GLW: Interview with Herri Batasuna
Green Left Parramatta
glparramatta at SPAMpeg.apc.org
Wed Aug 11 11:22:23 MDT 1999
The following article appears in the latest
issue of Green Left Weekly #371 August 11, 1999
Australia's radical newspaper.
Herri Batasuna: for independence and socialism
Green Left Weekly's CHOW WEI CHENG spoke to MIRIAN CAMPOS, from
the international department of the left-wing Basque nationalist
party Herri Batasuna, about recent developments in the Basque
country (Euskadi). The interview was conducted on June 29, in
Bilbao, Basque country.
Question: What are Herri Batasuna's (HB) key immediate demands
for the Basque country?
The Basque country is among the oldest countries in Europe. The
Basque language is one of the oldest and is unique, with no links
to other European languages. Yet, the Basque language still is
not officially recognised by the Spanish government.
The Basque people are divided into different communities under
different administrations, although we are a single people. In
the south, the Basque country is divided into two different areas
under Spanish administration: the Basque Autonomous Region (or
Bascongadas, which groups together three Basque provinces) and
Navarre. In the north, there are another three regions under
Our central demand to the Spanish government is for the right to
self-determination. This is the common platform among the Basque
political parties, trade unions and social movements. It has been
a long struggle to reunify the Basque country, and we do not want
to wait for a ruler from outside, like France or Spain to do it.
The Lizarra agreement is a step towards territorial jurisdiction
and sovereignty for Basque country. [On September 12, 23
political parties, trade unions and grassroots groups issued the
Lizarra agreement calling for multilateral talks with armed
liberation group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna -- Basque Country and
Freedom) without conditions. The meeting that produced the
declaration was initiated by Herri Batasuna. The agreement was
signed by the main Basque nationalist parties -- including the
largest party in Bascongadas, the conservative Basque Nationalist
Party (PNV) -- the Basque trade union federation, the Basque
branch of the Communist Party-led United Left and the Basque
far-left organisation, Zutik.]
The Spanish government has organised illegal paramilitary groups,
in collaboration with the French state, to carry out operations
in the northern Basque country, where exile Basque communities
are located. Madrid wanted to disperse the community and create
Political activists were arrested and deported to Algeria,
Venezuela and Panama. There were also assassinations of political
activists. Currently, there are more than 600 political prisoners
in France and Spain. There are more police in the Basque country
proportionally than in any place in Europe.
Spain denies that our struggle is a political struggle. It
considers ETA militants and political prisoners as common
criminals. However, HB sees the Basque struggle as a political
conflict that needs a political solution.
Question: Could you describe the state of nationalist
The struggle is more developed in the south. Nationalist parties
in the north are campaigning around language rights. The
French-administered Basque country is part of a larger department
or province. Basques are campaigning for their own department
within the French political system. Mass consciousness is
supportive of a Basque department, and even right-wing parties
support the campaign.
There is a strong movement against conscription in Spain. Basques
do not want to defend a nation that is not theirs. There have
been many people arrested over this, and the level of protest is
high. The Basque country has the highest number of people
arrested because of conscription. As result of opposition to
conscription, Madrid is considering a change in the law to
implement a professional army.
With the Lizarra declaration and ETA's truce, the struggle has
gathered pace in the south. There is a commitment to a democratic
process in which the Basque people can decide what links they
want with their neighbours and between the Basque provinces
without interference from Madrid. This process could provide the
basis for forming one Basque country.
HB defends a socialist and independent Euskadi. Not everyone
agrees with that, but we are creating a framework where all the
possibilities for Euskadi can be raised. This is the most
important thing we are working on. HB is the left wing and the
PNV is the right wing of the process. We do not support the same
politics, but we are working towards a new political framework to
unify the seven Basque provinces.
We have a parliament in the Basque autonomous region but this is
only for part of our country. It is not a full parliament; it
represents the partition of our country, and we want institutions
that span our whole land.
