GLW: Interview with Herri Batasuna

Green Left Parramatta glparramatta at
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
 French administration.

 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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