A Catalan solidarity demonstration of thousands in Madrid, in the big central square called Puerta Del Sol, shouted for “freedom for the political prisoners” and declared that Catalonia’s struggle was theirs too. A small crowd of Vox and smaller fascist groups tried to disrupt the rally but were repelled and the crowd turned towards them chanting: “Here are the antifascists!” (daring the fascists to come forward). Later, Spanish police charged the solidarity demonstrators and some running battles took place in the city’s streets.
There are two Spains – one of them is the Spain of an imperial and racist history, of expulsions, of plunder of colonies, of repression at home and abroad, the Inquisition, military-fascist uprising against an elected government, mass executions, rape and plunder, four decades of fascist dictatorship, followed by another four of a fake transition to democracy. That is the Spain that is in power now.
The other Spain is the one of popular resistance to exploitation of the Comuneros, the anti-feudal writing of Cervantes, the struggle against the military-fascist uprising supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, the mounting resistance to the Dictatorship that forced the ruling class to change their style of management, on the face of it ….. That Spain had largely been beaten, jailed or shot in to silence, crushed by treason and division and hopelessness. But there were always embers, embers that burst into little flames from time to time, not only in the nations of the Basque Country, where a fire burned for two decades, or in Catalonia, or Galicia …. but also in places like Asturias in the north, Andalucia in the south and in Madrid itself, in the centre.
The struggle of Catalonia for independence and against fascist police and judicial repression, is waking that other Spain and calling her to the fight. Waking her latent anti-fascists, her democrats; waking those who are unemployed, in precarious jobs, fighting to hold on to their homes or being evicted; waking its youth who want a better future.
It is the opposite of what was wanted by the Falangists, Vox, Ciudadanos, the Partido Popular, the Monarchy – all of them heirs of the fascist dictator Franco – and the PSOE, which climbed aboard with them. These have railed against the Catalan independence movement in order to distract the people from their real problems and real enemies. In Andalucia, Vox and Ciudadanos joined forces to oust the corrupt PSOE government and to progress towards a fascist regional government. In Extremadura they moved towards the same objectives but fell out among themselves.
But recently both those regions have seen courageous people take to the streets, proudly declaring solidarity with Catalunya. And Madrid on Wednesday saw another part of that awakening. A Catalan solidarity demonstration of thousands in Madrid, in the big central square called Puerta Del Sol, shouted for “freedom for the political prisoners” and declared that Catalonia’s struggle was theirs too. And chanted that “Monarchy is filth!”
“The Spanish Government – and also other spokespersons of the parliamentary ambit – is calling for respect for the judgement (ie againts the Catalan activists – Trans.). The judgement is not respectable, neither in its genesis nor in its conclusions and therefore cannot be respected,” declared the conveners of the solidarity protest.
“That is why this evening we are holding this assembly for freedoms, for democracy and against repression,” declared one of the speakers at the event. “And for that reason we salute and send all our internationalist solidarity to all the people who these days are coming out in various parts of Catalonia, especially to those who have suffered repression, with blows, arrests or in addition once again, a person has lost an eye through the brutal and illegal use of rubber bullets.”
A young woman spoke “on behalf of the youth of Spain to the youth of Catalunya”, saying that their struggle was waking up that of the Spanish, against unemployment, precarious employment, against fascism and the Monarchy.
She said that the democratic parties and trade unions needed to decide whether they were on their side in that struggle or on the others. The young woman read out a long list of organisations supporting the Madrid demonstration and ended with the call, in which all joined in: “Catalunya, listen: Your struggle is our struggle!”
SOURCE (report on the Madrid demonstration and video):
Catalans have been preparing for a one-day general strike since Monday’s announcement of the Spanish National Court sentences against the nine Catalan independence activists, who between them received almost 100 years in jail. Today’s will be the fourth Catalan general strike since the Spanish police attacks on Catalans in October 2017. This strike, according to its main trade union organiser, is not only against repression but also demanding social, economic, political and legal reforms and promises to have massive participation. The trade union organising it is a relatively new one, Intersindical CSC, a class union, which has been growing rapidly.
TSUNAMI OF PROTESTS
On Monday the Spanish National Court announced the sentences on seven Catalan politicians and two leaders of grassroots organisations on charges of ‘sedition’ and ‘misuse’ of public funds. The ‘sedition’ charges relate to demanding Catalan independence from the Spanish State and the financial ‘misuse’ charge to allegedly funding the Referendum from Catalan Government funds. They were also charged with ‘rebellion’ but since that had already been ruled out of order in test extradition cases for Catalans in exile, the Court had no realistic choice other than to clear them of that charge. The Spanish State is now proceeding with extradition warrants against other Catalan activists known to be in exile in Europe.
In addition, two senior members of the Catalan police force are on trial, 700 town mayors are to be investigated for their role in the Referendum, along with schoolteachers for discussing with their pupils police damage to their school buildings (used as polling stations). Recently seven alleged activists of the Committees for the Defence of the Republic were arrested on “terrorism” charges and two remain incommunicado, long after the usual five days permitted in Spanish State legislation. And others have been arrested in protests against Spanish State repression.
The self-styled “Tsunami” of protests began immediately the sentences were made public. Thousands walked, drove or rode bicycles to the El Prat Airport for Barcelona and effectively closed it down until they lifted the blockade at 10pm. Many others took to the streets of their cities to protest, particularly in front of institutions of the Spanish State, which had mobilised nearly 1,000 police in preparation against them. These were reinforced by the Catalan police, the Mossos D’Escuadra, who were seen as relatively benign during the Referendum and immediately afterwards but are now reverting to their past image — some years ago nearly a dozen of Catalan protesters lost eyes from rubber bullet impacts at close range, which led to a successful popular Catalan campaign to have them banned – but that ban does not apply to Spanish police. Already one young man lost an eye on Monday night while another appears to have lost one testicle and 150 were treated by paramedics. The toll grows and includes two youth run down by police vehicles and more arrests. These figures are certain to grow in the days ahead.
