12 July 2007 Edition

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International : Repression, criminalisation no solutions to conflict

Barry McColgan of Ógra Shinn Féin with the two SEGI representatives who visited Ireland earlier this month

Barry McColgan of Ógra Shinn Féin with the two SEGI representatives who visited Ireland earlier this month

Basque conflict will only be resolved by negotiation – SEGI

Segi, the Basque youth organisation was banned by the Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzón in February 2002. Previously, Garzón had banned the two Basque youth organisations that preceded Segi – Jarrai and Haika. Forty two youth, members of the executive of the groups, were charged with membership of ETA, as Garzón considered that supporting the right to self-determination of the Basque people is not only illegal, but criminal.
The case descended into a farce when another judge of the Audiencia National – the Spanish version of the Special Criminal Court, considered that Garzón’s arguments were not valid and released all detainees, after handling them minimum sentences for membership of illegal organisations. However, 19 of the 23 released were again imprisoned last February, after the court changed the initial sentence. The new decision of the Audiencia National took place only weeks after ETA planted a bomb in the carpark of Madrid airport.
The increasing repression suffered by the Basque pro-independence movement and the immediate imprisonment linked to membership of any of the banned organisations is the backdrop to the decision by two members of Segi who visited Ireland early this month deciding not to disclose their identities. During their Irish visit, An Phoblacht’s SALLY GALLAGHER spoke to the Segi representatives.

What is the reason for this visit to Ireland?
We came to help organise the trip that members of Ógra Shinn Fein are going to make to the Basque Country in September

How is your relationship with Ógra Sinn Fein?
The relationship with Ógra is a few years old already, and we consider it something important as they are an organisation very similar to ours, with common areas of work. This allows us to share points of view and reflections on our political projects. It is also very important for us because they have the experience of the kind of peace process we are working for. Even when in many aspects the situation in Ireland is different, their experience is something we can learn from.

Could you describe the situation faced by the Basque youth movement at the moment?
The situation is that, since January when the Spanish Special Court declared SEGI a terrorist organisation, we have been prosecuted for our activities. Our former leader is serving a six-year jail sentence. We cannot even put up a banner or a poster in the street because we risk being identified by the police, sent to Madrid, being charged with membership of a terrorist organisation and being sent to prison. But even in this environment people keep organising, SEGI keeps working and fighting but we have to take measures, like not publicising our identities, so as not to facilitate the police in throwing us in jail.

What were the arguments used by the Spanish courts to label SEGI as a terrorist organisation?
The truth is that we do not believe there was any judicial basis for it. From our point of view it was a straightforward political decision. SEGI is dangerous for them, as we fight for a political project, we support independence for the Basque Country, and we are socialist, so we fight the Spanish and French capitalist imposition in the Basque Country. What they were trying to achieve was to end our struggle and to take us off the political scene.

But, why at this particular moment? SEGI or the previous youth organisations have been active since the 1980s. So, why now?
I think it was a consequence of the Spanish Popular Party being in government. They took the decision that as part of their strategy of oppression against the Basque Country they would attack the political structures of the Basque pro-independence movement. What they were trying to do was to establish that everything is ETA, so every single political organisation or social movement working for the national and social liberation of the Basque Country were accused of being an integral part of ETA.
This allowed for their criminalisation and opened the door to their illegalisation. And within this strategy they have proceeded against numerous political and social organisations. The first to go through the whole procedure has been JARRA/HAIKA/SEGI which are the different youth organisations that have been active in the Basque Country.  Labelling us a terrorist organisation is the last step in this process.

Has the fact of being declared a terrorist organisation had any effect in the work of the youth movement?
Not really. I am not going to deny that we are afraid because labelling an organisation as ‘terrorist’ is a major step. But the truth is that there has not been any gap in our work. People keep organising in the colleges, towns, cities. We keep working. We keep fighting in the streets. The fact is that when we were declared illegal for the first time, some five years ago, we had a rough time as we had to accommodate our work to a new reality – our way of working had to be adapted to the new situation. But a lot of time has passed since then and we have improved a lot. So when they declared us a terrorist organisation last February, people did not feel that the situation had changed that much as we were already illegal.

But six years in jail is a long time. Being harassed by the police is one thing but going to jail is something totally different, especially when you are a teenager.
As I said we were already an illegal organisation. We were supposed to be a clandestine organisation. Even if being declared a terrorist organisation is qualitatively different, the truth is that during the period from which we had been declared illegal until last February, we had time to overcome our fears and got ready to face that situation.
Yes you can face a six years long or an even longer jail sentence but the truth is that we were facing similar ones before. I think that when people have a clear idea of what they are they fighting for and they hold their principles dear, they are ready to take the risk.

Now that ETA’s ceasefire is over, after 14 months, how does SEGI see the future?
We were hopeful with the situation up to recently, not only because of the ceasefire but also because we could see how the social and political situation was changing in the last few years. There was a majority in the Basque Country looking for a change, and ETA seemed to have taken into account those social and political conditions as it took the decision to use the ceasefire to approach a new scenario where the political conflict could be solved in a political way. But the reality was that for over a year the Socialist Party in the Spanish Government – with the help of the Basque Nationalist Party PNV – resisted taking any step towards the resolution of the conflict. The negotiations have been constantly stalled by these two parties. They did not seem to be ready to approach a solution based on the two main factors that caused the conflict in the first place – territoriality and the right to self-determination.
Even if everybody agrees that the conflict has political roots, they were not ready to negotiate a political solution to the conflict. The left pro-independence movement put on the table a political proposal to end the conflict. This proposal was based on those two factors that were the key to the conflict, but the Spanish Government and the PNV said no to the proposals and failed to come up with an alternative.

And now?
Batasuna’s political proposal is the key to the solution and we need to publicise the proposal among the people in the Basque Country. Once a majority knows the ins and outs of it, we will have to try to push all the political parties to negotiate, because we know that the solution will come from negotiation. There is no other way. Repression or criminalisation are not solutions.

In this new scenario what is the role of SEGI?
Our aim is to fight for, and build up our independence on a daily basis, while trying to gather as much strength as we can around the pro-independence Basque movement. But at this moment in time we also see it as our responsibility to publicise the content of the political proposal for the solution of the conflict, among youth. Now, during the summer; that will be our main line of work and we will keep working on those issues that we usually do such as housing, students rights, etc.

An Phoblacht
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