3 April 1997 Edition
Fury at murder of ETA Volunteer
Eoin O'Broin reports from the Basque Country on the reaction to the state murder of an ETA Volunteer
Jose Zabala, an ETA volunteer, was found murdered on Saturday morning, 29 March. He had been missing for some days and was believed to be in the custody of the Spanish police. His body was found in the mountains, beaten and shot. Official Spanish government sources, speaking in the mainstream media, said that Zabala had committed suicide, a claim strongly contested by friends and family.
Rumours that Zabala was arrested and tortured for several days before being killed have been confirmed by photographic evidence and doctors' reports, both released to the Basque press.
More than any other event that I have witnessed since my arrival here in Euskal Herria, the murder of Zabala highlights the two defining features of Basque society today. The first is the violence, hypocrisy and redundancy of the political position of the Spanish state. It is a government that talks of peace while imprisoning the legally elected political representatives of the left-nationalist movement. A government that condemns violence, while at the same time it kidnaps, tortures and murders. Jose Zabala's name is one of many who have borne the most extreme consequences of the `democratic' policies of the Spanish government.
As with the British government in Ireland, the Spanish government's position would be unsustainable without the active support of sections of Basque society. The conservative Basque nationalist party have said nothing about the murder of Zabala. They present themselves as the party of peace and legality but say nothing to the Spanish government about its violence and infringement of its own laws. What is more, by accepting the official explanation of Zabala's death they are colluding with murder and torture.
The timing of Zabala's death is seen by many as a deliberate act of provocation by the Spanish against the left-nationalist movement. Zabala's body was found on Saturday morning on the final day of Jarrai's mountain tour and the day before the Basque national day, Aberri Eguna. Both events were profoundly affected by the news. The mountain march, one of the most powerful mobilisations of the Basque youth movement, came to an abrupt end. The national day, usually a day of celebration became an ad hoc and sombre tribute to Zabala.
Speaking to some of the 40,000 people who attended the Aberri Eguna, the message from the Spanish state was clear: ``They are trying to undermine our strength and determination,'' said one man. A young woman made it clear that ``whatever the intention of the Spanish, Zabala's murder will only strengthen our resolve. Now it is clear for everyone to see who are the real terrorists.''
And this resolve is the second defining feature of Basque society. In the face of the harshest political oppression and state violence, the independence movement is stronger and more united than ever before. Moving through the crowd of 3,000 young people at the mountain march, as the news of Zabala's murder was being announced, one could feel the emotion and anger transforming itself into a clear political will. Zabala would not be a victim, and nor would his murder be allowed to make the Basque independence movement a victim. As the crowd, ranging in age from 15 to 30 years old, sang Euskal Herria's unofficial anthem, the Eusko Gudariak, and the women cried the traditional mountain cry, the Irrintzla, one thing was crystal clear, the Spanish government would become the victims of their own ignorance, violence and anti-democratic politics.
The funeral of Zabala, attended by more than 10,000 people, ended with a clear message to the Spanish government, `Gora Euskadi Askatuta, Gora Euskadi Sozialista, Gora ETA Militarra'. The three pillars of the Basque independence movement - independence, socialism and armed resistance - would not be undermined, and Zabala's death, as with his life, were testament to that.
Easter inspiration to Basque nationalists
As Republicans commemorated Easter Sunday the Basque people were also celebrating their National Day. Soledad Galiana and Ignacio Irirgoien of the Eire/Euskal Herria Solidarity Group explain the connection.
Coincidence? Not at all. The relationship between Ireland and Euskal Herria (Basque Country) goes a long way back in time, involving more than those few visitors that we exchange every year in summer time.
While Irish people commemorated the Easter Rising last Sunday, three million Basques were celebrating their National Day. At the beginning of this century, the Basque Nationalists chose Easter Sunday as a day of national pride, inspired by the events of the 1916 Rising.
One of the men behind the commemoration was Eli Gallastegi Gudari who, through the magazine Jagi-Jagi, based in the Basque Country, expressed ideas of national freedom for the Basques and other nations. Impressed by the Irish struggle and in order to break the commercial embargo imposed by the British upon Ireland after the Treaty, Gudari established a company which maintained business between Dublin and Bilbao. Thanks to him by the 30's it was possible to taste Guinness in the Basque Country.
The liaison of Gudari with Ireland continued when he and his young family had to look for refuge in this country during the Spanish Civil War after the dramatic events which took place in the Basque Country.
He raised his family in the Meath Gaeltacht and nowadays even those who did not settle still keep a close relationship with Ireland. Gudari's son, Iker, was in Dublin just before Christmas as part of a group of Basque POWs' relatives, seeking support from the Irish people. His daughter, Gudari's grand-daughter, is serving time in a Spanish prison for the same reasons that put her grandfather in jail several times during his lifetime of struggle: the right of the Basque people to decide freely their own future.