AN EASTER STORY

 

Diarmuid Breatnach

There are many different kinds of Easter stories – religious ones, or about Easter parades and processions, ones about family reunions, Easter egg hunts, even holidays …. this isn’t one of those.

The man, let’s call him Jeremiah or Jerry for short, stood outside the pub on a Sunday afternoon and struggled to quell the apprehension threatening to flood his mind and body. It had to be done. He turned to his companion, who seemed to view everything through laughing eyes and was no different now. Brian had three teenage kids with him, two of his own and a friend of one of them. Hardly ideal, but Brian had turned up with them a little while ago and there was no-one to leave them with. Well, they’d be all right – Jerry would be the target and, after him, Brian. They wouldn’t touch the kids.

Best give me the bag, Brian,” he said and, receiving it, checked inside. The stuff was there. Of course. Jerry folded the bag and stuck it under his jumper, under his coat.

He was focused on the tasks ahead but the trail that led them here had started days earlier. And, in some ways, years before that.

He squared his shoulders, turned and entered the pub. Brian and the kids followed.

**** **** ****

He had been at work on Friday afternoon when the call came from the Manager of the Irish Community Centre. Of course, he asked the staff to put it through to his office.

Do you know your event is in the newspapers?”

Something in the Manager’s voice alerts him that he is not being congratulated on the publicity.

The Easter Rising commemoration?”

Yes. It’s in the Evening Standard.”

Well, that answered the second question he had in mind.

No, I didn’t know. What are they saying?”

He knows what the British media are like and he’s got a sinking feeling.

It transpires that an Irish Republican organisation had put the event on their website, which had been noted by an Englishman who lost his son in the Omagh bombing of 1998. There are many questions to be answered about that bombing, both within the Republican and the State side, but for many years, not unnaturally, the father had been focused on the Republican group allegedly connected to the Real IRA, who had placed the bomb. In addition to his son, the bomb had killed 28 other people, the second-highest death toll for any day during the war in Ireland, the highest being the Dublin-Monaghan bombing of 1974, with a toll of 34. Jerry was aware that the 1974 bombings did not attract anything like the same media attention and understood the reason – they had been carried out by Loyalists under British Intelligence Service direction.

But what had all this to do with the Irish in Britain Representation Group in South London, and their Easter Rising Commemoration? Or with the Irish Community Centre? Well, the grieving father had noted the posting by the Irish organisation, noted the venue and rang, demanding that the event be cancelled.

I told him the commemoration is an annual event organised by an Irish community organisation and that there’s never been any trouble at it. I told him it has nothing to do with that Republican organisation …. it doesn’t, does it?”

No, it’s just us, the local Irish in Britain Representation Group branch. But surely any organisation is entitled to advertise the event?”

Jerry is noting doubt in the Centre Manager’s voice responding to him. He is on the receiving end of huge pressure, working in his office, alone.

He wanted me to cancel the booking and I said I couldn’t do that.”

The grieving father had got on to the local authority, who replied that the event was the business of the Irish Centre. The father then contacted the media, who rang the local authority again and this time, instead of sticking to their original line and weathering what would be a short-lived storm, and without phoning the Centre Manger, their spokesperson condemned the event and stated they would be asking hard questions of the Centre, which they part-funded.

Jerry reads all this again when he slips out to get a newspaper. He feels for the beleaguered Centre Manager but can do nothing. It’s too late to contact the newspapers because the story is published. The event is to be held that evening. It has been advertised in the local area and in the Irish Post, the main newspaper at the time for the Irish diaspora in Britain. And in any case, one cannot – should not – give in to intimidation, coercion. The community had mostly caved under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in 1974 and had not really rallied again until the Hunger Strikes of 1981. The event must go on.

Jerry heads home, thinking about additional security needed on the door for the event, composing replies to the local authority, a letter in the newspaper ….

The IBRG Ard-Choiste, its governing body, had withdrawn its support of the Time To Go coalition in Britain some years earlier because of undemocratic maneuvering by some left Labour politicians, along with the sidelining of specific Irish community concerns. They had not been alone: Stop the Strip Searches Campaign and the Troops Out Movement had pulled out also, leaving the tiny Labour Committee on Ireland, the Socialist Workers Party and Communist Party of Great Britain to be supported by only the Wolfe Tone Association (SF support group in London) and the Connolly Association (linked to the CPGB) among the Irish campaigners .

Later, in 1998, the IBRG had been divided on the Good Friday Agreement. It was not the issue of continuing or ceasing the armed actions of the IRA that had been the source of the division, rather the acceptance of colonial rule, albeit claimed to be for tactical reasons only. A majority within the IBRG came out against the Agreement and that was in accordance with Jerry’s position too.

Although he supports none of the Republican groups opposing Sinn Féin, he has heard whispers in the Irish community at various times associating him with this or that group. This might well be feeding doubts in the Centre Manager’s mind.

Jerry is in a more difficult position than might seem. He is not only Secretary of the local IBRG branch that has organised the event and is affiliated to the Community Centre, but also the Chairperson of the Irish Centre’s Management Committee itself. The Management Committee is the Centre Manager’s employer and has a duty of care to him. And after nearly a decade of campaigning for the provision of the Centre and the meagre funding it receives, no-one on the Committee would want to antagonise the local authority.

But it was the IBRG branch itself and in particular the Irish Pensioners’ Association which was then a part of it, which had won the provision for the community in the end. And Jerry had been part of the campaign, elected as Chairperson of the Steering Group in the years while renovations of the building and available funding were discussed, elected Chairperson for the first six months after the Centre opened and at the Annual General Meeting for every year afterwards. In fact, recently Jerry had been trying unsuccessfully to step down, to ease a replacement into his position.

On the train from London Bridge on the last leg of his journey home, Jerry reflects ruefully that this controversy might cause his stepping down, which was hardly the way he had anticipated his leaving. No stepping back slowly, supporting someone new in position and easing himself out. No – thrown out instead! That would of course imply he had done something wrong, which he hadn’t and that the IBRG had been wrong to commemorate the Rising, which they hadn’t either. Ironically, if moves were made now to replace him, he’d have to fight them.

**** **** ****

Before he arrives at the Irish Community Centre, Jerry looks carefully around the mostly residential street. Nothing seems threatening but can one be sure? He is carrying the IBRG’s branch’s banner, wrapped up in black bin liners, which makes him a visible target if someone’s searching. On the other hand, one of the poles of the banner is loose within the bundle, in case of need ….

He drops the Centre’s keys in his nervousness and enters, disabling the alarm and turning quickly to retrieve the keys and lock the door. Then, into the hall, to begin arranging some of the material ….

He is anxious for some of the IBRG members to arrive but jumps when the doorbell rings. Checking through the fish-eye spyhole, he is surprised to see one of the Irish Pensioners, who lives locally.

Opening the door and ushering her in, he locks the door behind her, saying apologetically “There’s only myself here so far.”

Are others coming?” she asks – she has read the newspaper and unerringly touches Jerry’s main fear at the moment.

I’m sure they are, Ellie. What are you doing here so early?’

I thought you might need some help.”

Jerry is touched straight through to his heart but has to refuse. He can’t have her here if there’s an attack with no-one else but himself to defend her.

Oh no, Ellie that’s very kind of you. But I kind of know what I have to do and explaining it to others will just take longer and make me flustered. You know how it is. Thanks a lot. Besides the others will be here soon. Come back when we’re open …..” he trails off guiltilly.

Still, she goes and he heaves a sigh of relief, at the same time feeling shame.

But there’s work to be done.

A scattering of volunteers arrives over the next half hour. The reception table is set up in the lobby, to sell tickets and distribute leaflets. Hidden behind, are the lengths of wood in case of attack by one of the British fascist groups. Up goes the green-white-&-orange bunting, portraits of the executed 1916 leaders, enlarged copies of the 1916 Proclamation. At the back of the stage, facing the hall, the large artwork Jerry made a few years ago of green, white and orange flames bursting from the date 1916. And the IBRG branch banner.

The stage is ready for the band, a group called The Mc ____ Brothers, who play Irish ballads, including Republican material. Water jug and glasses for the speakers. Tables and chairs rearranged on the hall floor (the part-time Caretaker had laid them out but Jerry always prefers a more “club” arrangement, of smaller tables spaced apart surrounded by some chairs).

By the time the opening hour arrives, Jerry is sweating but it is the sweat of work, not of fear or apprehension. The hall looks good. People are starting to arrive. Maybe he can relax now. Maybe. Brian is on the door with others close by.

The event is a bring-your-own-alcohol one and Jerry and others in the lobby spend some time directing people to the nearest off-licence, so that people are coming in, going out, coming in, sitting in the hall …. Jerry is scanning their faces, looking for possible sources of trouble.

An hour later and the band has not arrived. Pol phones them but gets no reply. Phones their manager but no reply either. Another hour later, the reality dawns on the organisers. The band will not be coming. They have seen the newspaper and decided to look after their safety. But they haven’t even bothered to tell them.

The organisers confer, after which Jerry mounts the stage, calls for attention and begins to speak.

