Begoņa Zabala:

"The Spanish police's attack during the 1978 San Fermin festivities was part of an overall repression plan"

  • Begoña Zabala (Algorta, Basque Country, 1950) reached Iruñea in 1977 and was a first-hand witness of the police attack in the bullring and outside it.  She is a lawyer by profession, a member of the committee for establishing what took place, and she has worked on the legal side of the matter.  She took a very active part in the feminist movement in the 1970's, and has just published the book Feminismo, Transición y Sanfermines del 78 ('Feminism, Transition and the '78 San Fermin festivities').

Urko Apaolaza Avila @urkoapaolaza
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On July 8th, 1978, as soon as the afternoon bullfight had finished, armed police forced their way in and injured dozens of people, some of them with bullets.

On July 8th, 1978, during the Iruñea San Fermin festivities, a wave of Spanish policemen broke into the bullring shooting and waving their truncheons under the pretence of removing a banner in favour of amnesty for Basque political prisoners. That was just the start of a large-scale armed intervention: over the next few days there were dozens of arrests, people wounded and two people were killed in different parts of the Basque Country: German Rodriguez and Joseba Barandiaran. Four decades later, nobody has been tried or punished for what happened.

You all say that splitting the case up into so many cases has made it difficult to investigate it. Was that done deliberately?

Breaking it up into so many cases is not usual when there are so many events linking it all together. Why is that important? There are five cases and it has become very clear that it was all part of a single police initiative, starting in the bullring and then outside it, all under the orders of the same police chiefs and, of course, the same civil governors.

By dividing it into different cases they have tried to give a political-legal reading of what happened. We want to use the evidence used in one case to be taken into account in another, and give a logical explanation to what happened.

The evidence was accepted, but it wasn't used…

The use of the evidence is very unclear, and there is a clear case of impunity. The Iruñea festivity groups' investigation group presented a lot of oral evidence, and that has led to written evidence being requested, reports and so on, but apparently those have disappeared or are still being kept back. Police chiefs have were asked to declare, but refused to do so even three years later…

In 1978 Begoña Zabala took part in the first Biscay women's assembly: shortly after she moved to Iruñea and there, just before the San Fermin events, she found a very active women's movement. (Photos: Foku / Iñigo Uriz)


Is that evidence valid 40 years later?

A lot of evidence has already been presented, but we have no proof of that: the festivity groups presented bullet cases and everything, but will that be valid? Everything can be valid when there are documents. It's curious, they're documents which they [the Spanish police] did and they are based on their declarations.

What can being a crime against humanity involve in terms of responsibility?

That takes us to the international arena. Agreements and treaties decide what crimes against humanity are, not states, and that's what makes it interesting. There are particular characteristics: being acts against the majority of people, being armed forces attacking unarmed citizens… Raping a woman is a crime, for instance, but a mass rape of a whole community of women is a crime against humanity, something which took place in an environment of repression and a lack of freedom. The state is obliged to investigate and pursue crimes, and if it does not do so there is a forum to punish it accordingly.

You so that this is the moment to make a formal complaint: why so?

Now we have the perspective to say that there was overall repression at that time, and perhaps in 1978 we didn't realise that: what happened in Gasteiz (Basque Country) on March 3rd (the police killed three workers), the killing of the lawyers in Madrid, the repression of the May the First and pro-amnesty movement… All of that means that we can make a formal complaint and say that it was a crime against humanity.

You say that there are documents which have been declassified and reports which have been 'disappeared'. Will you be able to make a formal complaint without them?

Declassifying things is easy, you take the document and put it through a process: any court, parliament or government can request it. Furthermore, the Spanish Home Office's acts are official, and I do not believe they will know everything that is in them: that will come to light, in fact. And we can find out about a lot of things which the police have overlooked because they were in a situation of impunity. And with the data we have now we can say that it was a premeditated plan against the citizens and movements of the time.

You have said that they were breakaway movements. When you reached Iruñea at the end of 1977 you came across the Movement for Women's Freedom.

In 1975 it was a very radical, political feminist movement which sprang up in the Basque Country, opposed to the dictatorship and seeing the chance to take part in every part of society: daily life, the relationship with power, on the street, in festivities… It all came together in families, at work, at church, and all in opposition to the state's patriarchal oppression. That led to strong alliances with other ground-breaking movements.

The Interior Ministry admitted that 5,000 rubber bullets, 1,000 smoke bombs, 1,000 tear bombs and 130 bullets were shot during the serious attacks on citizens. The experts' panel saw sufficient reasons to declare it a crime against humanity. (Photo: Jorge Nagore)

In your book the word "festivity" is used to mean a space for subversion, a space which feminism too wants to conquer…

Feminists say: "The street is ours, the night is too" because women have been banned from that until now. Festivities are very important, they mean that instead of going out to defend a tradition - as many people believe - that we go out to proclaim subversion. Back then the book El espacio de la fiesta y la subversión ('The Festivity's Space and Subversion') was published, an investigation into the Old Town of Iruñea, and you can see how streets were taken over to hold festivities against all social norms: feminism took part in that.

What were the consequences of the 1978 attacks on the festivities and on feminism?

The powers that be were telling us that we had to step back, it had to be everyone's festivity. They meant that we had to go back to the model of men going out and getting drunk for nine days, a completely masculine catharsis. There is no space for politics in that model of San Fermin festivities.

And the repression arrives, outlawing demonstrations and fining people. Other types of people start saying that we have to forget about it all, that was then, it's disagreeable to hear people shouting policía asesina (murdering police) during the festivities… Maybe a lot of them made some gesture towards feminism, even people who couldn't stand it, people who dress smarty in red and white, just getting on with what men want them to do. That's what it's come to, and we have to turn that all around.


This article was translated by 11itzulpen; you can see the original in Basque here.

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