011 for allegedly reorganising Batasuna, banned political party of the Abertzale Left and sentenced to ten years, reduced on appeal to six and walked free in 2016. In the meantime a Free Otegi campaign (2015) attracted some notable foreign support (including Desmond Tutu) but was criticised in the Basque liberation movement for highlighting the case of one political prisoner above many others8 (including those who were serving much longer sentences).

Arnaldo Otegi, leader of the official Abertzale Left.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Some years ago a new Basque political prisoner solidarity organisation came into being, calling itself ATA (Amnistia Eta Askatasuna – Amnesty and Freedom9). They enjoyed a good showing at their first demonstration but came under public attack not only by the Abertzale Left leadership but by a number of ETA members on trial in France. They were accused of using the prisoners as a stalking horse when what they really wanted was to attack the new line of the movement’s leadership. Censorship and condemnation in the Abertzale Left’s daily newspaper GARA followed.

Amnistia Ta Askatasuna demonstration Bilbo 2016.
(Image sourced: Internet)

Although their public support waned for awhile, in 2018 a youth group of the Abertzale Left was expelled after they had publicly denounced their annual conference managers for refusing to put their position paper forward for discussion; this youth organisation now collaborates with ATA. Last year, a new Basque revolutionary group called Jarki was formed and drew a sizable crowd to their commemoration of the annual Gudari Eguna (Basque Soldier Day)10.

ATA demonstration Donosti/ San Sebastian, September 2019.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

However the issue of development remained in doubt and no-one could predict with confidence that the movement would be rebuilt along revolutionary lines under a new leadership.

WAKING

          The week before last, Basque political prisoner Patxi Ruiz embarked upon a hunger and thirst strike and although he abandoned the thirst component after 11 days he continues on the hunger strike. He took this action in protest against harassment and beatings by the prison administration and jailers and highlighted the fact that prisoners

Patxi Ruiz, Basque political prisoner, now on hunger strike.
(Image sourced: Internet)

were being refused virus-protection clothing or testing and that the jailers were not being tested either. He also wanted visits from his family to be permitted and prisoners allowed to attend funerals of family members (he had been refused permission to attend his father’s funeral). More recently he has demanded that prisoners be relocated to jails near their homes, a long-standing demand of the movement and which is entirely in accordance with model rules for prisons in the EU and the UN. Despite the official leadership of the Abertzale Left firstly ignoring the situation and then condemning his supporters, Ruiz’s struggle galvanised the mostly dormant Abertzale movement.

Patxi Ruiz solidarity march, Durango, Basque Country.
(Photo source: Amnistia Garrasi FB page)

Every day has seen small actions across the Basque Country, including protest pickets on bridges, beaches, town squares etc; solidarity fasts; slogans painted … Large solidarity marches have been held in Irunea/ Pamplona (Nafarroa province), Donosti/ San Sebastian (Guipuzkoa), Baiona (Bayonne), Bilbao and Durango (Bizkaia). ATA’s web page is full of developing news and the facebook page, which had fallen into silence, is active again.  Last Sunday in Pamplona/ Irunea, police attacked demonstrators with batons and fired rubber bullets at close quarters.Patxi Ruiz solidarity demonstration 24 May 2020 attacked by police with batons and rubber bullets

Patxi Ruiz solidarity march in Bayonne, northern Basque Country.
(Image source: Internet)

Some of the Basque prisoners who are part of the “official list” have begun taking solidarity action, refusing food or to leave their cells for periods in Almería, Brevia-Ávila, Castelló I, Córdoba, Huelva, Murcia (where Patxi is), Puerto III, Rennes, Sevilla II, Topas-Salamanca …. refusal to leave one’s cell also means forgoing family phone calls. Patxi had been expelled from the Abertzale prisoners’ collective in 2017 for speaking out against the new line of the official leadership which another four prisoners have repudiated also11.

Patxi Ruiz solidarity seaside picket, Plentzia, Basque Country.
(Image source: Amnestia Garrasi

However the mass of Basque political prisoners have so far remained quiet, “concentrating on moving through their grades while Patxi lies dying”, in a quotation from an ATA commentary which blamed this new lack of unity on the fragmentation engendered by the official leadership.

Patxi Ruiz solidarity seaside picket, Lekeito harbour Basque Country.
(Photo source: Amnistia Garrasi FB page)

A group of ex-prisoners has now also called for solidarity with Ruiz.

