29 April 2004 Edition

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Ógra enjoy Basque youth festival

Ógra Shinn Féin National Chair MICKEY BRAVENDER was part of a small delegation from Ógra that travelled to the Basque Country earlier this month to attend a round of international meetings hosted by the Basque youth organisation, SEGI, followed by a Basque youth festival. Here, he writes about the trip.

The round of international meetings we were invited to attend was held in the Basque village of Sara, which lies close to the border of the French and Spanish states. The picturesque setting is such that you would be forgiven for believing that all the clothing required would be shorts, t-shirts and sandals.

As it turned out, though, we brought the weather with us, and it was at least as temperamental as we expect it to be here in Ireland and if anything was more extreme. The hospitality of the Basque youth was second to none, however, and all the international delegations were well looked after.

The meetings were an opportunity for representatives from various youth groups to outline their work and goals, which included everything from independence struggles and those whose work involves solidarity campaigning to others involved in social agitation to improve conditions in their communities.

The meetings lasted in total three days and nights and began with introductions from the various groups in attendance, including international representatives from South Africa, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark.

The focus of the meetings was to try to identify common areas of work and at the very least develop a consensus on a number of proposals which SEGI presented to the meeting. Among suggestions presented was a rejection of the proposed European Constitution, a rejection of the repression of young people's movements, particularly in light of the Basque situation, in which the Spanish state has outlawed SEGI and is continuing with a strict policy of criminalisation against Basque left nationalist groups. This has resulted in almost 700 Basque prisoners being locked up and a policy of dispersal, which means that the prisoners are more often than not separated from other political prisoners and from their families. In some cases, families have to travel over a thousand miles to get one visit.

A commitment was given by all groups present to work to achieve common objectives and to endeavour to attend the international meetings on an annual basis. Other aspects to the international meetings included a lecture about the history of the Basque Country and a trip to the historical town of Gernika. The final stage of this part of the trip involved travelling to Baiona for a press conference detailing the consensus reached and outlining to the Basque media the value of the international meetings.

The demands on the mind fully sated, after these couple of days of discussion and debate (which had to be translated into three languages), the heavy talking was followed by the biennial youth festival, which as well as providing loads of entertainment, included workshops, political lectures and presentations by the international delegations. The social side of things focused on music and the arts, which we appreciated more fully by sampling the local brew (patxaran).

The festival was held in Itsasondo and after standing in torrential rain for two-and-a-half hours waiting to get access to the campsite, we eventually pitched the tent in about six inches of mud, only to find that sleeping bags, clothing, etc were all soaked. So after some patxaran (purely medicinal) we set up our stall. We were asked to give a couple of talks on Ógra as an organisation and on the current situation in Ireland. Among the activities available to those in attendance were web design workshops, banner making workshops, lectures on Marx and the origins of capitalism, presentations from various groups and numerous videos and educational material.

Every night, the marquee was packed to capacity, with around 20,000 young people eagerly awaiting their favourite band of the night. Most of the music was reggae/ska or punk but there were elements of dance, rock and rap, depending on where you were in the village at any given time. The amount of organisation that went into pulling this event off is admirable to the point of awe-inspiring. It is no wonder that the Spanish state is running scared of the Basque youth when you see how many young people are politicised and how they can easily reconcile politics and the revival of their language with popular culture.

One of the highlights of the festival occurred when a member of the international delegation was nominated to read a short statement on behalf of all the groups invited. The unanimous decision was that Eoin Rushe would do it. For a man who had never spoken in public before, he accounted for the Irish delegation exceptionally well, considering that not only did he have to speak to a crowd in excess of 8,000 but that he had to speak in Basque also.

When the festival eventually drew to a close and new friendships had been established, the Ógra contingent departed for Bilbao, where a couple of activists who had been resident in Ireland for a period opened their home to us and showed us some of the sights. The most notable of these were the unfinished nuclear power station which the Spanish Government had to discontinue work on due to the actions of ETA in the 1980s and a visit to the largest youth house in Euskal Herria. This is a place that sets an example to all young radicals on how they can effect change in the community, as it not only provided a bar and music venue but also housed a gym, restaurant, games room and leisure facilities. It is also a home to the activists who run the building. The biggest achievement is that it was founded entirely by young Basque activists and is completely self sufficient.

The trip was an invaluable experience for any young republican, not just because of the contacts made but for the insight into how young political activists can attract the interest of other young people in an age of apathy by simply combining youth culture with the promotion of national independence and the restoration of language and culture.

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1