Thousands are also walking along motorways to other towns in a protest procession, horns of cars, lorries and buses being sounded in solidarity, while different protests gather every night.
PARALYSIS OF POLITICIANS
This huge popular wave of resistance contrasts with the seeming paralysis of the pro-independence politicians, who are in three different political coalition parties: Junts X Cat (Together for Catalonia), Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left) and Candidatura de Unidad Popular (People’s Unity Candidacy). The three together form a narrow enough majority in the Catalan regional Parlament against the Spanish unionist delegates of the PP, Ciudadanos and the PSOE, as well as the ‘neutral’ “Communs”, a coalition around the Podemos party. Although the CUP delegates will defend any pro-independence motions etc in the Parlament, they are officially in opposition. JuntsXCat and ERC run the Government together on a slim majority but they disagreed on a number of important issues, including whether to give the minority Spanish PSOE Government qualified support without any concessions from the latter and also, about their resistance campaign being directed by ex-Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, in exile in Brussels, and the group he has collected there.
But their paralysis is more fundamental: despite the activity of some of them in popular movements before they became politicians, their focus has been on electoral strategies and campaigning, preparing legislation for the Parlament and running the Government. For a number of years now the power of the street has been growing and it is clearly in the ascendant now – and that is not where the politicians feel most comfortable. Not only that — but where else now has the Spanish State left any cards to play?
THE TRADE UNIONS
The main trade unions in the Spanish State are the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT) and the Commisiones Obreras (CCOO). After Franco’s death, their legalisation and incorporation into the system was felt essential for the smooth operation of the ‘Transition” and for that reason, the major political party of each was legalised too – the social democratic PSOE and the Communist Party of Spain – so that they could control their unions. They did and they have, despite a history of republicanism and antifascism, and in 1978 ensured votes in favour of a the new monarchical and unionist Constitution while their members and others were being clubbed and shot – or blown up — in the street.
The big SEAT factory in Catalonia has majority representation in the CCOO and UGT trade unions and neither union officially supported the previous recent general strikes. However, there was leeway for ‘allowing’ an early leaving of work to attend strike day demonstrations and UGT has already this week officially condemned the Spanish State repression. How they will react later today remains to be seen.
Intersindical CSC is a ‘class union’ (i.e does not recruit personnel from the repressive arms of the State nor from management) and is in favour of the right to self-determination. Its history is recent but it organised the previous general strikes in conjunction with grass-roots independentist organisations (like the ANC and Omnium) and will do so again. The growth of Intersindical is a a source of worry for the UGT and CCOO in Catalonia.
Later today we can expect blockades of all major motorways and train lines passing through Catalonia, general closures of business, services and public transport of Catalonia’s cities and massive demonstrations in cities, not just Barcelona. What will happen at the docks, airport and the SEAT plant remains to be seen. There will almost certainly be confrontations between strike supporters and the police, both Spanish and Catalan. Whether that will escalate further cannot be forecast but is very possible.
Meanwhile, outside of Catalonia in the Spanish State, both Madrid and the Basque Country hosted massive shows of solidarity on the streets while other cities, for example Caceres in Extremadura and Granada in Andalucia (the two poorest regions of the Spanish state), have seen demonstrations on the streets in solidarity with Catalonia and against the repression of the Spanish State.
GENERAL STRIKES — COMMENT
General strikes, if successful in mobilisation, show the collective strength of the organised workers, ideally in conjunction with their communities (families, relatives, friends, local shops, churches, sport clubs etc).
While that is extremely important in the longer run, they are not always successful in the shorter run or, to be more precise, they often fail to achieve their stated objectives. The stated objectives of this strike cannot be achieved in the short run since they confront not only a capitalist but a neoliberal Spanish ruling class and, furthermore, one in which the majority are undefeated descendants of a fascist-military uprising, civil war and four decades of dictatorship.
The overcoming of these obstacles requires, arguably, a social and political revolution and Catalonia is not at that point yet. But it may be in time, especially if the Spanish State continues to pursue its path of repression (and it is sure to do so). One-day general strikes sometimes grow into longer and sometimes even indefinite ones. Such situations are almost pre-revolutionary situations, with workers’ committees having to organise vast forces and control, manage and defend large areas.
For a Catalonia to be successful in revolution or in secession from the Spanish State alone would require that the State faces challenges on a number of fronts, including internally, that severely restricts its ability to send sufficient repressive forces to Catalonia. Such an outcome would depend completely on mobilisations in other parts of the Spanish state, which is why Spanish State, media and fascist parties’ are practically racist in their hysterical condemnation of Catalan independentism and culture, trying to whip up anti-Catalan feeling to distract from the woeful economic, social and political mess to which most of the Spanish regions have been driven.
GENERAL STRIKE MANIFESTO OCTOBER 18, 2019 (English language translation)
For rights and freedoms, general strike!
A new Spanish government and a new disappointment. Whether led by the PP or the PSOE, the
social gains never reach the workers. Neoliberal austerity policies persist whoever resides in the Moncloa (Spanish Government), while authoritarian repression against the common classes and, especially, against the Catalan people become the tools to curb any struggle for better living conditions and justice for the majority. As in popular times, state “socialism” now also wraps itself in the Spanish flag and patriotism to cover the miseries of a ’78 regime which strangled the bulk of the population and which is showing more and more cracks.
During election campaign times, certain parties declare limited progressive proposals, which, if they are elected to govern, will be stored again in a drawer to be sold again to the designs of an Ibex 35 (Spanish Stock Market benchmark) that does not tolerate any kind of agreement with forces that question minimally the foundations of the Spanish monarchy: the unalterable privileges of the elites and an indissoluble and centralist state model. Therefore, despite all the changes that the PSOE promised before grasping power, they faded to pass again from opposition to status quo, in another turn of the eternal Spanish political carousel so that nothing changes.