A Chairde Gael agus a chairde ó thíortha eile, go raibh míle maith agaibh for coming here tonight to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising with us. This is a hugely important event in Irish history and indeed in the history of the world and the local branch of the IBRG has been not just commemorating but publicly celebrating this historic event every year for some time now.

But we are very sorry to say that we have some bad news for you now. Some of you will know that very recently pressure was put on us to cancel this event but that we refused to do so. Pressure was put on the Irish Centre to cancel the event which they also and rightly refused to do.

That the British media would attack us is no surprise, they have been doing that for years. But that the local authority’s spokesperson should bow down to them and, without consulting with us, imply that we are doing something wrong here, that the Centre should not have taken our booking, is something else.

And worst of all, that an Irish band, which makes a living playing Irish ballads, should allow themselves to be scared off and not even have the decency to ring us – well, I don’t really have the words to tell you what I think about that.

So, a chairde, we offer you your money back and no questions and our sincere apologies. However, those of you who wish to remain are welcome to do so and we’ll make our own entertainment with a few songs …. we have a guitar player here …. another man plays a whistle …. But please, you are entitled to your money back and those who wish to please go to the table in the lobby now.”

As though he had been primed to do so (but Jerry knew he had not), a middle-aged Irishman at a table nearer the stage jumps up and shouts: “NO! We will not ask for our money back! We’re not going to be chased out by no British newspapers!”

A round of applause from the audience and a few cheers greet his outburst. And just like that, the evening is saved.

The guitarist plays some numbers and sings. Jerry gives an abbreviated oration and sings a few ballads. The whistle player plays some tunes. People sing along to songs. They drink, chat and buy raffle tickets. One of the raffle prizes is auctioned by the winner, a local publican Jerry had been surprised to see in the audience. The money goes into the takings. At the end of the evening, as they finally cajole the last of the audience out of the Centre (still with a wary eye on the street) and finish cleaning and tidying up, they count the takings. Financially, it has been their most successful evening ever, especially since they didn’t have to pay a band.

But the band ….. their action and lack of notification have left a sour taste in the mouths of the organisers. And during the evening, they learned that the Mc___ Brothers are booked to play at an Irish pub, on Sunday afternoon, just two days away. And only a five minutes’ drive from the Irish Centre.

**** **** ****

A council of war decides that the bar will be visited, Jerry will mount the stage (“you’re our best speaker”) and present the band with white feathers, symbolising cowardice. Some can’t be there. One or two think it will be dangerous. Brian, Pol and Jerry think it’s a good plan — so then they just need some white feathers. How hard can that be?

Visits to duck pond parks yield none. The quaysides along the Thames show no seagull feathers. Brian drives to the coast and walks some beaches – and finds a couple of wispy ones. In desperation on Sunday morning, they burst open a pillow and drag out a handful of feathers. They are small, not at all like the large ones they had envisaged presenting to the band but they are white and they are feathers. Into the plastic bag they go and then Brian is driving Jerry and the kids to the pub. Brian has remarkable personal resources and has been through some very serious situations so this might be small potatoes to him …. but Jerry’s guts are churning.

Some faces in the pub turn to look at them as they enter. Jerry has been here before only once but a number of the clientele are known to him from other pubs and events. And he is probably known to more of them, as Chairperson of the Irish Centre. A few catch his eye and he nods at them, keeping his face impassive.

Do they know that the band playing here let down the audience two days ago? Of course they do …. or at least many would. This is the Irish community in SE London. Besides, the Manager of this bar, Kate, until recently worked for the publican who auctioned the raffle prize at the event on Friday night. Are they wondering what Jerry intends to do?

The band, which Brian has taken to calling the “McChicken Brothers”, is already playing on stage. Jerry had meant to get here before they got on but the feather search had been a delay. To get in front of them now might be resented by the audience and anyway, the band’s control of the microphones could drown out what needs to be said. Jerry goes to the bar, orders pints for himself and Brian and soft drinks for the kids, stitches a smile on his face and chats to Brian. And they wait.

Eventually the band takes a break and Jerry waits tensely for the indication that they are returning for the second half of their gig. When he sees them coming he nods to Brian, whose job is to fend off anyone attacking him before he has finished.

Just as the band reach the low stage but have yet to mount it, Jerry jumps up on it and begins to speak in a loud voice.

Ladies and gentlemen, your attention for a moment please!” EVERYBODY turns to look.

These musicians here were booked to play at an Easter Rising commemoration at the Irish Community Centre on Friday. They didn’t turn up. They left the audience (ok, bump up the figures a little!, he thinks) — 200 people – and the organisers stranded. And they didn’t even have the decency to tell us they weren’t coming. They ran scared, my friends, from lies in the British press.”

Jerry has the plastic bag in his hand and now dips into it, withdrawing a handfull of fluffy little white feathers.

Shame on you!” he says, facing the band members. “And this is what we think of you!”

So saying, he tries to throw the bunch of feathers at them but they erupt in a cloud between them, some clinging to Jerry’s hands. No matter, it is done. He steps off the stage and heads for the door, hoping to make it before anyone tries to stop him, before Brian has to get into physical stuff.

Surprisingly, someone shouted “Hear, hear!” and there had been a scattered round of applause.

Outside, they head for Brian’s car. A man comes running out and Brian steps forward to confront him, Jerry getting ready too, the kids behind him. Kate, the Manager, comes running out too and grabs the man. She says some things to him and he goes back in reluctantly, Jerry thinking the man doesn’t know how lucky he is that he didn’t tangle with Brian. Then Kate comes up to Jerry, shaking with anger, her face white.

You had NO right, NO right to do that in my pub!” she says.

We couldn’t let them get away with that, Kate,” Jerry replies.

Anywhere else. Not in my pub,” she says again.

The adrenaline is now seeping away and Jerry knows that his leg will start to shake soon. He feels a little sorry for Kate but needs to get away.

Sorry, Kate, that’s where they were,” Jerry replies and turns to go.

Don’t ever come in my pub again,” she calls out at his back.

**** **** ****

Many things were probably said in the local Irish community about the IBRG branch before and after that incident but probably that action contributed to an estimation that whatever you might think of them, they stood up for themselves and didn’t back down. That and their annual Children’s Irish Hallowe’en Party, their weekly Children’s Irish Art and History Group, their participation in the South London St. Patrick’s Day Parade and their occasional dramatic productions earned the small group a kind of respect in the local Irish community, a community often quite conservative in social outlook, often insular, often riven by jealousies and back-biting.

One night two weeks after the 1916 commemoration, there was a crude arson attempt on the Centre – a bottle with accelerant leaned against the front door and set alight. It burned a hole in the door and set off the fire alarms. Jerry, as a keyholder, got a call to attend from Ellie. The police were already there and Jerry dealt with them politely. Any enemies? they asked. Jerry wondered whether he should give them a list.

My guess is some British far-right group”, he replied, very glad that back in the Steering Group days, he had insisted on all the windows being covered with wire mesh panels, thinking of possible rock or even petrol bomb attack.

The police suggested they look through a list of recent attendance at the Centre. Jerry politely refused. Security provisions were made at the Centre.  Nothing came of whatever investigations the police carried out and Jerry was not surprised.

Media attention went away and the local authority didn’t take the matter further. Jerry wrote a letter to the Irish Post, denouncing the pressure applied against the IBRG and the Irish Centre and which might even have encouraged the arson attack. He did so under an assumed name because, as Chairperson, he wished not to implicate the Centre in his denunciation of the craven action of the local authority spokesperson. The beleaguered Centre Manager did not see it that way, assuming that Jerry was trying to have his say while avoiding responsibility.

When, a number of years later, in a heavy round of cuts in expenditure, the Centre’s main funding, the Manager’s and caretakers’ salaries were targeted in the local authority’s budget, Jerry led the Management Committee in a campaign of resistance. They picketed Council meetings and drew up lists of elected Councillors to lobby. Irish musicians and children in Irish dancing school costumes were brought to perform in front of the Council offices, leading to photographs in the local press. The Pensioners’ Association, amicably separated some years earlier from the IBRG branch, played a prominent part once more. Some local English people came forward to support the Centre’s case. Jerry prepared a submission for the IBRG branch and spoke to it at a Council meeting. Eventually, their meagre funding, the removal of which would have meant the closing of the Centre except for sporadic events, was saved.

Jerry didn’t go back to that bar where he had confronted the “McChicken Brothers” for about a year after that incident. When he did, he wondered whether he’d be served. He was — but it was another two years before Kate spoke to him again.

End.

WAR, IMPERIALISM AND ‘PEACE PROCESSES’

Diarmuid Breatnach

As news reaches us of wars in various parts of the world it behoves us to try, not only to discern who did what when to whom but to see whether there is an overall pattern behind them. A religious explanation might be that there is much evil loose in the world but that analysis will advance us little.

The fact is that there are powerful imperialist powers ‘loose in the world’ and they are either directly causing these wars or exacerbating them, not because the men and women dominating these powers are evil as such but because they strive to control resources, markets and strategic areas. This striving brings these powers into conflict not only with the interests of millions of people in the respective areas but also into competition with other imperialist powers – and this competition has led to two World Wars and many smaller ones in the last century alone.