COULD NOT SINK LOWER”

          According to a public statement by ATA denouncing political parties Sortu and EH Bildu, the official Abertzale leadership made no comment until Patxi Ruiz was into his fifth day of hunger and thirst strike and then it was to mention him only in passing, while denouncing the spray-painting of political parties’ buildings by protesters and the burning of an ATM. On the 10th day the official leadership again released a statement, saying they were trying to organise one of their elected politicians to visit the prisoner but condemning the mobilisations across the Basque Country and accusing them of endangering Patxi Ruiz’s life. “They could not sink lower”, commented ATA, who also pointed out how late the official leadership had come to comment and that without the public-space protests, neither the media nor the official leadership would have taken any notice whatsoever.

What the future holds for Patxi Ruiz in the short-term is hard to predict, already weakened by ten days of thirst strike and now into his 16th day of hunger strike. What the near and medium-term future holds for the Basque movement is also an open question, depending to some extent on how ATA is able to capitalise on this upsurge and build an organisation or a network of coherence and unity, at least in action.

Patxi Ruiz solidarity march Bilbo 23 May 2020.
(Source image: Boltxe)

The official Abertzale leadership will do what they can to destroy any such movement but they have already yielded the streets, one of the main arenas of the movement in the past. Both groups are mutually exclusive and the advance of one in the wider Basque movement can only be at the expense of the other.

The Spanish State too will be watching developments and no doubt considering its own options of repression, although not so easily done as before, without even an ETA existence to justify their response to the public.

Meanwhile the Catalan independence struggle simmers on and if both should link up in mutual solidarity …..

end.

FOOTNOTES

2The main unions in the Spanish state, Unión General de Trabajadores and Comisiones Obreras were founded respectively by the PSOE and the CPE. Both are Spanish unionist and have the majority of unionised workers in every region of the Spanish state except the southern Basque Country and Galicia.

3While the people in South Africa have the vote and the ANC political party has done well out of the deal, going almost straight into Government, the mass of people struggle on low level income, high level violent crime, unemployment and badly-delivered services, while an ANC clique wallow in riches gained through corruption. Sinn Féin went first into the British colony’s government and now has the most elected parliamentary delegates from the February 2020 General Election in the Irish State; however over two decades after the Good Friday agreement the country is no nearer unification or nation-wide independence and is run by neo-liberal capitalist classes selling out the natural resources and services of the nation.

4Germany and Italy had a number of these; in Ireland the cities of Belfast, Dublin and Cork each had one.

5This organisation effectively ceased to exist due to the new line of the Abertzale Left. Although a number of foreign committee delegates did not disagree with the new line (some certainly did) nevertheless it began to fade away from then on.

6In marked contrast to the apology in September last year for previous actions of the movement by 47 members of a number of Abertzale Left organisations, including those against repression and in solidarity with prisoners, before they had even been tried by the court. This shameful action was taken two days after 50,000 had taken to the streets to support them and left deep hurt, bewilderment and shame throughout the movement. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/16/mass-trial-of-basque-activists-in-spain-ends-with-plea-deal

7He had come into the political leadership with Joseba Permach of the Abertzale Left in 1997 after 23 members of the Batasuna leadership were jailed for seven years by the Spanish State. He was elected General Secretary of the political party Sortu in 2013.

8The Abertzale Left had never previously endorsed any campaign focusing on individual prisoners except in the case of terminally and seriously-ill prisoners, of which at one time there were as many as 15 who, even under Spain’s own prison regulations, should have been paroled home or to hospital.

9Though now it gives the translation as “Amnesty and Against Repression”. An Amnistia organisation had existed earlier but dissolved or reformed after banning by the Spanish State and one of the accusations of the Abertzale Left is that dissidents misappropriated the name.

USEFUL LINKS & FURTHER INFORMATION:

AMNESTIA ETA ASKATASUNA

Webpage: https://www.amnistiaaskatasuna.com/es (Spanish language version, also available in Euskera).

Facebook: https://www.amnistiaaskatasuna.com/es (Spanish and Euskera languages, lots of photos and videos)

JARKI: No media link available.

