2021eko maiatzaren 10a
Closure of 107 Basque pro-independence bars

Disobedience town by town

  • 107 gastronomic clubs and bars belonging to the Independentist Left movement in the Basque Country are to be closed down by a sentence of the Spanish High Court. No one knows when and how such a police operation will commence but meanwhile resistance strategies are been worked out town by town. Many have argued that this sentence implies the biggest robbery of property committed against a political movement in Europe in decades.

Lander Arbelaitz Mitxelena @larbelaitz
2015eko abuztuaren 24a

Basque Political Prisoners' photographs are displayed above the counter as if they were looking after the bar. The posters announcing meetings and concentrations of different popular movements are displayed on the walls: demonstrations in support of the repatriation of Basque POWs, the announcement of an informative meeting regarding the evolution of the Peace Process, another demonstration against fracking... An old couple of the town is having lunch while some youth have a coffee beside the window. The music of a popular Basque singer flows in the "Herriko taberna" (the people's bar) of San Sebastian on Thursday afternoon. It is one of the 107 bars that the Spanish Special Court, the Audiencia Nacional has ordered to confiscate.

“It is clear that after a judgement that has gone on for 14 years the Spanish State has no intention of losing this legal fight. They have made a mockery of themselves trying to defend the argument that everything is ETA and at this point they have no intention of pulling back. We'll have to pay for it and so will coming generations until there is a change in the Spanish Government or we force them to change their attitude." These are the words of Joseba Alvarez imputed in the summary 35/02. He has taken part in the judgement that has gone on for over 14 years. In a sentence of 785 pages which includes the confiscation of 107 gastronomic clubs and bars he has been condemned to a year and ten months prison sentence along with 4 other members of the Abertzale Left. Three others have received a year and a half prison sentences. Finally, twelve others have been sentenced to one year and three months prison sentence. The initial petition of 3 years for the whole of them was reduced due to the lengthening of the trial for over ten years. No one will have to return back to prison.

“To go to prison at the age of 57 for the 4th time and to lose my job is not a joke so I am happy to avoid prison. Nevertheless the sentence is politically negative because it maintains the charges and they continue arguing that everything is ETA." Joseba Alvarez believes that with this sentence the Spanish State intends to punish other people waiting for trial. All over more than 100 people are in this situation. Members of Askapena (internationalist movement), Members of Batasuna, solicitors of Basque Political Prisoners, members of Herrira (popular movement demanding the repatriation of Basque POWs)...

Some gastronomic clubs and bars have had to close down during the 14 years of trial so the sentence will affect some 90 of them. Throughout the Basque Country around 150 people will lose their jobs because of this sentence. It has to be said that the bars were rented to private people and they operated as CBs.

Supporting the People's bars

Txerra Bolinaga is a member of Eleak, an organisation defending civil and political rights. Wearing an orange t-shirt reading "Free" in white, he has taken the word in front of the people's bar of the town of Zarautz, a popular tourist destination near the city of San Sebastian. Behind him are representatives of all People's bars condemned to be closed down. He has stated that they will defend their cause. In the window there is a message in English for tourists to read, "This is neither Spain nor France, you are in the Basque Country."

"In the same way that we have supported the accused we will also support the People's bars. We will continue to build up support against such attacks and we will defend everyone’s civil and political rights. The people have spoken clearly: there is no government, police, judge or fatigue that can stop us if we stay united."

Since the creation of the human walls in order to avoid the arrest of those sentenced to prison now the focus is on setting up the movement for disobedience town by town. The civil and political rights movement considers a great challenge to give a proper response (reaction) to the sentence against the people's bars. "The characteristics of this case are different from the ones we have faced in the past. We are talking about 107 gastronomic clubs and bars, which represents a vast number and a big challenge", states Mr Bolinaga.

Since these clubs belong to the Abertzale Left and the sentenced people, a joint promoter group has been created. "The Abertzale Left has a lot to say on this issue. It is directly implicit and we are happy with the bilateral. We both agree that within the "free" dynamic the response has to be one of disobedience."

Response groups are being created in cities and towns where the Spanish State intends to confiscate the gastronomic clubs and People's bars belonging to the Abertzale Left. The solicitors have also stated that they will demand individual reviews of each club.

A complex operation

When will they go to close down the clubs? July? August? September? Autumn?

The close down will not be easy, before or after holidays, and it will probably take be a long process. Legally the close down is complex because in each town the owner is a different individual and therefore each place will have its own, respective legal procedure. In any case, even if a major police operation were to take place, it seems impossible that all of them at once would be closed down without causing a stir.

A political earthquake is expected upon the receiving news of the first close downs. All over the Basque Country people will start mobilizing in each town in order to make the close downs more difficult. If this is the case, the police will have to empty the clubs in each town and city and then seal them. This time there is no need for inventories. Once the places are sealed there is a real possibility that people will break the seal and re-enter the clubs, thus lengthening the police operation. After having closed down the whole of them the premises will be auctioned and the collected money will be for the Spanish State. As someone ironically said, in the end it will be the Spanish State who will be financed by the people's bars.