Minimum measures such as derogations from the PP’s labor reform or of the gag law, the withdrawal of vetoes against the social laws of Parliament, the already agreed reception of refugees, the imposition of rent ceilings, the setting up of a tax on banks, the renewal of the regional financing model or the publication of the list of evaders that were covered by the Montoro tax amnesty, all of those became elusive despite previously having been defended vehemently by Pedro Sánchez.
The Catalan working classes know that rights and freedoms are not only begged through voting. We learned that a century ago, after the “Canadian strike” allowed us to achieve the greatest of the victories of that era, the 8-hour working day and retirement at age 65 (The 44-day strike 1919 originating at the principal electricity company in Barcelona, Riesgos y Fuerzas del Ebro, popularly known as La Canadenca because its major shareholder was the Canadian Commercial Bank of Toronto). But not only then – history has stubbornly shown that social advances have only been achieved through struggle. Peaceful, massive and nonviolent, with the general strike as one of the clearest tools of the workers.
And on October 18 we have a new date, a new call for a general strike that should be massive to make it clear that we will not remain unresponsive to the continuing attacks upon us. The disappointment of Sánchez’s brief mandate at the head of the Government, unable to repeal the most damaging measures of Mariano Rajoy’s period, should receive a blunt response in the street, the popular masses need to empower themselves and to declare that they will not allow themselves to be stepped on again, despite the growing criminalization of protest and growing repression against anyone who dares to raise their voice.
Intersindical CSC is clear that the Catalan Republic is an essential tool to overthrow the regime of ’78 and to move towards a horizon of well-being, equality and social justice but even with this horizon always present, the struggle for rights and freedoms of the popular classes cannot cease before any institution. We will remain on our feet, once again on this October 18, to demand all rights and freedoms:
– For a minimum Catalan salary and pensions of at least 1,200 euros to be increased depending on the Catalan Consumer Price Index.
– For the repeal of the labor reforms of 2010 and 2012 and the recovery of all lost labor rights.
– For a Labor Inspection with adequate resources to deal effectively with rights violations.
– For the end of labor inequalities and the wage gap suffered by women, starting with the recovery of the annulled articles of the equality law and which referred to the world of work.
– For a Social Rescue Plan that guarantees free and universal public services, food and housing for the entire population, the comprehensive application of a guaranteed income for the citizenship and a plan for the internalising of public services which are now outsourced.
– For the application of a climate emergency agreement that reduces to zero as quickly as possible the net emissions of greenhouse gases, starting with the reinstatement of the law against climate change which was partially annulled by the Constitutional Court.
– For the approval of the scheduling of payment, unanimously agreed by Parliament, and the setting of a maximum rent level.
– For the reception of refugees, the closure of the Refugee Secure Centres and the repeal of the immigration law, to make Catalonia a truly host country and without second-class citizenship.
– For the recovery of all social laws and taxes approved by Parliament and nullified or suspended by the Spanish courts.
DUBLIN PROTEST AT UNJUST AND SAVAGE SENTENCES ON CATALAN INDEPENDENCE LEADERS
(Reading time 5 mins)
Protests erupted on Monday across the world at the unjust and savage sentences by Spanish judges on the Catalan independence activists, elected politicians and grass roots leaders. Dublin was no exception and around two hundred people gathered in solidarity protest outside the Dáil (Irish Parliament). Then they marched from there to the General Post Office building in O’Connell Street, Dublin city centre’s main street, outside of which they held a short rally.
In October 2017, after a build-up of some years, the Catalan regional Government, by majority approved the holding of a Referendum on an independent Catalan Republic. The Spanish State through its ‘justice’ court declared the referendum illegal and sent police into Catalonia to seize election literature, ballot papers and ballot boxes. In the latter case the police were unsuccessful and on October 1st the Referendum went ahead and, despite savage police attacks on voters and people protesting the invasion (a thousand injured — one losing an eye — and one dead), a majority of voters voted Yes. Subsequently pro-independence politicians and grass-roots leaders were arrested by the Spanish State while others went into exile. Those arrested were charged with organising a Rebellion, Sedition and Misuse of Public Funds (allegedly to fund the Referendum).
On Monday, while they were found not guilty of Rebellion, the nine received the following sentences (and bans from public office of many years):
Junqueras 13 years
Romeva, Turul and Bassa 12 years
Forcadel 11.5 years
Forn and Rul 10.5 years
Cuixart, Sanchez 9 years
Three others were fined and banned from public office for a period.
Around 200 protesters gathered outside Leinster House today after hearing of the sentences. They were mostly Catalans and had been asked by ANC (National Assembly of Catalonia) en Irlanda and CDR (Committee for the Defence of the Republic) Dublin to stand by for the verdict and, if anything less than Not Guilty, to assemble there at 6pm. The protest was supported by the With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin committee. People were still arriving from work at 6.30 pm and later, while some had gone to collect their children to bring them there too.
Though the vast majority were Catalans, not all were: there was a very light sprinkling of Irish, a few Basques and some people from other parts of the Spanish State. A Sinn Féin Councillor gave an interview in solidarity, as did an activist of WCLC and Manus O’Riordan, son of Brigadista Michael O’Riordan, who brandished a flag in Spanish Republican colours bearing the legend “Connolly Column”. A member of PBP was also noted there.
The flags displayed were the Estelada and the Vermelha, both standing for different trends in the Catalan movement for independence. One very long banner called for Freedom for Political Prisoners and Exiles while two shorter ones had bilingual English and Irish legends calling for freedom for the Catalan Republic and for political prisoners. A large home-made banner also called for freedom for political prisoners.
While outside Leinster House the crowd took turns chanting slogans in Catalan that translated into such as The Streets Will Always Be Ours!, Freedom for Political Prisoners! and Long Live Catalunya! to which the response was Free!
After some time the crowdwas addressed in Catalan by the Coordinator of the ANC in Ireland. He said that they were there to denounce the injustice of the Spanish State and to let the world know that the Catalan representatives cannot be imprisoned purely for pursuing the right of self-determination.