Diarmuid Breatnach Political Agitator Part 1

Mick Healy interviewed me about a number of my experiences in revolutionary work over the years and this is Part 1 (Part 2 will shortly be published), nearly all about some of my three decades in London. It contains a number of errors by me, for example the apartheid rugby team was South Africa’s one which were not called the “All Blacks”, that being New Zealand’s. Also I believe the giant Hunger Strikers solidarity march in London was to Michael Foot’s home, not Tony Benn’s. Still, here it is for what it’s worth with many thanks to Mick.

irishrepublicanmarxisthistoryproject

Diarmuid a long time political agitator was active in London from 1967, in interview part one, he talks about his involvement with Marxism-Leninism-Anarchism. His involvement in the Vietnam and Rhodesia solidarity campaigns, Anti-fascist mobilisation, solidarity Ireland, family squatting. In addition the campaign against the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the 1969 Peoples Democracy march from Belfast-Dublin.

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IBRG at the WCML; A Welcome for IBRG at St.Brendan’s Irish Centre.

Dem were de days …. hard days and nights but busy!  1970s Britain in relation to Ireland was the decade in which the British troops were sent into the Six Counties, the war with the IRA began, internment without trial was introduced, Army massacres of civilian protesters took place and the IRA took the war to Britain.  The British State introduced legislation to terrorise the Irish community, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and framed 20 Irish people on murder and murder-related charges.  1980s Britain was the decade in which, due to the hunger strikes, the Irish community stood up, shrugged off the terror of the PTA and took to the streets.  At the start of that decade too, the Irish in Britain Representation Group was founded.

lipstick socialist

In the 1980s when IBRG branches were being   set up across the country one of the biggest problems was finding somewhere to meet. There were many  Irish Centres,  but most of them did not want an Irish group with a political agenda meeting there. Most of them were attached to Catholic churches who promoted a reactionary agenda or they were commercial venues who worried about their alcohol licence as well as  police surveillance and threats to their future.

Manchester IBRG found a home at St. Brendan’s Irish  Centre in Stretford.  Originally the Lyceum Cinema, it opened as an Irish Centre on  25th April 1961. Surrounded by streets of Victorian houses it became the home for many of the  Irish who emigrated to the Manchester district in the 1960s.

St Brendans St. Brendan’s Irish Centre

St.Lawrence’s Church which was located next to the Centre organised an Irish community care organisation which met Irish…

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BASQUE TRAWLERS AGAINST A SPANISH BATTLECRUISER

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 10 minutes)

The 5th of March is the anniversary of the naval Battle of Cape Machichaco (cabo matxitxakoko borroka, in Euskera/ Basque), which took place on 5 March 1937 off Bermeo (Bizkaia province, Basque Country), during the Spanish Anti-Fascist War, between the Spanish Military-Fascist heavy cruiser Canarias and four Basque Navy trawlers escorting a Republican convoy. The trawlers were protecting the transport ship Galdames, which was sailing to Bilbao with 173 passengers.

Looking from Cabo Matxitxako out to sea and to the French Border dividing the Basque Country.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

(The following account of the battle is from Wikipedia; the section titles and comment are mine)

          On 4 March, four armed trawlers of the Basque Auxiliary Navy section of the Spanish Republican Navy, Bizcaia, Gipuzkoa, Donostia and Nabarra departed from Bayonne, France. Their intention was to defend Galdames‘s mail, passengers, machinery, weapons, supplies and 500 tons of nickel coins property of the Basque government.

The battlecruiser Canarias.
(Photo source: Internet)

Canarias sailed from Ferrol with Salvador Moreno as the captain, with orders to stop the transport ship. Galdames, which was steaming up with the lights and the radio switched off, and was unknowingly left behind by Bizcaya and Gipuzkoa.

FOUR CONVERTED TRAWLERS AGAINST A BATTLE CRUISER

          Next morning, while all the trawlers were watching for Canarias, Galdames rejoined them. Bizcaya‘s captain was Alejo Bilbao, Nabarra‘s Enrique Moreno Plaza from Murcia, and Gipuzkoa‘s Manuel Galdós. The trawlers had the intention of luring Canarias close to the Biscay coast to have the assistance of the coastal batteries.[

The first trawler to spot Canarias was Gipuzkoa, 30 kilometers (19 mi) north of Bilbao. The Basque trawler was hit on the bridge and the forward gun. Return fire from Gipuzkoa killed one Canarias seaman and wounded another. The armed trawler, with five fatalities and 20 injured aboard, managed to approach the coast, where the shore batteries forced Canarias to retreat.