In the first of those on a World scale, 1914-1919, Britain (or the UK, if one prefers) went to war with Germany. The Austro-Hungarian Empire lined up with Germany as did the Ottoman Empire. Russia, France, the USA and other powers lined up with Britain. And many other states and colonies and territories got pulled into the conflict.

The British Empire in 1916 excluding territories of influence, for example Latin Amarica, where it was then dominant. Source internet

WHAT WAS THE WAR ABOUT?

It was about many things – and not exactly the same things for each participating state – but basically it was about who would have the lion’s share of the resources of the less-developed world, in particular Africa and who would control the markets for selling those resources and also the industrial goods produced in the “home countries”. And, in order to control those things, which power would control strategic areas in the world – which included ports for navies and forts along certain overland trade routes and coasts.

What brings other countries and territories in?

Smaller players join with great powers for a share of the spoils or have been bound to them by treaties – perhaps they were themselves brought to heel in earlier times by the power to which they are now joined. Colonies and “dependent” territories contributed huge numbers of people on both sides, either recruited in preference to poverty, by war-excitement or by misleading propaganda that their sacrifice would buy their freedom or greater autonomy after the war.

Germany was defeated eventually and the French and British imposed a punitive surrender condition on them, allowing them to plunder Germany’s industrial Ruhr Valley. This injured national pride so much that Hitler was able to use it to whip up an aggressive German nationalism which facilitated another war, 1939-1945.

THE SECOND WORLD WAR

This war also pulled in allies, colonies and other territories. But what was the war actually about? Essentially the same things: which power would control the markets for selling those resources and also the industrial goods produced in the “home countries”. And, in order to control those things, which power would control strategic areas in the world.

The German industrial and financial ruling class, which supported Hitler, was not going for war out of injured pride – they wanted to control the oilfields and land to the east and Middle East and to knock out their main competitors in world domination – once again, the British and French but also now the USA, which had been a much smaller player in WWI. By now Holland and Belgium were mostly small fry and Imperial Russia had, along with a number of other countries, become the USSR. Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan were prominent players with their own objectives but joined with Nazi Germany.

Map on which one can see the encirclement of Russia: Turkey in NATO, Ukraine is hostile to Russia, Georgia tried to break away, Afghanistan is occupied, Pakistan is hostile, Syria is embattled, Iran awaits.
(source Internet)

WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST TODAY

Nowadays, the USA strides the world as almost unchallenged superpower, supported enthusiastically by a reduced UK and with varying degrees of enthusiasm by its other allies in the EU and elsewhere across the world. Only one challenger on the world power level exists, which is Russia, now a capitalist country, certainly with colonial and no doubt with imperialist ambitions.

The USA (with the assistance of its allies) seeks to surround Russia with regimes allied to itself. Not so long ago, this was impossible in the Middle East, where a number of strong regimes were opposed to US domination: Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran. The US and allies have succeeded in knocking out the first two of these and the third is fighting to defend itself from multi-pronged attacks. If Syria falls, Iran will be next and then, from the Middle East, Russia will be totally blocked. So of course, Russia decides not to wait for that to happen and gives military aid to the Syrian regime.

THE FUTURE?

The struggle for world domination is being played out in other areas of the world too, of course but this is the most intense area at the moment and the Israeli Zionist v. Palestinian struggle also plays a part in it.

It is difficult to look too far ahead in order to predict the various local and overall world outcomes. However, from the history of empires in general it seems inevitable that at some point the power of the USA must wane.

There are a number of contradictions besetting the USA but one of its potentially most disastrous is its external debt. In the typical pattern of imperialist capitalism, the financial capital of the USA has merged inextricably with industrial and military capital, leading to the description of “the US military-financial-industrial complex”. That in itself does not perhaps make the USA too vulnerable but its borrowing abroad to sustain this complex does: according to a number of sources on the Internet the foreign debt of the USA is nearly 18 trillion dollars: $17,910,859,000,000.

Well, we may think, the USA is an enormous country with huge resources and controlling huge amounts of resources around the world. Yes, it is – but that debt keeps growing. And the interest payments on it are huge – so huge that each year they are not repaid in total and are added to the debt.

Of course, if creditors were to call in the debts and the US financial system collapsed, the creditors would end up with very little in terms of repayment. That leaves the USA safe for the moment but each year it becomes more vulnerable. 32.5% of the total foreign debt is held by China and that huge country may at some time in the future find it in its interest to bring the USA down or to use that finance to pressure greater penetration into US markets (above the current level which US manufacturers are already complaining about). At the moment, President Trump is talking about getting the USA’s foreign creditors to accept lower interest repayments. He may or may not get his way but for the US, it is a bad sign.

USA national debt 2016 (source Internet)

The domestic debt of the US is over $12 trillion and 47% of that is foreign-owned too.

The USA’s economy is in many ways a military one. It needs wars – not just to fight itself but by its proxies. Since WW2 alone, it has been involved in 24 offensive military conflicts, from Korea to Syria.  Without wars, how can the USA justify its military expenditure? And without that expenditure, what happens to the military-financial-industrial complex?

For the continuing extraction of resources, the USA needs compliant regimes – compliant with US needs, that is. Inevitably this results in support for dictators or regimes who are massively corrupt and who get armed to the teeth by the USA and repress their own populations, resulting in poverty, torture and violation of human rights. It also results in resistance, in popular movements which at times turn to armed struggle. Overall, the US, which seeks stability for its extraction of natural resources, creates massive INstability in the world.

THE MEANING FOR US

So what does all this mean to us? Firstly, that we should oppose imperialism. The question of “how” is a different one but the objective is unavoidable. Secondly, that to talk of achieving “peace” without eliminating imperialism is at best an indulgence in wishful thinking, at worst a cruel duping of people. Any kind of “peace” deal without the removal of imperialism is at best a temporary one only.

Peace with imperialism (sourced on Internet)

As for “peace processes” in areas of strong popular resistance, where ironically we often see major representative of imperialism enthusiastically engaged, since they never remove the central reasons behind the conflict, those processes merely buy a short-term stability for imperialism and capitalism to continue, more or less as before. For that reason, “pacification” is a much more correct term than “peace process”. The effect of pacification processes on the imperialist, colonialist and capitalist systems is often undramatic, not so the scale of their detrimental effect on the movements of popular resistance – but that’s another topic.

A chríoch

SPANISH STATE TO REIMPOSE NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS ON THE SOUTHERN BASQUE PEOPLE?

 

Diarmuid Breatnach

 

The Basque Country is one of the few places in the world where popular opposition successfully prevented the completion of a nuclear power plant; the opposition consisted of both popular mobilisations and armed action. But is the Spanish state now about to reimpose a nuclear program on the Basques?

 

In the 1960s, the Spanish state began a program of nuclear plant construction in the territory under its dominion. This was an era of great enthusiasm among states and industrialists for nuclear power and generally there was little popular opposition – most of the nuclear opposition at the time being focused on use of nuclear (and earlier, atomic) weapons and nuclear-powered military vessels.

Broad popular opposition to nuclear power itself began to build in particular after the accident at the nuclear reactor at Three-Mile Island (Pennsylvania, USA, 1979) and a catalogue of smaller nuclear reactor accidents (such as those at Sellafield, Wales, for example).

The lobby in favour of nuclear power tends to emphasize the ‘cleaness’ of the fuel (i.e. as opposed to ‘acid rain’ carbon dioxide and other pollution from coal-burning and oil-burning stations, and oil tanker disasters), relative ‘cheapness’ to produce (as opposed to oil, gas and coal) and possibly inexhaustible power (as opposed to fossil fuels). The lobby against nuclear power quotes environmental damage from accidents with potentially greater consequences and points out that the ‘cheapness’ is created by ignoring the costs of safe disposal of nuclear waste material which, if taken into account, would make it much more expensive.

Of course there are powerful interests in favour of nuclear power programs, including military, industrial energy production and construction industry. Employment opportunities in work-poor areas often build local support for construction of such plants also but in some areas it is precisely the local community that opposes the construction and that was the case in the southern Basque Country (the four provinces in Spanish-controlled territory).

Nuclear reactors tend to be built away from especially large population centres; if one accepts the necessity of such plants this policy makes sense but exposes people in areas far from the national decision-making centres to the pro-nuclear policy and its consequences, actual and potential. The later stages of the Spanish nuclear program included building three reactors in the Basque Country and one had already been built in the first phase at Garoňa, in the nearby Spanish province of Burgos.