“We will continue until we cut the chains that the Spanish State puts on us,” he said in Catalan and vowed to continue to raise their voices until the Spanish State recognises that Catalonia is a sovereign country.
After the applause followed by cries of Visca Catalunya! Lliure! died down, the crowd the sang the Catalan national anthem, Els Segadors (The Reapers), with its roots in a popular agrarian rebellion in the 17th Century.
It seemed then that an impromptu decision was taken to march.
THE PROTESTERS TAKE TO THE STREETS
Chanting slogans in Catalan and in English, with banners in front, the crowd marched along Molesworth and into Dawson Street, then into Grafton Street and proceeded to the General Post Office building, which is located in the middle of O’Connell Street, main street of the city centre. Although at some junctions they stopped traffic and in some streets no traffic could pass them, no hostility was displayed to them. One bus driver beeped her horn in solidarity, as did some cars. In some places people stopped to applaud the marchers.
When they reached the GPO, the marchers drew up in two lines on the central pedestrian reservation, facing the different streams of traffic with placards, many containing portraits of the sentenced activists. After a while they gathered for a short rally, where they were addressed by two representatives of the ANC, a man and a woman, to remind them of the solidarity walk to the Sugarloaf on Sunday (see FB event pages for details).
After that, they were addressed by an Irish representative of With Catalonia/ Leis an Chatalóin, who told them that they were gathered opposite the headquarters of the Easter Rising in 1916.
The Irish had been ruled by a more powerful neighbour, he told the rally, that under its constitution, would not allow them independence. The Irish had had to fight for it and eventually was partly successful. The Catalans were also being denied their right to self-determination by a more powerful neighbour under its constitution and were resisting.
But were the nine jailed because they had hurt someone? he asked. Or lifted a weapon against anyone? Or even damaged buildings or property? To each question, the crowd shouted “NO!” They had been sentenced for upholding the Catalan right to self-determination, the speaker said, then applauded the Catalans for their continuing resistance and for their response here and in Catalonia to repression.
The crowd broke up after that, people talking about other solidarity actions, such as the paralysing tonight of Barcelona airport by thousands of protesters and the savage attacks on them there by police. Also that there are seven alleged CDR activists in jail awaiting trial in Madrid, 700 Catalan Town Mayors have been marked for investigation, as have also a number of school teachers.
Borrell, the Spanish Minister for Europe commented after the sentences that now would be a time to return to normality, while the Spanish Prime Minister, PSOE (social democrat) part leader Sanchez, praised Spanish ‘democracy’.
The idea of having to fight a war of repression simultaneously against two or more nations within the borders of its state must give the Spanish ruling class nightmares – it was only successful in doing so in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War with the assistance of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
So Spain’s rulers, blood-thirsty though they are, must have been happy to let off lightly the Basque pro-independence activists with a maximum of less than four years prison sentence. Not of course that three years in Spanish jail is a holiday, especially for political prisoners, who tend to get dispersed throughout the Spanish territory, hundreds or even a thousand kilometres from their friends and families – but it is way below the norm for activists accused of “assisting terrorism” in the Spanish state.
Most activities of the Basque pro-independence activists have been viewed by the Spanish State as “terrorism”, “assisting terrorism” or “exalting terrorism” at one time or another: producing a daily newspaper in the Basque language; running pro-independence radio stations or social media pages; managing pro-independence social centres; holding demonstrations and pickets; managing a prisoners’ solidarity campaign; organising an internationalist solidarity network1; commemorating martyrs; publicly welcoming political prisoners home after completion of their sentences; running pro-independence bars ….. etc, etc.
The Basque pro-independence activists before the Spanish National Court on 16th September had been accused in November 2013 of “assisting a terrorist organisation” but what they had done in actuality was to try to organise effective solidarity and legal representation for the Basque political prisoners who are part of the ‘official’ list2. Some of those charged are lawyers. All 47 of them in court on 16th September pleaded guilty and the judges handed down the sentences. It was clear that a deal had been agreed with the Public Prosecutor and Judge before they stepped into the Court. But not only with them – the virulent AVT (“Relatives of Victims of Terrorism”), most of them relatives of Spanish military or police, who were a party to the prosecution of the Basques3, stayed silent but afterwards stated they were happy with the outcome.
Reporting on the judgement, GARA, bilingual daily newspaper of the line of the official pro-independence movement’s4 leadership, seemed to see the settlement, despite the jail time, as some kind of victory and proclaimed that the proceedings had taken “not even five minutes” (perhaps the reporter meant per person, as the total was elsewhere reported as taking around 35 minutes).
“SUPPORTERS WERE TRICKED …. SHAMEFUL”
That is not how all Basque pro-independence activists see it, however. Discussing the case with one long-time activist she commented that “It was shameful. It was hard. I knew them, some of them especially. I had campaigned with them in the past and we had campaigned for them (after their arrest). To see them meekly plead guilty ….!” She might be expected to be critical as she is what some call a ‘dissident’, having parted company with the organisation with which she grew up and is now a member of Amnistia Ta Askatasuna (ATA — Amnesty and Freedom). That organisation that same day issued a statement in Basque and Spanish condemning the deal, stating that pleading guilty actually criminalised all the work done in solidarity with and to assist the prisoners on all fronts.
That the Basque ‘Autonomous’ Government moved within weeks to ban as criminal acts any public welcoming home of Basque political prisoners seems to bear out their analysis. And the Spanish State has announced that no electoral publicity in the forthcoming elections may use the words “political prisoners” or “exiles”.
Another life-time activist with whom I spoke, this one still loyal to the leadership, agreed that the deal and the act of pleading ‘guilty’ was “shameful”. She is not likely to be the only one; many remain within the organisation but are critical of the leadership’s twists and turns for some years now. Those who are critical but remain inside the organisation and are still active do so because they don’t like the alternative – either the fact of leaving the ‘family’ or of going to the ‘dissident’ group. But apathy grows among others – they may remain notionally within the organisation but attend less events than they used to.
