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Abertzale Left Makes Huge Gains In The basque Country -- But Is There A Hidden Cost?
rights, freedoms and repression |
Sunday May 29, 2011 16:28 by Cormac Mac Gall - None
The Abertzale Left makes big electoral gains in the basque Country – but is it being steered towards social democracy?
The municipal elections in the basque Country last week gave Bildu, a coalition of social democratic parties and Abertzale Left candidates, overwhelming victory, now having the majority of town councils of any party across the basque Country and in one of its major cities, while coming first in one of the four southern (Spanish-ruled) provinces, second and third in another two.
The Abertzale Left (basque pro-Independence Left) are currently celebrating the results of the municipal and regional elections last week. The elections were held across the Spanish state and the PSOE (Spanish social-democrats), currently in power, did very badly from them. But the cause for celebration among the Abertzale Left was the overwhelming vote for Bildu in the southern basque Country (i.e. that part ruled by the Spanish state).
Bildu is a recent electoral coalition of small basque pro-independence social-democratic parties such as Alternatiba and Eusko Alkartasuna, in which Abertzale Left candidates were permitted to stand for election, and did so. The Abertzale Left is not a social democratic strand although its full position on the means of achieving socialism needs clarification. In the past they would have said that they were for social revolution – for the overthrow of capitalism by whatever means necessary.
The Bildu coalition only just made it to the elections, having been banned from registration on a majority vote of nine to six of the judges of the Supreme Court because they were going to permit Abertzale Left candidates to stand on their platform. According to past decisions of the Supreme Court, being an Abertzale Left, i.e. believing in and working for a free, independent and socialist basque Country, means that you are either a “terrorist” or are “assisting terrorism”. The Supreme Court’s decision on Bildu was appealed to the Constitutional Court, which on a majority of one overturned the Supreme’s decision just past midnight on the deadline date for registration to stand in the elections.
Prior to the formation of Bildu, the Abertzale’s Left’s own electoral platform, Sortu, had also been banned; the Guardia Civil (Spanish quasi-military police force) gave information in evidence that they believed that Bildu was a continuation of the Abertzale Left party Batasuna (banned in the Spanish state), which they claimed in turn to be the political expression of the armed organisation ETA (currently on official truce for eighteen months). There was no proof given for these claims other than having the same political objectives and that some of Bildu’s supporters were also supporters of the Abertzale Left. That judicial decision is currently under appeal but even a favourable outcome will be too late – these elections are over.
The Abertzale Left charges that the Guardia Civil has a “blacklist” of between 40,000 to 60,000 Basques and if any of these names should appear as electoral candidates the whole organisation or slate would be disqualified, even though the individuals have never been charged, never mind convicted, of any crime. Basques who suspect they may be on that list due to their past membership of an organisation now banned (about five basque political parties or platforms have been banned over the years, along with three youth organisations) or due to their current level of political activity dare not put themselves forward for fear of invalidating the whole electoral platform.
In the meantime the Abertzale Left are celebrating Bildu’s impressive victory. It has gained well over 300,000 votes, 22.28% of all votes cast, although the basque conservative nationalist PNV got a higher number of votes overall. Bildu has won control of 113 town councils in the southern basque Country, while PNV has won 98. It also now has 1,138 town councillors, which is the greatest number of councillors affiliated to any party in the basque Country. Its most outright successes were in the province of Gipuzkoa and in the city council of San Sebastián/ Donostia, the fourth most populated city in the basque Country. In Bizkaia and Araba, the party came in second and third respectively. The PSOE which, in alliance with the right-wing Partido Popular, had displaced the basque PNV and come to dominate the Euskadi parliament, was virtually wiped out as a political force in local authorities across the basque Country.
These results would be remarkable in the ordinary run of events but for a new party slandered as ‘associated with terrorists’ by the courts and Spanish media and only permitted to register at the last minute, they are more so. The landslide must be understood in the context of the disenfranchisement of the Abertzale Left over the years when they were prevented from standing in elections (the exception being the European elections in 2009, which saw widespread irregularities and concluded in wide-ranging accusations of electoral fraud perpetrated by the authorities against the Iniciativa Internacionalista platform across the Spanish state).
In Madrid the lifting of the ban on Bildu provoked outrage among some some political and media sectors. The hard right-wing Partido Popular, expected to win the next elections across the Spanish state, has long opposed any legalisation of the Abertzale Left and wants it repressed. When previously in government, they lost power when they tried to blame the muslim fundamentalist bombing in Madrid on ETA. The social democratic PSOE who succeeded them has been engaged in repression of the Abertzale Left for many years and when in government in the 1980s was heavily implicated in running the terrorist GAL assassination squads against basque political activists. The media representing these political parties, such as the newspapers El Mundo and El País, regularly attack the Abertzale Left but keep their readers in ignorance of basque popular opinion and of the mountain of evidence of police torture against basque activists. The Bildu election results will no doubt be shocking and incomprehensible to many of their readers.
The Abertzale Left considers the election results to be “a tipping point” for them, that they are approaching critical mass. However, the party remains a coalition and, although the Abertzale Left has the largest following of any of the constituents of the coalition, it will not be allowed to forget that it has its council seats in partnership with social democrats. The spectre of being banned again should their partners desert them will always loom above the Abertzale Left and may restrict the degree to which they follow and implement their own policies. And those policies have been changing anyway: their earlier electoral platform Sortu, although banned by the Audiencia, had not only renounced violence (including a specific mention of ETA’s without doing the same for that of the Spanish state) but had also undertaken to expel from the party any of its members who advocated armed struggle.
The Abertzale Left leadership consulted widely among the broad movement before deciding on the Sortu initiative, although neither that specific proposal nor its constitution was voted on in the assemblies. There is wide agreement on the need for ETA to fade into the background, for concentration on political organisation and for participation in broad fronts. But many Basques in the broad Abertzale Left movement, especially among the youth, are uneasy about where this path is taking them. The fear is that the Spanish state is employing the stick and the carrot: repression channeling the Abertzale Left towards social democracy while offering it representation if only it will moderate its policies. Political representation could be a gain which, though attractive, is achievable ultimately only by the abandonment of much of what the movement was originally. But at the same time, after years of repression and torture which is still continuing, along with the state banning one of their political platforms after another, most Basques see no other alternative.