LEMOIZ: A HISTORY OF STRUGGLE AGAINST NUCLEAR REACTORS IN THE BASQUE COUNTRY

The first site of the Basque-location phase of construction was at the small harbour of Lemoiz (Lemoniz in Spanish), situated in a picturesque part of Bizkaia (Biscay) province and attracted opposition from a coalition of interests: militant Basque left-nationalists, anti-nuclear and environmental campaigners.

lemoiz-from-distance

Lemoiz nuclear reactor site seen from a distance (photo source Internet)

Popular demonstrations began in the 1970s while the site was under construction with people traveling to the site to protest, also holding protests elsewhere and there were even some incidents of sabotage inside the facility, which was guarded by a Guardia Civil (Spanish Francoist paramilitary police force) post. This took place during the life of the Franco regime (he died in 1975) and also after his death during the repression of the “Transición” process which was not completed until 1982. Festivals and marches were also organised elsewhere in the Basque Country against the project.

The first armed attack by ETA was carried out 18 December 1977 with an attack on the Guardia Civil post at the site, during which David Álverez Peña, one of the ETA group’s members was injured, causing his death a month later. ETA later succeeded in planting a bomb in the reactor of the station which exploded on 17 March 1978, causing the death of two employees (Andrés Guerra and Alberto Negro), and wounding another two. Substantial damage was caused to the structure in the explosion, delaying construction.

Lemoiz nuclear reactor site seen from a distance (photo source Internet)

Scene one hour after killing of Gladys del Estal in Tudela, Nafarroa in 1983, her body still lying on the ground (photo source Internet)

On an International Day of Action Against Nuclear Power, 3rd June 1979, a police bullet resulted in the death of an anti-nuclear activist during a demonstration in Tudela, a town in the Basque province of Nafarroa; her name was Gladys del Estal and she was from Donostia/ San Sebastian in Gipuzkoa province. Demonstrations against the facility were now a weekly event.

Honor ceremony at a commemoration for Gladys Estal, shot by police at an anti-nuclear demonstration in Tudela, Nafarroa province.

Traditional honor dance being performed by two Basque women at a ceremony commemorating Gladys Estal, shot by police at an anti-nuclear demonstration in Tudela, Nafarroa province. (photo source Internet)

ETA struck again on 13 June of that year with another bomb placed inside the site, on this occasion in the turbine area which, when it detonated, caused the death of another employee, Ángel Baños.

The deaths of employees in explosions might not have been intentional but on 29th January 1981 ETA kidnapped the chief engineer of the power station, José María Ryan, from Bilbao. The armed organisation issued an ultimatum to demolish the facility or to face the death of their hostage. Despite a demonstration organised against this threat, ETA killed engineer when the company did not back down.

The company replaced Ryan with Ángel Pascual as chief project engineer and ETA assassinated him on the 5th May 1982. Work at the site ground to a halt and Iberduero, the company developing the site temporarily halted work, calling on the Basque Government to commit itself to supporting the project.

Mass demonstration at Lemoiz against the nuclear reactor (photo source Internet)

Mass demonstration 1979 at Lemoiz against the nuclear reactor (photo source Internet)

The Government of the Autonomous Basque region in which the site was located was in the hands of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) which, although completely opposed to ETA and by no means socialist, feared to go publicly against popular opinion opposed to the nuclear project. In 1983 the company officially stopped work, at which time both reactors were almost ready to go into production.

The deadlock was broken by the PSOE (Spanish unionist social-democratic party) winning the general election in 1984 on an anti-nuclear power policy and their government declared a moratorium on the building of all nuclear reactors throughout the state.

SPANISH STATE RETURNING TO A NUCLEAR -BUILDING PROGRAM?

The Spanish state currently has seven nuclear reactors generating a fifth of its electricity and its first commercial nuclear power reactor began operating in 1968.

After the horrific nuclear reactor disaster of Chernobyl (USSR 1986), people probably assumed that no further nuclear reactors would ever be built in the Spanish state. But the PSOE, the main establishment political party that formerly forced the nuclear moratorium shows signs of beginning to waver on the issue and even the nuclear reactor disaster at Fukishima (Japan 2011) does not appear to have deterred them. The PP, the right-wing Spanish unionist party, has always been in favour of nuclear reactors so that now a ruling class consensus favourable to more reactors seems to be forming (or formed).

lemoiz-skull-directions

(Source: Internet)

Last month, according to press reports in the Basque Country, José Ramón Torralbo, president of Nuclenor, the operator of the Garoña plant, stated that a “two-year-long” “comprehensive” evaluation of the nuclear power plant found no reason that the reactor could not be restarted “with some modifications”, although consideration of the request to reopen the plant is not complete and asked that deliberations of the CSN (Nuclear Safety Council) “should not be interfered with”.

Around the same time it was reported that the reopening of the Lemoiz plant was being considered also.

The decision on reopening is not to be based on questions of feasibility in the short term alone but on the decision of the Spanish Government with regard to its energy policy in general and with regard to nuclear power in particular. The President of Nuclenor indicated when speaking about the Garoña plant that a commitment to operate for 40 years only would rule out feasibility and that they would be looking for a 60-year minimum commitment and preferably for 90 years – presumably this would apply also to the Lemoiz plant.

Referring to environmental and other opposition to nuclear power generation, the president of the Forum of the Spanish Nuclear Industry, Antonio Cornadó, claimed it an “error” to “mix ideological with technological considerations”, stating that has “negative consequences” for the state energy model and for the economy, since the sector generates an important contribution to GDP and taxes.

Cornadó put this figure at €2,781 million contribution of the nuclear industry to Spanish GDP, the equivalent of 30% of the textile and footwear industry and said that “environmental taxes are becoming fashionable and seem set to increase”, stating that of every 100 euros of business, 25 go to the payment of taxes which contributes 781 million euros in taxes overall.

In addition Cornadó raised the fear of “irreversible risk …. of failing to meet climate change targets” and that “Spain is not ready to tackle the massive dismantling of all its nuclear power plants, which would be a very difficult and very expensive technological plan.”

A new uranium mining project is also commencing.

SPANISH STATE READY TO REOPEN LEMOIZ DESPITE ITS HISTORY?

With regard to Lemoiz and plans for any further nuclear reactors in the Basque Country, the factors to consider of course are much than financial viability, given the history of the plant. The Spanish state and indeed the ‘Autonomous’ Basque Government may feel that the current political situation favours a return to the nuclear program in the Basque Country or at least is less favourable to the forces that oppose it.  This is despite the leading PNV (Basque Nationalist Party) official in Araba province declaring his opposition to it.

Some Basque trade union sources have claimed that Iberduero, the company owning the Lemoiz plant, have communicated to them that it has no plans to reopen Lemoiz but it is not clear whether these statements are merely trying to calm fears or possibly even enlist trade union support for employment at the plant.

2016-06-11, Vitoria-Gasteiz. Garoñaren aurkako manifestazioa Araba Garoñarik Gabe plataformak zentral nuklearra berriz ireki ez dadin eskatzeko 11-06-2016, Vitoria-Gasteiz. Manifestación de Araba Sin Garoña para pedir que no se reabra la central.

Demonstration in Gastheiz/ Vitoria, Araba province last June calling for closure of Garona plant (photo source: Gara)

The leadership of the Abertzale (pro-Basque independence) Left has chosen to abandon the armed struggle (ETA has been on “permanent ceasefire” since 2011) and, under the leadership of Arnaldo Otegi, to pursue a national independence program electorally in alliance with social democratic parties, which has seen a fall in street opposition activities also. The opposition to the Abertzale Left’s approach within the broad movement is growing but currently weak and, to an extent, divided.  It is difficult to see how the movement’s current mainstream approach can hope to prevent a vigorous return to a Spanish State nuclear program throughout the territory it controls, including the southern four provinces of the Basque Country. 

On the other hand, the Spanish ruling class finds itself politically divided and with neither of its main political parties able to form a government, with increasing talk of both of them, the PP and the PSOE, coming to an agreement for a national coalition government. That may bring the Spanish ruling class further problems in the future as the possibility of democratic alternative choices become more remote and are seen to be so. The discontent of broad sections of society within the Spanish state in recent years has been expressed in monster demonstrations, strikes, some movements and in elections, in which oppositional but mainly radical social-democratic parties across the state have made gains, sometimes huge ones. At the moment, the revolutionary opposition movement(s) in all parts of the state is weak and divided but this may change as the situation develops.

 

End.

 

English-language video (but sketchy and difficult to understand at times): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0oANKygvaA

INTERNET SOURCES

http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-o-s/spain.aspx

http://www.naiz.eus/hemeroteca/gara (various editions with reports concerning the Garoña plant)

ANTI-INTERNMENT CAMPAIGNERS AT FORMER JAIL

Diarmuid Breatnach

The Dublin Anti-Internment Committee organised an information table on Internment outside the Kilmainham Jail Museum on Sunday 11th September 2016.  The purpose of the exercise was to make tourists and other visitors aware of the ongoing repression and civil rights abuse that is going on in Ireland which is internment by another name.  As their leaflet points out, Republicans opposed to the British colonialism or to economic attacks on their communities and who organise against them are being targeted in a process that sees them arrested, charged with ‘terrorist’ offences, refused bail (or granted only attendant by ridiculous restrictions) and then, when the case against them collapses much later and they are freed, they will still have spent years in jail.