A veteran and leading theoretician of the movement, Iñaki Gil de San Vicentes, in an interview with on-line newspaper Noticias Canarias, commented that the 50,000 who had demonstrated in solidarity with the accused a few days before the court case had been tricked, as the deal had been done “behind their backs”. This was “not permissable”, according to the veteran activist, who was not reported in GARA and might not be published there again.
GARA and the leadership of the Basque pro-independence movement may see the court deal as a good one or even part of the “Basque peace process” for which they have long been waiting (and some even claiming it was already in existence). Whatever the criticisms of the “Irish peace process” (sic) people may have – and there have been many – once the weapons had been decommissioned and they signed up to the Good Friday Agreement, at least most of the Republican prisoners left the jails, albeit under licence. The Basque armed resistance group ETA called a truce in 2012, decommissioned its weapons and finally disbanded itself in 2014, for which it seems to have won not the slightest of concessions – not for the prisoners nor for Basque pro-independence society. In 2017 a brawl in the town of Altsasu (Nafarroa/ Navarra) in a late-night bar between some Basque youth and off-duty Spanish police resulted in jail sentences for the accused youth and, even though the judges had rejected the Public Prosecutor’s bid to have the youth tried under anti-terror legislation, they were condemned to terms of between two and13 years (reduced this week on appeal to between 18 months and nine years).
NEUTRALISING ONE FRONT BEFORE MOVING ON TO ANOTHER
The Altsasu case generated outrage throughout the Basque Country but also came to the notice of the Catalan public when they were dealing with the effects of Spanish repression on their own independence movement during and after the October 2017 referendum there. Catalan people with a banner proclaiming their solidarity with the Altsasu youth marched in Basque demonstrations. And Basques have marched in Catalan pro-independence protests against Spanish State repression too. Though the numbers displaying solidarity in each case were comparatively small, the potential was there for a coming together of both movements and no doubt the Spanish ruling class, though not noted for its political sensitivity, became aware of the danger.
As commented earlier, the Spanish ruling class were no doubt wishing to avoid having to renew a war of repression against the Basques at the same time as their current war against the Catalan independence movement. Even worse things could happen to them while engaged in such a two-front war – such as elements in other nations, like Asturias and Galicia seizing the opportunity to mobilise. Or some outbreak of class resistance across the State’s territory.
In the recent Basque case, the Spanish State, while punishing the Basque activists, did so in a comparatively light manner and avoided that case being shouted in both Basque and Catalan nations as yet another example of Spanish State injustice and repression. But it required the cooperation of the accused activists – and no doubt the agreement of the official leadership of the Basque pro-independence movement, Arnaldo Otegi and company.
As I was writing these observations, the Spanish State arrested nine Catalan activists under “anti-terrorist” (sic) legislation and held them incommunicado in Madrid5. These activists allegedly from the CDRs (Comites de Defensa de la Republica, set up after the momentary declaration of the Catalan Republic by then President Puigdemont after the 2017 October referendum) are in addition to those 10 grass roots activists and elected politicians currently awaiting verdicts on charges of “rebellion, sedition” and “misuse of public funds”. In addition also to the various Catalan elected politicians in European exile and the 700 or so town mayors under investigation. The more recent Catalan arrested are not charged with anything they have done but with their alleged intentions.
Now that Basque problem has been tidied away ….
1 Leading activists of Askapena, which coordinated the activities of solidarity committees in a number of European countries (including Ireland) and Latin America, were accused as part of the sweep against Basque political prisoner solidarity campaigners. They did not plead guilty, fought their defence and were, eventually, found not guilty.
2 Which some have left, including six who did so publicly and are now part of a ‘dissident’ network.
3The Spanish legal system permits civil society groups to take out a prosecution or to join the State prosecutions with their separate prosecutors, a provision almost exclusively availed of by right-wing groups such as the AVT. When the family of Inigo Cabacas took a case under this provision against the Basque police who had killed their son with a rubber bullet, the Basque Government’s Prosecutor had cooperated with the defence counsel of the accused.
4The ‘official’ Basque pro-independence movement is comprised of the political party EH Bildu (formerly Batasuna, Herri Batasuna etc), the official political prisoners’ collective, the official organisation of relatives and friends of prisoners, the Gara newspaper, LAB trade union and smaller feminist and ecological organisations. It is also represented in some political coalitions and a number of broad fronts.
5Two of the nine arrested were released the following day and seven remained incommunicado. This nightmare journey to Madrid for political detainees has been well documented by many Basque political prisoners, including threats of death, torture and even rape (the latter for female prisoners), stress positions causing difficulty in breathing within the vehicle, blows etc. Spanish “anti-terrorism” (sic) legislation permits as standard up to five days without access to the detainees’ lawyer, doctor or family and despite EU Committee Against Torture criticism, the practice continues. “Confessions” tend to be extracted after two or three days, which the prisoners withdraw as soon as they are in court and out of the hands of the police, alleging water torture, forced stress positions, threats to self and family, sleep deprivation, etc. As a matter of course, the judges ignore the allegations without ordering even a cursory investigation and proceed as though the “confessions” were voluntary and factual.
The “Global Spain” initiative of the Spanish State to 215 Spanish embassies and its sub-title “Touch Democracy” was presented to a small audience at the Instituto Cervantes in Dublin on Monday while Catalan and Basque solidarity demonstrators picketed outside.
While some people, perhaps in the know, were directed straight to the auditorium, a number of others, not regular users of the Instituto’s services, were asked to wait in another area but when the start time had been exceeded by 20 minutes without sign of the event, they went to make enquiries again at Reception and learned where the event was being held, entering to find it had already started.
