Current Affairs Politics

The Basque Country And A Peace Process That Spain Is Ignoring

There have been major disturbances in the Basque city of Bilbao following the destruction of “Kukutza”, a youth and culture centre associated with Basque Nationalist organisations, that had served the local community for some 13 years. From EITB:

“Officers from the Basque regional police force, Ertzaintza, arrested 31 young people in clashes after the demolition of “Kukutza” meeting place, based in a disused building in the Rekalde district of Bilbao.

Bilbao’s Court number 5 for Administrative Disputes on Friday, September 23rd issued a ruling to press ahead with an order to demolish the building which until now has housed the Kukutza Gaztetxe in the Bilbao district of Rekalde. Eviction of the property began on Wednesday morning.

The court reached its decision after a hearing held at the Basque Country’s Superior Court of Justice on Thursday in which they considered a petition presented by the Errekaldeberriz residents association to halt the planned demolition and maintain it as the youth centre Kukutza.

The Board of Directors of the Heritage Commission of the Biscay Delegation for the Basque-Navarre Architects Association said on Friday it was developing a report regarding the importance of the building and the urban situation affecting it.

The Basque Association of Industrial Heritage and Public Works stated that the building which houses the Kukutza gaztetxe is included among structures listed for preservation by municipal planning.

Basque police entered the Kukutza Gaztetxe at approximately 5.30am on Wednesday morning to carry out the eviction order. Faced with resistance from protestors, some of whom had slept the night inside the building, police opened fire with rubber bullets. According to witness accounts, a number of people were injured as a result.

Basque ombudsman Iñigo Lamarca announced later that day he would be opening an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the eviction based on a number of phone calls received by his office alleging that police had been overly heavy-handed with certain protesters during the eviction operation.”

Meanwhile the Spanish state has yet again rejected peace overtures from ETA, the Basque guerilla organisation, following on from last year’s ceasefire declaration. According to an AFP report:

“Imprisoned ETA members said Friday they would stick to the so-called Guernica agreement which last year called for an end to the banned Basque movement‘s decades-long violence.

Basque newspaper Gara said Friday that the prisoners had “announced their decision to join the Guernica accord”.

Most of the 700 Basque prisoners “joined the dozens of political, union and social forces to bring about a scenario of peace and solutions” in the Basque country, it said.

The October 25 accord signed by several pro-independence left-wing parties, unions and Basque nationalist movements called on ETA to agree to “a permanent and unilateral ceasefire that can be verified by the international community, as an expression of its will to definitively give up its armed struggle”.

Since January the group claims to have imposed a unilateral ceasefire but the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero says ETA must renounce all violence definitively and unconditionally.

Meanwhile, several thousand people rallied in Bilbao on Saturday to protest the recent sentencing of Basque secessionist leader Arnaldo Otegi to 10 years in prison for trying to rebuild ETA’s banned political wing, Batasuna.

“No more trials. No more convictions. We need a democratic solution now,” said the large placard hoisted by supporters of 53-year-old Otegi, who was sentenced on September 16 by Spain’s National Court for belonging to a terrorist organisation.”

The jailing of Arnaldo Otegi is part of Spain’s decades-old policy of political repression in the Basque Country. As The Irish Times reported:

“THE 10-year sentence for ETA membership handed down by a Madrid court last Friday to Arnaldo Otegi, leader of the banned Batasuna party, has predictably drawn very different responses. The Spanish prosecutor-general, Cándido Conde-Pumpido, described the sentence as “a contribution to peace”. The Basque Nationalist Party, no supporter of Otegi but convinced his commitment to a peace process is genuine, said it was “an absurdity and a scandal”.

The irony is that Otegi and some Batasuna colleagues were on trial for their participation in the debate that led ETA to announce its current ceasefire. During the trial, Otegi said that “a bomb would destroy our strategy and leave us without credibility for generations”. He also said that ETA was now an “unnecessary hindrance”.

The court ruled that Otegi’s statements were merely tactical, a ruse to enable the greatly weakened group to re-arm while its political supporters make political gains. Bildu, a new coalition that endorses Batasuna’s shift towards peaceful methods, gained 25 per cent of the Basque vote in last May’s local elections.

The timing of the sentence, which will be appealed to the Spanish Supreme Court, is significant. Today the Spanish Constitutional Court hears arguments on the banning of Sortu, a Basque pro-independence party alleged to be the successor of Batasuna as ETA’s political wing. Meanwhile, Spain is approaching general elections, called for November 20th. All polls predict that the deeply conservative Partido Popular, hostile to any concessions to Basque radicals, will oust the current Socialist Party government.”

Despite the strong support shown for the pro-independence Bildu coalition in regional elections in the Basque Country earlier this year, which took commentators and the Spanish government by surprise, Spain has been unwavering in its refusal to engage in any substantive manner with the Peace Process. It seems it is still committed to fighting a war everyone else is trying to leave behind them.

 

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