Anti-internment campaigners line up for a photo with clenched fists (Photo: Ian O'Kelly)

Anti-internment campaigners line up for a photo with clenched fists (Photo: Ian O’Kelly)

The Dublin Committee, affiliated to the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland, mobilised outside the former jail in the afternoon, displayed their banners and gave out leaflets to passers-by, tourists and visitors (not all who were from outside Ireland, by any means).

Kilmainham Jail is a Dublin prison with an important history.  It was built before the Great Hunger and housed female and male prisoners, including children.  Insurgents and political activists from the United Irishmen, they Young Irelanders, the Fenians, the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War had been kept here, including those being deported to Australia.  Robert Emmet and Anne Devlin were kept prisoner here, as were Charles Stewart Parnell and most of the Irish Parliamentary Party’s leadership.  All fourteen of the 1916 sixteen executed were judicially killed in this jail and women activists were jailed here after the 1916 Rising and during the Civil War.

Campaign information table (Photo: Ian O'Kelly)

Campaign information table (Photo: Ian O’Kelly)

Plaza in front of old Kilmainham courthouse, which is the new entrance to the Jail Museum. (Photo: Ian O'Kelly)

Plaza in front of old Kilmainham courthouse, which is the new entrance to the Jail Museum.
(Photo: Ian O’Kelly)

The Jail closed in 1924 and was falling into disrepair; the State invited tenders for its demolition but felt that those they received were too expensive and so just left the building abandoned to ruin.  However a local restoration committee got going, raised some money and began repair and restoration work with volunteer labour, skilled and unskilled.

In 1966, in time for the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising, the restoration committee handed over the building to the State which, since then, has seen a huge attendance with nearly 330,000 visitors last year.  Recent works moved the front entrance of the museum to the former courthouse building next door and a reported €5 is being spent on revamping the facility.

 

end.

Some of the campaigners were younger than others (Photo: Ian O'Kelly)

Some of the campaigners were younger than others (Photo: Ian O’Kelly)

The emblem of the Unitied Kingdom on the courthouse roof -- this remains on a number of buildings in Dublin from the centuries of British occupation of the city. (Photo: D. Breatnach)

The emblem of the Unitied Kingdom on the courthouse roof — this remains on a number of buildings in Dublin from the centuries of British occupation of the city. (Photo: D. Breatnach)

(Photo: Ian O'Kelly)

(Photo: Ian O’Kelly)

 

Closer view of the emblem of the United Kingdom (Photo: Ian O'Kelly)

Closer view of the emblem of the United Kingdom on the courthouse roof
(Photo: Ian O’Kelly)

Side of the front of Kilmainham Jail (Photo: D.Breatnach)

Side view of the front of Kilmainham Jail and some of the campaigners
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

various-in-picket-line

Some of the campaigners with the Courthouse building stretching away from behind them.

BASQUE PIRATES ON THE WAVES

Diarmuid Breatnach

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE “FREE RADIO”

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

Front of Zintilik building. Photo D.Breatnach

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

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

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

Julen and Hektor again. Photo D.Breatnach

Julen and Hektor again.
Photo D.Breatnach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RECORDING THE INTERVIEW

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

Interview room. Photo D.Breatnach

Interview room.
Photo D.Breatnach

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

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

Recording room. Photo D.Breatnach

Recording room.
Photo D.Breatnach

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

FESTIVALS AND STORMS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

end

Clenched Fists 3 Tzintilik Irratia 2016

THREE EVENTS IN ONE ON HOWTH PIER

Clive Sulish

Foreign tourists and Irish-based visitors looked on with curious interest at a gathering at the foot of the East Pier, Howth on Sunday 24th – the group contained a number in military-type uniform, some were carrying flags, each one of a different design and a number of people in ordinary civilian clothes were carrying floral wreaths.

The Asgard, Molly Childers and Mary Spring-Rice on board at Howth

The Asgard, Molly Childers and Mary Spring-Rice on board at Howth (photos from Internet)

Participants, Tourists and Visitors

Participants, Tourists and Visitors (photo D.Breatnach)

Most onlookers at that point would not have known that those gathered there had a threefold purpose:

  • to commemorate the landing of Mauser rifles for the Irish Volunteers

  • to commemorate the massacre of civilians by enraged soldiers later that same day on Bachelors Walk and to

  • launch the Asgard 1916 Society.

 

The men and women in uniform formed up with the flags as a colour party and led the procession the full length of the pier to its end. There the procession came to a halt in front of a plaque on the wall commemorating the landing of 900 Mauser M1871 single-shot rifles and 29,000 rounds of ammunition in 1914 by a crew skippered by Erskine Childers with his wife Molly and friend Mary Spring Rice. The arms were taken ashore and whisked away in an operation planned by Bulmer Hobson of the IRB and carried out by the Irish Volunteers and Na Fianna Éireann.

Colour Party Marching

Colour Party marching along the pier towards the ceremony (photo D.Breatnach)

The Dublin Metropolitan Police and British Army were mobilised by Dublin Castle authorities to seize the guns (unlike at the previous much larger operation by the Loyalist UVF at Larne) but only managed to get a few. As the disgruntled Scottish Borderers marched back into town, they were jeered by Dublin crowds and some cabbage stalks were thrown at them. On Bachelors Walk, very near the Ha’penny Bridge, an officer brought them to a halt and they faced the crowd with guns pointed, then opened fire. Three men and a woman were killed and 38 wounded, including the father of singer Luke Kelly of the Dubliners ballad group (also called Luke). One of the victims died of bayonet wounds.

Margaret McKearney speaking and chairing the occasion on the pier

Margaret McKearney speaking and chairing the occasion on the pier (photo D.Breatnach)

Margaret McKearney, who has had three brothers killed in the Six Counties during the 30-years war, stepped forward to address the crowd as tourists and visitors took photos or watched and listened. After giving a brief account of the Howth landing and of the massacre on the Dublin quays, also of the smaller landing at Kilcoole, McKearney called forward Pól Ó Scanaill of the 1916 Societies to read the 1916 Proclamation of Independence. After he had finished, McKearney called for the young bearers of two floral wreaths to make their presentations:
Ellen O’Neill, with a wreath in memory of those killed and injured by the British soldiers at Bachelors’ Walk;

Roibeard Drummond, whose uncle Michael Moore was a crew member of the Nugget, landing rifles at Kilcoole, laying a wreath for the Asgard 1916 Society to commemorate the landing of the rifles and those who carried them in battle in 1916.

Last of the wreath-layers was Denise Ní Chanain on behalf of the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland.

Ellie after laying wreath in memory of the dead and injured in the Bachelors' Walk massacre

Ellie O’Neill after laying wreath in memory of the dead and injured in the Bachelors’ Walk massacre (photo D.Breatnach)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MOORE STREET SPEECH

Roibeard Drummond, after laying wreath on behalf of the Asgard 1916 Society

Roibeard Drummond, after laying wreath on behalf of the Asgard 1916 Society (photo D.Breatnach)

Niamh McDonald gave a short speech on the current situation in the struggle to save the revolutionary quarter of Moore Street. She informed her audience that NAMA had sold the debt of the Irish speculator company Chartered Land (Joe O’Reilly) to Hammerson, a British-based vulture capitalist company, who are continuing with the plan to build a huge shopping centre over the whole historic quarter. Meanwhile, the Minister for Heritage, Heather Humphreys, is appealing the High Court judgement that the whole quarter is a national monument. McDonald asked people to keep an eye on the campaign’s

Denise Ní Chatháin bringing forth the wreath from the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland

Denise Ní Chanain bringing forth the wreath from the Anti-Internment Group of Ireland (photo D.Breatnach)

Facebook page for updates and for calls to support actions.

McKearney then called on Diarmuid Breatnach to sing Me Old Howth Gun, pointing out that guns landed at Howth had been the first to fire on the Lancers in O’Connell Street on Easter Monday 1916. Breatnach introduced the song as having been written apparently in 1921, that is a year before the outbreak of the Civil War, by James Doherty, who also used the pseudonym Seamas Mac Gallogly.

Niamh McDonald speaking on behalf of the Moore Street 2016 campaign

Niamh McDonald speaking on behalf of the Moore Street 2016 campaign (photo D.Breatnach)

MAIN SPEAKER — JOHN CRAWLEY FROM THE MARITA ANN
The next speaker to be introduced by McKearney was John Crawley who was arrested on board the Marita Ann trawler, intercepted off the Kerry coast by the Irish Naval Service on September 29, 1984, when seven tonnes of arms were seized. The US heavy machine guns recovered on the Marita Ann had special mountings allowing them to be used as anti-aircraft weapons. Another of those detained on board – and later jailed for 10 years – was Martin Ferris who went on to become a Kerry TD for Sinn Fein, while John Crawley has taken a line of opposition to the Good Friday Agreement.

John Crawley giving his oration with the plaque commemorating the landing of the Howth guns behind him

John Crawley giving his oration with the plaque commemorating the landing of the Howth guns behind him (photo D.Breatnach)

John Crawley gave the main speech at Howth, in which he traced the history of the struggle for the Irish Republic from the Volunteers onwards, pointing out that many who fought the British in 1916 had different aspirations for the country, which explained why they parted ways in 1921. Crawley stated that the British have always been able to pick out those whose primary intention was to survive the struggle from those whose intention was if necessary to give their lives for the objective of the Irish Republic.

