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Basque country’s Herri Batasuna & Venezuela’s Chavismo

By Aleksander Boyd

London 27 August 2004 – Imagine a place where young children can go out freely on their own and return home safely; a crime free environment [1]; a place where the most daunting of tasks is to figure what to prepare for the next meal or which direction must one take during the afternoon’s shore stroll; further, think about the banality of the conversations one would have in such tranquil and stable conditions. San Sebastian is an idyllic little city in the North of Spain more specifically is the capital of Guipuzcoa (one of the four Basque provinces). After the death of Francisco Franco the political and social landscape changed in the aforementioned provinces for the good. At present all indices show that a true miracle has taken place: life expectancy has increased and so it have per capita income, health, education and employment levels. But even the closest approximations to societal perfection have their share of problems.

Terrorism and ETA have been synonyms of the Basque country. My grandfather used to condemn ETA in every opportunity he had saying “where were these ‘nationalists’ when we needed them in our fight against Franco in the civil war?” History has shown that far from being a recognisable force against Franco’s tyranny, Etarras (as they are referred) are more an economically driven terrorist group that has lost its north completely in its pseudo fight for Basque independence from Spain. A sentiment of total repudiation towards them pervades Basque people. There are, however, exceptions to the rule and these are agglutinated in a political faction called Herri Batasuna.

In a recent visit to Zarautz I bumped into a cousin of mine member of Herri Batasuna. I noticed that he came from a bar that had distinctive graffiti and other paraphernalia with respect to the perception, shared by this lot, regarding the essence of the Basque country. “Freedom for the Basque Country” read one sign; others went further stating “no to Apartheid and opression” or “Dear Tourist: you are neither in Spain nor in France, you are in the Basque country.” To be frank the mere fact that he was imprisoned due to his activities and has aged espousing the same ideals, whilst living like a capitalists pig, makes him worth of my contempt. The conversation was distant and cordial, nothing worth remembering apart from his comments regarding a planned vacation to Chile and how "the puta madre" he was living. We then went to dine in a “sociedad” which is a place devised by Basque men where women have the entrance to the kitchen and cooking area forbidden, thus placing –for a change- the duties of everything related to a banquet in male hands; an all around phenomenal experience with abundant food, wine, cider and “Txacoli” (Basque drink).

The after-dinner conversation brought forth themes such as the surplus of the Basque economy, the extraordinary wellbeing of Basques, their fiscal contributions to the Spanish budget and of course the unmissable recall referendum in Venezuela. Guests at the table were a politically multifarious group of relatives of mine; some from the right-wing Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV), some from the left-wing Herri Batasuna -transmuted into Euskal Herritarok (EH)- and some others undefined. The lefties maintain that Venezuela is in such a state due to capital flight and US imperialism, the ones on the right affirm that Chavez seems to be a bit of a populist bent on the continuation of approaches inherited from previous politicos. There was utter silence surrounding what ETA represents. I said, rather loudly, that I had seen graffiti all over suggesting that Basques are oppressed but by the general outlook of previous days in San Sebastian and the notorious sybarite character of them all it was extremely difficult to picture oppressions of any sort. My sister kicked me under the table and gave me that recriminatory gaze so typical of women in presence of embarrassing situations. I had none of it and kept saying that the oppression of Basques is as real, in my view, as the ‘social and democratically inclusive’ projects spearheaded by Hugo Chavez.

“You are wrong, there is a palpable oppression at work here” they cried. Indeed it consists, as far as I understood it, of sheer fear of being vocal against ETA and EH. For instance members of EH can go around quite brashly sticking their posters as they wish and no one dares to tell them off, dreading reprisals of violent nature. Conversely nationalists from PNV can not do so for it would result in a ‘public outcry’ coming of course from EH members. Absolute fear, that’s the name of the game. It has to be noted that the healthy status of the Basque economy has nothing to do with ETA or EH endeavours, on the contrary they have managed to create the impression that the Basque country is a dangerous place to be which in turn has scared away no small amounts of investors that otherwise would have set shop to profit from the very proficient and high productivity levels of Basques. Ergo the social bien-etre enjoyed by EH/ETA members is not of their making for they did not dent in the slightest Franco’s attempt to ‘Spainize’ Basques.

The situation rang a chord though. Is it not true that a minority of criminals, known as Circulos Bolivarianos or die hard chavistas, have terrorised rapidly urban areas of Venezuela? Is it not evident that open criticism is taboo in certain circles? My cousin from the PNV asked me why I opposed Chavez and my response shocked him “for the same reasons our ancestors opposed Franco” I expressed. “How come?” he replied. “Simple, my grandparents, together with yours were systematically prosecuted on the basis of their race, by a ruthless man who ostracised them in their own land and so am I. Since he was incapable of achieving said goal he called in the Germans, who via a heavy and unexpected rainfall of bombs dropped in Guernika and Durango, killed mercilessly a large number of innocents. Our ancestors were victims of state repression then and so we are now. There are obvious similarities between those who support ETA and those who lend credibility, aid and consideration to Hugo Chavez. His antics are not different from the ones employed by Franco, i.e. total annihilation of dissent.” An ever greater silence settled in.

Interestingly enough EH and PNV are well disposed to sit and talk through their political differences in order to reach the consensus needed to maintain the hardly acquired stability. Having totally opposing stances they recognise each other’s presence -although the former is a tiny minority- and have made votes to contribute positively towards the greater good of the Basque country. Said dispute has matured over the years, however ours is close to its conception and has to grow old before the parts realise the obvious and agree to recognise the importance of dialogue, consensus and collaboration towards a common goal.

Hugo Chavez recently tried to appeal the Venezuelan middle class. From my very own perspective I commend said effort and look forward to be part of the reconstruction of our nation. Only with the concerted effort of a whole generation will we be able to sit and observe the positive results. The Basques reached the present situation after much sacrifice and hardship. We can do it to if there is the will, if not even more turmoil, violence and unnecessary deaths are ahead of us.

[1] By crime I mean the common street crime endemic of Latin American countries.

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