"The phase of resistance is being organized with a lot of willingness in many towns." In Mr Alvarez’s opinion, the resistance format has to be a multiple one so that as many people as possible become involved. From disobedience outside the premises to techniques of resistance that have been used in order to avoid eviction of squatters on other premises. Multiple resistance methods are being explored. "We have to find the widest possible methods of resistance." Mr Bolinaga repeats once and again the word "flexibility" stating clearly that each situation will have its own response.



The Spanish State in serious crises

Jokin Uranga got to know Orkatz Taberna in the town of Azpeitia by the school of spontaneous poetry singing. They started organizing spontaneous poetry sessions and later on they got involved in other cultural events. They are one of the groups involved in the defence of the premises.

He says that they feel happy because many people has told them that what is happening is an injustice -" and not only people from the Abertzale left" he ends the sentence. They are getting a lot of support. Mr Uranga believes that this is just another attack against the pro-independence Left. "They want to end with the popular movements”. They follow the line opened by Baltasar Garzon that everything is ETA. The same judge that saw the tortures hundreds of Basques had suffered on the hands of the Spanish police and used to look the other way around. The same judge that later on was self-acclaimed "defender of human rights".

Koldobike Muniain is from the town of Zarautz. He spoke on behalf of the Gastronomic clubs and people's bars when the sentence was made public. “This is the reaction of a State that has lost the political battle, a State that reacts stealing the premises of the base of the Abertzale Left. This robbery will become the symbol of the impotence of a State."

In the words of Mr Muniain the Spanish High Court is going to repeat that that the fascists did in the southern Basque Country in 1936 against the Basque patriots and the Republicans. They are going to steal the properties. Many have underlined that in decades no single political movement has had to suffer such a robbery in Europe.

"The Spanish State is in crises and they still want to maintain the situation no matter what. The only thing they are capable to do is to increase the repression." Mr Alvarez believes that there is a clear social activation in the Spanish State. Millions of people suffering unemployment, the independence process of Catalonia, emerging realities such as Podemos, the "precipitated" renewal of the monarchy, the cases of corruption... "The PP is very much aware that this phase is getting to an end."

In Mr Alvarez opinion the emerging political situation in the Basque Country weakens even more the Spanish State and its reaction is more macro trial, the jaw law, the new penal code, to avoid the repatriation of Basque Pows... The State is really worried and it pretends to leave everything as tied as possible.

Even if they have been told by the solicitors that the State will not make a move to close the clubs and bars before the summer time, they are not too confident about it. "We are looking after ourselves, making things slowly but surely. We have build up a strong team. We are working in two directions; the first one involves making more difficult the closure through the medium of civil disobedience and the second one is related with the opening of a new premise of the same characteristics of the one they are going to close down."

"When a certain group of citizens are attacked all society is attacked" claims Mr Alvarez and he is of the opinion that such a situation demands a general response.

"They have closed down our media, illegalized our political parties, prohibited our social movements... and we have always created new ones. We are going to repeat the same thing in this situation."

The gastronomic clubs and people's bars were built up in the 80's. They were far from becoming ghettos. Thousands of people have socialized around them while having a glass of wine or a glass of beer. Thousands have learnt in them the implications of becoming citizens. And thousands more have understood the meaning of "something inside so strong...”

Strengthening disobedience

Mr Bolinaga recognizes that the disobedience movement is not capable of forcing the State to make a move yet but he also recognizes that there is no other alternative than to continue working on that line. He says more and more people are joining the disobedience movement and that the adherence becomes stronger each day it goes on. In that sense he believes that people who is ready to defend the gastronomic clubs and people's bars will eventually join the civil and political rights movement. "This is becoming stronger day by day because of people's motivation. We have a great challenge ahead."

Mr Alvarez believes that the concept of political dissidence is really important. The troika, evictions, an antidemocratic social model, the attitude against immigrants...The people can understand the meaning of neoliberalism in practical terms. "There is the possibility of structuring a strong alternative from the left and the attack against our clubs must be understood from the same perspective."

"This is an attack against the symbols of one side of the dissidence in the Basque Country and their real intention is to stop the existing possibility for transformation."

The Spanish State has approved the "Jaw Law" and the new Penal Code in July. “Definitely we can't feel scarred because that will be the end." Mr Bolinaga believes that the disobedience protests must be massive ones. "Is like when people whistle to the Spanish National Anthem in the soccer matches. If only one person whistles then he/she has a serious problem. Are 100.000 people whistling then they can do nothing about it. That's the point."

The civil and political rights movement Eleak feels that the snow ball in getting bigger. "We are all in the same boat. We are working together with Askapena (an internationalist movement) and now Sortu (a political party) is walking that path too. Other initiatives are on their way also... We see clearly the road we have to follow. Furthermore, we are convinced that there is no other road. We have to make this snowball bigger and bigger in order to condition the Spanish State."

Translation: Igor Letona

More information on Basque human walls:

Donostia (2013)

Gasteiz (2015)

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