Pól Ó Scanaill reading the 1916 Proclamation

Pól Ó Scanaill reading the 1916 Proclamation at the head of the East Pier, Howth (photo D.Breatnach)

Crawley pointed out that some people had led a section of the Republican movement in accepting the right of a foreign country to decide the future of a part of our country; they had joined in the colonial administration and had accepted the colonial police force.

After the applause for the speech died down, McKearney thanked those who had participated and asked Diarmuid Breatnach again to step forward to sing the national anthem. Breatnach sang it in Irish, first verse and chorus (and noticeably sang “Sinne Laochra Fáil” instead of “Sinne Fianna Fáil”). Participants joined in with the chorus and then all made their way along the pier towards a local pub where refreshments had been made available by the new 1916 Society.

Diarmuid Breatnach singing Amhrán na bhFiann at end of the ceremony. Earlier he had sung "Me Old Howth Gun".

Diarmuid Breatnach singing Amhrán na bhFiann at end of the ceremony. Earlier he had sung “Me Old Howth Gun”. (Photo: Des Keane from Sean Heuston 1916 Society page)

end

Video of the event by John Rooney and put on Youtube by him, posted on FB by Mick O’Riordan (see below)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrG_7VLytfw

INTERNAL DISSENSION OVER PRISONERS COINCIDES WITH FURTHER DECLINE IN THE ABERTZALE LEFT’S VOTE

Diarmuid Breatnach

(For comment on the election results elsewhere in the Spanish state see  https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/spanish-elections-result-in-most-fragmented-parliament-since-1936/  and https://rebelbreeze.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/the-disunited-and-fading-spanish-left-handing-on-the-baton/)

As the votes in the General Election in the Spanish state result in huge gains for the Podemos party and the most fragmented Parliament since before the Spanish Civil War, the Abertzale Left’s party in the elections also loses massively to the newcomer. This occurs in the context of wide discontent within the Abertzale Left, especially among the youth, with a potential split emerging around the issue of political prisoners.

The Spanish state includes within its borders most of the Basque Country and the Catalan Countries, which have their distinct cultures and languages. Also with a significantly different culture are Asturias and Galicia, both of them considering themselves Celtic rather than Latin-Hispanic and also having their own languages. There are in fact small movements seeking independence or greater autonomy in all other regions of the state, including in the political centre itself, Castille.

Four of the Basque Country’s seven provinces are currently inside the Spanish state and they were included in the Spanish state’s General Election on 20th December. A number of financial scandals affecting the ruling Spanish right-wing Partido Popular in recent years no doubt made their leaders reluctant to go to the polls but holding off longer might have resulted in even worse outcomes.

On the other hand, the PP’s main parliamentary opposition, the social-democratic Partido Socialista Obrero Espaňol (PSOE) were also embroiled in some financial scandals during the same period, though not as many.

In the event, both main parties achieved disastrous results and neither can form a majority government. The new party of the social-democratic Left, Podemos (“We Can”), which did not even exist two years ago, has leapt into third place and a new party of the Right, Ciudadanos (“Citizens”), is in a poor fourth place. No two of the aforementioned parties can form a coalition government except in the case of a PP-PSOE coalition; however that would cause massive problems for each party and also dispel the political myth of a democratic choice between “Left and Right” in the Spanish state.

The Spanish state has long been the most unstable in the core European Union. Collusion between fascists, alleged social democrats and alleged communists internally, along with the support of the USA and the tolerance of its European partners has kept it afloat. Nevertheless, it represents the part of the EU most vulnerable to revolution, with immediate impact should that happen on the French and Portuguese states and further ripples throughout the EU. However the revolutionary and potentially revolutionary forces are weak, divided and riddled with opportunism. (see separate article focussing on the elections and the Spanish state in )

Despite the weaknesses in the Spanish state, the Basque Abertzale Left has made little headway against it and has been slipping electorally badly this year.

Election Results in the Basque Country

EH Bildu Act in Nafarroa

EH Bildu, party of the Abertzale Left in coalition with social-democratic Basque parties, presenting their program in Nafarroa in 2012 and seeking broader alliances

EH Bildu (“Basque Country Unite”), the social-democratic coalition party under the direction of the Basque Abertzale (Patriotic) Left, came out of the Spanish state-wide elections badly (as it did in the regional elections earlier this year in the Basque Country also, with the exception of in Nafarroa). With a drop of nearly two-thirds of its previous percentage of the vote, it lost five seats and now has only two in the Spanish Parliament (the Cortes). The christian-democrat PNV (Basque Nationalist Party), traditionally the dominant in the three southern provinces of Euskadi (i.e. excluding Nafarroa, the fourth), also took a drop in its percentage but a much smaller one and despite that, increased its numbers of seats from five to six. The Basque nationalist coalition in Nafarroa, Geroa Bai (“Yes to the Future”), lost its only seat.

The winner that swept up the ‘missing’ votes in the Basque Country was Podemos, a party that did not even exist until last year. Although gaining one seat less than the PNV in the “Euskadi” or CAV (three provinces region), Podemos actually won more votes and its share was 25.97%, against the PNV’s 24.75%. Shockingly, at 15.72%, EH Bildu has now been reduced to fourth place after the other two and the PSOE, with only the PP worse off but with the same amount of seats. Even in Gipuzkoa, the province most loyal to the Abertzale Left, their share fell to 20.89% and their coalition party EH Bildu lost two seats. In the same province Podemos topped the poll in votes and gained two seats. In the fourth province, Nafarroa, EH Bildu lost their only seat and took a 9.90% share against UPN-PP’s 28.93%, Podemos’s 22.9%, and PSOE’s 15.53%.

(www.eitb.eus/es/elecciones/elecciones-generales/resultados and http://www.eitb.eus/eu/hauteskundeak/hauteskunde-orokorrak/emaitzak/kongresua/nafarroa/ hover cursor over the pie-chart sections for more info).

Podemos Pablo Iglesias Spanish Election Results Dec2015

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias after results of Spanish Election results December 2015

It seems clear that in the Basque Country, Podemos took votes both from the PSOE and from the Abertzale Left’s coalition party, EH Bildu and even some from the PNV. For the PSOE, a party in Government in the past and implicated in the GAL murders, also involved in a number of recent financial scandals across the state, to lose votes in the Basque Country to a radical-left coalition, would have come as no surprise to most people. It is a different matter altogether for EH Bildu, with a strongly patriotic Left following, never tainted with a financial scandal and never yet in Government, to lose votes to a newcomer like Podemos — and that needs some explanation.

The fact is that the AL leadership flirted with Podemos – even proposing a joint electoral platform — and thereby sent the message that voting for them would not be such a bad thing. But there were sufficient reasons for the AL to have done otherwise, even without the objective of safeguarding their own vote. It has been clear for some time that the leadership of Podemos is hostile to aspirations towards independence of nations within the State. Their leader recently criticised the decision of a Catalan pro-independence coalition to use the regional elections as a quasi-referendum on Catalunya’s independence. Also one of their ideologues, in the midst of an intervention in discussions within Colombia, likened ETA to Columbia’s fascist assassination squads (who murder trade unionists, human rights workers, socialists, even street children). In addition, Podemos has never come out against the repression in the Basque Country.

There were enough reasons for the AL leadership to draw a deep line between themselves and Podemos. But they did the opposite. This contrasts with the left-republican Catalan nationalists (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya-Catalunya Sí) who engaged in a public battle with Podemos’ leadership. Incidentally, they increased their share of the vote by 1.33% and their representation from three seats to nine.

Another vulnerability of the AL movement to a party like Podemos is precisely the road of conciliation with and concession to the Spanish state taken by the AL over the recent five years and longer. If that road is seen to be OK then, some might say, why not vote for a radical reformist left party and one which, crucially, has a large following throughout the State? Such thinking combines a perception that revolution is not possible, implicit in the approach of the AL leadership, with a view that a solution can only be found outside the Basque Country, which although contrary to most of AL’s propaganda, does seem in part to be the case, based on population statistics alone (see discussion on this further on).

This view was seemingly endorsed by the post-election statement of Barrena, spokesperson for the Abertzale Left’s party Sortu, who characterised the vote for Podemos as “the right to decide” and held out his hand for electoral coalitions with them in the future. The irony — that precisely Podemos does not support “the right to decide” of nations within the Spanish state – was apparently lost on Barrena.

Around September there were whispers of the intention to hold a review of their trajectory within the Abertzale Left. This seemed an acceptance that their chosen path had, if not failed completely, then certainly fallen far short of their own expectations. I wondered how they would contain severe criticisms within such a review, a much more difficult process now than some years ago, when confusion combined with illusions and the soothing words of long-standing leaders. 