Mr. Ildefonso Castro,the Spanish State’s Ambassador to Ireland was speaking and shortly launched the event with a showing of a short video which, he said, would bring out the main questions in the initiative. In this video, Lucía Mendez, journalist for the right-wing Spanish daily El Mundo seemed to be interviewing Gabriela Ybarra about the novel she had written (The Dinner Guest). But actually later in the film Mendez began a speech about how good was the Spanish democracy while her interviewee was left with little to say. The author had said earlier that though her grandfather (a Mayor of Bilbao who had fought in Franco’s Army and supported the Dictator regime, not mentioned in the video), had been killed by the Basque armed group ETA in 1973, this was not discussed in her family. She felt that the memory of “terrorism” was disappearing and that children in school were not being taught about it, which is why she wrote her book.
In fact, Spanish media constantly refers in negative terms to ETA and a 2016 case of a brawl between Basque youth and off-duty Spanish policemen in a late-night bar, in which no-one was seriously hurt and no weapons used, was being treated in the media and by the State Prosecutors as a case of terrorism! Although the judge rejected the accusation of “terrorism”, in 2018 the youth receive a range of sentences between two and 13 years jail. An important part of the silence and lack of teaching children history is in fact about the almost four decades of Franco dictatorship and the conduct of the victors in the military-fascist uprising against the democratically-elected government of the Spanish Popular Front in 1936. And of the State assassinations and torture of captured ETA fighters and arrested Basque activists. And of the continued legal battles to uncover mass graves of Franco’s victims and try to identify the remains for the relatives.
Considering that ETA ceased its armed activities in 2012 and has since dissolved itself, the relevance and intention of the film seems to be to show an embattled Spanish “democracy”, fighting against Basque independentist “terrorism” in the past as it is now embattled with the Catalan independentists (seven activists of which it has also accused of “terrorism” a couple of weeks ago).
DISCUSSION BUT NO DEBATE
There was no discussion on the content of the film and, after its end, Víctor Andresco Peralta, Director of the Instituto Cervantes, cultural body of the Spanish Embassy, took to the stage and invited five people by name to take chairs laid out around a table. Launching into a chatty monologue full of jokey self-deprecatory comments (so many that they were actually self-promotional), he eventually asked his questions of his picked panel.
Questions included what were their earliest memories of consciousness of being Spanish, what reactions they had received about Spain from people in Ireland, or in other countries (positive and negative), what they valued about Spain, what they thought about the coup attempt in 1981 (lots of jokes about that), etc.
Referring to his father’s recent stay in hospital, Peralta asked for comparison of the Spanish health service with the Irish one (apparently the former is far better, which would not be difficult) and for other comparisons.
The discussion was skillfully managed by the showmaster to bring his group to paint a picture of a wonderful pluralist Spanish State, of freedom of expression, and of a democracy which had been able to defeat the coup attempt without much difficulty but even so, some discourse arose at times to shake the equilibrium, as when one referred to a relative telling him about the horrors of the Francoist suppression as they entered Barcelona and when another referred to the perception (mistaken, of course!) of many people outside Spain that the State was undemocratic and had violent police.
One of the panel, who appears to be an employee of the Spanish State, said she was proud of the defeat of ETA by the “Spanish democracy”. Another said she was proud of Spanish history and culture, without explaining further. She might have meant the foremost writer of Castillian-language literature, Cervantes himself, who was exiled from the Spanish kingdom because of his anti-feudal views. Or the Andalusian poet Federico Lorca, who was executed by Franco’s soldiers; or the Malagan artist in exile Picasso, who created the famous painting of the Nazi and Fascist aerial bombing of Gernika (most of the poets, writers and artists of the era were against the military-fascist coup and the four decades of dictatorship that followed). Or about the dramatist Alfonso Sastre, whose distaste for the Spanish State’s behaviour towards the Basques was such that he moved to the Basque Country.
Perhaps the woman was proud of the defeat of the learned and tolerant Moorish colony of Al Andalus and its replacement by the racist Spanish Christian Inquisition, along with the expulsion of Arabs and Jews? Or of the centuries-long suppression of the governments of the Basques, Galicians and Catalans, along with their languages? Or of the invasion, massacre, enslavement and plunder of the indigenous people of America, the Caribbean and the Philippines? Or the invasion and colonisation of the Rif in North Africa, when the French saved the Spanish colony after the Spanish army had been wiped out by lesser-armed (and often less numerous) Berber guerrillas.
Of course she might have been referring to the revolt of the Reapers in Catalonia or of the Comuneros in Castille; or of the resistance of Spanish, Catalans and Basques to the military-fascist coup and the four decades of dictatorship …. We don’t know because she did not say.
WHAT ABOUT THE RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION?
The event had been advertised as a debate but no debate took place. Nor was there a question-and-answer session, nor engagement with the audience except to send them witty asides from Peralta and to thank them at the end.
This was too much for at least one of the small audience, an Irishman who interrupted the concluding remarks of the Director by saying, in Castillian (Spanish) that it was a pity that the question of self-determination had not been discussed. The event was taking place in Ireland, he commented, where another state had denied the people the right to self-determination on grounds of that state’s constitution also. Denied permission to exercise their right, the Irish people had to fight for it and eventually won part-independence.
Peralta commented that the Spanish people were cognizant of Irish history and appreciated it.
The Irishman replied that in the Spanish state things were the complete opposite.
Peralta commented that unfortunately there was no time left for that debate, thanked participants and audience and brought the event to a close.
WHAT WAS THE POINT?
Outside the meeting up to dozen protesters had taken up positions on both sides of the street. On the Trinity College side a couple of protesters stood beside portraits of the Catalan grass-roots activists and politicians who are in jail awaiting sentence or in exile. On the Instituto side, a larger group of protesters held two banners and a Basque Antifa flag.
