The Basque Country is neither the northern part of France nor the southern part of Spain, though these two states rule over it. The institutions of the two countries that colonize the area claim to administer every aspect of it, and yet it is possible to perceive the presence—disconcerting, almost anachronistic at first glance—of another world. This is the interstitial world of a people whose language sounds more Asian than Latin, a people with a lively culture, who fight for the independence of their territory. The struggle is called “Borroka”—the combat that makes of Euskadi a land that is in part resistant to the grid of French analyses. Political fractures open up at unexpected moments, groups or parties bear names unfamiliar to us, and the heritage of the struggles of these last sixty years there has little in common with ours. Thus, there is all that’s needed to pique the curiosity of our generation and the ones who come after us, who have not known national liberation struggles, and who have hardly if ever had armed struggle appear in the panoply of political choice offered to them.
An attentive traversal of the villages and cities in the northern Basque country brings the delightful realization that the maps lie. Our ears tell us that France is not everywhere—Euskara sounds dry and rough. When you hear it in passing, you know : this is resistance. Here is a language that simply by being spoken constitutes a political act. It has to be so. It is not a gesture of conserving but a gesture, rather, for and from the future –the future of a people and its culture, the one and the other threatened, if in fact the two can be thought separately. This is a people entirely in its language. Stateless, it is the language that becomes—in a much more noble fashion—the flag that is planted, the identity that makes a people stand tall. For those of us who have seen our own identity captured, instrumentalized and sometimes created by a State, identity is a doubtful concept, one that we distrust. But its ideological refusal runs the risk of transforming us into nondescript “citizens of the world,” buffeted about by the winds of post-modernism. The Euskadi identity shatters our received ideas to the extent that it is based in a relentless resistance. Additionally, it offers a window onto our own, very contemporary political situation, in which one can hear the Marseillaise resounding in the midst of the most brutal ransacking.
We wrote this ABC in order to share our curiosity and enthusiasm for Basque political and cultural history. We were not born in Euskadi, we don’t live there, we don’t even speak Euskara, and it is precisely from the situation of being foreign that we recount events and transmit interviews we have gathered or stories that were told to us. So don’t look for a comprehensive encyclopedia in these pages. There are, of course, episodes and battles remaining for us to discover, and others that we couldn’t develop fully if we wanted to stick to a short, introductive format. Fortunately, many books have been written about the combats in the Basque Country, and we hope—a modest hope—to make you want to dive into that literature. As well as to go and meet those who are the flesh and blood of those combats.
This ABC was written in 2019, in the months preceding the counter-summit of the G7 at Biarritz. We thought of it as the means for a first contact with the territory and its inhabitants, a way for demonstrators to go beyond the temporality of the simple summer weekend of protest. Too many counter-summits have been flashes in the pan that leave the territories that welcomed them more weakened than reinforced. We think that this mobilization, because of its historical and geographical particularities, could follow a different path, situated as it is at the crossroads between the multi-faceted agitation that has swept through France in recent times (“cortège de tête,” zad, Yellow Vests) and the exalted history of Euskadi. The intense creativity in terms of new forms, manners of protesting and fighting that have erupted in France, and the real desire for conflict that has emerged here have not passed unnoticed in the Basque Country. For there a sixty-year long struggle has reached a turning point. ETA relinquished its arms in 2017, leading to a recomposition of the pro-independence movement. Though it may well have made sense to bring an end to a tactic that many saw as a dead-end, there are Basque militants who consider the rapid liquidation of the ETA heritage a little inflexible and the turn taken far too sharp. How can the Basque Country continue to fight ? How can it prevent politics from being hijacked by the voting booth ? Where is there a new point of departure ? A very heavy heritage remains. The unilateral ending of the conflicts did not mean the release of prisoners—much the contrary, campaigns disparaging them have intensified. The two States that imprison them have refused to recognize even their most basic rights. Visits must continue, as well as financial support and organizing mobilizations. . .These make up the essential activities of many groups in Euskadi—all the more so in that the relinquishing of arms has not lessened an intense repression whose goal is to stifle any insubordination. On March 24, 2019, 60, 000 people marched to Alrsasu, in Navarre, in support of six young people condemned to between nine and thirteen years in prison for a simple preliminary to a scuffle with two policemen in civilian clothes having a drink in the village café.
The systematic threat of anti-terrorism does not lend itself to boldness and the search for new forms. It gives rise instead to a fear that one can sense quite clearly at the heart of the platform against the G7. Many of the pro-independence movements from the south are only just now emerging from periods of illegality that have sometimes resulted in their members undergoing long prison sentences merely for a disagreement, a difference of opinion. The discourse they were forced to adopt condemning all violence, under pain of being outlawed again, does not make it easy for them to organize a counter-summit, especially when the French context gives reason to believe it won’t be a Sunday stroll on the beach. . .Those who have never condemned the use of arms, and who have paid the price, are also walking on eggs.
On the other side, the prefect categorically refuses that the counter-summit be held in the Bayonne-Anglet-Biarritz region. Undoubtedly he has a vague memory of the European Union summit that was held there in October 2000. The protagonists were more or less the same, but the strategy was completely different. It was the era, then, of the kale borroka—urban guerillas—developed by the ETA as a weekly strategy to maintain pressure in the streets of the Basque Country. The young people of Haika (a youth organization operating then on both sides of the border) were mobilized. Beginning on Thursday, 300 cars and four buses crossed the border amidst a deafening honking of horns, in the direction of the Petit Bayonne neighborhood which became their headquarters for the week-end. The first demonstration, on Friday, took off towards Biarritz in the rain, but a barrage of police blocked it before it could reach Anglet. From that point on, as Jean Grenet, the mayor at the time, would say, it was “cakes for Biarritz, and cocktails for Bayonne.” The demonstration left a police motorcycle on the ground, a police headquarters in shambles, as well as a Peugeot sales lot, a MacDonalds, a Quick and a bus. . .The clashes ended near the barricades blocking access to Petit Bayonne, to be taken up again the following morning.
Almost twenty years later, will the streets of Basque cities be borrokisized ? The authorities would like to be prepared, proposing that the counter-summit be held at Dax in the Landes, or possibly at Hendaye—far, in any case from partying dignitaries. At the same time, these latter don’t spare any effort in exciting protest, by placing their jamboree under the auspices of the struggle against social inequalities, gender equality and saving Africa. This is a game of perilous provocation, for even if the halls will certainly remain inaccessible from August 24-26, 2019, the rest of the northern Basque country will not be lacking in places to fight. What a chaotic mishmash the displacement of all those delegations, the hundreds of translators, and the 15,000 police that have been announced, all lodged in a 50 kilometer section of the vacation village ! In the dead center of the tourist season, there’s a strong probability that this small area will be transformed into a zone of actions and blockages. And as luck will have it, It may well be that the welcoming infrastructures of the G7 will more or less coincide with those that pollute the everyday of the Basque country. Golf courses, rental agencies, touristic services and major traffic crossroads offer demonstrators perspectives capable of awakening an overflow of creativity. And the possibility, as well, of entering into a real solidarity with the combats that the Basques have led for decades against those who would, by masking the sulphurous image of its history of combat, make Euskadi nothing more than a folkloric and serene picture postcard.