Further confirmation of this review has since come out: called ABIAN (“Launch”), it’s a debate being organised by Sortu (“Create”), a social-democratic party of the AL. A recent article in a Gipuzkoa news media stated clearly that the review was a response to criticisms of Sortu, “for the first time within the Abertzale Left” (i.e. not only outside of it). The article went on to list a number of organisations within the AL who had published criticisms, including “Boltxe” and the revived “Eusko Ekintza” (http://m.noticiasdegipuzkoa.com/2015/09/01/politica/las-duras-criticas-internas-empujan-a-sortu-a-revisar-su-estrategia-politica-y-organizativa).  This contradicts Barrena’s public statement in September that those who criticise the current path of the Abertzale Left and their policy on the prisoners could no longer be counted as within the movement.

Given the electoral showing of the AL’s coalition party EH Bildu and other issues, such a review may be a way of “managing” the dissent but must also hold much danger for the leadership’s line, despite the party positions of the Otegi/ Permach/ Barrena leadership seeming reasonably secure at the moment (Otegi is due for release very soon).

Aside from all this and going back for a moment to Podemos, it does seem unlikely that this party has a long-term future but its development will be interesting to observe.

The political prisoners – a fracture point for the movement?

Bilbao 11 Eanair 2014

Annual Basque political prisoner demonstration January 2014 in Bilbao

Whereas the Provisional Republican movement suffered a number of small splits and some defections as a result of its embarkation on the pacification road, it is a fact that they had something pretty significant to deliver – the release of political prisoners affiliated to them. Nearly every single one walked out of jail and their release was not only a result to “sell” the GFA to the movement but some of the prisoners themselves were used as advocates of the process. Although it is true the prisoners were only released “on licence” and a that number were sent back to jail without a trial again later, including new prisoners, that only happened to “dissidents”. For the moment that could be seen as helping the continuation of the Good Friday Agreement and hampering the mobilisation of Republican opposition to Sinn Féin and their chosen path.

The Abertzale Left has had no such gain and a split in the movement seems to be forming precisely around that issue.

There are 410 Basque political prisoners officially recognised by the Abertzale Left (there are some dissidents too outside that, apparently) and they, like their counterparts in the Irish Republican movement, have always been an important element in the struggle. Political prisoners are dispersed all over the Spanish state and the Basques are by far the most numerous component of these. Some are also serving very long sentences, as are their comrades who are jailed by the French and also dispersed throughout their state.

Around a dozen are suffering with very serious illnesses and the Spanish prison administration has admitted that it does not have appropriate treatment facilities for a number of them. However, mostly there they remain and a number have died in captivity in recent years. Twelve people have also died in automobile crashes on the long journeys to visit prisoners dispersed to hundreds or even a thousand kilometres from their homes and an average of one serious traffic accident a month for visitors was recorded last year.

Dispersal is a serious issue and for many years has been one of those upon which the movement concentrated, in particular Etxerat, the prisoners’ relatives’ and friends’ group, and the short-lived Herrira, a prisoners’ political campaigning group banned by the Spanish state and their leading organisers arrested. But that demand also stood alongside the demand for amnesty, the freeing of the prisoners as part of a political settlement.

Sare Table Azkarraga & Asun Landa

Joseba Azkarraga, spokesperson for Sare and lawyer Asun Landa, at a press conference

More recently, however, the Abertzale Left’s leadership has been placing the emphasis on combating the dispersal and, according to some of their critics within the movement, abandoning the demand for amnesty. Perhaps the leadership felt that dispersal was an issue they had the capacity to change (though it is difficult to see how), whereas without an armed struggle to use as a bargaining chip, a prisoners’ amnesty may have seemed out of reach.

Meanwhile, last year, Sare (“Network”) was created by the AL leadership to pick up the threads dropped by Herrira but little has been heard or seen of it. The organisation’s spokesperson is Joseba Azkarraga, who has a somewhat radically fragmented track record. During the 1960s and 1970s a member of ETA (a fact missing from his Wikipedia entry in Spanish), he left them and joined the christian democrat PNV (Basque Nationalist Party). Azkarra was elected to be member of the Alava province local government for the PNV in 1979, a role he fulfilled later for Bizkaia province 1982-1986 and in the latter year also for the province of Guipuzkoa — representing the PNV throughout.

In 1987 he was part of a split from the PNV that led to the formation of Eusko Alkartasuna (EA), for which party he was elected a member of local government for Bizkaia in 1989. He was a member of EA’s National Executive 1987-1993 and 1999-March 2009, in between which periods he had withdrawn to concentrate on his business in the banking sector. From September 2001 to May 2009, he had the responsibility of Councillor for Justice, Employment and Social Security for the Basque Government. He has been quoted as saying that the more prosecutions of Abertzale Left activists the better – this from a man with a law degree in a State where prosecutions of Basques are more often than not ensured by “confessions” extracted by torture and where the standard of “evidence” required to convict is derisory.

Grumbling, particularly among younger activists about the emphasis on the institutions and the “abandonment of the street”, has been growing over the years. “Our movement’s spokespersons no longer speak of ‘freedom’ and ‘socialism’ but use more ambiguous words like ‘right to decide’ and social justice’ ” is a growing complaint.

Recently an organisation called Amnistia Ta Askatasuna (“Amnesty and Freedom”) was launched to campaign not only against dispersal but for amnesty for the prisoners too. The movement also goes by the name of Amnistiaren Aldeko Mugimendua (“Amnesty Movement”). In August of this year ATA/AAM held a small but significant demonstration in Bilbao associated with the annual alternative festival there which is strongly patronised by youth. At the end of November they held another in the same city, this time attended by an estimated 9,000.

Amnistia demo Bilbo Nov2015jpeg

New solidarity campaign for for political prisoners raising demand of amnesty takes to the streets Bilbao 28 November 2015

In a Basque alternative radio station interview in August, some of ATA/AAM’s spokespersons complained of attempts to malign and isolate them but said they were overcoming these tactics and gaining support. The AL’s bilingual daily newspaper, GARA, did not publicise their demonstration in advance and their estimate of the attendance afterwards was about half of the real figure. The report also neglected to mention the messages of support from a number of political prisoners to the rally.

In December, the six alleged ETA prisoners awaiting trial in Paris on charges involving kidnapping, car and weapons theft and, for two of them, murder of a police officer, made a press statement denouncing the ATA/AAM group and claiming that they were using the prisoners as a Trojan horse in order to attack the whole recent direction of the Abertzale Left. They also accused them of trying to get Basque prisoners to leave the prisoners’ collective, the EEPK. No evidence was produced of this and the ATA/AAM were not asked to comment.  GARA published the Paris statement under a headline containing the allegations without even putting them in quotation marks. It is rumoured that GARA lost many subscribers after that reporting.

It seems likely that this controversy will sharpen over the coming months with people, including prisoners, being obliged to take sides and it may be that it will be characterised by a similar bitterness to that which exists in the Republican movement in Ireland. But unlike the case of Ireland, the numbers of Basque prisoners in the jails remains very high. In addition, the Spanish state continues to jail people who are clearly political activists which adds to the political prisoner population. Without a change in that situation, the likelihood of very serious contention within the movement is high and on a much larger scale than has been the case in Ireland.

The recent dismal electoral showing of EH Bildu can only increase unhappiness within the movement and lead to judgements critical of the AL leadership and, inevitably, to one degree or another, of the path they openly set out upon a little over five years ago.

Background – the origins and trajectory of the Abertzale Left

Born during the Franco dictatorship, the Abertzale Left (Basque: Ezker Abertzalea; Spanish: Izquierda Abertzale) is a broad alliance of patriotic and Left elements with many aspects situated on the social, cultural-linguistic, trade union, media and of course political fronts. The movement was subject to heavy repression from the outset and after nearly a decade a section responded by taking up arms. The Basque Nationalists had done that against Franco in the Civil War – however, the Abertzale Left was doing so in a country occupied by the victors of that war.ETA Symbol image

Not many outside the Basque Country realise that ETA (“Basque Country and Freedom”) is more than “the armed wing of the Basque patriotic movement” — it is the origin of the Abertzale Left, operating solely politically and culturally (albeit clandestinely) for nine years, its activists spied upon, arrested, tortured, jailed. Eventually ETA took up the gun.

It was one of the main ideologues and organisers of ETA, José Miguel Beñaran Ordeñana (alias “Argala”, 1949 – murdered by GAL 21st December 1978) who pushed for the legal and semi-legal aspects of the work to form themselves into separate organisations from ETA while the parent organisation kept a relationship with them.

Although the old Basque Nationalist Party was legalised under the new form of the state after the death of Franco, repression of the Abertzale Left continued. Nevertheless the movement continued to grow, in particular its many non-military aspects, although they too were and are subjected to heavy repression.

Despite the adaptability of the movement and its significantly wide base (between 12%-20% on past electoral showings, despite banning and disqualifications of electoral platforms), it was difficult to see the validity of its strategy of combining armed struggle and popular political movement within the Basque Country, with regard to its long-term objectives of national independence and socialism.