Nabarra and Donostia tried to prevent Canarias from finding Galdames and engaged the cruiser.

The Nabarra during the Battle of Matxitxako, painting by David Cobb.
(Photo source: Internet)

Donostia withdrew from the battle after being fired on by Canarias, but Nabarra faced the enemy for almost two hours. She was eventually hit in the boiler and came to a stop; 20 men abandoned the sinking trawler, while other 29 were lost with the ship, including her captain, Enrique Moreno Plaza.

The transport Galdames, which was hit by a salvo from Canarias and lost four passengers, was eventually captured by the military-fascist cruiser.

Gipuzkoa arrived at Portugalete seriously damaged and Bizcaia headed for Bermeo, where she assisted the Estonian merchantman Yorbrook with a load including ammunition and 42 Japanese Type 31 75 mm mountain guns, previously captured by Canarias and released.

Port town of Bermeo, seen from Cabo Matxitxako.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

Donostia sought shelter in a French port.

AFTERMATH

          The 20 survivors from Nabarra were rescued by the military-fascists and taken aboard Canarias. Instead of the expected hostility and mistreatment, they were given medical assistance, and both the cruiser commander, future Francoist Admiral Salvador Moreno and Captain Manuel Calderón interceded with Franco when the Basque seamen were sentenced to death in retaliation for the shooting of two crewmembers of the armed trawler Virgen del Carmen, captured by Republican sympathizers and diverted to Bilbao in December 1936. The survivors were eventually acquitted and released in 1938.

In contrast, one of the passengers aboard Galdames, Christian Democrat politician Manuel Carrasco Formiguera, from Catalonia, was imprisoned and executed on 9 April 1938.

Map/ diagram of the Battle
(Image source: Internet)

PERSONAL COMMENT

COURAGE, COWARDICE AND CRUELTY

           The story is one of incredible bravery of a number of converted trawlers and their Basque crews, in particular that of the Nabarra and her Captain from Murcia. One account I read related that her Captain consulted his crew and they agreed to fight to the death or the sinking of their ship. Their valour and stubbornness (two qualities which commentators often associate with the Basques) was of such magnitude as to impress  even their military-fascist opponents, to the extent of their interceding with Franco to save their lives.

It is also the story of the cowardice of at least the captain of the Donostia.

And of the bestiality of the military-fascists in the execution of a member of the Catalan Government returning to his country with his family, guilty of no crime but to serve his the administration of his elected republican government (one of hundreds of thousands of such crimes of the miiltary-fascists coupists and their victorious regime).

VISIT TO CAPE MATXITXAKO

           I visited the land part of the location on a number of occasions in recent years. Access by public transport is by a bus every hour but I was driven by friends.

Monument to the Battle of Matxitxako by sculptor Nestor Barrentxea, who is from the nearby port town of Bermeo.  (Photo source: Internet)

On a windy promontory on private land I saw one of the shore artillery battery sites (which has had nothing done to conserve it) and, close enough, the monument to the battle. Not far from there is a local bar-restaurant which is popular and a short trip by car, the iconic hermitage of Gastelugatxe.  Many tourists visit the area but I wonder how many get to hear of the story.

Thinking of the determination and courage of those crews, not even trained for war, in converted trawlers, facing a trained naval crew of a huge battle cruiser, I am not ashamed to say my eyes fill and my lip trembles.

Aerial view of the Matxitxako Cape. (I took my two photos from beside the building furthest to the right).
(Photo source: Internet)

 

end.

WHEN WE EUROPEANS FLED AS REFUGEES TO SYRIA

Alberto Sicilia in Publico.es, translated by D.Breatnach

Alberto Sicilia in Publico.es, translated by D.Breatnach
(Reading time: 3 minutes)
For original version in Castillian (Spanish) click on link.

Greece today suspended the right to asylum. An unprecedented measure in the history of Europe.

How soon we forget. During World War II, thousands of Greeks crossed the Mediterranean in the opposite direction and sought refuge in Middle Eastern countries. That was the most accessible route of escape from Nazi troops.

Map of camp sites for European Refugees WW2 (Image source: Publico.blogs. es)

A program called “Organization for Refugees in the Middle East”, launched in 1942 and led by the United Kingdom, helped tens of thousands of Greeks, Poles and Yugoslavs escape eastbound.