Question: What about the consciousness of the youth?
Young people are very active in the struggle. You may have heard
of Kale Barroka. It is the street protests in which the youth
mobilise. Its like the Palestinian intifada. Whenever there is an
arrest, an ETA militant is killed or there is a state attack,
young people mobilise in militant protests that involve the
throwing of Molotov cocktails and breaking windows. These
protests are spontaneous.
The police are always trying to pin Kale Barroka on Jarrai [the
radical Basque youth organisation]. Street protest has always
been a big part of the Basque struggle. In the last few years, it
has been more important than before.
The youth are very active in many areas, like campaigning for
better labour conditions for youth, fighting unemployment and
opposing the institutionalisation of part-time work.
Question: Could you explain the formation and role of Euskal
Herritarrok (EH -- Basque Citizens)?
EH is a big left nationalist umbrella group for building a broad
movement and campaigning in elections. There is still debate on
its future. It was created from the common dynamics of working
HB is the largest force in the left nationalist movement.
Following increased attacks on HB from Madrid last year, there
were rumours that HB would be made illegal before the provincial
elections last October. This created the impetus for HB to
broaden out and create broader alliances.
In the last period, there has been a convergence within different
Basque organisations. Significantly, the trade unions began
demanding that labour relations should not be related to Spain or
France but within the Basque country. The left nationalist union
federation LAB and the PNV-associated ELA, despite different
political backgrounds, began to work towards such a common
There have been increased efforts from the relatives of political
prisoners. Many are not linked to the left, because you cannot
choose to be a relative of a prisoner. The political spectrum
among relatives is therefore broad. Relatives started a campaign
against prisoners' living conditions.
Prisoners are often isolated for 23 hours a day, are not allowed
to study or speak their language; sanitary conditions are poor;
their correspondence is censored and lots of other things.
Political prisoners are dispersed through 100 jails in France and
Spain, outside the Basque country.
They are part of the Basque country and they should be in that
country, to be close to home and relatives. There is a campaign
to relocate the prisoners back to Basque country.
Question: How Does HB differentiate itself within broader
We are working with many forces, including the PNV, EA [the
moderate nationalist party, Eusko Alkartasuna], United Left and
the northern Basque parties. Within this common work, class
conflict is reflected.
In the Basque parliament, the PNV and EA need the support of EH
to rule and for legislation to pass. We agreed to support them to
build a new Euskadi, not just further autonomy. All our support
is in that direction.
We also campaign from outside the parliament. We are conscious
that contradictions develop between us on the left and PNV on the
right. We do not support the PNV's political line but the
democratic process it has undertaken.
There are certain areas of confrontation as we are trying to
implement a left program. For example, last year there was a
general strike for a 35-hour week. The PNV and EA did not support
that demand, but we supported the strike and our parliamentarians
actively campaigned for it.
The common work is important. There are increased attacks from
Spain, despite ETA's truce. There are still many arrests and ETA
militants killed. There is no peace process, as this requires
movement from both sides. There is no movement from Spain.
Spain is trying to break the process of cooperation between HB/EH
and the PNV, who have been collaborators with Spain for decades,
but are now working with HB/EH.
Question: HB describes itself as socialist. Could you explain how
you see the interrelationship between socialism and nationalism?
The left nationalist movement has always had two aims:
independence and socialism. At the moment we are working more
deeply on the nationalist line as we are trying to work together
with other forces to create a legal framework where Euskadi can
be created in the future.
HB is not forgetting about socialism. We are making a step in
that direction too, with things like the general strike for the
35-hour week. Campaigns like that are crucial steps to achieve a
more just society. To build socialism we need to build solidarity
with other workers, and these struggles can be waged immediately.
It is a wrong strategy to think that the Basque country has to
first achieve independence before it can implement a socialist
society. We believe we have to start the struggle now. Otherwise,
the struggle for independence would be seen as one step, and the
struggle for socialism another. They have to be parallel
struggles all the time.
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