One of the Catalan supporters, an Irishwoman, addressed several of the panel participants as they exited. It emerged that they had not understood the nature of the event and that they thought it had to do with October 12th, which is a Spanish State celebration of its former empire and spreading of the Castillian language1(and for which one of the panel, who seems to work for the Instituto, is organising an event in Rathmines). They said they had not seen the “Global Spain” publicity (81 pages of propaganda justifying the actions of the Spanish State and attacking the principle of Catalan self-determination and the pro-independence movement!).
There was in truth not much point in attending the event unless one wanted receive a smooth-talking patter about an imaginary State occupying most of the Iberian Peninsula. For the protesters, it was important to give a response to the paint-over job. For the producers of the show, the importance was to try to distract an Irish audience from the reality of what is an unreconstructed fascist state with a thin veneer of democracy that is constantly peeling away.
1El Dia de la Hispanidad was formerly called “El Dia de la Raza Española” (Day of the Spanish Race). It is also the Spanish Armed Forces Day, obviously not inappropriately in context!
When ETA, the armed Basque Left pro-Independence group) abandoned armed resistance and decommissioned its weapons, many wondered at the absence of public dissent among its ranks. A dissident trend did appear in the Basque pro-independence movement but it took longer than it had in Ireland; it is in existence now and growing.
In using the term “dissident”, a description not always accepted by those to whom it is applied, I mean those who disagree with the direction taken by the leadership of the organisation and who have therefore separated themselves from the organisation. It becomes a problematic term when it is implied that the “dissidents” have diverged from the original path – on the contrary, those who have left the organisation would say, it is the leadership which has left the path and it is those being called “dissidents” who remain on the “true path”.
In the Basque pro-independence movement, as in the Irish Republican movement, the “dissidents” are in a minority but that should not be taken to mean that those who have remained within the “official” movement are in complete agreement with the leadership nor happy with the state of affairs within the movement. Indeed, within the Izquierda Abertzale (Basque Left pro-Independence movement), many are very unhappy indeed. Some do not agree with alliances with social democrats or attempted with the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party), others with complete disarmament, some with disarmament without concessions in return, yet others with particular decisions at various junctures (such as pleading guilty to “terrorism” when the work they had been doing was nothing of the sort, as happened recently in the mass trial of prisoner solidarity activists arrested back in 2013). Or with “apologising to the victims” as the Spanish State has been pressing on prisoners and detainees (the Spanish State of course apologises for nothing, neither the fascist-military uprising of Franco and company, nor the Dictatorship of almost four decades, nor executions, nor recent torture).
There were splits enough in the Irish Republican movement even soon after the Civil War but they also came thick and fast in the early 1970s, out of which grew the Provisionals (Sinn Féin and PIRA) and the IRSP and INLA, leaving Official Sinn Féin and OIRA as a rapidly-diminishing and eventually disintegrating remainder. Another split came about as a result of the electoral path of Provisional SF in 1986, out of which came Republican Sinn Féin. But it was the Good Friday Agreement and its effects which caused the most splits and desertions from the ranks of the Provisionals, leading to the creation of a number of organisations over time: éirigi, 32 County Sovereignty Movement, 1916 Societies, Saoradh and others.
POLITICAL PRISONERS, IRELAND & BASQUE COUNTRY
Most unfortunately, the number of Republican organisations led also to a number of political prisoner support groups and currently there are three main ones: Cabhair (RSF), Cogus (mainly 32 CSM) and Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association (mainly Saoradh).
In the Basque movement, the Izquierda Abertzale, although there were the abiding split has come over the issue of the Republican prisoners. The traditional line of the IA has always been that the prisoners, whether captured ETA volunteers or political activist victims of repression, are political prisoners. It follows that they should be released in any settlement of the Basque national question. But in the meantime, if prisoners, they should be kept in prisons near their homes so that they can be visited without too much difficulty by relatives and friends. That is not only a humane principle but is underwritten by EU and UN policy recommendations on the treatment of prisoners. The Spanish State, however, keeps its political prisoners dispersed throughout its territory, hundreds and even a thousand kilometres away from the family and friends of the prisoners (as does the French State). This is not only an additional punishment on the prisoners, one which was not a specified part of their sentence but also – and perhaps principally – on their relatives, children, partners and friends.
The organisation Amnistia (Gestoras pro Amnistia) was created in 1970 within the movement to agitate for a total amnesty for the prisoners. As is usual with the Spanish State, in 2002 it banned this organisation also as one “assisting terrorism”, threatened its activists with prison and the organisation ceased to exist publicly, their trial beginning in 2008. The State’s outlook was fully expressed in the infamous statement of the former judge and overseer of torture but so beloved of liberals, Baltazar Garzon: “Everything is ETA”.
The organisation of relatives of prisoners on the movement’s “official” list, Etxerat (Homeward) continued to exist and to organise visits, share information and agitate about the prisoners’ treatment but it is not a political organisation as such, which is difficult to combine with welfare work.
To carry out the specifically political work around the prisoners, the organisation Herrira (to the Homeland) was created some years ago. The Spanish State reacted in the usual manner and arrested a number of its activists – for “assisting terrorism”, of course. After that, it was noted that the official line had changed – while not specifically abandoning the call for amnesty, now only the call for and end to dispersalwasheard (along with of course the repatriation of seriously or terminally-ill political prisoners).
LEADERSHIP CHANGE IN LINE AND DISSIDENCE
The change in line, the dropping of the demand for amnesty, led to the creation of a new Amnestia, but with the addition of Ta Askatasuna (and Freedom), this time in the hands of “dissidents”. The “oficialistas”, the current leadership of the main body of the pro-independence movement, Otegi, EH Bildu etc, say this is pure opportunism on the part of the dissidents, who are expressing their disagreement with the abandonment of armed struggle and dissolution of ETA by seizing on the issue of amnesty for political prisoners. They could be right, of course, at least in part. But unlike the leadership of SF and PIRA, the Basque “oficialistas” got no deal whatsoever for their prisoners.