The refugees were taken to camps located in Syria, Egypt and Palestine. The city of Aleppo, (yes, you have not misread, Aleppo) became one of the main reception centers.

A number of official reports on the state of the camps were written in March 1944. A study conducted by Public International Radio includes the protocol for the entry of refugees and their daily lives:

Photo source: Publico.blogs. es

“Once registered, newcomers made their way through a thorough medical inspection. The refugees were heading to what were often makeshift hospital facilities, usually tents, but occasionally empty buildings reused for medical care, where clothes and shoes were removed and they were washed until the authorities believed they were sufficiently disinfected.

Some refugees, such as the Greeks who arrived at the Aleppo camp from the Dodecanese islands in 1944, could expect medical inspections to become part of their daily routine.

Photo source: Publico.blogs. es

After medical officials were satisfied that they were healthy enough to join the rest of the camp, refugees were divided into homes for families, unaccompanied children, single men and single women. Once assigned to a particular section of the camp, refugees enjoyed few opportunities to venture outside. From time to time they could leave under the supervision of camp officials.

When refugees in the Aleppo camp made the multi-mile trip to the city, for example, they could visit shops to buy basic supplies, watch a movie at the local cinema, or simply distract themselves from the monotony of country life.

Although the camp at Moses Wells [in Egypt], located on more than 100 acres of desert, was not within walking distance of a city, refugees were allowed to spend time each day bathing in the nearby Red Sea. “

Photo source: Publico.blogs. es

The “Organization for Refugees in the Middle East” was part of a network of refugee camps around the world that were administered by governments and international NGOs.

And refugees arrived not only in the Arab region: Iran received 200,000 Poles between 1939 and 1941.

Have we forgotten so quickly?

 

Photo source: Publico.blogs. es
Photo source: Publico.blogs. es

Original text in Spanish here

Anti-Irish Racism Letter to Irish Times

Anti-Irish racism in Britain

Sir, – Gerard Murphy (Letters, February 27th) and some others doubt the existence of anti-Irish racism in Britain prior to the Brexit debates, claiming never to have experienced or witnessed it themselves.

After the Race Relations Act (1976) drove the blatant discrimination of notices in lodging-house windows and “help wanted” advertisements into concealment, in 1984 the Greater London Council published Liz Curtis’s booklet Nothing But the Same Old Story, full of public examples of anti-Irish racism in print and in drawings over centuries, including cartoons in the Evening Standard during the 1970s.

In the mid-1970s nearly a score of innocent people in five different cases were taken from the Irish community and convicted of murder or in assisting murder while Irish people were being regularly stopped at airports and embarkation points, as well as having their houses raided and being taken into Paddington Green police station, for example, to spend days in underground cells without daylight or access to solicitor, to be eventually released without charge. In the 1970s Granada TV series The Comedians, stand-up performers told sexist and racist jokes, with the Irish often being the butt of the latter. In the 1980s the Irish in Britain Representation Group picketed WH Smith shops until they removed from sale their “Irish mugs”, which had the handle on the inside.

Letters in Irish community newspapers in Britain like the Irish Post and the Irish World regularly complained of anti-Irish racism in print, on TV, on radio and in public places. Anti-Irish racism has a history of centuries but it was all around Britain in the 1970s, 1980s and even the 1990s. – Yours, etc,

DIARMUID BREATNACH,

Baile Átha Cliath 9.

Anti-Irish Racism in Britain: Not a great letter or anything but the first letter of mine the Irish Times has ever published!

Scene outside the Court of Appeal’s 1984 quashing of the convictions of the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven. Gerry Conlon, one of the Four, seen here shouting his anger to the crowd at his unjustly serving 10 years in jail and his father having died in jail. The Birmingham Six were not released until 1991 and Judith Ward in 1992!
(Source photo: Internet)

 

By Liz Curtis. First published 1984 by the Greater London Council.
(Image source: Johnsbookshop.org)
A dungeon cell in Paddington Green Metropolitan Police Station. Under the provisions of the “Prevention of Terrorism Act” (sic), Irish people were kept in cells like this for up to five days (sometimes longer) without access to solicitor, family or friends, interrogated and often brutalised.
(Photo source: Protesters who occupied the empty building recently — go raibh maith agaibh!)