(en) Basque Trial Fails To Sway Pro-ETA Youth

Arm The Spirit (ats@locust.etext.org)
Wed, 8 Oct 1997 00:07:09 -0400 (EDT)

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[On October 6, 1997, the trial against 23 leading members of the Basque political party Herri Batasuna (HB) was delayed following a motion by the defense to dismiss the present bench of three judges due to bias; one judge's daughter works at the Interior Ministry, which designed the prosecution against HB. If the 23 members of HB's 'Mesa Nacional', or national directorate, are convicted, then the party's entire leadership would be thrown into prison for 8 to 16 years. The charges of supporting terrorism are based on the distribution of an HB election video which featured a masked member of the armed organization ETA reading a proposal for a peaceful solution to the Basque conflict. ETA proposed a binding referendum on the issue of independence for Euskadi, the Basque country, with both the guerrillas and the Spanish central state pledging to respect the outcome of the vote. Spain not only failed to respond to this peace gesture, authorities banned the video from being shown and filed terrorism charges against the leadership of HB. The trial should resume in two or three weeks. Basque homeland and freedom! - Arm The Spirit, October 7, 1997]

Basque Trial Fails To Sway Pro-ETA Youth

BILBAO, Spain (October 6, 1997 Agence France-Presse) - Spain's landmark anti-terrorism trial of 23 Basque separatist politicians does not deter for many young Basques who see it as one more ordeal in the struggle for their people's freedom. The trial of the leadership of the extremist political party Herri Batasuna for their alleged collaboration with the armed separatist group ETA, was postponed shortly before it opened in Madrid Monday. It is expected to resume in a week or so. Typical are the feelings of Olatz, a 21-year-old leader of the Jarrai youth movement, considered the breeding ground for ETA, which since its formation in 1959 has fought to carve out an independent homeland in Spain's Basque country with bombings and attacks that have left hundreds dead. Olatz and her friends have been honed by the world of "herriko tabernas", cafes patronized by Basque separatists in the tortuous alleyways of old Bilbao where pro-ETA graffitti spares no wall. The photographs of jailed ETA militants hang like heroes on the walls next to posters declaiming "imperialist Spain" or urging patrons to fight on for the cause. Her face set in a hard glare, Olatz, a sociology and politics student whose whole family belongs to the separatist movement, proclaims she is an "abertzale -- or radical separatist -- since birth". She, like other Jarrai members, is obsessed with the Herri Batasuna trial, which was delayed after a failed defense attempt to get the presiding Supreme Court judge removed on grounds that he had links to the Madrid government. It is the first time the entire leadership of Herri Batasuna -- a legal party which claims 12 to 15 percent support of the Basque electorate -- has been put on trial. While the trial is backed by most of Spain's political class, which feels it is time to end Herri Batasuna's "complicity" with the ETA, the trial has only riled Basque youth who plan what Olatz said would be a series of "peaceful" actions in support of the defendants. Jarrai, whose name means "continue" in Basque, officially denies involvement in criminal acts but is regularly accused by authorities of fomenting the urban violence that is endemic in the Basque country. Its members are dubbed "ETA puppies" by the local press, which accuses them of tossing Molotov cocktails at every turn. Olatz claims she has been hit "thousands of times" by police truncheons during Jarrai demonstrations in the three years since she joined, and has lost count of the number of Jarrai friends arrested or jailed. "In my class alone, there have been two this year," she said. During the trial, the group has promised to stage student strikes and political rallies in every village in the three provinces of the Basque region which have enjoyed autonomy from Madrid since 1980. A key event is planned for Friday, a "borroka eguna" or day of struggle -- a vague Basque term that has often translated into clashes on the street. Olatz however contends that "street battles are spontaneous and have always existed in the Basque country". She insists that Jarrai does not organize such violence and thus cannot predict when it will erupt. "The violence will not disappear as long as the thing causing it remains: unemployment, social injustice, the impossibility for youth to express itself, and repression demonstrated by this trial against the HB leadership," she said. For Olatz, the Herri Batasuna trial is "the latest attempt by the government to finish with Basque separatism, after the dirty war and the calls to lynch HB militants". The "dirty war" refers to allegations of government involvement in anti-terrorist death squads blamed for the murder of at least 22 Basque separatists in the 1980s. The Herri Batasuna trial stems from party election rallies in 1996 at which videotapes were broadcast showing hooded men defending ETA. It got the party leadership charged with collaborating with an armed group. But for Olatz, the video at the center of the case contained "the only peace offer ever formulated in the Basque conflict". She defended ETA as "people engaged in a struggle who have shown generosity and sacrifice". The 11 fatal attacks blamed on ETA this year in no way alter Olatz' opinion, including the July killing of municipal councillor Miguel Angel Blanco Garrido, kidnapped then executed two days later. It was his killing that fueled the current mood, sparking national outrage and sending six million people on to the streets to denounce terrorism. But for Olatz, "the responsibility lies with the government, which would not agree to regroup ETA prisoners in Basque jails," the condition laid down for the councillor's release.

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