27 March 1997 Edition

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Vibrancy of youth leads Basque struggle

In the first of a series of articles Eoin O Broin reports from the Basque Country on a rising ferment of opposition to Spanish occupation

There is a stereotype which exists in Spain of the Basques as a closed, guarded, conservative and unfriendly people. While it is easy to understand why Basques may take such an attitude to a state which denies them their right to nationhood, it is certainly not part of how the Basques live. Euskal Herria is a country where people pride themselves in their sense of community, and their openness, friendliness and ability to adapt and change.

During the past week throughout the country a whole host of political and cultural activities have taken place. On Saturday 23 March 20,000 people marched through the capital city Iruinean calling for the repatriation of Basque political prisoners to prisons in the Basque country, and for their release. The demonstration was a powerful indictment of the Spanish government's abuse of political prisoners' human rights.

On Sunday 24 March, the centre of attention shifted to Bilbao, the capital of the province of Bizkaia in the north west where thousands of people joined the last leg of a marathon in support of the Basque language. The run, which travels 2,150 km, involves more than 600,000 people and visits a host of villages and towns. It is the annual focus of popular support for the language revival. Following the run, people of all ages celebrate all aspects of their culture at a series of Fiestas in the city.

Throughout the country many other smaller protests dealing with political prisoners, police repression, environmental and civic issues, to name only a few, are part of a political culture in which public participation is the most important element. What is most impressive is not only the number of events and their size, but the high profile of young people. From young children to young adults, at every event, Basque youths are in the majority. One gets the impression of a political movement led by the young with all the ensuing energy, creativity and determination.

In an interview with An Phoblacht, Pepe Rei, a journalist with Egin, the country's most popular nationalist daily newspaper, discussed some of the most pressing political issues of the week. The most significant is the Spanish state's imprisonment of the national executive of Herri Batasuna (HB), the political party of the Basque National Liberation Movement. Rei slammed the Spanish Government for fabricating charges against the executive members in order to secure an electoral advantage in Spain.

``The government have imprisoned the HB members because of the peace proposals made by that party. It is comfortable for the Spanish to refuse to talk to the left-nationalists. So when HB talk of peace the Spanish try to undermine the credibility of the proposals. Not because they are not genuine proposals but they are not interested in peace,'' said Rei.

There are currently 18 HB members awaiting trial in jails throughout the Spanish state. They have been detained since January 1996. While it could be anything up to four years before they are tried, sources close to the government, speaking in the daily right-wing paper El Correo, suggested that the trials may take place before the end of the year.

In a separate incident, a number of protestors who have been on hunger-strike in support of the political prisoners, were rushed to hospital on Monday 24 March. The protestors are currently receiving medical attention.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1