Recently, a significant part of their youth section Ernai left the “oficialistas” and maintains a working relationship with the new ATA. Their issue was that they had prepared a position paper for discussion at the annual congress and the “oficialistas” had refused to permit it to be discussed, since it was critical of current leadership positions.
Another group, Jarki, is revolutionary, socialist, for independence, internationalist and in defence of the language and has been organising.
Apart from those three trends, there also exist anti-authoritarian, ecological etc trends that owe no allegiance to the official leadership of the movement. These are national in the sense that they are spread across the Basque Country and also in that they speak and write in Euskera (Basque language); they are also for social justice, feminist, anti-racist and anti-sexuality discrimination.
It remains to be seen to what degree these various trends will coalesce and whether the “official” movement will continue to see defections from its ranks.
The Diada, national day of Catalan identity and of resistance was celebrated in Dublin’s Merrion Square on Saturday 7th September with traditional food, drink, games and music. Catalan independentist flags and banners were also on display as were portrait placards of Catalan political prisoners of the Spanish State.
The Diada Nacional de Catalunya (Diada for short) is the National Day of Catalonia, a one-day event celebrated annually on the 11th of September. It commemorates the fall of Barcelona during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, which resulted in Catalonia’s institutions and legal system being abolished and coming under the domination of the Spanish crown.
The Army of Catalonia backed the Habsburg claim to the Spanish throne, believing thereby that Cataloni’s national autonomy would be respected. However, the army of the Bourbon King Philip V of Spain was successful and Barcelona fell after a siege of 14 moths.
It Diada first began to be celebrated in 1888 and gained in popularity over succeeding year and in 1923 was a mass event with events all over Catalonia. However clashes with the Spanish police resulted in 12 protesters and five police being wounded and a number of arrests. Primo Rivera’s dictatorship banned it but during the 2nd Spanish Republic (1931-1939) the Catalan Generalitat (Government) made it an institutional festival. With the fall of Catalonia to the military-fascist forces of Franco and others, it was banned and celebrated only in people’s homes.
The first renewed public celebration of the festival was in 1976, following the death of Franco the preceding year and in 1977 was the occasion for a huge demonstration demanding independence for Catalonia and in 1980 was made official by the Generalitat.
With the renewed growing push for Catalan independence, the day has been the occasion for huge demonstrations demanding self-determination. For some years now the ANC (National Assembly of Catalonia), which claims to be the largest grass-roots organisation not only in Catalonia but in the world, has been the main organiser of the Diada and has used it as part of its mobilisation for indpendence (which presumably is the reason the Spanish State has put its former President, Jordi Sanchez, on trial on charges of sedition and rebellion and in detention since 2017, the verdict expected this month or next.
Although the Diada commemorates a crushing defeat for Catalan self-determination, its celebration has become an occasion of re-affirmation of that desire, a public sign of resistance. Massive demonstrations once again have been held and, as in Dublin, expatriate and Catalan diaspora communities around much of the world have celebrated it publicly this year, particularly in Europe but also in Latin America and in the USA.
Merrion Square, a public park in the Dublin city centre, was the venue for the Diada event organised by Catalans in the Irish branch of the ANC and by Dublin CDR (Comite de Defensa de la Republica) on a the 7th, which was a Saturday.
The area was decked out with estelladas (Catalan independence flags) and placards bearing portraits of the Catalan political prisoners (see following section on the Situation in Catalonia). Parents attended with their children and games were played with them as well as a traditional Catalan game being available for adults and a few engaged in a version of the poc fada Irish activity with camáin (hurley sticks).
Traditional food and drink was provided also. Commenting on the event, a spokesperson for the organisers said:
“We had a festive and family-oriented Diada (National Catalan Day) in Dublin. We also publicised a call for freedom for the political prisoners and the right of self-determination for Catalonia.”
SUMMARY OF SITUATION IN CATALONIA
The Catalan Parliament has twice passed a number of legal measures which have been judged “unconstitutional” by the Spanish Court and therefore cancelled. These included:
Increased taxes on large companies
a “sugar tax” on sweet soft drinks
ban on bullfighting
access to public medical care for migrants
ban on evictions and high rents
The growing push for Catalan self-determination found expression in a number of growing public events and in October 2017 a referendum was held. The Spanish State banned the referendum and its police raided the Government offices and other places for ballot boxes. On the day of the Referendum, October 1st, Spanish police attacked voters and referendum supporters with a reported nearly one thousand seeking medical attention. They also fired rubber bullets, which are banned in Catalonia, at peaceful demonstrators.
The Catalan right-wing anti-independence parties had called for a boycott of the referendum and many ballots were confiscated by the Spanish police. The majority of those available gave a high majority for an independent Catalonian republic (there were no other options other than “No”).
The then President Puigdemont, backed by the pro-independence majority in the Catalan Parliament, acting on their mandate, in 2017 declared an independent Catalan Republic but immediately suspended it, urged by EU advisers to seek talks with Madrid (which he reflects now was a mistake).
Subsequently the Spanish State prorogued the Catalan Parliament until new elections were held and also charged a number of politicians and social activists with sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds (allegedly to fund the Referendum). Some, like Puigdemont, went into exile and others to jail without bail; their trial is now over and the verdict is expected later this month or next. In addition, numbers of secondary school teachers have been called to testify because of their responses to the questions of pupils about the Referendum and the destruction to their schools by police and around 700 town mayors are also called to testify for allegedly facilitating the Referendum.
The elections forced by the Spanish State returned a broad political backing for Catalan independence from right to left which finds expression in a number of coalition parties (Junts per Catalonia, Esquerra Republican and Candidatura d’Unidad Popular), opposedby a substantial but minority hard-right unionist oppositioncoalition too (mostly Ciudadanos). The coalition based on the Catalan version of Podemos also has seats but its actual position on independence is not easy to define.
Since then, the Spanish State elections and the European elections have also returned pro-independence candidates but EU senior officials blocked Catalan MEPs who are in exile from taking their seats and another is in Spanish jail, awaiting a verdict.