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Euskadi and Galicia: Radical Challenges to the Spanish State

Categories: Analysis Features

Chris Bambery looks at how hostility to the politics of austerity is strengthening the movements for independence or regional autonomy in Galicia and Euskadi.

Progress of Bildu in Euskadi

The political fault lines running through the Spanish state deepened at the weekend as a consequence of the election results in Euskadi, the Basque Country, which saw the radical nationalist coalition, Bildu, make a dramatic entry onto the political scene. Dramatic because, until a short time ago, Bildu was illegal, deemed a front for the Basque guerillas of ETA by the Madrid Government.

Bildu (which means Gather in Basque) took 21 seats in the Basque assembly. The moderate Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which always opposed ETA’s campaign, won 27 seats, down by three. Together the two have an overall majority but the betting is that the PNV will enter a coalition with the Socialist Party, despite the fact it lost nine seats.

Until Sunday, Euskadi was ruled by a coalition comprising the Socialists and the right wing Partido Popular (Popular Party), rooted in the fascist dictatorship which ran Spain from 1939-1975. The Socialists came third on Sunday and the PP trailed in after them in fourth place. The results in Euskadi can only encourage people in Catalunya to vote for independence in the elections taking place there in late November.

Bildu drew in thousands of people who were previously not politically active, especially young people. Its main election rally in Barakaldo attracted 12,000. Laura Mintegi headed the coalition’s lists of candidates which was made up of 50 percent women and 50 percent men, a radical step in itself.

All of the other main parties focused their energies on denouncing Bildu; but their attempts to portray it as a front for “terrorism” did not cut with voters, in part because of ETA’s decision to suspend its military campaign against the Spanish state “indefinitely.”

The Spanish state also intervened, banning the jailed nationalist leader, Arnaldo Otegi, from receiving visitors after he sent a message of support to the Bildu election rally. That highlighted the repressive conditions in which Basque political prisoners are held, a hugely emotive issue in Euskadi.

Mintegi was seen by viewers of a televised debate between six party leaders as the overall winner after she focused on youth unemployment and the unequal distribution of wealth. Bildu campaigned for a moratorium on public sector debt repayment and a re-negotiation of the debt repayments demanded by Madrid; an audit of vacant housing aiming at handing these over to homeless families; an end to forced evictions because people cannot afford repayments on their homes; a 35-hour working week; returning the retirement age to 65; and a job creation programme. This would be funded by a progressive income tax, a wealth tax, higher company tax, an inheritance tax and a war on tax evasion. Measures to protect the environment include shutting immediately the one nuclear power station in Euskadi, banning GM modified food, switching transport from road to rail, investing in energy efficiency and renewables and developing local co-operative agriculture. The coalition also fought to put the Basque language on an equal footing with Castilian (what is known as the Spanish language). The media portrayed this as discriminating against a majority of the population of Euskadi who don’t speak Basque. Montegi robustly denied this and made clear Bildu’s opposition to the right wing nationalist demand for “Jobs for Basques” and anti-immigrant measures such as withdrawing health care being put in place by the right wing government in Madrid. Mintegi told the Madrid daily newspaper El Pais that Bildu is, “talking about increasing quotas of autonomy as a process leading towards independence. We are not talking about launching a demand for independence right away.”

The AGE in Galicia

The election results in Galicia in the North West of Spain are being presented as a victory for the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and his programme of austerity. Rajoy’s Partido Popular held onto its control of the regional parliament.

In truth the PP in Galicia fought a campaign in which there was little or no mention of Rajoy, and indeed tried to distance itself from him, despite the fact he hails from Galicia. The Socialist Party took a hit, losing seven seats, underlining dissatisfaction with its failure to oppose austerity.

In Galicia the new radical AGE coalition (Alternativa Galega de Esquerda, the Left Alternative of Galicia) won seven seats in the regional parliament. AGE is an alliance of radical nationalists, the Galician section of the radical left Esquerda Unida (United Left) and ecologists. It promised to be a tool for the social movements, trade unions and everyone aiming to forge an alternative to austerity. Among its supporters is Manuel Rivas, the renowned Galician novelist, poet and journalist who was a founding member of Greenpeace in Spain, and was prominent in campaigning against the damage caused by a major oil spill off the coast of Galicia.

From nowhere AGE overtook the more moderate BNG (Bloque Nacionalista Galego, Nationalist Bloc of Galicia) which took seven seats, a loss of five on its previous total.

Across Europe the dominant form of nationalism is anti-migrant, anti-Roma and anti-Islam. In Spain the dictatorship of General Franco effectively outlaws the Catalan and Basque languages, removed the autonomy both regions had enjoyed and promoted Castilian “values.” Both areas were centres of opposition to Franco, particularly with ETA’s campaign in Euskadi.

Today, the dire state of the economy and the devastating impact of austerity have effectively created a new, progressive nationalism, in which those wanting an escape from unemployment and cuts look towards greater autonomy or independence for stateless nations in order to break from the neoliberal status quo. This is what we are witnessing in Euskadi, Galicia and Catalunya. We must be vigilant in promoting the progressive and radical nature of such movements and offer solidarity in whichever ways we can.

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