The ruling classes of both the Spanish and French states have a long imperial history along with a strong traditional insistence on the unity of their “home” states, on which they have never shown a willingness to compromise. That is reflected not only within their main right-wing parties but also within the main social-democratic parties and the remains of the old Moscow-orientated Communist parties. In the Spanish state the situation is even more problematic, since the Basque Country and Catalunya are two of the most economically successful within the state, outperforming nearly every other region by a significant margin. Why would the Spanish ruling class wish to give those regions up?

The total Basque population is only around 3.5 million, some of which is within the borders of the French state. The Spanish state has a population of around 45 million outside the Basque Country and even with the subtraction of that of Catalunya (7.5 + million) and the Balearic Islands (just over one million), that still leaves a population of 36.5 million from which to draw soldiers and police.

According to Wikipedia, “the Spanish armed forces are a professional force with a strength in 2012 of 123,300 active personnel and 16,400 reserve personnel. The country also has the 80,000 strong Guardia Civil which falls under the control of the Ministry of Defence in times of a national emergency. The Spanish defence budget is 5.71 billion euros (7.2 Billion USD) a 1% increase for 2015.” The Wikipedia paragraph ends with the ominous sentence that “The increase comes due to security concerns in the country.”

Those figures of course do not include the other police forces, such as the National (Cuerpo de Policía Nacional or “los Grises”)), with a strength of nearly 88,000. This armed force, along with the Guardia Civíl (“los Verdes”), has been traditionally repressive of the Abertzale Left, a task now mostly left to their respective forces in the Basque Country, the Ertzaintza and Policía Forál, forces which, like their counterparts in Catalunya, the Mossos d’Escuadra, have been viciously engaged in repression of the patriotic movements. Then of course there are the municipal police forces inside the Basque Country and elsewhere which can be mobilised as backups to military operations.

Add to that the fact that Nafarroa (the fourth southern Basque province) contains significant Spanish unionist and right-wing elements (it has voted a PP majority for decades) and that much of the Basque Nationalist Party’s following is hostile to the Abertzale Left and it is difficult to see how the AL ever expected to win a straight contest of strength with either state.

Perhaps, like the Irish Republican Movement, with which it has traditionally had fraternal relations, the Abertzale Left thought to make itself such a nuisance to the power occupying it that the latter would get fed up and leave them to it. In both cases but even more obviously so in the case of the Basques, that would have been a serious misreading of the situation and an underestimation of the importance to the power in question of remaining in possession.

It seems clear that the only scenario in which the Basque Country could set up a truly independent state would be one in which the Spanish state at the very least (and probably the French one too) would be unable to send repressive forces in to deal with such an attempt. And what would be the nature of such a scenario? Why, nothing less than that the ruling class of the Spanish state (probably of the French state also) were facing a revolutionary situation across the rest of its territory. Not only would such a situation tie down much of its armed forces but it would have the potential for soldiers refusing to fire on workers, mutinies and defections to revolutionary forces.

Working from such an analysis, activists of the Abertzale Left, as well as organising their movement within the Basque Country, would have been busily building relationships with the revolutionary movements and organisations across the Spanish state. But apart from the electoral alliance for the European Parliamentary elections of 2009 (the creation of the Iniciativa Internacionalista platform, which was the victim of massive electoral fraud by the State), the Abertzale Left has never seriously set about such a project. On the other hand, the formerly-Moscow orientated communist party and left-social democrats across the state, as noted earlier, have also kept at a distance from the Abertzale Left and from their aims. The left coalition of mostly Trotskists, Communists and radical social democrats of Izquierda Unida has done likewise.

There are however small formations of revolutionary communists, anarchists and left-independentists, along with anti-centralist movements with revolutionary potential, as well as a number of anti-unionist and independent trade unions throughout the state. To be sure, the immediate prospects are not glowing – but what other option is there? And how else can one be placed to take advantage of a revolutionary upsurge across the state should one occur?

A significant deviation from the original route

During the 1980s, during an ETA truce, there were peace talks held between ETA and the Spanish Government which came to nothing. Similar overtures during the early 1990s had similar results.

It appears that at some point in the late 1990s, perhaps attracted by the development and apparent gains of the Irish pacification process, the leadership of the Abertzale Left began to look for a different way out of their difficulty. Arnaldo Otegi is widely seen as the architect of this trajectory.

Part of this new approach involved seeking alliances with the PNV and with social-democratic parties within the Basque Country. The PNV is the party of the Basque nationalist bourgeoisie, no longer prepared to fight the Spanish ruling class as it was in 1936. It has its capitalist interests and has a record of jobbery and corruption including its involvement in the TAV, the High-Speed Rail project. It even asked the Spanish state to make militant opposition to this project a terrorist offence. The PNV manages its police allocation, the Ertzaintza, a vicious force active against the Abertzale Left and against striking workers and responsible for the serious injury and death of several. The PNV also manages the Basque TV station EITB and therefore controls both the arms of repression and of propaganda. Although the AL criticises the PNV from time to time this is mostly for the lack of support for a broad front against the Spanish state – AL spokespersons rarely attack it for its capitalist exploitation or jobbery.

Otegi was apparently active with ETA in the French state for around ten years and served three years in a Spanish jail for an ETA kidnapping in 1987, after which he involved himself in political activism. Ten years later the jailing for seven years of senior members of Herri Batasuna left a vacuum in the leadership of the organisation which Otegi filled along with Joseba Permach (sentenced to three years jail in August 2014 – but halved on appeal — in the “social centres trial” which confiscated the assets of the centres) and Pernando Barrena.

Otegi Speaking platform 2011

Arnaldo Otegi, leading figure in the Abertzale Left and seen as architect of recent path of the movement, addressing a rally some years ago.

Permach & Barrena clenched fist

Joseba Permach and Pernando Barrena giving the clenched fist salute at a political rally some years ago. Both have been close colleagues of Otegi’s in the Abertzale Left’s leadership and shift in strategy some years ago

Otegi led a number of initiatives for the Abertzale Left to embark on a different path, which combined ETA ceasefires, talks with other parties, and militant rhetoric. The latter landed him with a 15-month sentence of which he eventually served one year. Subsequently he has been arrested a number of times, convicted twice and exonerated twice. In 2011 he was charged with trying to rebuild Batasuna, the AL party banned by the Spanish state and was sentenced to ten years; this was reduced on appeal to 6.5 years so that he is due out soon. In 2013 he was elected General Secretary of the AL social-democratic political party Sortu.

Despite the relatively short prison sentence (compared to many other Basque prisoners) and the fact that he appears to be in good health, a campaign was started for Otegi’s release and a petition circulated around and outside the movement. This broke a long-standing rule in the movement that there would be no campaigning for individual Basque political prisoners, from which an exception was previously made only in the cases of seriously-ill prisoners. Nevertheless the campaign petition and Facebook page has been circulated through the movement without any official condemnation — or even distancing from — by the AL leadership. However the campaign has attracted some muted criticism across the movement.

The AL leadership proposed a “peace process” but the problem was that, unlike the case with the British, the Spanish ruling class had no interest in developing anything like that. Their aim was to crush the movement with an iron glove, not to “choke it with butter” as their British counterparts had done.

So the Abertzale Left took the road of unilateral ceasefire. This seemed to many of their friends a doomed tactic since it left the Basques with nothing to bargain. In September 2010, ETA announced a ceasefire, saying it wished to use “peaceful, democratic means” to realise the aspirations of the Basque people. The Spanish state’s reaction was not encouraging but nevertheless on 20th October the following year, the organisation announced a “cessation of armed activity”. This followed the conclusion of the “International Peace Conference” held in Donostia/San Sebastián.

The composition of the conference was clear indication of the AL leadership’s projected route and in particular the type of allies it sought internationally: former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former Taoiseach of Ireland Bertie Ahern, former Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Interior Minister of France Pierre Joxe, President of Sinn Féin Gerry Adams and British diplomat Jonathan Powell, who had served as the first Downing Street Chief of Staff. To summarise, a collection of servants and executives of imperialism, colonialism, capitalism and even executives of repression and one exposed in a financial corruption scandal.

The declaration at the conclusion of the conference was also supported by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, former US President Jimmy Carter and the former US Senator and former US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George J. Mitchell. In other words, former leaders of US and British Imperialism and one of their agents.

Despite the abandonment of armed struggle by the Abertzale Left leadership, the meeting did not include Spanish or French government representatives and the ruling classes of both states remained unreceptive to the overtures of the AL leadership. Not only that, but the Spanish state continues to arrest the movement’s activists, to torture and to jail them. No amount of criticism by committees for the prevention of torture working for the UN or for the EU, nor condemnation by Amnesty International and many human rights associations within the Spanish state, have had any visible impact on the operations of the Spanish state in recent years. And “confessions” obtained by torture continue to be used as admissible ‘evidence’ for the Prosecution even when withdrawn by the victim and the torturers denounced in court.

The ETA ceasefire continues to date and a number of other statements have been made by ETA including one in which they announced the destruction of a number of weapons, verified by a decommissioning expert. A number of “international conferences” have been held with further calls on the Spanish state to cooperate, also without significant result.

end