16 November 2000 Edition

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New Basque youth movement

On Saturday 4 of October, Ógra Shinn Féin celebrated its third National Congress in Belfast. Two of the international delegates at the assembly were the members of the new Basque national youth organisation Haika, Ugaitz Elizaran and Arturo Villanueva. They were visiting to reinforce the already strong solidarity links between republican youth in Ireland and Basque left wing youth in the Basque Country, and to introduce Haika, an organisation born from the merging of Gazteriak and Jarrai, the youth Basque organisations in the north and south Basque Country, respectively.

An Phoblacht: Where did the idea arise to unite the two Basque youth organisations, Gazteriak in the north Basque Country under French control- and Jarrai, in the South Basque Country, under Spanish control- to create Haika?

Arturo Villanueva: The Basque Youth Movement has always had the idea of creating an organisation at a national level. But at the time the Youth Movement encountered some obstacles, like the historical and political differences between the two areas.

In 1978, the youth organisation Jarrai was formed in the South Basque Country. But in the North, the youth movement lacked stability. In 1993-'94, things started changing. New generations of Basque nationalists, who did not know about the problems of previous decades, got together. Those were years of internal review and deep change for the nationalist left. Concepts like national unity and territoriality became central for its political strategy. Also, in the North Basque Country, the youth Basque organisation Gazteriak was formed. This was a very important development for the left nationalist youth in the north.
From the very beginning there were links between Jarrai and Gazteriak, and these became stronger over the years. In the last months of 1998, there was a new political development in the Basque Country. Basque political parties, trade unions and social and community groups, signed the Lizarra-Garazi agreement and ETA called a ceasefire. This opened the possibility of working against partition and for national organisation. It was at this stage that the idea of creating a new youth organisation at national level came into focus.

We thought that the creation of this new Basque national youth organisation was the best thing we could give to the political process. And we decided to tie in such an historical event with the celebration of Basque National Day, in April 2000.

We chose to present the new organisation's name and objectives during the youth gathering Gazte Topagune 2000, the last event organised by Jarrai and Gazteriak as independent organisations. Around 20,000 Basque youths took part in the gathering.

Haika was then defined as an internationalist revolutionary pro-independence and pluralist Basque youth organisation. We called on the Basque youth to take part in a process of debate aimed at building up this new organisation, Haika.

Basque youth met in neighbourhoods and villages. About 4,000 young activists in 220 local assemblies are debating five central issues:

- Globalisation and neo-liberalist policies worldwide.

- The political situation in the Basque Country in the last years

- Basque youth problems

- The Basque Youth Movement itself

- Haika structure and political identity

We hope to finalise this process of theoretical debate by the end of January and we will then discuss the practicalities. Haika will organise a huge political event at Easter 2001 to present our new project.

We wanted to make this project as open as possible and we are convinced that it will be successful because of the quality of the debate so far and the number of young people involved, which has exceeded the 1,100 activists and 150 local groups that Gazteriak and Jarrai had.

AP: Obviously, Haika as a national organisation will be confronting very different challenges than those that Jarrai and Gazteriak encountered in the past.

AV: The biggest challenge is to turn Haika into a useful instrument to defend the rights and interests of Basque youth. Haika should facilitate a dynamic and agile national strategy, which must be relevant at local and regional levels and will attract large numbers of Basque youth.

But the most important of Haika's tasks is the establishment of a national strategy over those artificial physical and psychological borders imposed on us. Haika wants to overcome the north-south/east-west divide imposed over the Basque Country by the Spanish and French states in an effort to destroy Basque identity.

AP: Have there been any knock-on effects of the move to form this new national structure?

AV: The creation of one single youth organisation has been welcomed as a very positive development by the Basque National Liberation Movement as a whole. Although there were already contacts between the Basque Student Movements in the north and south Basque Country, the creation of Haika will drive the process towards a united Basque student movement.

A.P: What is Haika working on at present?

AV: To be honest, the internal debate and the publicity activities are draining our resources at the moment. This organisation was born just two month before the summer and we did not have time to do a lot.

During the summer we organised the Summer Youth School and in September we directed our efforts to the organisation of the Biarritz Alternative Summit - the European Union heads of state met in the Basque town last month. With the organisation of the Alternative Summit, we demonstrated that in spite of being oppressed by two states, we Basques are ready to fight for a future of peace and freedom.

In the north Basque Country we have initiated an awareness and mobilisation campaign in advance of the March 2001 elections, and as I mentioned earlier, we want to finish our internal debate by Easter next year.

AP In recent months the Spanish government's criminalisation campaign has been focused on Basque youths. It seems they will be going ahead with a Penal Code reform that would allow them to imprison for up to 10 years any Basque youth over 14 years of age who is suspected of taking part in resistance against Spanish rule. How is Haika being affected by these and other Spanish government measures?

AV: From its inception, Haika has become the target of a harassment and criminalisation campaign instigated by Spanish and French media.

Obviously, Haika's success and strategic importance in the Basque youth context have not passed unnoticed to the Spanish and French governments. They are worried. They have viciously repressed the Basque nationalist left because of its leading role in the sovereignty process, and they know that Basque youth occupy the front row in the struggle for freedom. This is very dangerous for those in power.

In order to punish rebel Basque youth they are introducing harsh new legislation. In their repressive zeal, however, the governments fail to appreciate that the Basque youth will overcome their threats and strategies and press forward the struggle for a better and fairer future.

We are aware that at any time we might be targeted directly by the Home Affairs Minister. This is a possibility we consider every single day.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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