Graffiti in Bilbao for the banned Basque youth organisation SEGI
Yesterday I was priviliged to meet an activist in the Basque pro-independence socialist youth movement.
I have to be careful how much I write about this, because Basque youth face repression on a scale that is unimaginable to us in Scotland.
The modern Basque youth movement began in 1979 with the founding of Jarrai, which was based in the southern part of the Basque country, which is currently ruled by Spain. In 2000 it merged with a French-based organisation to form the first national organisation of left wing pro-independence Basque youth.
All these organisations have been outlawed by the Spanish courts, declared to be terrorists. The only real reason for this is that they refuse to condemn the armed struggle for Basque independence: they are in fact simply political organisations working for the rights of youth, and it is a political decision to ban them. The Spanish state directs its repression particularly against youth organisations, as they want to cut off the next generation of the whole movement.
When Haika was banned its members attempted to relaunch the organisation under the new name of SEGI, but this group to has now been banned. Of the 800-odd Basque political prisoners many are members of the youth movement. Today in Donostia there was a demonstration to mark the trial of the latest 26 members of the group to be put on trial. In detention activists are tortured horribly by the Spanish authorities.
Attempts have been made through the European courts to challenge the hugely undemocratic bannings, but so far the will of the Spanish government has been upheld. It´s worth noting that the British government has been at the forefront of supporting the Spanish on this issue.
This means that the important work the youth movement does has to carry on in a semi-underground way, and it is very dangerous for its members to be publicly identified as part of SEGI.
In Rome a couple of weeks ago SEGI supporters who were living in Italy came out to protest the visit of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who was in town for talks with Berlusconi the idiotic right oligarch leader of Italy. Three protesters were arrested by Italian police on warrants originating in Spain.
Bewildered by protesters: Spanish PM Zapatero
The activist I met with explained to me how the youth movement came to be formed.
“We understood that Basque youth are oppressed in two ways. Firstly, we don´t have the right to our language, to self determination for our country, or for our democratic rights as Basques.”
“But we are all also oppressed as youth. Work for young people is all very precarious, and it is very difficult to make a living. There is also a serious problem with housing for youth. On top of this we face police repression. Even wearing certain clothes that mark you out as `alternative´ is enough to make the police stop you, question you, ask your address, who you know and so on.”
“So we came to realise that youth is a social condition. It is not defined by the individual age, but is a socially created identity through your relations to others and society. Out of this understanding we built a movement to tackle the problems of youth.”
“Our aim is independence and socialism, and we believe it is necessary to start building the world we want to live in as part of our day to day reality.”
The Basque youth movement works closely with LAB, the Basque pro-independence left wing trade union federation, in campaigning against poorly paid, insecure jobs for youth.
There is a huge squatters movement in the Basque country, with young people taking over derelict buildings and converting them into homes and places to meet, organise and party. This is a direct response to the crisis in housing: activists argue, why are there people who can´t get a home when there are buildings lying empty.
Some squats are intended purely as homes for a group, but others are converted into what are called “youth houses”, which provide a space for young people to come together, talk and organise, and also hold concerts and have a party. There are youth houses all over the Basque country, even in small countryside towns like the one I´m staying in.
These organising spaces often play host to “youth assemblies”, where self-organised youth in an area come together to discuss local probblems affecting them, and organise to to do something about it.
When police have attempted to kick out the squatters, it has at times led to running battles that have lasted for days.
Youth have also organised to establish free radio networks in the Basque country, just one of the means they use to create alternative media. This is an attempt to what they identified as the problem of communication: it is very difficult for Basque youth to communicate with each other and discuss their problems when all the mainstream media are against them. So they produce radio, alongside online and writted sources of information as well.
The youth movement recognises that the situation is especially difficult for young Basque women. They have a women´s group which self organises, and meets monthly to discuss the issues specifically facing young women and to organise their own campaigns.
The movement organises their own version of Camp Secret Squirrel, a summer camp in the Basque mountains that attracts thousands of participants.
They also have an international perspective, with a special group dedicated to building links with friends in struggle around the world. Now that I´ve made contact I´ll be discussing back home with SSY what we can do to strengthen links with the Basque youth movement, as well as apply some of their valuable experience to what we do.
From my short time here it´s clear that I´ve only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of the level of self-organisation for independence and socialism. The youth movement organises thousands of people, in the face of incredible repression, imprisonment and torture.
But it´s also clear to me that there is so much we ought to try out back home that they´re way ahead of us on here. The idea of taking over a building and providing a space for youth to self-organise may seem unachievable to us now, but that didn`t stop the comrades here: they just went ahead and did it! When I return home I hope a few of those reading will have had a serious think about how much we could emulate the successes that have been achieved here. Anyone know any good abandoned buildings?!